Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick, sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, broke box-office expectations when it was released this May, after fans endured a 36-year wait following the original movie’s release.
Based on its success, the rules of movie economics suggest that the wait for a potential third installment might be much shorter.
Top Gun: Maverick, distributed by Paramount Pictures, brought in $156 million in ticket sales over the three-day weekend, a new Memorial Day record. Since then, the military action thriller has continued to bring in audiences, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2022 in the U.S.
Internationally, the movie’s been no slouch either, bringing in over $760 million worldwide since its release only three weeks ago. Top Gun: Maverick’s success has led some market watchers to conclude that it is set to become the first Tom Cruise movie to top $1 billion at the global box office, and they say that when a movie starts posting numbers like that, franchising opportunities are hard to turn down.
“The films that gross over $1 billion globally are sparse, and the majority of them are either already parts of a successful franchise or the start of a new one,” Dimitrios Mitsinikos, cofounder and CEO of film tech and analytics company Gower Street, told Fortune.
“It would make perfect business sense for Paramount and its producing partners to further exploit the theatrical success of this production,” he added.
The billion-dollar club
The cinema industry’s lull of the past two years appears to be drawing to a close, with big releases like Top Gun, Jurassic World, and a slate of blockbuster movies returning to the big screen after the pandemic threatened to derail the industry altogether.
But despite spending nearly a month in theaters, Top Gun is still holding its head high amid a sea of similarly high-profile releases, and is even hitting new milestones.
Top Gun’s No. 1 spot at the box office slipped last weekend with the release of Jurassic World Dominion, but the Tom Cruise–led flick is still seeing strong daily ticket receipts, and recently surpassed the $400 million domestic box-office mark, officially claiming the title of second-best-performing pandemic-era release just behind 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
And the movie’s unending success is leading some analysts to conclude that an even bigger milestone is imminent.
“According to our analytics, Top Gun: Maverick is expected to cross the $1 billion mark globally in the next few weeks, and it will be the first Tom Cruise film that reaches these box-office levels,” Mitsinikos said.
When movies hit those financial heights, and with interest in the Top Gun brand still hot nearly 40 years after the original film’s release, other film industry experts agree that the allure of creating a follow-up to the 2022 hit might prove irresistible for studios.
“I would think that a Top Gun 3 or a Top Gun: Maverick 2 would be a guaranteed hit down the runway in the future,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior film industry analyst with media analytics company Comscore, told Fortune.
‘The sky is the limit’
A Top Gun sequel has yet to be officially announced. Distributor Paramount Pictures did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment on the matter, and company President and CEO Brian Robbins has refused to get drawn into sequel talks.
“Let’s see where we are 35 years from now,” Robbins said when asked about the possibility of a sequel during a recent interview with Variety. “I don’t want to speculate. This is an incredible run. The sky is the limit for this movie.”
Some factors might stand in the way of a Top Gun: Maverick sequel being made in the near future. For one, Paramount has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit from the family of the journalist who inspired the first movie.
“Generally speaking, you want to make sure that everything is cleared and all the ownership and copyrights are figured out before you start a project,” Dergarabedian said.
But analysts say that the sheer magnitude of Top Gun: Maverick’s success, critically as well as commercially, means that a potential sequel would be almost a surefire hit.
“Having that convergence of critical acclaim and audience popularity with moviegoers is perfect for any movie. That’s where you want to be, that’s the sweet spot,” Dergarabedian said.
And had circumstances been different, the movie’s record-breaking box office numbers could have been even higher. Top Gun: Maverick made a huge international splash despite not being shown in the biggest filmgoing market in the world: China.
The movie has yet to be released in Chinese theaters—which are restricted to showing only 34 foreign-made films a year—ostensibly because of Maverick’s pro–U.S. military messaging, although the film never gives name to the air force of a faceless enemy. China’s movie industry is going through a lull of its own at the moment, with theaters across the country shut down because of an ongoing COVID-19 wave. But years down the line, if theater closures are no longer a huge concern in China, a Maverick sequel would have everything it needs to dominate the box office.
“Top Gun: Maverick managed to reach these levels of box-office success without China, which brought in $181 million from Tom Cruise’s last blockbuster, Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018),” Mitsinikos said.
Much will also depend on Tom Cruise’s willingness to do a sequel, but the actor-producer is no stranger to franchise films, as he is currently preparing for the release of the seventh and eighth films of the similarly popular Mission Impossible series, set to hit theaters in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Cruise is both starring in and producing the upcoming films.
“It’s really about Cruise and his team,” Dergarabedian said. “I mean, look at Mission Impossible. The reason we have that franchise is because they’ve done very well over the course of what is now seven or eight films.”
And with critical and audience interest still high, returning for a sequel may prove irresistible for the film’s stars and producers.
“If you want a blueprint for a scenario where you would teach this in a class and say, ‘This is something you want to capitalize on and take further steps with creatively,’ this would be it,” Dergarabedian said.
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