THB #166: Tommy's Guns
Top Gun Maverick is still getting overhyped.
But at the same time, the overhype is working.
The energy around the film has not only equaled what has long been the “first weekend of the summer,” but Paramount and Cruise’s aggressive approach to being old school has, effectively, activate a first-of-summer excitement for a generation of people who are not now and were not pre-pandemic frequent moviegoers.
In other words… old people are going to the movies. (Well… middle-aged people.)
It will be interesting to see how this plays out against some real competition coming, starting next week. But for now, there is nothing but pride to be taken from this experience for those involved.
It’s still way overhyped. But that, I believe, is the secret sauce for all of this.
It’s a little bit of the Jurassic Park pitch from 1993, a bit of The Phantom Menace from 1999, and a touch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens from 2015.
“You’re gonna see something you’ve never seen, your beloved old franchise is back (read: Simpson/Bruckheimer), and you’re going to get one of your favorite young characters back as an old man (thank goodness Maverick has no kid of his own to kill him).”
I still don’t quite cotton to Alison Willmore’s, “Theory: Top Gun: Maverick Is (Mostly) a Death Dream,” but the thought lingers… and my variation is that TGM is an audience fantasy… a return to a feeling that many haven’t had in a while. Not moviegoing, but the feeling of sitting in a movie and feeling the wind in our hair and coming out with a bounce in our step.
That is everything. Always has been. What many are forgetting is that we can have that feeling about movies that are not action heavy. There are plenty of comedies and dramas that offer that feeling. They aren’t going to be retro considerations from 38 years ago. It’s what Team Apatow and The Farrellys (and Carrey and Sandler, etc) brought to comedy. It’s what Sydney Pollack brought to dramas. But the risks must be taken for that feeling to be felt again. It’s not going to happen on your TV.
TGM also offers the “just because I’m 60 and never got where I should have in life, I am still the hero,” energy. That speaks to a long-abandoned demo. Much of what made Cruise into CRUISE was his relentlessness. And now, all of a sudden, he is bringing that to his near-60s.
Cruise suggests the real potential to be the superstar Jack Nicholson of the next decade or two. A powerful incongruity driven by the relentless unwillingness to age… until, at some point, the wheels fall off and he can only play parodies of himself.
I have no idea whether Paramount’s marketing chief Marc Weinstock led the charge or just did a very good job playing the hand that was dealt to him in these circumstances. Either could be true. He is certainly capable and the last time I recall the San Diego military base being used this way was for Stealth in 2005, when he was at Sony. (This went a lot better, as a movie and as a box office event.)
I’m not really interested in putting Top Gun Maverick in box office perspective here today. Boring and boorish to do anything but clap politely from the sidelines. It’s doing very, very well and it is mostly unexpected at this level, so congratulations.
I don’t think trying to separate this sequel from all the other sequels based on whether it came from a comic book is really legit. It isn’t part of a ‘universe,” that much is true. But as noted above, I see it benefiting greatly from it’s place in movie history and the timing of an industry stupid enough to offer a red carpet of open space to a summer movie of 2 full weekends before release and a weekend after.
But still, a movie has to be that movie and the studio has to be able to execute that maneuver effectively… which is not a gimme. Part of that is deciding to make the bets needed to make all that work and as we are seeing, particularly at Disney right now, this is not a given.
When some worry allowed about this success signalling a remake of all the hit 80s movies, I don’t worry. Every one of those movies have been developed at some point for a sequel or a remake already. And they didn’t go forward - mostly - because they couldn’t recreate that magic. And if they can recreate that magic, in spirit and casting, they should be remade/rebooted.
The most obvious reconsideration out there right now, in my view, is Amy Heckerling’s Clueless musical, which sold out Off-Broadway, which could be made for under $50 million, is wall-to-wall already-hits songs, and which absolutely understands the energy that made the original a classic of its kind.
But I digress…
Paramount is pushing numbers right now that are aggressively targetting records, including the 10-day total for this summer, currently held by the only other major wide release in 6 weeks, Dr. Strange 2, at $292,615,327. Today, Par is telling the trades $291m for 10 days. I’d be shocked if they don’t tell us that TGM passes the doctor in the “finals” tomorrow. This is all the gamesmanship of studios, as old as when Exhibitor Relations was an actual and significant thing.
And like seeing a bunch of over-muscled guys playing on a beach in slow motion to some summer song, that inspires a kind of nostalgia too. Studios fighting with each other for top position that no one real cares about but can be marketed! Fun!
I will forever be amazed by how many smart, savvy people happily failed to find the red queen on this one. But at some point, it’s just trying to win an argument that no one really wants to have. I may be relentless, by I’m no Tom Cruise. So enjoy! Happy you are happy! And I will keep hoping to have that great experience in the summer of 2022 that so many feel they had on this one.