Paramount took a risk to keep ‘Top Gun’ on the ground for two years. It was the biggest hit this year

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CNN business

“Top Gun: Maverick” was never going to be an easy sell.

Sure enough, the film starred Tom Cruise – arguably one of Hollywood’s most iconic movie stars – and would be the sequel to “Top Gun”, one of the biggest hits of all time. But the original “Top Gun” was in theaters when Ronald Reagan was president, leg warmers were still in style, and the New York Mets won the World Series for the last time.

The challenge for Paramount – the studio that released the film – and its CEO Bob Bakish was how to bring a sequel to the 1986 Cold War classic to a world that had apparently left Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his “need for speed” behind. .

And as if that weren’t enough, the film was scheduled to be released in the summer of 2020 when the world was in the midst of a pandemic that shut down entire industries and left millions unemployed and, yes, shutting down. cinemas around the world.

“It was pretty clear that that wasn’t a viable idea,” Bakish told CNN Business about releasing the film. “The world was pretty closed off, you weren’t going to put an expensive movie that you had any real hope of…in theaters and nobody came.”

What was Paramount to do? “Maverick” was ready to take off, but had nowhere to land. The film, with a hefty price tag of $170 million, could go straight to streaming — as many movies did during the pandemic — and a major title would drive subscribers to the studio’s growing streaming service, Paramount+. However, the company chose to save it for the big screen.

“We really felt it, and Tom [Cruise] I definitely agree that we had a big big screen movie and we should stick with it,” Bakish said. “It felt like the right thing to do.”

However, it was a big risk. Will audiences leave their homes during a pandemic to watch a sequel to a movie that’s more than three decades old? Bakish and Paramount wouldn’t find out until two years after the film’s original date. the fourth and the final release date is May 27, 2022.

“Top Gun: Maverick” has become the fifth film in US history.

“It’s a very, very bad time to own a movie theater.”

This is how Brent Lang, executive editor of Variety, described the climate of the movie theater industry in 2020 in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.

The global health crisis closed theaters, delaying movies for months, if not years. That made them wonder if Hollywood’s business, which raked in more than $40 trillion in global ticket sales in 2019, would ever recover.

Streaming—which had already revolutionized the theater model—was now on the rise. Netflix was setting subscriber records, Disney+ surpassed 100 million subscribers in just 16 months, and other new services were popping up seemingly every day.

In the midst of that landscape, Warner Bros. decided to release its entire 2021 slate of movies straight to theaters and simultaneously to the company’s streaming service, HBO Max — a move that shocked Hollywood. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Still, the cineplexes kept trying. In 2021, blockbusters like Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Disney’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Universal’s “F9: The Fast Saga” led to huge box office sales, and they helped keep the halls open..

But it wasn’t until Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” hit the big screen in December that theaters saw a glimmer of hope. “No Way Home” grossed nearly $2 trillion worldwide, but didn’t really give the industry the confidence it needed; after all, Marvel movies seem to do well at the box office regardless.

So if a superhero couldn’t save the day, what kind of movie would breathe new life into theaters? Enter a formidable 60-year-old flyboy and his ragtag crew of young fighter pilots.

“Maverick” went into theaters with a lot of buzz and strong reviews, which helped the film surpass its opening weekend box office projections. The record-breaking Memorial Day weekend grossed a record $160 million at the North American box office. That alone would have been a win for Paramount, but the movie was taking off.

Audiences returned week after week, making “Maverick” the only movie to ever hit the No. 1 spot on Memorial Day. and Labor Day weekends. For 75 consecutive days, the film earned at least $1 million a day, and so far this year it accounts for roughly 12% of the total domestic box office, according to Comscore ( SCOR ). The “Maverick” simply refused to land.

“It was a movie made for event theaters,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at, told CNN Business. “It also recaptured a significant portion of the older audiences that held onto the early months of the movie revival in 2021 and early 2022.”

Bakish was also surprised by audience reaction to the film, saying that Paramount “always knew it was a great movie” but “probably underestimated how great it was because no one could have predicted it would do this well.”

But the film’s success also has a symbolic aspect. “Maverick” is an old-school box office hit made for the biggest screen possible, created when the future of the industry was very much in doubt. “Maverick” showed that audiences still want to go to the movies.

“The commercial reception of the sequel to Tom Cruise’s legacy was the miracle that summer theaters needed,” wrote Scott Mendelson, a box office reporter, for Forbes.

“Maverick” was also the kind of hit that Paramount—a company in transition—needed.

In recent years, the studio behind some of the biggest movies in cinema — think “The Godfather,” “Chinatown” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — lagged behind competitors in market share at the box office.

Paramount reunited with CBS in 2019 after splitting from the company in 2006 and rebranded as Paramount Global, transforming its flagship streaming service into Paramount+ in a rapid evolution of the entertainment industry.

For Bakish, Paramount’s current success comes from focusing on “multi-platform, global execution,” or as he puts it, “it’s about theater, it’s about TV, it’s about streaming.” In other words, Paramount has more than just a streaming view of the media business.

The strategy has been working. Paramount ( PGRE ) has had six No. 1 releases this year – more than any other studio – with hits across multiple genres, including romantic comedy (“The Lost City”), family (“Sonic the Hedgehog 2”) and horror (“Smile”).

Placing movies in theaters has not hindered Paramount’s streaming efforts, which include Paramount+ and Showtime and have nearly 67 million subscribers worldwide, the company said last week. While it’s lower than competitors like Netflix ( NFLX ) and Disney+, Paramount+ is the fastest-growing service in the U.S. this year, according to Bloomberg.

And those numbers will likely increase in the coming months with international expansion next year and “Maverick” finally hitting Paramount+ by the end of 2022.

“This is an extraordinary collection of assets,” Bakish said of Paramount’s portfolio of brands. “And at the moment – and yes, I’m biased – we’re doing pretty well.”

But will that lead to another “Top Gun”?

“You have to align the stars again. You have to have a story that people love and you have to build the team,” Bakish said. “We will see.”