Yet there is Mr. Cruise, trundling along as if the world hasn’t changed at all. For him, in many ways, it hasn’t. He was 24 when “Top Gun” made him box office royalty and he has basically stayed there since, outlasting his contemporaries. He’s the last remaining global star who still only makes movies for movie theaters. He hasn’t ventured into streaming. He hasn’t signed up for a limited series. He hasn’t started his own tequila brand.
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Instead, his promotional tour for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which opens on May 27, will last close to three weeks and extend from Mexico City to Japan with a stop in Cannes for the annual film festival. In London, he walked the red carpet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (The tour would have been longer and more expansive if Covid protocols didn’t make things so complicated and if he wasn’t in the middle of finishing two “Mission Impossible” movies.)
The actor still commands first dollar gross, which means that in addition to a significant upfront fee, he receives a percentage of the box office gross from the moment the film hits theaters. He is one of the last stars in Hollywood to earn such a sweetheart deal, buoyed by the fact that his 44 films have brought in $4.4 billion at the box office in the United States and Canada alone, according to Box Office Mojo. (Most stars today are paid a salary up front, with bonuses if a film makes certain amounts at the box office.) So if his movies hit, Mr. Cruise makes money. And right now, Hollywood is in dire need of a hit.
Audiences have started creeping back to theaters since the pandemic closed them in 2020. The box office analyst David Gross said that the major Hollywood studios were expected to release roughly 108 films theatrically this year, a 22 percent drop from 2019. Total box office numbers for the year still remain down some 40 percent but the recent performances of “The Batman,” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” have theater owners optimistic that the audience demand is still there. The question is whether the business still works for anything other than special effects-laden superhero movies.
“They just don’t make movies like this anymore,” Brian Robbins, the new chief executive of Paramount Pictures, the studio that financed and produced the $170 million “Top Gun: Maverick,” said in an interview. “This isn’t a big visual effects movie. Tom really trained these actors to be able to fly and perform in real F-18s. No one’s ever done what they’ve done in this movie practically. Its got scale and scope, and it’s also a really emotional movie. That’s not typically what we see in big tent-pole movies today.”
A big box office showing for “Top Gun: Maverick,” would depend in no small part on the over-40 crowd. They are the moviegoers who most fondly recall the original “Top Gun” from 36 years ago — and they are the ones who have been the most reluctant to return to cinemas.
To reinforce his commitment to the industry, Mr. Cruise sent a video message to theater operators at their annual conference in Las Vegas late last month. From the set of “Mission Impossible” in South Africa, standing atop an airborne biplane, Mr. Cruise introduced new footage from his spy movie and the first public screening of “Top Gun: Maverick.” “Let’s go have a great summer,” he said, before his director, flying his own biplane next to Mr. Cruise, shouted “action” and the two planes tore off across the sky.