Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick is finally ready for takeoff. After a two year wait for the filmmakers, the actors, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Paramount, a relief was evident at a panel after the movie was shown to an enthusiastic audience on Thursday at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.
“It’s surreal. It’s been two years,” director John Kosinski said. “I wish everyone who worked on the film could have been here. It was very unique to see it with 3,000 people.”
Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brian Robbins, director Kosinski, Bruckheimer and Glen Powell, who plays one of the young fighter pilots in new film, spoke about the making of the film and what it felt like to finally see it in theaters during the panel shortly after the screening inside the cavernous Coliseum at Caesars Palace. The movie drew cheers and applause throughout with many also praising its emotional moments.
Paramount made it clear how important it was to treat exhibitors — who are still recovering from the pandemic — to the first screening of the highly anticipated sequel.
For Powell, playing the cocky Hangman in the movie is likely to be a breakout for him, which made the wait more agonizing. Quipped Powell, “It’s a bit of a bummer when you have to wait for your career to start.”
Top Gun: Maverick, returning Cruise as the ultra-gifted and confident Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, was originally set to hit theaters in summer 2020. The COVID-19 crisis waylaid those plans. Paramount and Skydance subsequently moved the film several more times so that it could get a proper global theatrical release.
Bruckheimer, who produced the original flick, said there was never a question of sending the movie to streaming: “I always thought, and so did Tom, that this was a movie for theaters. You felt it today. It’s a communal experience.”
The luncheon session, held on the final day of CinemaCon, was sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and Fathom, and moderated by THR senior film editor Rebecca Keegan.
Top Gun: Maverick makes its world premiere on May 4 in San Diego, followed by a stop at the Cannes Film Festival before opening in theaters at the end of May.
The story follows Maverick as he’s asked to train a new team at the Top Gun Naval Station at the behest of Val Kilmer’s Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, now a Navy admiral.
Bruckheimer said getting any film off the ground is tough, much less a sequel to a film that opened decades ago. He said Kosinski came up with a story that “excited Tom and Paramount.”
Kosinski also detailed an elaborate training program that he and Cruise designed so that the young actors would actually be filmed flying, versus using CGI. They were assisted by the Navy and a GoPro program.
“With Tom, it’s a requirement that it be as grounded and realistic as possible,” the filmmaker said. “It began a 15 month project to figure out how to get a motion picture camera in the cockpit of these airplanes.”
The filmmakers launched a program to get the actors up to speed on operating the aircraft: It started with Powell and his co-stars first flying in a Cessna and ending up in an F18. “It’s like riding a dragon,” he said.
Val Kilmer, who starred in the first film, appears briefly in Top Gun: Maverick despite not being able to speak naturally after being stricken with throat cancer and enduring subsequent surgeries. “Obviously he’s compromised but he’s still an amazing actor. Tom actually said he wasn’t making this movie without Val in it,” Bruckheimer said.
When asked if there was a third Top Gun being considered, the producer said “that’s hard to predict.”
Robbins told theater owners at the lunch that Paramount is on course to deliver 10 to 12 exclusive theatrical releases per year. That could be more if the right movies come along, he said. During the pandemic, Paramount opened some films day and date on its streaming service, but the studio executive indicated that policy is changing as the pandemic wans.
“Movies have a better profile if they have a box office release. And I think there is room for all kinds of movies in theaters,” Robbins said. “I think we are getting back to a baseline of normal A film like this [Top Gun 2] should get us there.”