The success of 'Top Gun' rehearses a future for cinema where theaters are respected again

Not Tom Cruise I expected Top Gun: Maverick It was the blockbuster that it has proven to be during its first weeks in theaters (and still with a long career ahead of it). Although Cruise has been a star for decades, none of his films had reached $100 million at the box office in a single weekend. That amount it was only reserved for Marvel and certain franchises whose potential is based on sweeping their first days in theaters.

It is the actor's highest-grossing film, but in its first few weeks it has achieved other records that confirm it as the season's big surprise. It has exceeded all expectations, and in its premiere it achieved the best collection in history for a film on Memorial Weekend (a federal holiday the last weekend of May) surpassing Pirates of the Caribbean 3. But the real record came in its second week. The films that devastate first tend to plummet. His fans come the first few days and then the decline is pronounced, almost always more than 60%. Top Gun: Maverick made 90 million in its second weekend with a drop of just 27%. For example, the latest installment of Spider-Man fell 67.5%. In Spain, in its second week it fell only 14%.

The most important thing is that the success of Top Gun is giving movie theaters an optimism that they did not have until now. Big box offices had already been seen, but all of them with a very clear audience, which is in the age range between 18 and 34 years. Data from analysts in the US shows that 70% of viewers who went to see Top Gun: Maverick in its opening week were over 25 years old. If we look above 35 years, they were 55%. 38% over 45 years old and 18% over 55. Data that until now had not been seen in other blockbusters. For the first time, the adult public returned to theaters after the pandemic in a massive way.

However, for the CEO of Paramount, responsible for the triumph of this sequel to Top Gun, the success and the excellent drop data in its second week are caused by having convinced the two types of audience and having managed not only to be the older people to the cinema but also "taking those under 35 to see the film". To do this, they have introduced two-minute pieces in sports competitions and channels like MTV have massively promoted the song created by Lady Gaga for the film. A link between the old and the new generations.

In the interview he gave to Variety, he highlighted one of the keys that has been consolidated with Top Gun: Maverick and that is causing a small paradigm shift in platform strategy: "Movies that are released in theaters with large advertising campaigns promotion have much more impact when they reach the platforms than when they are released on the platforms directly". Therefore, after the massive success in theaters, Paramount will premiere Top Gun on its newly opened platform and that will have a double benefit, since it will draw all the word of mouth generated in its theatrical release.

This is something that the platforms do not achieve, that their films are in the social conversation beyond their premiere. There is always a new product that replaces it. While phenomena like Joker, Spider-Man or even Alcarràs, in terms of auteur cinema, remain on the streets, movie premieres on Netflix or HBO rarely make it. One of the exceptions was Don't Look Up, one of Netflix's biggest phenomena. What would have happened if it had been released in theaters? The success of Top Gun makes the strategy of the platforms with their movies seem clear now, a period of exclusivity in theaters before reaching the internet. The 45 days that years ago, when Netflix premiered Rome, seemed unbearable, are a reality. Even the CEO of Paramount points to that number of days, which will not affect the Tom Cruise movie, since the deal was closed before the industry was radically changed by COVID.

But there is other news that shows that the platforms are seeing theaters as a necessary first window to increase the focus on their films. Apple has just bought for 30 million – an exorbitant amount – a project by the director of, precisely, Top Gun: Maverick, with Brad Pitt as the protagonist and with Formula 1 as the setting. The condition? An exclusive premiere in theaters between 30 and 60 days. A clause that until now was unthinkable in such an acquisition. Until now the decision remained in the hands of the platform.

Not only Apple considers the rooms as the first window. Netflix also seems interested in exploiting the formula for some of its films. In mid-May, Bloomberg reported that the platform was seriously considering going to theaters with a 45-day window for some of its films. One of those affected would be Bardo, the new work by Alejandro González Iñárritu and the big bet for the awards season. The other chosen by Netflix is ​​the sequel to Daggers in the back, a franchise that the platform bought for 450 million dollars and whose theatrical release would also be seen as a way to amortize the money invested. A safe bet, since the first delivery added more than 300 million worldwide.

That is the opinion of Elena Neira, a graduate in Law and Audiovisual Communication, specialized in new models of audiovisual distribution and author of the book Streaming Wars: the new television (Cúpula), who believes that this movement in "this type of blockbuster can give them an important economic return and generate conversation". Of course, she also wonders how it can affect the platforms. She is not as clear as the CEO of Paramount that her arrival after going through theaters is so strong. "Knowing that in 45 days it will be on the platform generates anxiety to see it in theaters but also the will to wait for it to arrive on the platform," she points out.

Neira notes that optimism that is felt in the US "undoubtedly", and believes that the success of Top Gun has also brought "a strengthening of the message of resistance from theaters and distribution windows". A message that is broadcast explicitly before the screening, which is preceded by a video of Tom Cruise thanking the viewers and valuing cinema in theaters. She also invites us to wait to launch the bells on the fly, especially the result of films like Jurassic World, Lightyear or Nope, by Jordan Peele. This title will be key. It is not part of any franchise and will be a test to see if the return of the public to theaters only responds to specific phenomena.

"What generates the most reservations in me is that the Top Gun formula is not innovative, it is pure tradition. It is a traditional sequel. There is no new generation of pilots, but it is a Tom Cruise movie in 2022 that could be from 2015 , but there is that feeling of having achieved a success that is not part of a saga or Marvel, but we cannot seek a standard for a box office that no longer follows a standard, "he adds. The data makes it clear that "the public is returning to see certain types of films", and now it remains to be seen if the habit of going to theaters is also "recovered". That is why he believes that, for example, in Spain a success like Alcarràs's is more positive and optimistic, although he also has to be realistic and know that "there is a type of audience for more auteur films that still resists." "The adult audience that has returned to theaters is the one that sees commercial movies," he settles.

Jaume Ripoll, co-founder and editorial and development director of Filmin, a Spanish platform that releases films in theaters before and that also bets on direct online releases, depending on the strategy adopted for each work, also encourages controlling optimism. "It is too early to say if the situation has changed, this year we have seen the successes of The Worst Person in the World, Top Gun, Alcarràs or Five Little Wolves, which have done reasonably well, but we are talking about between four and eight films in 31 weeks that go of the year and with an average of seven films released a week. The problem is that many have not worked at all. There are people who have returned to theaters to see a film, but have they returned normally? We will see what happens in the fall, if that audience has returned or not," he says.

For Ripoll, "all films should go through theaters." Another question is whether they should do it simultaneously on platforms or if "there is enough public to defend its passage through theaters, especially at the current time of the exhibition in Spain." In addition, he highlights that there is an audience "that is not always on the platforms and that must be kept in mind." Others present such budgets that their amortization passes, almost compulsorily, through the cinemas. "In the case of Top Gun it is that on a platform it would not have that box office income, and that important theatrical release has made it an event," he stresses. For him, the question is "how does this apply to cinema that is not Top Gun", and that is more complicated. “You have to consider which theaters you are going to, how long you are going to be with them, and perhaps if you do not have that time to be in theaters, it is better to go to platforms,” they say about their strategy with their films.

What is not so clear is that Netflix wants to give priority to theaters as exhibition windows. "It seems strange to me that a platform that has invested 100 million dollars in producing a film spends another 50 in marketing so that the money goes back to a cinema," he says, and for this reason he ventures that the next step would be "that they also become distributors, which would be the other leg". From Filmin, for the time being, they will continue studying case by case, and they will try to have a theatrical release in those that they consider to have an audience, as will happen with Vortex, the new Gaspar Noé, and with the re-release of La madre y la puta, by Jean Eustache, which can be seen in theaters.

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