LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Hollywood star Tom Cruise may have pulled off one of the most daring stunts of his career - getting audiences to go to the movies for something that does not involve superheroes.
Top Gun: Maverick pulled in blockbuster ticket sales in its opening weekend, collecting US$134 million (S$183 million) from a record 4,732 North American cinemas.
Paramount and Skydance's all-American action adventure is expected to collect US$151 million through Monday, defying expectations while also setting a new high-water mark for Memorial Day opening weekends.
That's thanks to dazzling reviews, heaping doses of nostalgia and getting Cruise, 59, back in the cockpit to perform real aerial stunts as pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell.
Top Gun: Maverick is the highest-grossing debut in Cruise's 40-year career, and his first to surpass US$100 million on opening weekend. War Of The Worlds, which opened to US$64 million in 2005, previously stood as Cruise's biggest opening weekend.
Audiences over 40 years old, the people who were top of mind when Paramount greenlit a sequel to 1986's Top Gun, turned out in force, which is impressive because that demographic has been the most reluctant to return to theatres.
The film's positive word of mouth should be helpful in reaching younger audiences, who were not alive when Top Gun opened 36 years ago.
Mr David Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, called the film's three-day figure "outstanding".
"The source material remains strong, the execution is excellent, and Tom Cruise makes it work impeccably well," he says.
Top Gun: Maverick continues a stellar box office streak for Paramount, marking the studio's fifth movie this year to open in first place.
Without the assistance of comic books or raging dinosaurs, the studio's 2022 slate - also consisting of Sonic The Hedgehog (US$182 million in North America), The Lost City (US$100 million in North America), Scream (US$81 million in North America) and Jackass Forever (US$57 million in North America) - has resonated in cinemas in a big way.
It is an impressive rebound since Paramount hardly released any movies during the pandemic, instead sending big titles like actor Chris Pratt's The Tomorrow War (2021), director Aaron Sorkin's The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020) and comedian Eddie Murphy's Coming 2 America (2021) to streaming services.
Despite countless delays (the Top Gun sequel was scheduled to open in mid-2020 until Covid-19 scrambled those plans), Cruise was adamant that Top Gun: Maverick not follow in the footsteps of those films.
The two-year wait has already started to pay off since the film has been rapturously reviewed. It has a 97 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and an "A+" CinemaScore.
Joseph Kosinski directed the PG-13 Top Gun: Maverick, which picks up decades after the original and sees Maverick train a new group of cocky aviators for a crucial assignment.
The cast includes Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly and Val Kilmer, who played Iceman in the first Top Gun.
Top Gun: Maverick also needs theatres to justify its hefty US$170 million production budget, which does not include the tens of millions spent on promoting the movie to audiences worldwide.
Those efforts included a splashy premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, which culminated with eight fighter jets flying over the Croisette (the French government paid for those). Skydance Media co-produced and co-financed the film.
Only one film, Disney and 20th Century's The Bob's Burgers Movie, was brave enough to open against Top Gun: Maverick.
For a movie that is based on a long-running animated TV show, The Bob's Burgers Movie served up an impressive US$12 million from 3,425 venues, enough for third place on box office charts. The movie should finish Memorial Day with US$15.3 million.
The Bob's Burgers Movie landed just behind Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, which dropped to No. 2 after three weeks atop the North American box office charts.
Disney's newest Marvel Cinematic Universe instalment declined 50 per cent to add US$16 million from 3,805 cinemas in its fourth weekend of release. The superhero sequel, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, has generated US$375 million to date.
At No. 4, Downton Abbey: A New Era plunged 63 per cent from its opening, collecting US$5.9 million between Friday and Sunday. It is estimated to earn US$7.5 million from 3,830 cinemas by Monday.
After two weeks in theatres, the sequel to the big-screen continuation of the beloved British television show, has grossed US$30 million in North America and US$68.9 million worldwide.
The follow-up film cost US$40 million to produce, meaning the latest Downton adventure has ways to go before getting into the black.
Universal's animated heist comedy The Bad Guys rounded out the top five with US$4.6 million from 2,944 locations. By Monday, the family friendly film should rake in US$6.1 million, which will bring its North American tally to US$82 million.