Euphoric reviews and strong word of mouth helped boost ticket sales, which easily surpassed prerelease analyst expectations. “Top Gun: Maverick” received a rare A-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls. Paramount also backed the release with a savvy marketing campaign that included a monumental premiere on an aircraft carrier; a video stunt with James Corden that went viral; promotion by hundreds of TikTok and Instagram influencers; a website allowing fans to generate customized call signs with augmented reality photos; and original songs by Lady Gaga. As ever, Cruise trotted the globe on a tightly controlled publicity tour.
In the United States, concerns about the coronavirus seem to have faded. About 85 percent of prepandemic ticket buyers (those attending at least four movies a year) currently feel safe going to theaters, according to polling by National Research Group, a film industry consultancy. In January, about 65 percent felt safe. N.R.G. data shows that consumers in general view movie theaters as safer than gyms, bars and restaurants.
“This is the real turnaround,” said Mooky Greidinger, the chief executive of Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas, the No. 2 multiplex chain in the United States. “We are very, very optimistic for the rest of the year.” He noted that a large percentage of “Top Gun: Maverick” ticket buyers opted for premium-priced screenings in large-format theaters such as IMAX. “Give us every weekend a movie like ‘Top Gun!’” he said.
For the first time since early 2020, Greidinger and other theater owners are going to get their wish. The box office has struggled to bounce back in part because of sporadic output by studios. “We would have a really big one and then nothing to follow that up,” Fithian said. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” for instance, was a juggernaut in late December and January, taking in $1.9 billion worldwide. But it also had theaters largely to itself, with February almost devoid of big-budget offerings.
In the weeks ahead, Hollywood will serve up a murderers’ row of sequels and prequels, including “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Lightyear,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Other high-profile summer offerings include “Where the Crawdads Sing,” “Elvis” and Jordan Peele’s “Nope.” Theater owners also have high hopes for “The Black Phone,” a Blumhouse thriller, and “Bullet Train,” starring Brad Pitt.
“There is finally a range of options for moviegoers of all types,” Fithian said. “Moviegoing begets moviegoing,” he added, with trailers shown in theaters one weekend fueling attendance the next.