Top Gun Maverick secretly isn't actually an action movie at all
We make our argument for why Top Gun Maverick should win the Best Picture Oscar.
In case you missed it last week, Steven Spielberg pulled Tom Cruise aside at an awards luncheon to tell him that Top Gun Maverick may have single handedly saved movies as we know it. In an interaction shared on social media, Spielberg - who has previously directed Cruise in War of the Worlds and Minority Report - told the actor the following:
"You know, you saved Hollywood's ass. And you might have saved theatrical distribution. Seriously, Maverick might have saved the entire theatrical industry."
Steven Spielberg tells Tom Cruise that “you saved Hollywood’s ass and you might have saved theatrical distribution. Seriously, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ might have saved the entire theatrical industry.” 🐐 pic.twitter.com/Wjtbloy7Ce
— Hollywood Mitch (@MitchHollywood) February 16, 2023
Originally due for release in July 2019, it was first delayed to give it time to add several complicated action sequences, with a new release date of June 2020. Then came the pandemic, and the movie's release date was pushed back over and over again, until it did eventually land in cinemas in May 2022, almost 36 years to the day since the original Top Gun movie arrived.
With the benefit of hindsight, it cannot be overstated how surprising the success of Top Gun Maverick turned out to be, both in terms of actually being a fantastic long-delayed sequel, and in terms of being a massive financial success. The $170 million production (and we may never know exactly how much extra was spent on promoting it) wound up making over $1.489 billion at the box office.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, there was a genuine concern that audiences might never flock to cinemas the way they did before, a fog of the fear they once represented hung around for a long time, but it turns out that people would turn up en masse, if the movie itself demanded being seen on the biggest screen accompanied by the loudest speakers possible.
It is the biggest box office hit of Cruise's career - almost exactly twice that of his second-biggest hit, Mission Impossible: Fallout - and while there is no surprise that there are some similarities between those two movies (from the in-camera practical stunts and the fact that they share a screenwriter), what makes it stand out is the genre. Mission Impossible: Fallout is an action movie disguised as a big international heist movie, whereas Top Gun Maverick is a big international heist movie disguised as an action movie.
As a slight side-note, let us take a look at the plot of Ocean's 11: an ageing troublemaker has one last job in mind before likely settling into retirement. He's tasked with putting together a team consisting of the best of the best. Their mission is to get in undetected, make a lot of noise while they're in there, and get out alive even with all eyes on them. Throughout the movie, Ocean puts the potential candidates through their paces by making them practise the job over and over again in a mock-up of the real thing, with new allegiances and divides happening amongst the team. Along the way, Ocean tries to reacquaint himself with someone he previously did wrong, with the emotional connection there strong enough to potentially dismantle the entire heist.
Now look at the plot of Top Gun Maverick. Swap out Ocean for Maverick, Julia Roberts for Miles Teller, and robbing a safe with blowing up a nuclear plant, and every other plot beat is basically like for like. Cruise's "action movie" actually has surprisingly little action in it for the most part (to be fair, the final half hour or so is an explosions fest), as there is as much time dedicated to Maverick having a massively emotional conversation with a mostly mute Iceman (Val Kilmer) as there is to any of the big set pieces.
Of course, the fact that all of this is matched with some brilliant direction by Joseph Kosinski, jaw-dropping cinematography by Claudio Miranda, supreme music by Hans Zimmer (not to mention that great song by Lady Gaga), and a collection of tremendous performances by Cruise, Teller, Kilmer, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connolly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris and more besides... the movie never, not once, puts a foot wrong.
The problem is that movies like that so rarely get the attention they deserve. The last time that a movie that could be fairly called a blockbuster went home with the Best Picture was back in 2003, when The Return of the King won for what felt like the cumulative success of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But perhaps Top Gun Maverick deserves that cumulative win, too. Cruise has been physically breaking himself for our entertainment for the last few decades, and in this case, resulted in a movie that Spielberg himself says may have saved cinema as we know it. If that doesn't deserve Oscar recognition, we're not sure what does.
Top Gun Maverick is available to watch at home right now on Paramount+, Sky Cinema or with a NOW Cinema Membership.