Box office preview: Tom Cruise and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ look to hit new heights over Memorial Day weekend

For many decades, the four-day Memorial Day weekend has been a banner time for people to flock to movie theaters. While many schools around the country are still in session and people still have work, it’s the official kick-off of the summer for many, which is why studios frequently will grab the weekend for their potential summer tentpoles. In the past 15 years, seven movies have grossed more than $100 million over the four-day weekend, but Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” held the holiday weekend record since opening in 1997 until “X-Men: The Last Stand” came along in 2006.

The past two years have seen a far reduced Memorial Day, although last year, “A Quiet Place Part II” and Disney’s “Cruella” showed possible signs of movie theaters returning a few months after the top two markets, New York City and Los Angeles, reopened. The two movies grossed $83.5 million between them over the four-day weekend. That brings us to Memorial Day weekend 2022 and the return of Tom Cruise to movie theaters for the first time since “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” in 2018. Read on for our box office preview.

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Top Gun: Maverick” puts Cruise back in the flight helmet of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the cocky Top Gun fighter pilot trainee, who we haven’t seen since the original “Top Gun” in 1986. Thirty-six years ago, that movie was one of the year’s biggest blockbusters that grossed $357.5 million worldwide at a time when that was a LOT of money. Just to give you an example how huge that movie was for the time, the movie opened in May 1986 at #1 with just $8.2 million. On the weekend of Sept. 19, 1986, it was the #1 movie again with just $3.3 million, but by then, it had already grossed $140 million.

“Top Gun: Maverick” re-teams Cruise with his “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski and brings on board a mostly new cast, including Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris and Glenn Powell. For this one, Maverick takes on more of a teaching role to train a number of Top Gun’s finest graduates for a difficult and highly dangerous mission.

The movie has had a number of high-profile screenings, the first at CinemaCon in Vegas in April, followed by the premiere on the USS Intrepid in San Diego, and then it premiered at Cannes last week. These events have helped drive up excitement after the movie had been delayed nearly two years due to the pandemic. Over the past month, early reactions have helped build anticipation for a movie that has received so many stellar reviews it’s currently sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is on par with many of Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movies.

Opening over the extended four-day weekend, where there have been so many huge hits, should help “Maverick” win the weekend with somewhere close to $100 million, but maybe just under. Even so, it should absolutely destroy Cruise’s current box office opening record for 2005’s “War of the Worlds” (with director Steven Spielberg), which opened with $64.8 million and is Cruise’s highest grosser with $234.3 million domestic. That last number also shouldn’t be hard for “Maverick” to beat, as it’s probably going to be the #1 movie for the next two weeks with lots of repeat viewings.

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This weekend’s odder attempt at counter-programming comes in the form of 20th Century’s animated “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” following up on the popular Fox series that has run for 12 seasons, the most recent one, which wrapped just this past Sunday. For the uninitiated, the show and movie are about the Belcher family – Bob, his wife Linda, and their three kids: Tina, Gene, and Louise – and the hijinks they get up to in the show’s eponymous burger establishment. The movie promises a bigger story in which a large sinkhole opens in front of the restaurant, forcing the Belchers to find new ways of hawking the popular burgers. When a skeleton is found in the sinkhole, the Belcher kids  go on an adventure to solve the mystery of who murdered the man.

It’s more than a little crazy this movie is opening just a week after “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” since that was the sequel to a movie that also did huge business in theaters from the fans of a show, but it didn’t do nearly as well. That said, movies based on animated series have been all over the map in terms of box office with Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie” being one of the biggest hits with $183 million domestic after a $74 million opening in late July 2007. In 1998, Nickelodeon had a hit with “The Rugrats Movie,” which made $100 million in North America, but then you have things like “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut,” which just opened with $14.8 million in 1999 and ended up with half the amount made by “Rugrats.” Other animated movies based on series haven’t even fared that well, including “Doug’s First Movie” (1999), “The Powerpuff Girls” (2002) and “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” (2018), all which showed that no matter how many people love a television show, that doesn’t mean they’ll pay to go see them in theaters.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” is an even odder anomaly, because presumably, it would appeal to the same teen and older guys that might go see “Maverick,” and that will probably limit its opening weekend to well below $20 million and possibly even less than $15 million. It’s basically going to be jockeying with “Downton Abbey” for third or fourth place this coming weekend.

Check back on Memorial Day Monday to see how these movies and all the returning films fared. In the meantime, don’t forget to put in your predictions for Gold Derby’s box office prediction game.

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