'TOP GUN: MAVERICK' Soars on Pro-America, Woke-Free Message

Tom Cruise is the last real movie star, at least according to The New York Times.

Yet the 59-year-old actor has never had a film break the $100 million mark domestically on its opening weekend.

Until now.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel we waited 36 years to see, crushed the Memorial Day box office with an estimated $151 million haul.

Not all belated sequels score with audiences. “Zoolander 2” flopped in 2016 with $28 million. “Blade Runner 2049” couldn’t break the $100 million mark, in total, despite the first film’s cult status.

Audiences felt the need for speed, Maverick style, and they didn’t mind waiting through pandemic-related delays.

Why? It’s complicated, but several factors helped Cruise reach new heights in his decades-old career.

Let’s start with the actor behind Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Cruise’s off-screen life is rife with tabloid headlines, from romantic woes to his deep Scientology ties. Yet his Hollywood brand grows bigger each year, and for very good reason.

He’s apolitical and driven, eager to make populist movies with talented colleagues. Cruise delivers … without the lectures, social media hate or other trappings some actors embrace.

And, like fellow superstar Clint Eastwood, Cruise understands what audiences crave.

His “Mission: Impossible” franchise stands at or near the top of the Hollywood heap, from both a commercial and critical perspective. That’s no accident. Cruise controls it as both star and producer.

That often means we see less of Cruise than most A-listers. The actor, like fellow superstar Denzel Washington, doesn’t overbook his schedule. It allows him to dedicate himself to each project and all the accompanying challenges attached. 

“Top Gun: Maverick” doesn’t reject the source material. It embraces it.

The last “Terminator” sequel reduced franchise star Arnold Schwarzenegger to sidekick status to push its girl-power agenda. The 2019 “Charlie’s Angels” reboot ignored the TV show's frothy tone that inspired it.

“Maverick” honors the 1986 original in every conceivable way, from bringing Val Kilmer back as Iceman to cheering America’s military might. You don’t see Rooster, the Miles Teller character at the heart of the story, wringing his hands over U.S. imperialism.

No one else does, either. That’s not why we line up to see a “Top Gun” film.

That gives the film a distinct advantage over most modern fare, something even China noticed. The nation reportedly isn’t happy with the film’s pro-U.S.A. bent, and it might prevent the sequel from bowing in the Communist nation.

Post-pandemic, movie goers crave roller coaster-style action, and “Maverick” delivers with taut aerial battles and death-defying stunts. Even better? The film takes full advantage of the IMAX format, for audiences fortunate enough to have such a movie house in their neighborhood.

And then there’s the woke, or more precisely the complete lack of it on screen. The female pilot in the film, played by Monica Barbaro, is fearless but unwilling to lecture us about “mansplaining” or “gender” inequities.

Romantic co-star Jennifer Connelly brings out the best in Maverick without sacrificing her strength or femininity.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is about excellence, not quotas or equity.


That may not be the case with another summer blockbuster, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” opening June 10. That film’s PR push suggests a woke makeover no one wanted.

Finally, old fashioned world of mouth is fueling "Maverick's" success. Early test screenings led the way, followed by near-unanimous critical appeal.

Add it all up, and the summer is off to shockingly pro-American start.

Written by
Christian Toto is an award-winning film critic, journalist and founder of HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment. He’s the author of “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul” and a lifelong Yankees fan. Toto lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and too many chickens. Follow Christian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HollywoodInToto