Jerry Bruckheimer on why ‘Top Gun’ sequel filled theaters: It’s ‘about the emotion’

Don’t be fooled by the fighter planes or explosions. It’s the feelings that brought audiences to “Top Gun: Maverick,” legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer said during an interview for Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Monday.

“It’s always about the emotion,” he said. “A lot of people can shoot great action, but if you don’t have the emotion, you don’t have a great movie.”

In Bruckheimer’s career — which features some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster successes like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Bad Boys” — “Top Gun: Maverick” still stands out. Grossing nearly $1.5 billion at the box office, it’s not only the largest commercial success of Bruckheimer’s career. It’s also Tom Cruise’s biggest box office win and the top grossing movie of 2022, so far.

“Tom is the hardest working person you’ll ever meet,” Bruckheimer said. “He cares. He loves to be on a set, first of all. He cares about every single moment, about every single performance, not only his. He’s all over everything and he’s a much better producer than I’ll ever be.”

Bruckheimer said he and Cruise haven’t yet talked about “Top Gun 3” — “not a word” — but that he has other sequels in the works, including “Beverly Hills Cop 4,” starring Eddie Murphy, in production for Netflix ( NFLX).

‘There’s a worldwide audience for what Hollywood does’

“Top Gun: Maverick,” much like the original “Top Gun” that Bruckheimer also produced, wasn’t an obvious home run. A sequel made decades after the original, the movie’s release was also delayed for two years as COVID-19 kept audiences at home. Bruckheimer has no regrets about holding the film; he wanted to wait for audiences to feel comfortable in theaters again.

“The fact we held it for two years was the best thing we could ever do,” he said. “The audience was ready to come out. I think this is the first movie where an older audience felt safe going to the theaters. A lot of people who saw the movie said, ‘This is the first time we’ve been in a theater in two years.'”

Getting an audience through the door initially wouldn’t be enough, though. Bruckheimer sensed skepticism that the sequel would be able to live up to the original, and that he needed to win over audiences. Released in 1986, “Top Gun” follows a charismatic, rule-bending pilot, played by Cruise, as he competes for the top spot at the Navy’s elite fighter weapons school. The sequel revisits Cruise as he returns to the school decades later, this time as a teacher to his late wingman’s son.

The 75th Cannes Film Festival – Photocall for the film “Top Gun: Maverick” Out of Competition – Cannes, France, May 18, 2022. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and cast member Tom Cruise pose. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

“The people who saw it back in ’86 and ’87 wanted to go back to see what we did,” he said. “But you know what? They had their arms crossed. ‘That was such a good movie! I know they’re gonna screw this up!’ So, we had to overcome that first. I think when you hear that first gong and you see those jets taking off, they relaxed a bit.”

If that weren’t enough, the movie wasn’t released in China or Russia, and Chinese tech company Tencent backed out of its investment in the movie, fearing the government wouldn’t approve of its aggrandizement of the US military. Still, “Top Gun: Maverick” was a runaway success, one that proved it was possible for a big-budget action movie to have massive box office success without China.

“We’d love to have them, but unfortunately, the world’s politics can’t get there right now, [and] hopefully that’ll all change,” Bruckheimer said. “Look, we’d love the whole world to see our movies. We make them for the whole world.”

The foreign audiences who did see “Top Gun: Maverick” really went for it, proving something key about the deep appeal of a great Hollywood blockbuster, he added. In August, when “Top Gun: Maverick” passed the $1.4 billion mark, the movie had grossed $683.4 million domestically — and $720 million overseas. The movie did well in markets as disparate as the UK and Japan, and even grossed more than $20 million in Saudi Arabia.

“The fact that ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has made more foreign than domestic, you can just see that there’s a worldwide audience for what Hollywood does,” he said.” Even on a very American subject, with American flyers, they love the movie, because it’s a great experience… You felt great when you walked out, it took you away from your problems for two hours and that’s exactly why I make entertainment.”

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks.

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