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Theaters look to ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ to get moviegoers back in seats

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In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise’s character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is grappling with the diminished standing of fighter pilots in a world that now wages war with drones controlled by people miles away on computers.

Hollywood, of course, has its own small screen problem.

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The pandemic helped millions of consumers get used to the idea of watching movies at home on streaming services. As virus fears slowly ease, theater owners are hoping “Top Gun” will help get a broad range of people to give that habit a rest, and start seeing films on the big screen again.

“‘Top Gun’ is one of those types of films that can be a needle mover for people who have been on the cusp because of the health crisis,” said Sean Gamble, chief executive officer of Cinemark Holdings Inc., the third-largest US chain, in an interview.

“We’ve found as soon as they go back to the theaters, they get over that hump.”

Paramount Pictures and Skydance Media have produced the film, a sequel to the 1986 blockbuster that helped cement Cruise as one of Hollywood’s most-bankable stars. It’s expected to generate about $130 million in its opening weekend, according to forecaster Boxoffice Pro.

If so, that would make it the third-biggest box office opening since the start of the pandemic, and give theaters a needed tailwind.

The movie should draw an older crowd than the superhero movies that have dominated ticket sales for the past two years. Older fans have been among the most reticent to take a break from streaming.

Paramount said the film took in $19.3 million in early screenings this week, a record for the studio. The number includes a May 24 fan event in theaters.

The movie’s opportunity to be a global hit is diminished in part because it’s unlikely to get a release in China.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Chinese technology giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., which had signed on to co-finance the picture in 2019, quietly pulled out over concerns it glorified the US military.

Still, in many parts of the world, the film will contribute to what’s looking like the industry’s first real summer moviegoing season since 2019.

In two weeks, Universal Pictures will release “Jurassic World Dominion,” while the week after that Walt Disney Co. will put out “Lightyear,” from its “Toy Story” franchise. Each week of the summer, studios will churn out big-budget features, just like they did before the 2020 Covid lockdown.

Gamble said that while the performance of some movies, like “Spider Man: No Way Home,” has been encouraging, the fact that studios didn’t release big films at a regular cadence for two years made it harder for the industry to recover.

The overall domestic box office is expected to reach $7.7 billion in 2022. In 2019, receipts topped $11 billion.

“Top Gun” has a 97 percent critical approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com. It picks up the story of the earlier film, with Cruise’s character still coping with the death of his best friend, nicknamed “Goose,” in a training exercise gone wrong.

It also stars Miles Teller, who plays Goose’s son, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connelly and Monica Barbaro. Val Kilmer reprises his role from the original.

The movie will be released in more than 4,700 domestic theaters, and should get an extra boost from the Memorial Day holiday. “Top Gun” could take in another $26 million on Monday, Boxoffice Pro estimated.

“Since it’s the only blockbuster release in theaters over the long holiday season, expect this to play more like a superhero flick, engaging teens and families, who may or may not be familiar with the original,” said Jeff Bock, a senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

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