Top Gun: Maverick Is Making Grown Men Cry at CinemaCon

Photo: Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

In Top Gun: Maverick, we see Tom Cruise — as his cocky fighter-pilot character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell — go supersonic, pulling nine Gs and traveling at Mach 10 to establish his supremacy in the cockpit. After having spent his military career bucking the system and infuriating his superiors, Maverick is reluctantly recruited to train a squadron of up-and-coming aces for a dangerous search-and-destroy mission at the Navy’s elite Top Gun program.

Screening for the first time at Las Vegas’s CinemaCon on Thursday (ahead of its May 27 release), the long-gestating, mega-budget sequel wowed an industry-heavy crowd of more than 3,000 people. And TG:M buzzed the tower of viewer expectations in unexpected ways. Specifically, many in the audience found themselves surprisingly emotional at the continuing adventures of moviedom’s most iconic aviator. One man I spoke with after the film was incredulous. “I can’t believe myself. I was wiping back tears!” he said. His friend nodded along: “Yeah, me too.”

At a filmmakers’ luncheon in Caesars Palace directly following the screening, Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and cast member Glen Powell took the stage to discuss the particulars of picking up Maverick’s narrative thread more than three and a half decades after the first film. All of them described feeling a kind of sacred responsibility to live up to standards established by the original, which stands as a classic of ’80s action cinema and rocketed Cruise to the top of Hollywood’s A-list. “Tom described it as hitting a bullet with a bullet,” said Kosinski, who directed Cruise in the 2013 sci-fi thriller Oblivion. “We knew the bar was high. We weren’t going to stop until the movie was perfect.”

“I don’t think we thought about pleasing certain audiences,” Kosinski continued. “We approached it as, What is this man’s story? What is it we loved about the original film? What it really is, is a story about friendship and sacrifice. It’s a rite-of-passage story for Maverick. It’s a drama wrapped in an action movie.”

In the sequel, Powell (Set It Up, Fox’s Scream Queens) plays Hangman, an arrogant pilot who butts heads with Maverick (calling him “Pops”) and co-star Miles Teller’s character, Rooster, the adult son of Maverick’s radar-intercept officer, Goose (played by Anthony Edwards), in the original Top Gun. Powell detailed his own sentimental connection to that film. “I was 10 when my dad showed me the original,” the 33-year-old actor said. “It’s so special. It’s like playing catch for the first time. He held the DVD and was like, ‘We’re going to watch this.’ He looked over at me constantly, seeing how I would react. This movie was so important to people. It’s like hallowed ground.”

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Top Gun: Maverick Made Grown Men Cry at CinemaCon