Why The New ‘Top Gun’ is So Popular: Americans like rule-breakers, not conformists

It is funny to hear industry analysts trying to figure out why the new Top Gun: Maverick movie is doing so well going into its third weekend. I’ve listened to and read several hundred reviews of the film at this point. Unlike other kinds of movies, I have not yet found anybody who understands why the American market is flocking to see it many times now. Is it patriotism and the lack of wokeness that is in the movie? Or is it Tom Cruise himself, which many in the trades would like to think is the case? Well, Tom Cruise was smart to make Top Gun the way it needed to be, especially coming out of the Covid years. The film was done well before there was ever a pandemic, and Paramount sat on it for several years because of the uncertainty of the future of Hollywood, Top Gun: Maverick has the feel of a movie made in a different time and a different country, all the way back to 2019. I remember being on an airplane flying out of Orlando and watching Comic-Con footage of the movie for a 2020 summer release, so it’s been out there for a long time. But the film was released during a market recovery in a post-Covid world, and all kinds of forces were at play that inspired Americans to return to the movie theaters to see a movie worth leaving the house to view. Yet, there is an element to Top Gun that is very much reminiscent of the 80s when Tom Cruise was making so many blockbuster films, along with other movie stars, that say more about Americans to the world than anybody has seen in a while. It is that element that was on raw display in the new movie and is why the film is doing well without the rest of the world driving a majority of the box office numbers, specifically the Chinese market. 

The character of Maverick is a rule-breaker, and that is a trait that Americans love. They don’t like someone who follows the rules to the letter. Americans want out-of-the-box characters who will bend or break the rules to accomplish something great in the world, even down to the name of the Tom Cruise character. Tom Cruise himself is not like Maverick. But he was wise to play a character like Maverick and let all the elements of a rebel within the military shine in many reckless ways. Just the name of the character, Maverick, indicates a loner, a rugged individualist, someone who goes their own way in life. And that is not how the rest of the world is. Only American cultures celebrate such traits. The stories other cultures put on the silver screen are conflicts with conformity as opposed to what we see in Top Gun, a character so reckless that he costs the military hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in just this one movie. Maverick crashes two very expensive aircraft and puts at risk many more in his exploits of individualism that are often audacious, unapologetic, and way over the top. In most cultures, Maverick would be in jail. But in America, he is considered the top navy pilot that the military has, and audiences love it.

Literally, in the movie, all the people who have trouble are those who follow the rules. There is a scene where all the best pilots are in a bar talking about the upcoming mission, and they wonder who will be able to teach them anything. And of course, it is Maverick who has been picked to lead the mission because for it to be successful, it will require someone willing to break all the rules and discover what nobody yet knows. There is a scene where Tom Cruise playing Maverick, stands in front of a giant American flag and tells his students to throw out the rule book because it’s what your enemy knows. To succeed in this movie, the characters must learn to “not think” and act on “instinct.” It’s really the message of the first Star Wars movie from way back in 1977 and is a yearning that most people often experience in their lives. The desire to be their own authentic person and not some caricature of social order. The only way a mission like the one featured in Top Gun: Maverick can be accomplished is by breaking all the rules because the enemy is stuck in rules and is their ultimate weakness. It’s not the military jets, the companionship, or even the music that makes people love movies like this one. They help sell the story, but the essence is that Americans love rule breakers. So does the rest of the world, but they can only experience such things in American movies, and that is precisely why all these woke politics have infected the industry to the extent they have. For the producers of Top Gun to turn loose a character like Maverick again into the movie business was a very deliberate act, and the results are apparent. 

In much the same way that ESG scores are failing the financial industry because the world does not value those measures, they have been artificially created to inspire liberal political change to a climate change fanatical religion. Real value is what people are encouraged to see in the movies, not just in the act of buying popcorn actually to see a movie just because it’s there. It’s what the story tells that matters to people, and in Top Gun, it’s about recklessness over logic. It’s about breaking the rules in a rigid military environment to do what the military itself can’t do. It’s thinking out of the box to solve the problems society at large gets stuck on. And that’s why this movie Top Gun: Maverick is doing such good business while other movies come and go, and people forget about them five minutes later. So there is much more going on with this new Top Gun movie than just great music, interesting visual effects, and a vintage throwback to the kind of movies made in America during the 80s. Americans love rule breakers, before and after Covid. Covid was everything that Americans didn’t want to be. They gave authority a chance in case it saved lives, but knowing what we do now in hindsight, they would never do it again. Instead, millions of Maverick types sit in a darkened theater cheering on the new Top Gun because they see themselves in the character. And they want characters like that to succeed, to win at all costs. That’s the American way of doing things, and the rest of the world is fascinated by it. Even though they can’t relate, they will still buy a movie ticket to see it in the fictional character of Tom Cruise’s Maverick. For them, it’s the closest thing they will ever get to a society that thumbs its nose at procedures and conformity and embraces adventure and the treasures found in recklessness. And like all great movies, because Maverick was so reckless, so brash, and such a rule-breaker, he saves society in the process, which says more about us all than any other measure of human achievement.

Rich Hoffman

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