Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
About this time last year, moviegoers across the United States were buzzing about the movie surprise of the summer. Nearly 40 years after the release of the naval-aviator-fetishizing action blockbuster Top Gun, a sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, was blowing up the box office with the unlikely combination of gargantuan grosses and stellar reviews.
With apologies to the makers of the 2014 prestige biopic about towering computer scientist Alan Turing, Hollywood filmmaking is the real imitation game. If something worked like gangbusters for someone else in showbiz, then that same thing is bound to work like gangbusters for anyone else who tries it. Right?
The answer is probably a heavily qualified "maybe" at best, but that won't stop anyone (or more like everyone) from trying. One of the most expensive movies on the way to theaters in 2023 is Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny, a questionable attempt to wring one last adventure out of a septuagenarian (at the time of filming) Harrison Ford ... 15 years after Ford's (and Indy's) previous one last adventure.
The question isn't so much whether lightning will strike twice, as where it will strike next. Dial of Destiny was already (mostly) finished well before Maverick became a sensation, because there's no movie formula with more power in Hollywood than a tried-and-true movie formula. Why bet on something new when you can pander to nostalgia?
Oh, and yes, this is CertMag.com, and not The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. This week we're answering the clarion call of one of those Not So Serious questions that get tucked into the end of the Salary Survey each year. Top Gun: Maverick was on our minds at the end of last summer, so that's why you're reading about it at the start of this one.
Or at least about the question that its largely unanticipated success inspired. No, not "How did this happen?" or "Did Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell actually perish after ejecting at Mach 10 and the rest of the movie is just an alternate timeline of events flashing before his eyes during his final moments of life?" No, it's much more mundane than that.
If a sequel to a 36-year-old movie that essentially no one clamoring to see a "next chapter" of is worth nearly $1.5 billion worth of movie tickets sold worldwide, then what happens next? Here's what we learned:
Q: Now that Tom Cruise turned Top Gun: Maverick into a massive movie blockbuster, which "Let's bring back (Fill in the blank)" pitch is getting the most traction in Hollywood?
"Someone takes something from Liam Neeson ... again." — 15.5 percent
"What was that movie where Scarlett Johansson used 100 percent of her brainpower?" — 15 percent
"You know, Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for Ghost." — 11.3 percent
"Does anyone remember what happened to Jack Bauer at the end of 24?" — 15.3 percent
"The plot is that Martin Sheen has to find this guy, Kurtz, but we don't even need Martin Sheen, because Harrison Ford and Laurence Fishburne were in the movie, too." — 11.3 percent
"So it turns out that J.R.R. Tolkien had a whole bunch of notes and maybe even another book that ... Wait, what?" — 14 percent
"Are Mel Gibson and Danny Glover still alive?" — 12.5 percent
"Are Robert Redford and Paul Newman still alive?" — 5.1 percent
What we can see from these results is that certified IT professionals would be terrible showbiz decision makers. Or maybe we just dazzled everyone with too many seemingly probable options. There's essentially a four-way tie in our quest to determine which pitch Hollywood producers are most likely itching to shovel money at.
OK, fine, our Lord of the Rings proposal was more of a nod-wink acknowledgement of the fact that, as noted above, the movie and TV overlords are constantly recycling, rebooting, sequelizing, and prequelizing. They don't need an unlikely success story to already be totally barking up the "established IP" tree. The Rings of Power prequel series got to Amazon Prime even before the 2023 Salary Survey got to survey respondents. So it was really more of a three-way tie for first place.
We've already seen that the established success of 24 (one sequel series and one spinoff series) and Taken (two sequels and counting) are both hard habits to break. Everyone loves a good tough guy kicking butt and taking names, and Kiefer Sutherland just barely launched a return to the espionage TV genre with Rabbit Hole in March.
The real wild card at the top of the pile is the elliptically referenced Lucy, a 10-year-old surprise blockbuster that mustered nearly a half-billion in worldwide grosses by turning Scarlett Johansson into, well, a hyper-intelligent incorporeal entity who transcends the boundaries of time and space. There's a lot of butt-kicking action before that part, but yeah, this one would probably work best as a prequel.
Whoopi Goldberg did, in fact, win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the 1990 romantic tearjerker Ghost. And maybe this suggestion should be the real winner, since actor Channing Tatum secured the rights to produce and star in a Ghost remake earlier this year. That's right, fellow Salary Survey-ites, yay for us! We literally willed this one into existence. Like, maybe probably totally for reals.
We had no such luck, alas, when it comes to Apocalypse Now. You never know where Hollywood will turn next, of course, and it's at least been rumored that Harrison Ford may still be making movies.
Danny Glover liked to claim he was "too old for this (bleep)" when they were still making Lethal Weapon movies — the last of which came knocking 25 years ago — but he and Mel Gibson are in fact, both still alive. The same cannot be said, alas, for the titanic tandem that gave us the durable delights of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Sting. Robert Redford is barely Harrison Ford's age (plus a few years), but Paul Newman, like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, has transcended mere mortality.