Tom Cruise Is About To Earn 100X His Original Top Gun Salary From The Highly-Anticipated "Maverick" Sequel

By on May 25, 2022 in ArticlesEntertainment

Thirty-six years ago, on May 16, 1986, "Top Gun" debuted in theaters. The movie became a global phenomenon, earning $360 million at the box office. And on Thursday, May 25, 2022, after more than two years of COVID delays, the highly-anticipated sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," will finally be released.

If you're a guy who is currently between 35-45 years old, the original Top Gun was nothing short of a life-changing world event. I was too young to see it in theaters (in 1986 I was 4), but once the movie came out on the nascent VHS technology, I was taken by its mighty wings at Mach 3 with my hair on fire straight to the danger zone for life.

I watched the VHS so many times, my parents had to hide it from me. But I found it and kept watching. Over and over. When we were in the car, I made the whole family listen to my cassette copy of the soundtrack. Over and over.

Ask any guy in the aforementioned age range, and I guarantee you at some point in their early life they dreamed of being a pilot. Excuse me, not just a pilot. A "naval aviator." And just like the aforementioned sentence, Top Gun quotes and memes have become an innate language in our daily vocabulary.

Fun fact: Mark Zuckerberg sprinkled Top Gun quotes and references in random places in the first version of For no reason at all, the original footer line of the site read: "Too close for missiles. Switching to guns." Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984 and is currently 38 years old. He gets it.

So, needless to say, most guys between 35 and 45 are likely making the pilgrimage to a movie theater this weekend to buy a ticket for "Top Gun: Maverick." And if the movie proves to be as successful as all indicators are… indicating, Tom Cruise is about to buzz the tower with an aircraft carrier-sized payday.

Photo by Paramount Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

How much did Tom Cruise make for Top Gun 1?

First let's step back a bit. Tom Cruise earned $50,000 for his breakthrough role in 1981's "Taps." His salary jumped to $75,000 for another star-making role in 1983's "Risky Business." That same year he earned $500,000 for a movie called "Legend" which I literally had not heard of before 20 minutes ago. And I think I know why. Legend was a bomb. It made $24 million on a $23.5 million budget. It has a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Top Gun's producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson were probably shitting their pants when Legend bombed. Right as it was bombing, they were in the midst of filming Top Gun.

Since his Top Gun contract was negotiated before Legend's bombing, Tom Cruise's $2 million salary was safe. But to be clear, Tom's $2 million salary was 13% of Top Gun's entire budget. And FYI, earning $2 million in 1985 is the same as earning around $5.4 million today. It's not known how much Tom's co-stars like Kelly Mcgillis or Val Kilmer made from the first film. Presumably much less than $2 million.

Thankfully for all involved, Top Gun was a smash hit, earning $360 million at the global box office. It was the highest-grossing film of 1986.

(Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

How much will Tom Cruise make from Top Gun 2?

Top Gun set Tom Cruise on a path to becoming the highest-paid actor in the world. He earned $3 million for "Cocktail" in 1986, $3 million base and $9 million total after profit participation for 1988's "Rain Man" and $9 million for "Days of Thunder" in 1990. In the early 1990s he was commanding $12-15 million per movie.

In 1996 Tom took on a new role: Producer

In 1995 Tom and his former agent Paula Wagner established Cruise/Wagner Productions on the Paramount studio lot and set out to find a project to develop. At some point they were made aware of the fact that Paramount already owned the rights to the "Mission: Impossible" television series. Not only was Tom a fan of the show as a kid, he was intrigued to learn that Paramount had struggled for years to find a way to develop the asset into a film franchise. Cruise and Wagner soon struck a deal with Paramount to make "Mission: Impossible" their first production project.

Released on May 22, 1996, almost 10 years to the day from the Top Gun release, "Mission: Impossible" went on to earn $460 million on an $80 million budget. Between his acting salary, and more importantly, producing fee, Tom went on to earn $70 million from the movie.

He earned $75 million from the sequel and another $75 million for the third installment. By our count, Tom has earned around $300 million to date thanks to the "Mission Impossible" franchise.

Thanks to this franchise and around 20 years of similarly-amazing paychecks, heading into Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise's net worth is $600 million.

First Dollar Gross

There's a simple reason Tom makes so much money when he is the star and producer of a film. Not only does he typically set aside around $20 million for himself to cover his acting duties, he also receives a generous share of his projects' backend points.

I reached out to a well-placed producer source today to learn more about Tom's backend deal. According to my source, Tom Cruise is literally the only actor left in Hollywood who is still able to command a share of what is called "First Dollar Gross" on his own movies. Will Smith was the only other actor who recently be able to get first dollar gross, but he slapped that privilege right down the toilet.

What is "first dollar gross" and why is it so awesome? First dollar gross literally means revenue, not profits. The dirty little secret in Hollywood is that most movies don't ever make a profit. A $500 million blockbuster ends up losing money thanks infamous studio accounting. So if an actor has points on backend profits, she may never actually see a dollar in backend money.

The only cost that comes before first dollar gross is the money taken by theaters, formally known as "exhibitors." Exhibitors typically receive around 40% of gross receipts. So if a movie makes $500 million globally, there would be $300 million after exhibitors. If an actor was entitled to 10% of first dollar gross, she would get $30 million.

And according to my source, Tom Cruise has 10% of first dollar gross out of the gate for "Top Gun: Maverick." BUT! With sweeteners and milestone bonuses, that percentage could ultimately grow to 20% first dollar gross.

If Top Gun: Maverick grosses $1 billion worldwide, which it is projected to do, there would be $600 million left after exhibitors. At a minimum, Tom would earn 10% of that, which would be $60 million on top of his $13 million salary. If he ultimately gets 20% first dollar gross, Tom would earn $120 million + $13 million = $133 million.

But that's not all! Tom's backend deal ALSO applies to revenue generated when the movie is sold to streaming services and the home rental market. Let's conservatively assume those ancillary deals bring in an additional $300 million. Crucially, there are no exhibitors taking a 40% cut when the film is sold to a streaming service. So Tom should get 10-20% of the $300 million. That would be an additional $30 – $60 million.  Just for fun let's assume $60 million. In this scenario Tom's payday would be

$133 million base + box office backend + $60 million streaming/rental. For a total of…

$193 million

If that happens, Tom will roughly 100 times his original Top Gun salary. And honestly, this might be one of the only examples in film history where the payday is totally justified. This sequel would not exist without Tom's acting, marketing and producing prowess.

If Tom does indeed earn $193 million, he will come just $1 million shy of the largest single-film acting payday of all time. Unfortunately he still won't top the $194 million payday Bruce Willis earned from "The Sixth Sense" payday into second place.

And remember boys, no points for second place.

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