By now, it seems like most people have seen Top Gun: Maverick, and those who haven't have definitely heard about it. As of August 8, 2022, the film has earned $662.5 million in the U.S. box office alone, with a global intake of $1.35 billion – which puts it as the 13th highest-grossing movie ever made. Domestically, it stands at number 7, just behind Avengers: Infinity War and ahead of Titanic.
But what's to account for the success of this movie? And what can we learn from it?
Factors for Success
Let's start by looking at some of the biggest factors for this movie's success:
- Sequels and familiar IPs. It's no secret that Hollywood has been heavily leaning on existing intellectual properties and franchises that have proven to be successful. Rather than coming up with entirely new stories or entirely new franchises, they would rather dig up some old movies and characters they know can be successful and recycle them in some new context. This is the premise behind the “legacy sequel” – a new addition to a relatively old or entrenched media franchise. Part of the reason why Top Gun: Maverick has been so successful is because it can tap into the cultural familiarity of the original Top Gun. At the same time, most legacy sequels aren't so well received by audiences or critics – so this can't be the only factor that led to the movie's success.
- Strong new talent. It’s not just the old, seasoned actors doing the heavy lifting in this movie. Newcomers like Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, and Miles Teller all did a phenomenal job. The creators of this movie did an excellent job balancing storytelling elements from both the new crowd and the old crowd.
- A standalone story. For more than a decade, blockbuster film franchises have been taken over by a prevailing tendency for individual movies to serve only as small building blocks for a bigger universe. Walk into any superhero movie, and you can all but guarantee that a third of the movie or more will be dedicated to callbacks to former movies or hints at future movies. In some ways, this is captivating, but in other ways, it takes away from the standalone story in front of you. Because Top Gun: Maverick functions almost exclusively as a standalone movie, with no setups for future sequels, audiences have found it to be refreshing.
- Traditional blockbuster cinema. Whether you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films or not, it’s undeniable that they’ve totally changed the world of blockbuster cinema. Traditional film structures have all but fallen apart in favor of major battles in the third act and constant winks and nods to the audience with lighthearted humor, no matter how serious the events of the movie actually are. Again, Top Gun: Maverick deviates from the new formula, taking more inspiration from older blockbusters and traditional action films, which audiences have missed.
- An excellent marketing strategy. It's also important to recognize that Top Gun: Maverick benefited from an excellent marketing strategy, including perfectly crafted trailers that didn't give too much of the story away and effectively paced marketing and advertising materials that gradually built excitement for the film.
- Word of mouth (and the surprise factor). How many people have you known who have seen this movie in theaters and gushed about it later? For a combination of reasons, this movie has gotten people talking. This movie rejects modern formulas and presents something new, it's highly entertaining, and it's very well made. On top of that, most legacy sequels have been neutral to disappointing, so people were genuinely surprised to find that this movie was exceptionally good. They couldn't help but talk about it, leading to increased popularity because of word of mouth.
Takeaways for Marketers
So what should your takeaways be as a marketer? Whether you're planning a marketing and advertising campaign for a film, a new product, or something else entirely, there are some important lessons you can learn from this:
- Understand what your audience wants. The makers of Top Gun: Maverick weren't interested in simply replicating the formulas of modern box office hits, nor were they obsessed with presenting an esoteric artistic vision. Instead, they created a film that they knew people would want to see. If you can fully and truly understand what your audience wants, you'll be able to give it to them consistently. That's why market research, and the development of customer personas, are so important in the early stages of your marketing strategy development.
- Choose substance over style. Although this film does offer plenty of style, it's pretty clear that the creators chose substance over style, focusing on strong characters, compelling writing, and excellent direction, rather than formulaic presentations or mimicry. If you do the same in your content marketing and email marketing strategy, you'll stand to see much better results.
- Tap into both familiarity and novelty. Totally familiar experiences are boring, while totally novel experiences are jarring. If you can tap into some familiarity while also introducing something new, the way this film did, you'll see a more positive response from your audience.
- Get people talking. There’s no denying that word of mouth advertising is incredibly powerful. If you can find a way to get people talking about your product, or even just your marketing strategy, it's going to strongly benefit you. Do something totally unique, and possibly controversial, to get people talking about your brand.
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