Cinema audiences love a throwback. Tom Cruise and his old-fashioned stunts — rather than computer-generated special effects — have made Top Gun: Maverick the biggest film of the summer.
Audiences around the world have thrilled to the sight of Cruise, 59, and fellow cast members in the cockpits of genuine fighter jets. US Navy pilots took over for breathtaking sequences of high-speed aerial combat on the big screen.
Now Joseph Kosinski, the Top Gun director, has confirmed that his next film will attempt the same trick — this time with Formula One cars, professional racing drivers and another veteran leading man.
Brad Pitt, 58, will star as a driver who comes out of retirement to mentor a promising rookie. The film, which has the working title Formula One, will be co-produced by Sir Lewis Hamilton, winner of a joint-record seven drivers’ world championships.
Kosinski said recently that he would rely on “in-camera” action — effects created solely by the camera — to make viewers feel like they are behind the wheel at 200mph.
“Certainly seeing people react to an in-camera, authentically captured film like Top Gun makes us all feel good that our approach works and is appreciated by audiences,” he told The Wrap, the online entertainment news website.
“It’s almost funny to me to see people who are so enamored with real photography. Younger people almost haven’t seen a lot of it. They’re so used to CGI [computer-generated images] being a tool of big movies that when you shoot something for real, it feels innovative.
He added: “That’s exactly the approach for Formula One … to shoot at the real races and real cars and capture it. It’s going to be a huge challenge but an exciting one for me.”
The emerging trend of using real-world techniques rather than a green screen is welcomed by Robert Nagle, a leading Hollywood stuntman who worked on Le Mans ’66, the Oscar-winning 2019 drama starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
Formula One will be co-produced by Sir Lewis Hamilton, winner of a joint-record seven drivers’ world championships.
“Oftentimes in the CGI world, your eye knows something’s not right,” he said. “Your eye knows it’s not real — you can’t point to what’s wrong with it but you just know it’s not real. It can take you out of the story.
“And the audience has got smarter. We have to work harder to fool them, whether it’s a practical stunt or a CG effect. We are striving harder and harder to make it more enjoyable and more spectacular.”
Top Gun: Maverick is on course to become the highest-grossing film of Cruise’s career, having taken $650 million worldwide since its release late last month.
The follow-up project will have a rich lineage of Hollywood racing films, including Grand Prix in 1966, starring James Garner, and Days of Thunder in 1990 starring Cruise himself. It was made by Tony Scott, the late director of the original Top Gun in 1986, and remains a favorite of the director Quentin Tarantino.
More recently Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a fly-on-the-wall Netflix series, has introduced the sport to a much younger audience as well as turbocharging its popularity in America, a key market long dominated by coverage of Nascar and other homegrown motorsports.
The program successfully manages to capture the drama of F1, with its larger-than-life personalities, old-school glamour and exhilaratingly high stakes.
Drive to Survive’s popularity has also translated to TikTok, crucial for capturing the attention of the Generation Z audience.
“You cannot say all the racing movies in the past have been spectacular and that is something we want to change,” said Hamilton, 37, as he prepared for the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“It’s really about showing how great this sport is to people that have never watched it and also making sure that we keep the real heritage and the true racing spirit within the movie.”
He added: “We are working on the script and spending good time with Brad is pretty epic.”
Top Gun: Maverick is on course to become the highest-grossing film of Cruise’s career, having taken $650 million worldwide since its release.
The success of Top Gun: Maverick and Drive to Survive may go some way to explaining why Kosinski’s new project was so highly coveted by leading Hollywood players including Apple, Amazon, Netflix and MGM.
Apple won the race with a deal that could show the industry how to balance streaming and theatrical releases for blockbusters in the coming years.
Instead of sending the film straight to its Apple TV+ streaming service, the technology giant has committed to a wide cinema release, ensuring that audiences will get to experience it on the big screen — as well as at the even larger-format Imax theaters.
The approach marks a significant victory for proponents of the theatrical experience following years of streaming’s seemingly unstoppable march.
As recently as six months ago Netflix appeared secure at the top of the tree but the company has suffered a severe drop in its share price amid a fall in subscribers and intense competition from Apple, Disney and Amazon.
David A Gross, a leading box office expert who runs the film consultancy FranchiseRe, said a big-budget F1 film featuring a global star such as Pitt was the perfect fit for the cinema.
“As the movie business is regaining its strength, it’s clear that many movies still belong on the big screen,” he said.
“They have every potential to draw big audiences at the box office before moving on to their streaming release. When a movie connects at the cinema, it remains the most profitable way to realize its potential, and it brings more value to streaming.
“A theatrical-first release is still the best business model. That was true in the past, and it still is. The Apple film is a big-screen, visual story and Brad Pitt is a huge worldwide star. The movie belongs on the big screen — it would not make sense as a streaming-only project.
“Movies are a central part to Apple’s streaming ambitions — if they can make bigger movies that work at the box office it’s going to help Apple TV+ and that’s the goal.”
Companies such as Meta, the owner of Facebook, have placed big bets on audiences diving ever deeper into virtual reality worlds but the success of Top Gun: Maverick and the buzz around Pitt’s new film show there is life in the real world yet.
Keiran Southern is the West Coast correspondent for The Times of London