The legacy of Top Gun is one of action, adventure and dedication to pushing the limits. Those are all things that Tom Cruise has taken to heart in developing his own career as well, as anyone can see by tracking the path he’s taken over his decades of experience. One could even say the same about the salaries he’s been able to command, as comparing how much he made between the original outing and its legacy-quel Top Gun: Maverick is the difference between night and day. (But that has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise film Knight and Day.)
How Much Tom Cruise Made For 1986’s Top Gun
According to a profile that Parade ran on the history of Tom Cruise paydays, the actor was paid $2 million for his participation in Tony Scott’s 1986 classic. Adjusted for inflation, and using the June 1985 start date for Top Gun filming as a benchmark, that would come out to roughly $5.6 million dollars in 2023.
For the time, that makes for a rosy step in the trajectory of the Cruise machine. Larger paydays would await, and franchises like Mission: Impossible, as well as one-off hits like Minority Report and War of the Worlds, lay ahead. That brings us to the amazing deal that Tom Cruise made with Top Gun: Maverick, which started with what looked like a downgrade in pay, but included a common perk that made all the difference.
Tom Cruise’s Salary, And Other Considerations, That Made Up His Top Gun: Maverick Windfall
Believe it or not, Tom Cruise’s initial paycheck for Maverick was only between $12 - $14 million, though one assumes that he didn't ask for any sort of hazard pay on the flying stunts he did in the film. That figure was reported by Variety, both in a 2019 piece about movie star salaries, as well as an update in 2022 that partially focused on Top Gun: Maverick’s box office success. So if that’s the case, why does that newer story claim that Cruise was bringing home “over $100 million?”
Well, it’s the old school practice of Hollywood accounting, and giving up a little to get a lot more down the line. Though the Mission: Impossible star may have brought home less than in his ‘90s heyday for this legacy-quel, Cruise negotiated his way into a larger payout through the following practice:
…he commands a significant percentage of the movies’ first-dollar gross. That means that Cruise gets box office bonuses before the studio even breaks even. In the case of Top Gun: Maverick, still flying high at nearly $1.2 billion at the global box office, sources estimate that Cruise will net $100 million or more from ticket sales, his salary and his eventual cut of home entertainment rentals and streaming revenue.
While Tom Cruise accepted a smaller salary than usual, it was a move that helped secure him more on the back end. It's a savvy move that big players usually employ to great effect, and as you read above, Cruise was cashing in on his big Top Gun return before the studio was. Of course, it also helps that Paramount and Tom Cruise have such a long-standing relationship thanks to that other blockbuster franchise they both share, i.e. Mission: Impossible.
One can see why Tom Cruise pushed for Top Gun: Maverick to become the theatrical based hit it became. Besides the man’s true love for cinema, the staggeringly-long legs the film had during its cinematic window must have paid a pretty penny to the daredevil movie star. And as noted above, that was before the eventual home video and streaming release for those with a Paramount+ subscription, which only served as a cherry on top.
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By the time Top Gun: Maverick hit home audiences, it was already the movie that Steven Spielberg claimed “saved Hollywood’s ass.” So at that point, Tom Cruise would have probably banked quite a bit of cash for himself through all those other perks. Not bad for someone who, with a modest paycheck and a sleeper hit, helped build a huge foundation of success in the Danger Zone.
Top Gun, as well as Top Gun: Maverick, are both streaming on Paramount+, should you feel the need for speed. Otherwise, if you’re curious about what action lies ahead with the 2023 new movie releases, that information is easily available. It’s also a source of joy for Tom Cruise fans, as Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One finally sees Ethan Hunt returning to theaters starting July 12th.