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Amid delta concerns, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ release is moved from November to May 2022

The decision by Paramount to delay the landmark title could be damaging to the film business both financially and psychologically

Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a scene from “Top Gun: Maverick.” (Paramount Pictures/AP)

In a significant blow to hopes the movie business will return to something resembling normal this fall, Paramount Pictures on Wednesday postponed its biggest 2021 title, “Top Gun: Maverick,” from its Nov. 19 release date to Memorial Day weekend 2022.

The postponement comes as the covid-19 delta variant continues to rage in many parts of the world and companies such as Apple and Google have put off their return-to-office plans, though some experts wonder if the current surge has peaked.

The delay means the removal from the schedule of what is as close to a surefire hit as Hollywood has these days. And, given the film’s triumphant themes and iconic status, it comes with added symbolic import: even a larger-than-life hero is no match for the virus’ slippery ways.

The decision was undertaken by Paramount executives in consultation with the film’s star, Tom Cruise, as well its lead production and financing entity, David Ellison’s Skydance, according to a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Principals believe that movie theaters will not be doing sufficient business by the time “Top Gun” is scheduled to come out. A hoped-for renaissance at the box office has not materialized this summer as a slew of movies grossed 50 percent or less of their expected takes amid the delta surge.

The move is a reversal of Paramount’s public stance a week ago, when the film’s marketing materials were promoted at the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas with no hint a delay was imminent.

Paramount also said Wednesday it will move “Jackass Forever,” the latest installment in the Johnny Knoxville reality franchise, from October to February as part of the same plan. And because “Top Gun” is now on the planned date of Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible 7” release, that film will be postponed to September 2022.

“Top Gun: Maverick” has had a very long path to the screen. Development on a sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 smash began more than a decade ago with the late Scott. The release hiccups have sometimes felt just as involved.

The film was originally rescheduled from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2020 for production reasons. The pandemic then kicked in, causing numerous postponements to the release — to December 2020, then July 2021, and then November 2021.

The frequent delays highlight a problem that action blockbusters now face —particularly action blockbusters from Cruise. The star is known for heavy promotion around the world, as advance viral moments for his stunts are coupled with globehopping media tours.

But the covid era makes the latter impractical: one part of the globe is almost always facing pandemic heat.

Paramount is unlikely to push the potential billion-dollar grosser to a streaming platform, as it has done with some other movies.

For now, a number of other major Hollywood releases remain on the schedule for the fall: MGM’s James Bond film “No Time to Die,” set for late September in Britain and early October in the United States; Disney’s Marvel movie “Eternals,” slated for early November; and Sony Pictures’ “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” scheduled for mid-November. On Wednesday, Sony pushed the supernatural action-comedy eight days to “Top Gun’s” former date.

“Dune,” Warner Bros.’ splashy attempt to revive the Frank Herbert creation, is on schedule for an October release, though that film will debut simultaneously on HBO Max.

And Sony’s superhero sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Neon’s Princess Diana picture “Spencer” and Will Smith’s Richard Williams film “King Richard” also will all be in theaters.

But “Top Gun” had held a special place in the movie industry’s heart. The idea of a throwback picture with a high-flying action hero was seen as especially necessary after more than 18 months of a pandemic. To many theater owners and even some film fans, “Top Gun: Maverick” wasn’t just another opportunity to get the cash registers ringing — it was a sign that everything was going to be okay.

The move was surprising to some in the industry because the film’s release was ten weeks away and would be preceded by many other titles that could serve as trial balloons.

Two theater owners who asked for anonymity because they did not want to poison relations with the studio asked why Paramount didn’t wait before making the decision. A Paramount spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Among the few movies that have succeeded in theaters this year is Paramount’s own release, John Krasinski horror picture “A Quiet Place: Part II.” The film has grossed nearly $300 million worldwide, though it came out at the end of May, before the spread of the delta variant.

Paramount also will be forced to contend with the possibility that “Maverick” could seem a little musty when it is released in May. By then, after all, three years will have passed since the film was shot.