Tom Cruise Really Could Finally Win an Oscar for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’


Let’s start here: It’s entirely likely that Top Gun: Maverick will win multiple Oscars. With her ubiquitous power ballad and an Oscar already in hand, Lady Gaga is perfectly positioned to steamroll the best-original-song category with “Hold My Hand.” And though there are blockbusters yet to come, including Black Panther 2 and avatar 2, the best-sound category basically exists for the zooms and crashes of Top Gun‘s aerial spectaculars.

There’s one more honor that’s a little bit more out of reach, but irresistible to imagine for fans of both the movie and one of the oldest Oscar narratives: the overdue reward. Tom Cruise has already been celebrated as the sole savior of moviegoing, thanks to Maverick‘s incredible returns. But what if he also got a best-actor statue for his effort?

The idea was floated back when Maverick first opened, and at the time, it seemed a little fanciful. but as Maverick has continued its box office dominance, to a degree that seemed impossible for any movie about non-superpowered human beings, Cruise and his Herculean efforts to entertain the world remain difficult to ignore. Would an Oscar really be so outlandish at this point?

Hear more about this not-so-wild idea on this week’s Little Gold Men podcast.

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Yes, this is a narrative that, with a few details changed, seems to resurface every year. There was the quixotic campaign for Spider Man: No Way Home to get a best-picture nomination, largely on the strength of its own box office success. There are the summer hits that hold out hope of being remembered when the Oscars roll around six months later, from tiny triumphs like The Farewell to the notorious case of The Dark Knight. There’s the whole mess of the #OscarsCheerMoment for the Snyder Cut, which we just cannot get into right now. But pretty much as long as there have been Oscars, there have been pushes from various corners to reward populist hits, with the somewhat persuasive argument that millions of fans can’t be all wrong.

And every once in a while, it works. Following its splashy premiere at Cannes in May, Top Gun: Maverick was compared fairly favorably to Mad Max: Fury Road, which began its own unlikely road to Oscar dominance at the same festival. Black Panther won three Oscars. get out, a horror movie released a full year before the ceremony, was nominated for four Oscars and won best original screenplay. When critics, audiences, and Oscar voters line up so completely, it can be genuinely thrilling—a throwback to the days when Tootsie and ET were the highest-grossing films of 1982 by the time they lost best picture to Gandhi.

But the Mad Max: Fury Road comparisons only went so far, even at Cannes. Top Gun: Maverick is an achievement on many levels, but not quite the same as George Miller‘s wild directorial vision, or even Fury Road‘s metaphorical resonance. (Maverick goes out of its way to avoid any connection to real global politics, which, fair enough.) And even though Maverick is far and away the biggest box office hit of the year, cultural dominance now doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it did for ET The urgency to celebrate a hit, even one this big, is not likely to mean as much to the globally spread, future-minded Academy voters of the moment.

But that brings us back to Tom Cruise, the man without whom Maverick would not exist for many reasons. Nominated for three career Oscars—two for definitive leading-man roles in Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire, one for transformative supporting work in Magnolia—he’s been on quite a journey since his last nomination in 2000. On the brink of irrelevance by the time Jeremy Renner was tapped as his fresh, young colead in 2011’s Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Cruise instead wrested that franchise back into his control, building up box office clout so strong that even a long-gestating, seemingly implausible Top Gun sequel suddenly became real. His non–Mission: Impossible work—two Jack Reacher movies that barely exist, an attempt to reboot The Mummy, whatever American Made turned out to be—has been almost uniformly irrelevant, but every Ethan Hunt movie has reset the clock. Watch Tom Cruise in his element, and it’s impossible not to be in awe. There is still truly no other movie star like him.

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