Summer movies captured the public’s interest — and its money

August 10, 2022

Written by Haley Corzo

After a much-anticipated wait for a Top Gun sequel, with eight years of development, two years of production and several pandemic related delays, Top Gun: Maverick finally hit theaters this summer and soon became one of the highest grossing movies of all time. 

The box office wasn’t the only place Top Gun gained attention for earning big numbers. Across the web and social media the movie dominated in terms of public interest, easily making it the most popular movie of the summer.

For this research, we compared the top five highest grossing movies in the US, all of which are deserving of recognition, but Top Gun’s impact online was so significant that it’s due a special shout-out. A few narratives were obvious drivers of the high interest to Top Gun, and they were box office records, patriotism, and Tom Cruise.

chart of summer movies interest

In the week before the release of Top Gun to one week after, there were 22k articles written about the movie and over 7.5 million engagements to those articles. To put it into perspective, Top Gun saw nearly 3x the amount of engagements as the Doctor Strange sequel, the second most popular movie on our list. It’s also important to note that Top Gun and Doctor Strange had virtually the same number of articles written about them, showing just how tuned in the public was to news about the long awaited sequel. 

Top Gun not only became the second-best Memorial Day weekend debut in history, but the best opening weekend of Tom Cruise’s career. Stories about the record break were responsible for the biggest peak in interest on May 30th, but instead of waning off, interest peaked again on June 6th when publishers started writing about the success of the “pro-America” movie. In fact, the biggest article about Top Gun overall was about how unapologetically American it was. The article from Breitbart saw over 128.2k engagements. 

The other summer blockbusters also stood out in their own way. Let’s take a look at what we found.

Key takeaways from the most popular summer blockbusters 

1. Summer movies draw more attention than spring

School’s out for summer, and that means moviegoers have more time to catch some of the biggest releases of the year. While that doesn’t necessarily mean summer movies will be more popular, in this case the combined engagement of them all was significantly higher than the highest grossing spring blockbusters. Summer movies collectively earned $2.1 billion in box offices and saw over 14.1 million engagements, while spring movies earned $778 million and saw over 7.7 million engagements.

chart of spring movies interest

We did see a major similarity between spring and summer, and that was one specific movie hitting engagement out of the ballpark compared to all the others. For summer, the obvious leader was Top Gun (7.5M) and for spring it was The Batman that stood out from the pack (5.63M). 

2. TikTok can prove more impactful than traditional media

Even if the new Minions movie, The Rise of Gru, wasn’t on your list of must-sees this summer, you might have caught wind of a viral trend that made waves on TikTok. The #gentleminions trend, which includes mostly teenagers dressing up in full suits to watch the movie in theaters, garnered millions of views on individual videos across the platform. 

The media did pick up the story, mostly writing about how the trend was causing issues for movie theater owners in the UK, and while some stories did see thousands of engagements, it wasn’t comparable to the #gentleminions popularity on TikTok. 

3. Comic book culture is alive and well

 The hype around superhero movies is nothing short of constant in our society. With the recurring trope of good versus evil and action packed storylines bringing people together, the movies tend to garner a massive amount of interest. 

This summer saw the Doctor Strange sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the fourth solo Thor film, Thor: Love and Thunder, both of which earned millions of engagements online (2.9M & 2.2M). Even though both movies were installments in a longer series, it’s clear just how much support they receive from fans. Comicbook.com was the top publisher for both movies, with 251 articles about Doctor Strange and 151 about Thor. 

These summer blockbusters were big hits online and in the box offices, turning more heads than the biggest spring movies. There was still one clear stand-out among the group, with Top Gun soaring to the top of the charts and generating massive engagement. 

To read about more entertainment comparisons like this one, check out our streaming blog here.

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