Jerry Bruckheimer breaks down why Top Gun: Maverick became Tom Cruise's highest-grossing movie

After four decades of making hit movies, Tom Cruise is still breaking his own box office records — and one of his most profitable collaborators thinks he knows why.

Top Gun: Maverick producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who first worked with Cruise on the original Top Gun back in 1986, spoke with EW in anticipation of the sequel's Aug. 23 digital release and gave his opinion on why, with $1.3 billion in worldwide box office sales, Maverick has become Cruise's high-grossing film ever.

"It's always the characters, the themes, the story," says the super-producer, who previously crossed the billion-dollar mark himself with 2006's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

"That's what it's all about; it's about the emotion, it's about bringing Iceman back, it's about seeing a real movie," Bruckheimer continues. "You're in the F-18 just like those actors are. They were trained for three months to be able to get into an F-18… You can see the struggles of what they're doing, what they're going through. That's all real, that's not made-up."

Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer
Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer

Christopher Jue/Getty Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer

While he doesn't subscribe to the disdain some other Hollywood legends have expressed for digital-effects-driven films, Bruckheimer sees Maverick's success as proof that audiences still have a soft spot for practical effects: "I think audiences have been seeing so much CGI, which is wonderful, I go see the same movies, but it's also nice to see the real deal, and to be part of a camaraderie of characters that get up in the sky and have to be as good as they can be."

He adds, "The audiences love the Marvel, they love the DC stuff. They're beautifully made by really talented people. Sometimes you want to see something that's real, and that's what Top Gun gave us… These aviators are out there protecting our country right now, flying around the world, and you're taking a ride with them. You're seeing what they do, you're seeing what their life is like, and the trials and tribulations that they have to go through. You're actually experiencing it with our actors."

While everything starts with a good story, no one involved with the film was more instrumental in creating the Maverick experience than the guy who plays the title role. "Top Gun was the benefit of all of Tom's learning and being with all these terrific actors, directors, and writers," Bruckheimer says. "He helped us craft this movie. He designed the aerial sequences with [director] Joe Kosinski, [co-writer Christopher McQuarrie], and the rest of our writers worked so hard to get this movie to become the success it has become. All that energy that Tom puts into it… Nobody works harder."

Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Kelly McGillis, and Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of 'Top Gun' in 1986
Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Kelly McGillis, and Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of 'Top Gun' in 1986

Paramount/Everett Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Kelly McGillis, and Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of 'Top Gun' in 1986

In addition to all his work behind the camera, Cruise gave so much to his performance that Bruckheimer is hoping the Oscars take notice. "Nobody cares more, nobody works harder than Tom," he says. "You look at his performance, it's deceiving, because it's so good, it's so natural. It's something that audiences understand and realize, and we hope the Academy will feel the same way."

Working with Cruise since the very beginning of his career, Bruckheimer has watched him grow from a curious kid brimming with talent to the international superstar he is today at 60. "When we first worked with him, we let him in the process," Bruckheimer says. "He sat in dailies with us, he was 21 years old. He was absorbing it all, he wanted to learn. That's all he wanted to do, learn."

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