The crowd outside the Palais des Festivals convention center, where the screening was set to take place, ran 20-people deep in some places, while the street opposite the red carpet was also crowded to the point that passers by were struggling to squeeze through. Meanwhile onlookers were also gathering on the balconies in the apartment block above the street, which faces the Palais, camera phones primed to catch a glimpse of Monsieur Cruise.
On the ground nearby, 25-year-old Gastien (he declined to give his last name) was dressed in black tie, holding up a hand-written sign requesting a ticket to the screening. Earlier in the day he attended a master class Cruise had given as part of his visit to the festival.
“It’s a big, big thing,” Gastien said of the screening. “It’s my first time in Cannes, I would be really willing to climb the red carpet for ‘Top Gun: Maverick.’ I really liked the first movie.”
On the other side of the Palais, 24-year-old Elie (he declined to give his last name) was also dressed to the nines and holding a sign begging for a ticket. “I think Tom Cruise is one of the last great action actors for great blockbuster movies who does his own stunts and makes practical effects in his movies so they are more immersive and effective,” Elie said. “That’s why I think he’s a very important actor today.”
Elie grew up watching “Top Gun” with his mother, but cites “Magnolia” and the Mission Impossible series as other favorites. “I was already in Cannes but it’s one of the nights I want to attend the most because ‘Top Gun’ in Cannes is a bit weird and exciting at the same time.”
Léandre Bruno hopped on a train from Paris after news broke of the anticipated “Top Gun: Maverick” screening on the Croisette. “Tom Cruise is one of my favorite actors because he knows how to play in auteur movies, like ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ and he also does very physical performances, like ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Top Gun,’” Bruno said. “He’s like a new Buster Keaton for our century.”
The 19-year-old, who’s studying to be a director and screenwriter, considers Cruise’s turn as a Tony Robbins-like motivational speaker in “Magnolia” to be his finest role. “I think it’s his best performance. He plays a sex maniac. He’s very powerful. And we discover throughout the film that he’s very sensitive,” said Bruno. “You see the diversity of his acting.”
Canadians Joe and Brandon (they declined to give their last names) also travelled from outside the city for the screening. They were vacationing in the nearby city of Nice, which is approximately an hour away by car, pitching up in the morning to stake out a good spot in front of the Palais. “We knew it was happening at the same time, so we came down,” said 22-year-old Joe.
“For me, Tom Cruise is like, he’s the action star, right? He does all his own stunts, he really gives it his all when he’s doing his movies so that’s it for me,” Joe explained.
Brandon said he “just likes the jets [in “Top Gun”]. I watched it with my dad and it’s a good movie.” He said he’d also be happy to see Jon Hamm, who is also starring in “Top Gun: Maverick,” on the red carpet.
While Cruise’s antics – from the Oprah couch-jumping stunt to his association with Scientology – may have turned millennials off the superstar, Generation Z see him purely as an action hero. Asked about the infamous 2005 “couch jump” (when Cruise, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” randomly jumped up on Winfrey’s couch after she asked him about his relationship with Katie Holmes), Brandon replied: “Did he stay on people’s couches?” while Joe was only vaguely familiar with the incident.
“It makes it kind of hard to stomach seeing his movies,” Joe said of Cruise’s oddball streak. “But I still enjoy ‘Mission: Impossible.'”
Nearby, Nice residents Valerie Olivieri and Jennifer Griffonnet were quick to rattle off a greatest hits list of their favorite Cruise films: “Mission: Impossible,” “Interview With a Vampire,” “Eyes Wide Shut.” But “Top Gun” still holds the title for the life-long friends, who described themselves as “fans for more than 36 years.”
“We were teenagers [when ‘Top Gun’ premiered]. That was the first time we fell in love with him, and we followed him since then,” said Olivieri. “We’re faithful in friendship, and faithful to him.”
Growing up in Nice, the two friends used to make the short trip to the Cannes Film Festival every year. But it’s been more than 25 years since their last visit, and it took Cruise to bring them back. The duo – who wore matching, vintage “Top Gun” t-shirts – only glimpsed the megastar from a distance during the film’s photocall, but Olivieri described it as a “wow” moment.
As for any fears that her boss would find out she played hooky to wait for Cruise outside the Palais? “She’s a fan, too. She would say ‘Take photos!’”