Most Picture 2023: it’s time to let go… or is it?

Ready for another round of Top Gun: Maverick?
Ready for another round of Top Gun: Maverick?

As awards season wraps up for another year, Top Gun: Maverick claims the trophy for most obsessively rewatched of the best picture nominees—and we have reaction from the victor’s Oscar winners.

It’s highly choreographed in terms of the action, but also the rhythms of the characters, the languor and sharpness with which they interact with each other. I think a lot of why I kept going back to it was almost like you were waiting for a beat to drop.

—⁠Letterboxd member and journalist Anahit Behrooz

When it comes to awards season, some people will tell you that the Oscars determine everything. Others will insist none of it matters. Here at Letterboxd we welcome all opinions, we celebrate all awards, and we also have our own criteria to determine which films ought to be the most handsomely celebrated according to various metrics.

That criteria comes from you, the community: your ratings and your obsessive viewing habits. The highest-rated of the ten 95th Academy Awards best picture nominees? Well, we all know that: it’s best-everything winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once. But which film of the ten have we returned to again and again, giving it a different kind of status over pure ratings?

Envelope, please.

The 95th Academy Awards “Most Picture” goes to… Top Gun: Maverick.

Obsessive watchers take flight.
Obsessive watchers take flight.

We were still tentatively making our way back into cinemas when 2022 Most Picture winner Dune hit the big screens and HBO Max, and the window between its release and wider on-demand availability was short—just six weeks. But with this year’s winner, going big and going to the cinema was the only option for three long northern-hemisphere summer months at the Top Gun academy.

Hitting theaters (including IMAX) in late May 2022, just as cinemagoing fans were getting their booster shots, Top Gun: Maverick was the sequel nobody expected, that many of us thought would never even see the light of day because of Covid. It stayed exclusively in theaters until its late August VOD release, and people have flocked to wherever it’s available, earning the film US$1.488 billion in box-office takings to date.

And so, as of Oscars Day, Top Gun: Maverick is the Oscar Best Picture nominee that Letterboxd members have obsessively rewatched the most. Our qualification for “obsessive rewatch” is: the greatest number of Letterboxd members who have logged a film five or more times.

If we were to crown a Most Watcher leading the planes for our Most Picture, the trophy would go to Mya, who has logged the film in her Letterboxd diary almost 50 times and wrote in one of her most recent reviews just this month:

I also saw Top Gun: Maverick in cinemas and can attest to its breathtaking, big-screen appeal, but this isn’t about me—because I have only seen it in the theater once. So I called in a couple of valiant pilots who have enjoyed the film multiple times (over twenty, each) to share their thoughts with me.

Leo wanted to be a fighter pilot when she was younger, but when she realized it wasn’t possible, she settled for studying the original 1986 Top Gun over and over to see what it might be like. The idea of a sequel didn’t feel like a good one in light of Tony Scott’s death in 2012 (he was the filmmaker who brought all of Leo’s dreams to life back in the 1980s). But then, seated in the Grand Théâtre Lumière at the Cannes Film Festival last year, everything changed. “I had tears in my eyes,” Leo tells me. “I was just so moved to see Maverick again after so many years.”

From that point on, it was all engines go. Leo has seen Top Gun: Maverick 22 times in cinemas, partly thanks to an unlimited cinema subscription at the Berlin art-house chain Yorck Kino. Accessibility, as the pandemic has proven, matters—and that can manifest in both bricks-and-mortar and virtual viewing options, as well as the sheer financial weight of however you want to (re-)experience all your favorite films. “I wanted to experience the rollercoaster from Cannes again, but in a tiny screening room this time,” Leo says, speaking to the world of possibility Maverick offers up.

Iceman and Maverick face off as Goose watches on in the original Top Gun (1986).
Iceman and Maverick face off as Goose watches on in the original Top Gun (1986).

Big question: Did Tom Cruise really save cinema? The two critics I spoke to think that, against all odds, he actually did—for a while at least. The Skinny’s events editor Anahit Behrooz has seen Top Gun: Maverick five times in cinemas, writing on release day: “Unfortunately, military propaganda has never been so sexy.”

She attributes the film’s irresistible rewatchability to the same thing she finds in all films she revisits: a certain musicality. “It’s like when you get a song stuck in your head and you have to listen to it over and over,” Behrooz says. “It has that same beat you’re anticipating and wanting to get lost in. It’s highly choreographed in terms of the action, but also the rhythms of the characters, the languor and sharpness with which they interact with each other. I think a lot of why I kept going back to it was almost like you were waiting for a beat to drop.”

Jack King felt the beat drop in Cannes last year, like Leo, and has devoted a sizable amount of his time as British GQ’s film and TV man to spreading the TG:M gospel. He believes that the appeal to spend as much time with the film as possible comes from a saturated climate “defined by cookie-cutter blockbuster IP, the time of endless sequels, prequels, reboots and spin-offs, heavy with CGI”, in which Maverick felt like something new—even though it technically is a sequel. It’s about the colors, the physical effects, the Hollywood romanticism, stunts, spectacle—and, yes, the Tom Cruise of it all. When a sequel feels novel, you’ve got to visit, and revisit, to fully let it sink in. (It’s why animation Oscar nominee Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is high up the ratings, too.)

There is an emotional structure to the soundscape, whether it’s music, sound effects, dialogue, it all fits in a way that carries you through the movie so you’re set up for the next thing.

—⁠James H. Mather, Top Gun: Maverick sound editor 

The first time Nirica watched the film, the day of release, May 26, 2022, wasn’t enough. “I left the theater thinking ‘I could watch this for the rest of my life’,” she admits, having now seen the film 22 times—nineteen in cinemas, three at home. She, like Leo, likens the experience of (re)watching the movie to riding a roller coaster. “You leave the theater and you’re like, ‘Let’s do that again!’ And incidentally, watching it in 4DX really did feel like being on a roller coaster.”

Nirica kept going back for different reasons, to introduce different groups of friends, to pick up different Easter eggs every time. “I took almost everyone I know to watch it, and no one disliked it. I went with a friend once, and the movie cut to intermission just after the beach scene—at which point she turned to me and said, ‘Can we watch this again?’ We rewatched it on the same day.”

Nirica lives in India, where cinemagoing culture has some differences even though Top Gun: Maverick does cross most borders. When watching the film at home for the first time—as a reminder, that’s nineteen watches deep—Nirica noticed some details she hadn’t seen on the big screen. “There were bits at the cinema that were censored or just straight up removed: Phoenix saying ‘dickhead’; the film’s only f-word drop!” Even so, she favors the theatrical experience for a simple reason: “Every rewatch was a few hours out of my day that I was devoting to absolute joy—watching something with the certainty of a happy ending.”

Sound category winners Mark Weingarten, James Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor backstage at the 95th Oscars.
Sound category winners Mark Weingarten, James Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor backstage at the 95th Oscars.

Speaking of happy endings, Top Gun: Maverick did come home with one Oscar from the 95th Academy Awards and it was—harking back to Anahit Behrooz’s thoughts on the secret to rewatchability—for sound. When we delivered the news to the film’s sound team that they had just won “Most Picture” (to applause and cheers in the winners’ press room), they were delighted, and spoke to the role of sound in the film’s rewatchability magic.

“I think the one thing about this movie that made people want to go back and see it again is that there’s something you could only experience in the cinema to that level,” said sound editor James H. Mather. “And, that there is an emotional structure to the soundscape, whether it’s music, sound effects, dialogue, it all fits in a way that carries you through the movie so you’re set up for the next thing.” 

On top of that, he added, “People like to be told a story that they feel they can trust, that they feel engaged in, that they’re immersed in. It’s addictive. It’s like you want that ‘feel-good’, and not a lot of films concentrate on that as much these days. Films like to challenge, they like to overwhelm, but this, for me, this soundtrack and this movie brought the audience in and immersed people. So you lean into it, you are not thrown away from it, and so I hope that people will continue to go and watch it for that reason.”

Did Tom Cruise save cinema? Yes, he did.
Did Tom Cruise save cinema? Yes, he did.

With awards season all wrapped up, is it—as Iceman tells Maverick—time to let go? Or will the obsessives be back for another fly-by? “Top Gun: Maverick is the only film I watched with a strong reaction during and after the screening, alongside the audience every time,” says superfan Leo, “and that’s the most important thing to me, that’s the thing I will remember. Much more than the Best Picture award.”

And Oscar-winner Mather is all for more rewatches: “Watch it again and again, there’s gotta be something you get every time.”


Top Gun: Maverick’ is streaming now on Paramount+.

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