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SYFY WIRE Joseph Kosinski

How 'Oblivion,' now streaming on Peacock, gave us 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Director Joseph Kosinski won Tom Cruise over, then delivered an instantly successful pitch.

By Matthew Jackson
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Tom Cruise has certain filmmakers he just trusts, as you can tell by his long associations with people like Christopher McQuarrie and Cameron Crowe. Once he buys into a director's vision, that director has a chance to build a longer collaboration. In Joseph Kosinski's case, that collaboration led to his work on one of the biggest movies of 2022, and it all began a decade earlier with his sci-fi film Oblivion (now streaming on Peacock).

Actually, to hear Cruise tell it, the journey to working with Kosinski on Top Gun: Maverick was really launched with Tron: Legacy, Kosinski's debut feature film. Cruise saw some early post-production sequences from that film, coupled with early previews of what was then a graphic novel laying out the concepts of Oblivion. It was enough to get him to sign on when the feature film version reared its head.

RELATED: Oblivion is a sci-fi high-concept hidden gem

"I think he's a guy who's a world-creator," Cruise said during a Q&A promoting Oblivion back in 2013. "A true visionary." 

So, the duo made Oblivion, an intriguing high-concept genre film in which Cruise plays a blue-collar drone repairman who discovers a massive conspiracy lurking in the ruins of a post-war Earth. The film did well enough, but the real victory, it turns out, was in Kosinski convincing Cruise to trust in whatever vision he laid out. 

Cut to a few years later, and the long-discussed Top Gun sequel wasn't moving forward. Original Top Gun director Tony Scott had passed away, the project was on hold, and Cruise was only willing to step back into the cockpit if it felt right. So, who was the guy who convinced him it could feel right? Kosinski, who came in with an in-depth pitch for the kind of Maverick film he wanted to make. According to producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Kosinski's ideas, and Cruise's past trust in him, were enough to convince Cruise on the spot. 

“Joe [Kosinski] had a lookbook, a poster and the title, Top Gun: Maverick, and then he told Tom the journey of the character and the story he wanted to tell," Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter last year. "Tom then looked at him, pulled out his phone and called the head of Paramount at that time and said, ‘I want to make another Top Gun.’ And that was it."

Looking at Oblivion and Top Gun: Maverick side by side, it makes thematic sense that Kosinski would be the guy to take on Maverick. In both movies, Cruise plays a character connected deeply to the past, sometimes in a healthy way, sometimes not. In both films, Kosinski takes Cruise through elaborate flight sequences that showcase both the pilot and the majesty of the surrounding landscape. And in both films, Cruise plays a determined hero who must merge his past with his present if he's ever going to embrace who he truly is. It was always a match, and Kosinski's understanding of that won him both the job and near-universal acclaim as the director of one of last year's biggest hits.

Oblivion is now streaming on Peacock.