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Jerry Bruckheimer Talks Young Woman and the Sea, Top Gun Future

Jerry Bruckheimer Talks Young Woman and the Sea, Top Gun Future

After five-plus decades of moviemaking, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is still breaking his own records. The Michigan native is one of the creators behind the modern-day concept of a crowd-pleaser, and with a resumé that includes the franchises of Top Gun, Pirates of the Caribbean and Bad Boys, it’s natural to assume that one of his many notable hits would boast his highest audience test score. However, that honor instead belongs to his latest film, Young Woman and the Sea, which opens May 31 in theaters.

Directed by his Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales filmmaker, Joachim Rønning, Young Woman and the Sea tells the underdog story of Daisy Ridley’s Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, the largely unknown Olympic swimmer who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926. The heartwarming sports drama was originally intended to be a Disney+ exclusive, but when the record-setting test scores came in, Bruckheimer, as Rønning described it, was “relentless” in his pursuit of a theatrical release.

Bruckheimer and co. ultimately received a limited theatrical release ahead of July’s Olympic Games in Paris, the same location where Ederle won a gold medal a century ago, but he isn’t entirely sure how much the enthusiastic test screenings truly affected Disney’s decision to upgrade the film’s rollout. 

“It’s never easy to get a theatrical release, because they’re expensive and [Disney] really had set this for streaming,” Bruckheimer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But I don’t know if the scores actually weighed into it. I’m sure it helped, but they really loved the film and it’s certainly great for their brand. It’s a real movie that you can say is a family film that everybody can enjoy, and that’s what Disney’s all about. That’s also the kind of movies that [Jerry Bruckheimer Films] makes, whether it’s Top Gun or something else. No matter what, it’s for everybody.”

There are very few certainties in the entertainment industry, but when a film grosses over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, a sequel becomes an inevitability, as is the case with Top Gun: Maverick (2022). Together with Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski, the trio created the highest-grossing film of their respective careers, and on a creative level, Bruckheimer is optimistic about their threequel that is now in development. The question ultimately comes down to logistics and whether they can expand the current story treatment into a worthy screenplay. 

“I think we have a terrific story. It’s just [a question of] how do we get everybody together and how do we get it done,” Bruckheimer says. “Tom’s very busy. He’s got a lot of movies lined up, and he’s a very in-demand actor. So we’ll have to get a good screenplay, and hopefully, he’ll like it as much as we will.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Bruckheimer also discusses his upcoming Formula One film with Kosinski and Brad Pitt, as well as the Maverick lesson his team applied to July’s Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Of all the signature films in your filmography, Young Woman and the Sea is your highest testing film to date? 

Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? Now, that doesn’t mean people are going to show up to see it, but at least if they get in the theater, they’re going to love it. 

Do test screenings typically align with what you expected?

Never. I always expect the worst and hope for the best. When you walked in and felt the kind of emotion from the audience as they were watching [Young Woman and the Sea], you knew that it was going to be effective. They were laughing and applauding and crying, and then when we got the score, we couldn’t believe it. We had another screening last night with more of a Hollywood crowd, and they had the same reaction. People were crying, laughing and applauding. We’ve just got to get people into the theaters to see it because it should be seen on the big screen. Joachim [Rønning] makes phenomenal movies. But what wins you over on this is the emotion. You think, “Oh, I don’t want to see another movie about a swimmer,” but once you get into the theater and watch it, it’s so different from anything else. 

Trudy’s journey is so extraordinary when you think about what she had to overcome. This is a woman who beat the men’s record for swimming the English Channel by two hours. Only five men had ever done it, but nobody knows who she is. [Long-distance swimmer] Diana Nyad saw it last night, and apparently, she had met Trudy. So she loved the movie, but nobody else has ever heard of this woman. And at the end, when you see the real parade from archival footage, you say, “Oh my God, this woman was a world phenomenon, and I knew nothing about her.”

We love making movies that educate and entertain, so now you’re going to know who Trudy was and you’re going to be moved by her journey. She set the path for all these fabulous female athletes of today, and we showed it to a lot of Olympians who also just loved the movie. She went to the Paris Olympics [in 1924] and won a gold medal and two bronze medals, so it’s interesting that we got the film out at the same time as this year’s Paris Olympics.

Yeah, between Caitlin Clark dominating women’s basketball and the upcoming Olympics, it’s a fitting time to release a story about one of the greatest female athletes of all time.

Let’s hope we dominate, too.

As touched on already, Young Woman and the Sea was rewarded with a limited theatrical release when it was originally supposed to be a Disney+ exclusive. Did that come easy given the test scores?

It’s never easy to get a theatrical release, because they’re expensive and they really had set this for streaming, but when they saw the results … They were so moved by the movie, but I don’t know if the scores actually weighed into it. I’m sure it helped, but they really loved the film and it’s certainly great for their brand. It’s a real movie that you can say is a family film that everybody can enjoy, and that’s what Disney’s all about. That’s also the kind of movies that we make, whether it’s Top Gun or something else. No matter what, it’s for everybody. 

Can you recall an example where something tested poorly but still played like gangbusters? 

No, but I can tell you about movies that tested poorly and became hits after we fixed them. But I have never seen something test poorly [and become a hit without being fixed], at least not from me. 

We’ve talked before about your knack for process and competition stories, so is that what also hooked you about Young Woman and the Sea

It was more about the individual and her emotional story. When you read [Glenn Stout’s] book, what she went through brings tears to your eyes, and it’s always about conveying emotion. Top Gun was a very emotional movie, even though it had a lot of bravado and bells and whistles with great direction, and Tom flying the planes and being really real. But this is the same thing. Joachim shot it in the Black Sea. Daisy Ridley is in the water and actually swimming. We try to bring reality to everything we do, but we obviously don’t want to put anybody in danger. We’re shooting an F1 movie right now with Brad Pitt, and he’s driving the car. It took him three months to learn how to drive those cars, and he’s as good as any of the drivers that we have out there working with him. And it’s the same thing with Damson [Idris]. 

Daisy got in the water, and she trained with these Olympians for almost four months. So you’ve got to hand it to her. She filmed in freezing water for 10 to 12 hours a day, for weeks at a time. It was really an ordeal, and she waited to make this movie. She loved this character so much, as did Joachim. A lot of the crew members also waited. When they all read the script, they said, “I’m not taking any other work till you get this going,” and we were lucky that we got it going pretty quick once we got to that phase.

You’ve worked with Joachim Rønning a couple times now. You’ve also developed a couple other things that might or might not be percolating still. What makes him another one of your frequent collaborators? 

He’s just really good at what he does. We like people who know what they’re doing, and he’s a fabulous visualist. He really created these spectacular visuals for Young Woman and the Sea, and he did the same thing for us with Pirates [of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales]. And if you look at his other work, he really has a knack for visuals and visual storytelling.

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Young Woman and the Sea helped Joachim land Tron: Ares. You’re not involved as a producer, but did you still put him in touch with Joe Kosinski since he helmed the last Tron movie?

No, Sean [Bailey], who was the head of [Disney] at the time, worked with us on [Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales], so he saw how good Joachim was and that’s why I think he got Tron.

May 16 was the 38th anniversary of Top Gun, and it took 36 years to release a perfect sequel in Top Gun: Maverick. Does the Maverick brain trust feel pretty confident that it can follow that tough act? 

I think we have a terrific story. It’s just [a question of] how do we get everybody together and how do we get it done. Tom’s very busy. He’s got a lot of movies lined up, and he’s a very in-demand actor. So we’ll have to get a good screenplay, and hopefully, he’ll like it as much as we will. 

You tackled NASCAR with Tom via Tony Scott’s Days of Thunder, and now, as mentioned, you and Joe Kosinski are doing the same with Formula One and Brad Pitt. Is that where the similarities end between the two films?

Yeah, they’re completely different. It’s a whole different story than what we did with Days of Thunder, which was a terrific film. Tom was great in it. I think we wrecked 35 cars in [Days of Thunder], but we can’t do that with F1 cars. They’re way too expensive.

You also have Bad Boys: Ride or Die on the horizon, and given the unfortunate situation that Adil and Bilall endured on Batgirl, I thought it was rather heartwarming that you were there to support them and quickly get them back to work on a big movie. After they did such a great job for you on Bad Boys for Life (2020), did you just not want them to lose confidence above all? 

They’re great filmmakers. They really are amazing. They’ve got so much great energy, and they’re also great visualists. They’re real filmmakers. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of cameras, angles and lenses, and they’re unbelievable. They’re filmmakers who you want to hand the camera to and say, “Go make a movie,” because they’ll make it special. 

I recently agreed to a chat with your Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F director, Mark Molloy, and I’m already hearing good things about the film. Given that Cop and Top Gun both launched in the ‘80s with generational talents at their center, did you apply any lessons you learned from Maverick to Axel?

It’s, again, all about emotion. [Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F] is an emotional story between [Axel] and his estranged daughter [Taylour Paige], so it’s about how we bring them back together again through the course of the movie. But we still have all the bells and whistles: the humor, the action and all those kinds of things that you expect when you see Axel.

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Young Woman and the Sea opens in theaters on May 31.

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