How Did Documentary “Blue Angels” Do in Theater and Streaming Video Sales?

Blue Angels
The feature documentary "Blue Angels" has achieved better than expected box office and streaming sales (Photo: via Sonycine)

Aviation Fans Still Raving About “Blue Angels”. Where is The Thunderbird’s Film?

This summer’s film showcasing a season of preparation for the U.S. Navy flight demonstration team, “Blue Angels”, debuted in 227 theaters across the U.S. last month on the weekend of May 17-19, 2024. The film earned a broadly positive reception and stronger than average ticket and streaming sales for a documentary in its first month. “I thought it was awesome,” said Paul Riegle after seeing the film at an AMC IMAX Theater in Michigan. “You never see the action at an airshow like that! The flying scenes were unbelievable!”

On the back of “Top Gun: Maverick” popularity, new sales statistics published in early June show “Blue Angels” has remained a standout in revenue over the last month at the box office and continues to do well in streaming. Since its IMAX theater release in the U.S., “Blue Angels” has topped streaming sales in its category on Prime Video around the world. The film launched worldwide on Prime Video on May 23 and continues to generate traffic.  According to entertainment industry source Accesswire, “The film sat on top of the streamer’s U.S. film charts over Memorial Day.”

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A screenshot of the Blue Angels trailer. (Image credit: Prime Video)

Why the success for “Blue Angels”? Two years of residual enthusiasm for the long-delayed 2022 blockbuster, “Top Gun: Maverick”, and buzz about a rumored “Top Gun 3” sequel lingers among the general theater audience. This, combined with anticipation for the 2024 airshow season among aviation enthusiasts, are likely factors driving box office success and new streaming numbers for both general audiences and aviation fans.

Some viewers have panned the “Blue Angels” as being too scripted and not a documentary.

Journalist Maxance Vincent of Awardsradar.com wrote in a review that, “It gets even more egregious when the movie quickly becomes a full-on commercial for the Blue Angels, showcasing their facilities and philanthropic efforts so they can give back to the community and be perceived as a positive force for America. But if this isn’t properly balanced with the documentary’s dramatic portion, it doesn’t feel like it’s objectively presenting the highs and lows of serving your country in such a way. And while the flight scenes are certainly jaw-dropping to look at on the IMAX screen, there’s not much else the documentary offers past what could be considered a recruiting ad.”

“Blue Angels” was shot during the 2022 airshow season and featured personal profiles of team members including team leader Commander Brian Kesselring. (Photo: TheAviationist/Tom Demerly)

“Blue Angels”, directed by British filmmaker Paul Crowder, follows the team through portions of its preparation and demonstration during its 2022 season. The film has the visual appearance of a behind-the-scenes documentary like the popular NetFlix series, “Formula 1: Drive to Survive”, but lacks the raw, candid insight true documentary filmmaking provides. Because “Blue Angels” is so scripted, it feels like a promotional product, revealing little about the actual workings of the Blue Angels beyond what the Navy is willing to show.

Despite the canned plot, even critics agree the film is a visual treat.

Last month, in its first weekend “Blue Angels” grossed $1,310,767 USD at the box office, or $5,774 USD per theater showing the film. According to film box office statistics posted by Statista.com, this $1.3M USD opening weekend is compared to $1.02M USD average sales for a documentary over its entire theater run. Combined with its continued momentum on streaming platform Prime Video, “Blue Angels” has become a commercial as well as promotional success for theaters, producers and the U.S. Navy.

But what about the rumored “Top Gun 3”? Entertainment industry news source Indiewire said that, “Moviegoers had to wait 36 years between ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ but the third film in the franchise might be coming much sooner. Paramount announced plans to proceed with ‘Top Gun 3’ in January 2024, with Tom Cruise expected to return alongside Glen Powell and Miles Teller.”

With interest in aviation media like “Blue Angels”, and the broader commercial success of “Top Gun: Maverick”, the silence from the U.S. Air Force seems deafening. Is the U.S. Air Force working on a behind-the-scenes documentary for its Thunderbird demo team? The U.S. Air Force actually beat the Navy’s Blue Angels to the media punch in releasing a feature length infomercial. In fact, the Thunderbirds were likely ahead of the media curve with their release of “Reach for the Sky”, a 2001 hype video that follows the Thunderbirds during an airshow season. The film never gained widespread distribution.

The Thunderbird film was a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) release that went on to DVD sales in the era before widespread YouTube and Prime Video streaming. Consequently, its distribution was limited from the start. The documentary also debuted without the slick visual talent of a director like J.J. Abrams of “Blue Angels” or the promotional push of Hollywood star Glenn Powell from the “Top Gun: Maverick” cast.

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A scene from Top Gun: Maverick (Image via Paramount)

Speaking of “Top Gun: Maverick” actor Glenn Powell, while his commercial success with Tom Cruise in “Maverick” has been a financial windfall for movie theaters and Paramount Pictures, he seems to have largely shrugged off what is one of the biggest box office bombs in recent history.

The dismal commercial failure of “Devotion”, the 2022 post-pandemic Korean War film is a noteworthy failure in the post- “Maverick” era. According to a November 28, 2022 article in “Slashfilm.com” by Ryan Scott: “Call it bad luck, call it bad timing, call it many things, but Sony’s “Devotion,” directed by J.D. Dillard, just quietly became one of the bigger live-action theatrical disappointments of the year. With a budget of $90 million, the wartime movie about airmen during the Korean War, particularly the first African American Navy pilot ever, tanked. Over the weekend [of release in 2022], it took in $5.9 million but even over the full five-day holiday, it topped out at a mere $9 million.”

Given the epic flop of “Devotion”, it would appear that the Korean War really is the “forgotten war”.

Actors Jonathan Majors (played Jesse Brown) and Glen Powell (played Thomas Hudner) of “Devotion”. (Photo: via Sony Pictures)

But despite the worse than lackluster performance of “Devotion”, box office sales figures show aviation media like “Blue Angels” and “Top Gun: Maverick” have gained new traction among mainstream audiences. For the sake of both aviation enthusiasts and general audiences, hopefully this trend continues.

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.