Top Gun: Maverick Was so Delayed, Its Product Placement Features the Old Subaru WRX (UPDATED)
The Top Gun sequel’s endless delays mean the WRX it features in a deal with Subaru is no longer in production.
When the fighter pilots of the long-delayed Top Gun: Maverick finally enter the Danger Zone this weekend, they won't be doing it in the all-new 2022 Subaru WRX. Subaru's beloved sport sedan appears in the new movie thanks to a product placement deal—albeit not a paid deal, as many car companies do in Hollywood—but Top Gun: Maverick's pandemic-related delays mean millions of moviegoers will see the last-generation WRX. Not the newest car, which launched this year in all its cladded glory and is currently sitting on dealer lots, waiting to go to new homes.
Update 5/30/2022 @ 1:29a ET: A number of readers have pointed out following publication of this story that no Subaru WRX appears in Top Gun: Maverick, last-gen or otherwise. It's possible the WRX was edited out of the film, which did not come up in The Drive's research for this story. Subaru did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend, but interviews indicated the automaker did believe the old WRX would appear in the movie. Though the product placement deal did take place, the car's ultimate fate may have been left to the film's editors. The original version of this story follows below. Maybe we'll see it in the deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray release?
Although the movie's action is primarily in the air, not on the pavement, Subaru of America spokesman Dominick Infante confirmed the WRX driven by one of the fighter pilots in the film was supplied by Subaru when filming began way back in 2018. But it can be tough to line up new product releases with movie debuts, and Top Gun: Maverick was a special case.
It was originally scheduled for a summer 2019 release, which would've lined up nicely with the old WRX's lifecycle. Then the film was pushed back to 2020 so the production crew could do more work on its complicated aerial dogfight scenes, according to Deadline. That still would've worked for the old car, but we all know what happened that year: the COVID-19 pandemic upended the entire world and the film industry with it. With movie theaters largely shut down, producers opted to further delay the release of the $150 million Top Gun: Maverick to maximize its reach and profitability with audiences. While many major studio films saw streaming-only releases during the height of the pandemic, producers of that movie and films like Daniel Craig's final James Bond outing No Time to Die were instead pushed back to let audiences see them in actual theaters. The Top Gun sequel was later bumped to 2021 and then finally to now, in May 2022.
It was more than just a studio decision, too. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote last week, star (and producer) Tom Cruise is a longtime proponent of the theatrical experience; when asked if the new Top Gun was ever slated for a streaming-only release, Cruise said, "That was not going to happen ever. That was never going to happen.” (Read a largely spoiler-free review of Top Gun: Maverick at our sister site, Task & Purpose.)
The end result, however, was that the latest WRX came out before the massive movie that was supposed to (in part) promote its predecessor. Infante said the good news was that it didn't hurt Subaru's bottom line, as it wasn't a paid product placement deal. But it's hard to avoid the sense that the company missed out on something.
When car companies strike product placement deals with Hollywood producers, the goal is usually to show off their latest and greatest wares, both for general brand awareness and in the hopes that moviegoers might be inspired enough to head to their local dealer after the credits roll. While many viewers might assume those product placement deals are always paid for, that isn't always the case. Dodge's muscle cars have figured prominently into the recent Fast & Furious movies, and while a Dodge spokeswoman confirmed the brand provides the studios with the vehicles, it's actually not a paid deal. In the past, companies like Audi and Acura have also had prominent arrangements with Marvel. Acura's deal with Marvel was paid for by the manufacturer, but it didn't disclose how much that was, an Acura spokesman said.
The finances of how these deals work can get complicated and tied into other arrangements. Last year, Hyundai struck a huge deal with The Walt Disney Company for placements in Marvel movies, on ABC TV shows, with ESPN announcers and more. (Sometimes these deals make little sense within the context of the stories they're trying to tell; both Nissan and the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler have had tie-ins with Star Wars, a franchise set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away that does not have cars in it.)
In Subaru's case, there's really nothing it could've done to prepare for or adjust to Top Gun: Maverick's delays. "This goes back several years now," Infante said. "We wouldn't have had the new car ready back then." And even though the film won't directly showcase the new WRX, Subaru will live: “It’s good for the brand, in terms of brand-building. It doesn’t matter that the model changed, as long as it’s something fast and fun to drive.”
He added that despite Subaru's meteoric rise in sales in recent years—pandemic-related supply chain disruptions notwithstanding—brand awareness isn't considered as high as bigger players like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Arrangements like these are meant to help with this situation, he said.
As for how it came about in the first place, Infante said Subaru employs someone who works with movie and TV studios for such placements, and that person pitched the WRX to Top Gun: Maverick as a pilot's car. It's often in demand for stunt crews, he said.
“A lot of times WRX and STIs are requested because a lot of these stunt drivers come from a rally background," he said. "They’re used to that product. It’s something they came up with.” He did add that the WRX requested for Top Gun: Maverick has a CVT, not a manual gearbox, which is a common request because many Hollywood stars, as with many Americans now, don't know how to drive stick.
The good news is that the 2022 Subaru WRX doesn't veer too far from the car seen in the movie, at least in spirit if not looks. While the 2022 WRX rides on a new platform and has a new engine, a larger 2.4-liter turbocharged flat-four with output bumped to 271 horsepower, it's still the same rowdy, all-wheel-drive four-door that fans expect.
“We’re still happy about it," Infante said. "Any publicity is good publicity, at the end of the day.”
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