The Palme d’or is the Cannes Film Festival’s most prized possession – the top award handed out at the end of the festival to the jurors’ choice for the best film in the competition. But just like how the Oscars give out honorary awards to a handful of recipients at a separate event – the Governors Awards – every year, Cannes has given out about 15 honorary Palme d’Ors over its 75 years to directors and actors who deserve particular recognition for their work.
This year, an honorary award went to Forest Whitaker, who received his Palme on Tuesday night at the opening ceremony. But it turns out he wasn’t the only one getting the special lifetime achievement award this year: At the Top Gun: Maverick premiere on Wednesday night, Tom Cruise was surprised onstage with an honorary award, capping off a day of celebration for the A-list movie star. “I’m just going to take this all in, and I’m not going to forget this evening,” he said as he looked out at the black-tie-clad crowd seated to watch Top Gun: Maverick.
The honorary Palme was the finishing touch on a day dedicated to Cruise, who hadn’t been at the festival since 1992, for his film Far and Away.
The day began with a masterclass conversation with Cruise, who reflected on his career, emphasizing his passion for studying and learning about film. He spoke about meeting with directors and writers as much as he could — even setting a meeting with Sydney Pollack when he was 19 years old. “I was studying movies, not just the names in the credits, but I would try to understand who did what,” he said. Cruise also spoke a bit about the new Top Gun, which comes 35 years after the original film, saying that the studio wanted to make a sequel almost immediately, but he wasn’t ready. “In doing sequels I learned I can have a dialogue with an audience,” he said.
Top Gun: Maverick was originally scheduled to come out in 2019, but was pushed in order to finish the technical aspects of the film in 2020. When he COVID-19 pandemic hit, the release was again delayed multiple times, until landing with this current release date of May 27. Cruise insisted that releasing the film on streaming was never an option: “That was not going to happen ever. That was never going to happen.”
For a conversation meant to focus on Cruise and his storied film career, the actor often turned the attention back onto the people he works with and the people he makes movies for: the audience. The 59-year-old actor, famous for doing dangerous sequences himself and a strong proponent for the theatrical filmgoing experience, admitted that he does get afraid when doing his own stunts, but that he made that choice to enhance the art form. “Preparation is everything, even if you throw it away,” he said. “Everything I’m doing, I don’t want people to see the work behind it.”
After the one-hour masterclass, Cruise and his Top Gun: Maverick cast — which includes Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm and Glen Powell — walked the red carpet at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, with the original score and “Danger Zone” from the 1986 film playing in the background. Before they entered the theater, fighter jets soared overhead, with red, white and blue smoke trails cascading behind them. Cruise entered the theater first — traditionally, the director and entire cast of the film enter the theater together — to a standing ovation. In another break for tradition, Cruise also spoke to the crowd before the screening, and then was awarded his surprise Palme d’Or.
After the film, which sees Cruise’s Maverick return to Top Gun to train a group of Navy aviators ahead of a seemingly impossible mission, the crowd was gifted with one more treat on their way out: a lavish fireworks show.
Cruise and his cast will jet off to London tomorrow for another premiere, but his whirlwind day in Cannes was one of the most celebratory events seen at the festival in many years. “Thank you for this time,” he told the crowd at the Theatre Lumiere. “I make these movies for all of you.”
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