Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tony Scott|
|Produced by||Don Simpson
|Written by||Jim Cash
Jack Epps, Jr.
|Music by||Harold Faltermeyer
|Cinematography||Jeffrey L. Kimball|
|Edited by||Chris Lebenzon
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$356.8 million|
Top Gun is a 1986 American romantic military action drama film directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, in association with Paramount Pictures. The screenplay was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr., and was inspired by an article titled "Top Guns" published in California magazine three years earlier. The film stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, and Tom Skerritt. Cruise plays Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a young naval aviator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Edwards) are given the chance to train at the Navy's Fighter Weapons School at the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar in San Diego.
Top Gun was released on May 16, 1986. Upon its release, the film received generally mixed reviews from film critics but many particularly praised the action sequences, the effects, the aerial stunts, and the acting performances with Cruise and McGillis receiving the most praise. Four weeks after release, the number of theaters showing it increased by 45%. Despite its initial mixed critical reaction, the film was a huge commercial hit grossing $356 million against a production budget of only $15 million. The film maintained its popularity over the years and earned an IMAX 3D re-release in 2013. Additionally, the film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Take My Breath Away" performed by Berlin.
In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". A sequel, titled Top Gun: Maverick, is currently in development.
United States Naval Aviator LT Pete "Maverick" Mitchell and his Radar Intercept Officer LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw fly the F-14A Tomcat aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65). During an interception with two hostile aircraft (fictional MiG-28, impersonated by the Top Gun “aggressor” jet F-5) Maverick gets missile lock on one, while the other hostile aircraft gets missile lock on Maverick's wingman, Cougar. Maverick then flies inverted above that remaining hostile aircraft to give the other pilot the finger. Afterwards Cougar is too shaken to land, and Maverick, defying orders, escorts him back to the carrier. Cougar gives up his wings, citing his newborn child that he has never seen. Despite his dislike for Maverick's recklessness, CAG "Stinger" sends him and Goose—now his top crew—to attend the Top Gun school at NAS Miramar.
At a bar the day before Top Gun starts, Maverick, assisted by Goose, unsuccessfully approaches a woman. He learns the next day that she is Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood, an astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor. She becomes interested in Maverick upon learning of his inverted maneuver, which disproves US intelligence on the enemy aircraft's performance (fictional MiG-28, which was a likely surrogate for actual MiG-29, a modern, contemporary rival to US 3rd generation fighter jets, and a largely unknown platform at the time).
During Maverick's first training sortie he defeats CDR Rick "Jester" Heatherly but through reckless flying breaks two rules of engagement, and becomes a rival to top student LT Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, who considers Maverick's methods "dangerous." Charlie also refutes Maverick's aggressive tactics, but eventually admits that she admires his flying and omitted it from her reports to hide her feelings for him, and the two begin a romantic relationship.
During a training sortie Maverick abandons his wingman "Hollywood" to chase chief instructor CDR Mike "Viper" Metcalf, but is defeated when Viper maneuvers Maverick into a position from which his wingman Jester can shoot down Maverick from behind, demonstrating the value of teamwork.
Maverick and Iceman, now direct competitors for the Top Gun Trophy, chase Jester in a later training engagement. Maverick pressures Iceman to break off his engagement so he can shoot down Jester, but Maverick's F-14 flies through the jet wash of Iceman's aircraft and suffers a flameout of both engines, going into an unrecoverable flat spin. Maverick and Goose eject, but Goose hits the jettisoned aircraft canopy head-first and is killed.
Although the board of inquiry clears Maverick of responsibility for Goose's death, he is overcome by guilt and loses his aggressiveness when flying. Charlie and others attempt to console him, but Maverick considers retiring. He seeks advice from Viper, who reveals that he served with Maverick's father Duke Mitchell on the USS Oriskany. Mitchell was subject to an unspecified disgrace, which causes others to doubt Maverick's flying ability. Viper reveals classified information that proves Mitchell died heroically, and informs Maverick that he can succeed if he can regain his self-confidence. Maverick chooses to graduate, though Iceman wins the Top Gun Trophy.
During the graduation party, Viper calls in the newly graduated aviators with the orders to deploy. Iceman, Hollywood, and Maverick are ordered to immediately return to Enterprise to deal with a "crisis situation", providing air support for the rescue of a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters. In the act of support, and as an implicit acknowledgment of trust, Viper tells Maverick that he will be assigned a RIO on the ship, but that he would be his RIO, if they don’t assign him one.
Maverick and Merlin are assigned as back-up for F-14s flown by Iceman and Hollywood, despite Iceman's reservations over Maverick's state of mind. The subsequent hostile engagement with six MiGs sees Hollywood shot down; Maverick is scrambled alone due to a catapult failure and nearly retreats after encountering circumstances similar to those that caused Goose's death. Upon finally rejoining Iceman, Maverick shoots down three MiGs, and Iceman one, forcing the other two to flee, returning triumphantly to Enterprise. On the deck, Iceman and Maverick acknowledge each other, stating they would be each other’s wingman any time.
Offered any assignment he chooses, Maverick decides to return to Top Gun as an instructor. At a bar at Miramar, Maverick and Charlie reunite.
- Tom Cruise as LT Pete "Maverick" Mitchell
- Kelly McGillis as Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood. The character is based on a real-life person, Christine Fox, who worked at the Miramar Naval Air Station.
- Val Kilmer as LT Tom "Iceman" Kazansky
- Anthony Edwards as LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw
- Tom Skerritt as CDR Mike "Viper" Metcalf
- Michael Ironside as LCDR Rick "Jester" Heatherly
- John Stockwell as LT Bill "Cougar" Cortell
- Barry Tubb as LTJG Leonard "Wolfman" Wolfe
- Rick Rossovich as LTJG Ron "Slider" Kerner
- Tim Robbins as LTJG Sam "Merlin" Wells
- Clarence Gilyard, Jr. as LTJG Marcus "Sundown" Williams
- Whip Hubley as LT Rick "Hollywood" Neven
- James Tolkan as CDR Tom "Stinger" Jardian
- Meg Ryan as Carole Bradshaw
- Adrian Pasdar as LT Charles "Chipper" Piper
- Duke Stroud as Air Boss CDR Johnson
- Linda Rae Jurgens as Mary Metcalf
The primary inspiration for the film was the article "Top Guns" by Ehud Yonay, from the May 1983 issue of California magazine, which featured aerial photography by then-Lieutenant Commander Charles "Heater" Heatley. The article detailed the life of fighter pilots at the Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, self-nicknamed as "Fightertown USA". Numerous screenwriters allegedly turned down the project. Bruckheimer and Simpson went on to hire Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr., to write the first draft. The research methods, by Epps, included an attendance at several declassified Top Gun classes at Miramar and gaining experience by being flown in an F-14. The first draft failed to impress Bruckheimer and Simpson, and is considered to be very different from the final product in numerous ways.
The producers wanted the assistance of the US Navy in production of the film. The Navy was influential in relation to script approval, which resulted in changes being made. The opening dogfight was moved to international waters as opposed to Cuba, the language was toned down, and a scene that involved a crash on the deck of an aircraft carrier was also scrapped. Maverick's love interest was also changed from a female enlisted member of the Navy to a civilian contractor with the Navy, due to the US military's prohibition of fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel. The "Charlie" character also replaced an aerobics instructor from an early draft as a love interest for Maverick after producers were introduced to Christine "Legs" Fox, a civilian mathematician employed by the Center for Naval Analyses as a specialist in Maritime Air Superiority (MAS), developing tactics for aircraft carrier defense. Rear Admiral Pete "Viper" Pettigrew, a former Navy aviator, Vietnam War veteran, and Top Gun instructor served as a technical advisor on the film, and also made a cameo appearance in the film as a colleague of Charlie's.
Former Top Gun instructor pilot and Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham claimed to have been the inspiration for Pete Mitchell, although the film's producers have denied that the character was based on any specific Naval aviator.
The Navy made several aircraft from F-14 fighter squadron VF-51 "Screaming Eagles" (which Tom Skerritt mentions in the scene at his home) available for the film. Paramount paid as much as $7,800 per hour for fuel and other operating costs whenever aircraft were flown outside their normal duties. Shots of the aircraft carrier sequences were filmed aboard the USS Enterprise, showing aircraft from F-14 squadrons VF-114 "Aardvarks" and VF-213 "Black Lions". The majority of the carrier flight deck shots were of normal aircraft operations and the film crew had to take what they could get, save for the occasional flyby which the film crew would request. During filming, director Tony Scott wanted to shoot aircraft landing and taking off, back-lit by the sun. During one particular filming sequence, the ship's commanding officer changed the ship's course, thus changing the light. When Scott asked if they could continue on their previous course and speed, he was informed by the commander that it cost $25,000 to turn the ship, and to continue on course. Scott wrote the carrier's captain a $25,000 check so that the ship could be turned and he could continue shooting for another five minutes.
Most of the sequences of the aircraft maneuvering over land were shot at NAS Fallon, in Nevada, using ground-mounted cameras. Air-to-air shots were filmed using a Learjet. Grumman, manufacturer of the F-14, was commissioned by Paramount Pictures to create camera pods to be placed upon the aircraft that could be pointed toward either the front or rear of the aircraft providing outside shots at high altitude.
In July 1985, Kansas City Barbeque served as a filming location for two scenes. The first scene features Goose and Maverick singing "Great Balls of Fire" while seated at the piano. The final scene, where "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" can be heard on the restaurant's jukebox, was also filmed at the restaurant. Both scenes were filmed consecutively. After release of the movie, the restaurant went on to collect a significant amount of memorabilia from the motion picture until a kitchen fire on June 26, 2008 destroyed much of the restaurant. Some memorabilia and props, including the original piano used in the film, survived the fire, and the restaurant re-opened in November 2008.
Renowned aerobatic pilot Art Scholl was hired to do in-flight camera work for the film. The original script called for a flat spin, which Scholl was to perform and capture on a camera on the aircraft. The aircraft was observed to spin through its recovery altitude, at which time Scholl radioed "I have a problem... I have a real problem". He was unable to recover from the spin and crashed his Pitts Special bi-plane into the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast near Carlsbad on September 16, 1985. Neither Scholl's body nor his aircraft were recovered, leaving the official cause of the accident unknown. Top Gun was dedicated to Scholl's memory.
The Top Gun soundtrack is one of the most popular soundtracks to date, reaching 9× Platinum certification and #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 albums chart for five nonconsecutive weeks in the summer and fall of 1986. Harold Faltermeyer, who previously worked with both Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson on the films Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop, was sent the script of Top Gun by Bruckheimer before filming began. Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock worked on numerous songs including the Oscar-winning "Take My Breath Away". Kenny Loggins performed two songs on the soundtrack, "Playing with the Boys", and "Danger Zone". Berlin recorded the song "Take My Breath Away", which would later win numerous awards, sending the band to international acclaim. After the release of Loggins's single "Danger Zone", sales of the album exploded, selling 7 million in the United States alone. On the re-release of the soundtrack in 2000, two songs that had been omitted from the original album (and had been released many years before the film was made), "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers, were added. The soundtrack also includes "Top Gun Anthem" and "Memories" by Steve Stevens/Faltermeyer and Faltermeyer. However, no soundtrack release to date has included the full Faltermeyer score.
Other artists were considered for the soundtrack project but did not participate. Bryan Adams was considered as a potential candidate but refused to participate because he felt the film glorified war. Likewise, REO Speedwagon was considered but backed down because they would not be allowed to record their own composition. The band Toto was originally meant to record "Danger Zone", and had also written and recorded a song "Only You" for the soundtrack. However, there was a dispute between Toto's lawyers and the producers of the film, paving the way for Loggins to record "Danger Zone" and "Only You" being omitted from the film entirely.
In addition to its box office success, Top Gun went on to break further records in the then still-developing home video market. Backed by a massive $8 million marketing campaign including a Top Gun-themed Diet Pepsi commercial, the advance demand was such that the film became the best-selling videocassette in the industry's history on pre-orders alone. It was also one of the first video cassette releases in the $20 price range. Top Gun's home video success was again reflected by strong DVD sales, which were furthered by a special-edition release in 2004. Bomber jacket sales increased and Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses jumped 40%, due to their use by characters in the film. The film also had boosted Navy recruitment. The Navy had recruitment booths in some theaters to attract enthusiastic patrons.
IMAX 3D re-release
Top Gun was re-released in IMAX 3D on February 8, 2013, for six days. A four-minute preview of the conversion, featuring the "Danger Zone" flight sequence, was screened at the 2012 International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Subsequently, the film was released in Blu-ray 3D on February 19, 2013.
The film opened in the United States in 1,028 theaters on May 16, 1986. It quickly became a success and was the highest-grossing film of 1986. It would be six months before its theater count dropped below that of its opening week. It was number one on its first weekend with an $8,193,052 gross, and went on to a total domestic figure of $176,786,701. Internationally it took in an estimated $177,030,000 for a worldwide box office total of $353,816,701. The film sold an estimated 47,650,100 tickets in North America in its initial theatrical run.
Upon the film's original release, critical response was mixed. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 56% of 52 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10 and the critical consensus states: "Though it features some of the most memorable and electrifying aerial footage shot with an expert eye for action, Top Gun offers too little for non-adolescent viewers to chew on when its characters aren't in the air".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, pointing out that "Movies like Top Gun are hard to review because the good parts are so good and the bad parts are so relentless. The dogfights are absolutely the best since Clint Eastwood's electrifying aerial scenes in Firefox. But look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another."
The film was nominated for and won many awards, most prominently for its sound and effects the film won the following awards:
|Year||Award||Category – Recipient(s)|
|1987||ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards||Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures – Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock for the song "Take My Breath Away".|
|1987||Academy Awards||Best Original Song – Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics) for "Take My Breath Away".|
|1986||Apex Scroll Awards||Achievement in Sound Effects|
|1987||BRIT Awards||Best Soundtrack|
|1987||Golden Globe Awards||Best Original Song – Motion Picture – Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics) for the song "Take My Breath Away".|
|1987||Golden Screen Award|
|1987||Grammy Awards||Best Pop Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group or Soloist) – Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens for "Top Gun Anthem".|
|1987||Motion Picture Sound Editors||Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing|
|Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects|
|1987||People's Choice Awards||Favorite Motion Picture|
|1988||Award of the Japanese Academy||Best Foreign Language Film|
The film was nominated for the following awards:
- Academy Awards (1987)
- Apex Scroll Awards (1986)
- Actress in a Supporting Role – Meg Ryan
- Film Editing – Billy Weber and Chris Lebenzon
- Best Original Song – Motion Picture – Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics) for the song "Take My Breath Away".
- Best Picture – Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer
- Achievement in Compilation Soundtrack
- Achievement in Sound
- Golden Globe Awards (1987)
- Best Original Score – Motion Picture – Harold Faltermeyer
- Award of the Japanese Academy (1988)
- Best Foreign Language Film
- Fennecus Awards (1986)
- Achievement in Compilation Soundtrack
- Film Editing – Billy Weber and Chris Lebenzon
- Achievement in Sound
- Achievement in Sound Effects
In 2008, the film was ranked at number 455 in Empire's list of the 500 greatest films of all time. Yahoo! Movies ranked Top Gun #19 on their list of greatest action films of all-time. The film has been nominated multiple times for various AFI lists, ranking only once. In 2005, the line "I feel the need... the need for speed!" was ranked 94 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes list.
- American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell – Nominated Hero
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Take My Breath Away" – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "I feel the need — the need for speed." – #94
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
Effect on military recruiting
Movie producer John Davis claimed that Top Gun was a recruiting video for the Navy, that people saw the movie and said, "Wow! I want to be a pilot." After the film's release, the US Navy stated that the number of young men who joined wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent.
In popular culture
Since its initial release, the film has made many top film lists and has been the subject of comedic interpretation.
The 1991 film Hot Shots! was a comedy spoof of Top Gun.
The masculine theme of the film has been the subject of humorous examination, with the homoerotic subtext examined in a monologue performed by Quentin Tarantino in the 1994 film Sleep with Me.
A sequel has been in active development since at least 2010. However plans have been complicated by Scott's suicide in 2012. In 2013, all parties were still reported interested in the project with Bruckheimer, "For 30 years we've been trying to make a sequel and we're not going to stop. We still want to do it with Tom and Paramount are still interested in making it. What Tom tells me is that no matter where he goes in the world, people refer to him as Maverick. It's something he is excited about so as long as he keeps his enthusiasm hopefully we'll get it made."
By September 2014 it was revealed that Justin Marks was already in negotiations to write the screenplay, which was confirmed that following June. Marks would go on later to say that the film was a dream project for him, calling the original an "iconic film in my memory" due in part to it being one of the first films he remembers seeing in a movie theater.
In May 2017, during the promotional tour for The Mummy, Cruise confirmed that a sequel to Top Gun will start filming in 2018. By June of the same year, he revealed that the title will be Top Gun: Maverick with Faltermeyer back as composer for the sequel. Cruise further stated that, “Aviators are back, the need for speed. We’re going to have big, fast machines. It’s going to be a competition film, like the first one…but a progression for Maverick.”  Later that month it was announced Joseph Kosinski, who directed Cruise in 2013's Oblivion, was set to direct the sequel.
Top Gun also spawned a number of video games for various platforms. The original game was released in 1987 under the same title as the film. It was released on five platforms in total: PC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (with an equivalent version for Nintendo's "VS." arcade cabinets). In the game, the player pilots an F-14 Tomcat fighter, and has to complete four missions. A sequel, Top Gun: The Second Mission, was released for the NES three years later.
Another game, Top Gun: Fire at Will, was released in 1996 for the PC and later for the Sony PlayStation platform. Top Gun: Hornet's Nest was released in 1998. Top Gun: Combat Zones was released for PlayStation 2 in 2001 and was ported to the GameCube and Windows PCs a year later. Combat Zones was considerably longer and more complex than its predecessors, and also featured other aircraft besides the F-14. In late 2005, a fifth game, simply titled Top Gun, was released for the Nintendo DS. At E3 2011, a new game was announced, Top Gun: Hard Lock, which was released in March 2012 for Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3.
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