Top Secret!

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Top Secret!
Top secret ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Produced by Jon Davison
Hunt Lowry
Written by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Martyn Burke
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Françoise Bonnot
Bernard Gribble
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 8, 1984 (1984-06-08)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[1] or $8.5 million[2]
Box office $20,458,340[3]

Top Secret! is a 1984 action comedy film directed by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, whose previous picture had been Airplane! It stars Val Kilmer (in his first feature film), Lucy Gutteridge, Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough and Jeremy Kemp.

The film is a parody of both the musicals starring Elvis Presley and spy films of the Cold War era. The original music score was composed by Maurice Jarre.


Nick Rivers (Kilmer), a United States rock star, has the number one song in America ("Skeet Surfing"). He travels to East Germany to perform at a cultural festival, and at a dinner, he sees the beautiful Hillary Flammond (Gutteridge), a member of the resistance movement, attempting to avoid the authorities. He pretends to be her date to get to know her, and performs an impromptu song and dance ("Tutti-Frutti") mistakenly thinking that he was asked to do so, to the delight of Hillary and the crowd but to the annoyance of the emcee who intended to introduce someone else. He later sees Hillary at a ballet, where she is trying to meet with a resistance contact, but is met by the police instead. Nick saves her and they try to escape, but Nick turns himself in so that Hillary can get away. He is taken to a prison where he is questioned and tortured, but he knows nothing and does not break. In an escape attempt, he ends up in the secret lab of Dr. Paul Flammond (Gough), a brilliant scientist developing the "Polaris naval mine", a device that can destroy the entire NATO submarine fleet; the Germans force him to work by threatening to kill his daughter Hillary. Nick is recaptured and scheduled for execution.

The East Germans decide that Nick must perform to avoid an international incident, and he does so to the rapturous joy of the local girls ("How Silly Can You Get"/"Spend This Night With Me"). He is rescued by Hillary at the end of his performance after which they spend the night in the loft of a Swedish bookstore. Nick plays for her ("Are You Lonesome Tonight?") and they make love. They are moved to the "Potato Farm" where they meet members of the French Resistance, led by Nigel "The Torch" (Villiers), who was a lover of Hillary from when they were stranded on an island as youths (a reference to The Blue Lagoon) . Nick is upset by Hillary's residual love for Nigel, but accepts that they must work together for the cause. After fighting off an attack by the Germans, they move to a soda shop where Nick proves that he's not a traitor by performing for the locals ("Straighten Out the Rug").

The resistance group stages a rescue of Dr. Flammond, where Nigel and Du Quois, a resistance leader, dress up in a fake cow outfit to disable the defenses. As the other members successfully infiltrate the prison, Nigel reveals himself as the traitor, but is thwarted by an amorous bull. Dr. Flammond is rescued, but Nigel makes off with Hillary, and Nick is forced to rescue her in an underwater barroom fight. With their flight about to leave, Hillary chooses to go with Nick and her father to America, saying farewell to her resistance friends.

(The film features short performances by Omar Sharif as Agent Cedric, and Peter Cushing as the Swedish bookstore proprietor, in a scene filmed completely in reverse.)



After the success of Airplane! the team of ZAZ were unsure of what to do next. They made the TV series Police Squad but it performed poorly.

David Zucker:

We just needed a subject that we would be excited about. Starting out, we didn’t have a whole genre like the airplane disaster movies. We were just fans of those black and white World War II movies that were made during the war. Somehow, we didn’t think that was enough: we didn’t want to do a period piece, we wanted to make it contemporary. That was the whole concept of ‘Top Secret!’: that it was not necessarily grounded in reality, but it would have kind of this heightened sense of craziness – even to which genres we were picking, which was a split hybrid between Elvis movies and the World War II movies.[4]

David Zucker said they had been working on the script since Airplane! "but we just couldn't figure out how to do it. We made repeated attempts to combine a rock and roll movie with a World War II movie but it was very difficult to do... We already had ideas for scenes we wanted to do and we tried to fit in plot around those scenes". A fourth writer, Martyn Burke, was brought in to work on the plot. "If it weren't for Martyn we'd still be sitting in that room," said Jerry Zucker.[2]

The film was mostly written in an office at their lawyers'.[2]

The film's budget was a reported $8.5 million, whereas Airplane! was made for $3.2 million.[2]


Val Kilmer was cast after the directors saw him in a play called 'Slab Boys' with Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon.[4] He turned up to the audition dressed like Elvis Presley.[5] "I like to think of it as the role Elvis never got but should have," said Abrahams.[2]

Lucy Gutteridge, who plays the female lead, has just appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Nicholas Nickleby.[2]

Unlike Airplane! the film is not full of cameos from famous actors. "That was one of the jokes in Airplane! and we had done it and wanted to move on," said Zucker.[2]


No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Skeet Surfing" (Parody mix based on Little Honda, Surfin' U.S.A., Fun, Fun, Fun, California Girls, and Hawaii) Brian Wilson, Mike Love,
Chuck Berry
Val Kilmer 2:58
2. "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"   Lou Handman, Roy Turk Val Kilmer 1:32
3. "How Silly Can You Get"   Phil Pickett Val Kilmer 2:48
4. "Straighten Out the Rug"   Paul Hudson Val Kilmer 2:56
5. "Tutti Frutti"   Dorothy LaBostrie, Richard Penniman Val Kilmer 1:38
6. "Spend This Night With Me"   David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Mike Moran Val Kilmer 3:26


The film was test screened at various colleges, and audience responses helped the filmmakers cut back the length from two hours to 90 minutes.[2]

The film was meant to be released on June 8, but Paramount pushed the date back to June 22, angering some exhibitors. The official reason was that Paramount wanted to avoid competing against Ghostbusters and Gremlins although rumours spread that the studio was dissatisfied with the film's quality. Producer Jon Davison denied this saying "Paramount has a lot of confidence in the picture or they wouldn't have cared. The mere fact that they've bothered to trouble some of their relationships with exhibitors shows their faith in the picture."[6]

Box Office[edit]

The film was considered a box office disappointment, though it still earned $20 million.[7] A 1991 article speculated two possible reasons - the performance of Airplane II: The Sequel (although it had different producers to the original), along with "the lack of any clear sense of period, something that may throw viewers who insist on comedic nonessentials like interior logic. It's basically a parody of World War II-French Resistance movies, but along the way it also skewers '50s rock 'n' roll films... '60s "Beach Party" movies and "The Blue Lagoon," among other lampoon-worthy source material."[8]

"The lesson we took from 'Airplane!' was just fill up 90 minutes with jokes, and you have a movie," reflected David Zucker later. "With 'Top Secret,' it's very funny, but it really isn't a good movie. It really didn't have a plot or real characters or real structure."[9]


On Rotten Tomatoes, Top Secret! has an overall approval rating of 76% and a weighted average of 6.6/10.[10] Roger Ebert rated it 3.5/4 and applauded the humour, noting that "To describe the plot would be an exercise in futility" and "This movie will cheerfully go for a laugh wherever one is even remotely likely to be found." [11]


"Weird Al" Yankovic considers this his all-time favourite movie.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Top Secret! | PowerGrid". 1984-06-22. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h 'Top Secret' Suggests That Three Heads May Be Funnier Than One: Three Behind 'Top Secret' By LESLIE BENNETTS. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 June 1984: H19.
  3. ^ "Top Secret! (1984)". 1984-07-31. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  4. ^ a b "How Silly Can You Get? The Tumultuous Making Of 'Top Secret!'" accessed 2 May 2015
  5. ^ At the Movies: 'Top Secret!' rock star aims to be lovable. Maslin, Janet. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 22 June 1984: C10.
  6. ^ FILM CLIPS: FIRST DAY FIGURES FOR 'DOOM' EXCEED 'RAIDERS,' TRAIL 'JEDI' London, Michael. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 May 1984: oc_d6.
  7. ^ Direct From the Files of the Play Squad Easton, Nina. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 02 Dec 1988: E1.
  8. ^ Randy Lewis, "Top Secret' Has Lived Up to Name", LA Times August 08, 1991
  9. ^ "Zucker shares secrets of slapstick" Savannah Now 3 Nov 2006 accessed 2 May 2015
  10. ^ "Top Secret!". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  11. ^ "Top Secret! Movie Review & Film Summary (1984)". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  12. ^ Eakin, Marah (2014-07-18). ""Weird Al" Yankovic answers our 11 Questions · 11 Questions · The A.V. Club". Retrieved 2015-03-16. 

External links[edit]