News of the long-hoped-for sequel to the 1986 movie Top Gun was loudly cheered by its fans. Originally scheduled for a June 2020, release date, because of COVID-19, it was pushed back to December 2020, before another delay to July 2, 2021. Despite the delays, fans’ excitement has only intensified. Since we all will have to wait a few more months before we see Maverick return to the skies, we offer some fun facts about Top Gun, its sequel, and the Naval air combat program that inspired them both.
Top Gun roared onto the silver screen on May 12, 1986. It soared to the top of the charts as quickly as an F-14A Tomcat can break the sound barrier. It was six months after its release before the theater attendance dropped below that of its opening week. The film 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, with 47,650,100 tickets purchased by appreciative customers. After an opening weekend gross of $8,193,052, the movie went on to a total domestic gross of $176,781,728 and a total worldwide box office of $353,811,728.
The film chronicles U.S. Naval Aviator Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s experience at the Naval Fighter Weapons School, commonly known as “TOPGUN.” Actor Tom Cruise was cast in the lead role. Anthony Edwards played the part of Maverick’s best friend and radar intercept officer, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. Val Kilmer played Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and Kelly McGillis had the role of Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, a Top Gun instructor and love interest of Maverick.
In addition to spectacular in-flight cinematography, the film managed to contain some of the most memorable music of a movie in recent memory. The soundtrack has sold more than 9 million copies in the United States and remains one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. Memorable songs included “Danger Zone,” “Take My Breath Away,” “Heaven In Your Eyes,” “Mighty Wings,” “Playing with the Boys,” and “Top Gun Anthem.” “Take My Breath Away” went on to win the Academy Award for the Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for the Best Original Song.
The soundtrack could have turned out quite a bit different. Bryan Adams was originally a favored choice as a musical artist, but he balked at the project, concerned that it promoted war. REO Speedwagon was supposed to do one song but opted out over disagreements over the choice of song. Toto was the first choice to record “Danger Zone,” but when that didn’t work out, Kenny Loggins was chosen instead; that was the song that propelled him to fame.
Capturing all of the aerial scenery did not come cheap. Paramount paid up to $7,800 per hour for fuel whenever Navy aircraft were flown outside their normal duties. One scene of aircraft landing on the U.S.S. Enterprise cost the producers $25,000 to move the carrier to accommodate five minutes of shooting.
The high costs associated with filming the movie created some problems for director Tony Scott. The studio was so concerned about budget overruns and missed deadlines that they fired Scott — three separate times.
Tom Cruise towered over everyone else while in a jet, but on the ground, he needed a little help. The 5’7″ actor is three inches shorter than co-star Kelly McGillis. Cruise had to wear special lifts in his shoes when he appeared on screen with her.
The success of Top Gun was good news not only for those involved with the movie but also for Ray-Ban. The company saw a 40% jump in the sales of its Aviator sunglasses after the movie’s premiere.
The film was inspired by an article entitled “Top Guns” in this May 1983, issue of California magazine. The piece focused on the life of fighter pilots at the Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
Originally called the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, it quickly gained the nickname TOPGUN. It was founded after a 1968 study determined that U.S. pilots needed better training. Capt. Dan Pedersen is considered the “godfather” of TOPGUN for his role in launching the program. His book, TOPGUN: An American Story, tells the history of the program and how accurately the movie portrays it.
One of TOPGUN’s students, Commander Guy Snodgrass, wrote about his experience at the program in his book TOPGUN’S Top 10 Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit. In the book, he reveals that although the movie was inspired by the program, there are certain things about the movie that are off-limits to students. One of the most notable prohibitions is quoting from the film. Anyone who is heard repeating any of the movie’s iconic lines is fined $5 for each offense.
It is hard not to give in to the temptation to recite the memorable dialogue from the movie. Among the most memorable lines from the film are:
- “I Feel The Need… The Need For Speed!”
- “You Can Be My Wingman Any Time.”
- “Son, Your Ego Is Writing Checks Your Body Can’t Cash.”
- “I Am Dangerous.”
- “I’ll Fly With You.”
- “Talk To Me, Goose.”
- “Because I Was Inverted.”
- “Permission to Buzz the Tower.”
The rationale for the “no quote” rule is more than sparing the instructors the experience of constantly hearing the same lines. Snodgrass says that is “ingrained in our culture to a certain extent” to make jokes, but “when you get to TOPGUN because it is such a professional organization and you want to emphasize that you are at the top of your game, that it’s about professionalism, about good leadership, you don’t turn TOPGUN into a joke by referencing the movie.”
“So, it is a part of our bylaws that if someone overtly references the movie — it could be a direct quote, it could be something that is really close to a direct quote — that’s an automatic $5 fine. And it’s enforced. And you are expected to pay right then. You pull out your wallet and pay the $5,” Snodgrass said.
Old habits die hard though. Snodgrass said he figures just about everyone has been fined at one time or another. If Top Gun: Maverick produces as many memorable lines as the original, no doubt the program will continue to receive a steady stream of revenue from future participants.