May 18, 1986. TOP GUN launched its first weekend in US theaters and catapulted to iconic status.
The winning strategy? Tom Cruise, locker room hunks, high-octane action, a kick-ass soundtrack, plus the Mach-2-with-your-hair-on-fire undisputed top dog muscle machine of US naval aviation.
The movie cost $15,000,000 to make. It made $31,000,000 in sales in the first two weekends alone. Total revenue: $345,000,000, a gross margin of 2,300%.
Sales of Kawasaki Ninjas, bomber jackets and Ray-Ban Aviators went ballistic, too.
Tom Cruise and the F-14 Tomcat were escorted by completely unknown actors. Meg Ryan (later Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail). Anthony Edwards (ER). Kelly McGillis (Witness). Val Kilmer (Heat, Doors, Batman Forever). Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption, Bull Durham).
It’s hard to remember 25 years later, but there were other actors in TOP GUN. It was a cast of stars, but we didn’t know it back then.
Has it really been 25 years?! Twenty-five years ago, my son and now co-pilot Carlo was just learning to walk.
I imagine that those who criticize this movie also look upon the Three Stooges with disgust for not exploring the depth of Moe’s antagonistic relationship with Curly. The fact is that only about 10% of films have the depth of a Citizen Kane or Godfather. Among the other 90%, Top Gun is the best of the best.
— Brandon Toy, Amazon.com
There were so many half-naked male beefcake scenes that Quentin Tarantino deemed TOP GUN the ultimate gay movie (there’s a YouTube video…).
Tom Cruise was 23 and dyslexic. He went on to became a real pilot, learned to fly in 1994, six years after TOP GUN.
Today he owns an aerobatic Pitts Special S2B, a P-51 Mustang and a Gulfstream jet. Commercial license, multi-engine and instrument ratings.
Headin’ into twilight
Spreadin’ out her wings tonight
She got you jumpin’ off the deck
And shovin’ into overdrive
Highway to the Danger Zone
I’ll take you right into the Danger Zone
— Kenny Loggins
Tom Cruise (and his computer-designed face) was the star, but the F-14 Tomcat was best supporting actor. “Tomcat” because it ruled the neighborhood, had cat’s eyes and many lives, and, even if it lost an ear or tail, always got home.
Grumman “Ironworks,” famed builder of Navy fighter aircraft from World War II onwards, designed the F-14 with sweeping switchblade wings that could re-shape the airplane into an arrowhead at 2.5 times the speed of sound, 1,400+ miles per hour!
Its radar detected ‘bandits’ out to 100+ miles, tracking up to 24 targets while scanning for more. No known technology beats that even today.
Match that with the baddest missile ever. No air-to-air weapon competes with the Tomcat’s AIM-54 Phoenix missile – 100-mile range, Mach 5, launch and leave, its own radar to track the target. At $500,000 a pop, not for shooting Cessnas.
The flying scenes are the heart of the movie. No Hollywood computer graphics here — noted Hollywood aerial choreographer Clay Lacy filmed real dogfights among Topgun instructors from his Learjet.
Maverick’s rolling scissors against Viper or Iceman’s F-14 in a fur ball with five swirling F-5s impress me even more now that I am a real pilot.
Last May 18, TOP GUN’s 25th Anniversary, I discovered a book in Singapore, Topgun Days. A 25-year old photo shows author Dave “Bio” Baranek and actor Anthony “Goose” Edwards. Like identical twins.
In 1985 the author (right, above) was an instructor at Topgun (the Fighter Weapons School’s correct nickname is a single word). He flew F-5s in the movie. Anecdotes about the film ripple through the later chapters.
The Navy allowed filming at Topgun, and aboard aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and the USS Ranger were used in the film (the USS Carl Vinson, Bin Laden’s hearse, contributed F-14s).
In post-production, author Baranek reviewed the dogfight scenes and spontaneously added lines for increased authenticity.
“Two A-4’s, left 10 o’clock level, continue left turn.”
“Watch the mountains!”
“C’mon, do some of that pilot shit!”
The screenwriters eagerly recorded and loved it all! Real pilot talk.
It was also author Baranek who suggested voice-over lines to help Director Tony Scott portray the passage of time in Topgun’s 5-week training course.
“Gentlemen, this is Hop nineteen, multiple aircraft, multiple bogies. Your training is half over.”
Topgun instructors “Viper” Pettigrew and “Heater” Heatley had cameo roles. Renowned aerobatic pilot Art Scholl crashed while filming a flat spin for the movie. The movie was dedicated to his memory.
Twenty-five years ago.
Today, Miramar is no longer a Naval Air Station. Topgun, the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, closed in 2003.
Grumman is extinct. And the F-14 Tomcat, the most famous jet fighter in the world, retired in 2006. Not a single one flies today.
Turning and returning to some secret place to hide
Watching in slow motion as you turn to me and say
Take my breath away.
Academy Award, Best Original Song
Anthony “Goose” Edwards has lost nearly all his hair, and Val “Iceman” Kilmer looks heavier than an F-14. Tom “Viper” Skerritt is now 78.
But Tom Cruise proves an aviation secret – real pilots never grow old.
Maverick, you big stud. Take me to bed or lose me forever!”
— Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood
Posted from Bangkok, May 25, 2011
Other neat TOP GUN websites – click on the links!
Cool behind-the-scenes site. Charlie stood in a trench in the last scene, to make her shorter than Maverick (Tom Cruise is 5’7”).
Charlie’s house is scheduled to be demolished. The volleyball courts are long gone. The San Diego restaurant where Goose played the piano became famous, collected Goose’s helmet and the “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” jukebox, then lost everything in a fire. Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire! TOP GUN filming locations!
BUT the same restaurant recovered from the fire, helps celebrate the 25th anniversary of TOP GUN.
Since 1985, one of the real pilots in the movie rose to four-star Admiral rank, commanding all US forces in the Pacific. Another commanded the Enterprise, the aircraft carrier used in the movie. More TOP GUN trivia here.
A biker in Germany recreates a Kawasaki Ninja exactly according to the movie, lots of pictures of the 1985 filming, including an immaculate 1/12 scale model made by a friend.