Top Gun (film) explained

Top Gun
Director:Tony Scott
Starring:Tom Cruise
Kelly McGillis
Val Kilmer
Anthony Edwards
Tom Skerritt
Producer:Don Simpson
Jerry Bruckheimer
Music:Harold Faltermeyer
Editing:Billy Weber
Distributor:Paramount Pictures
Released:May 16, 1986
Runtime:109 min.
Country:United States
Budget:$15,000,000 (estimated)

Top Gun is a 1986 American 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 written by Ehud Yonay for California Magazine entitled "Top Guns." The film stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer and Tom Skerritt.

The film follows LT Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a young Naval aviator who aspires to be a top fighter pilot in the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, which trains the top 1% of all Naval aviators. Maverick gets his chance to attend the school after one pilot drops out, allowing him and his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer, the "back seater" in the two-man F-14) LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw to train with the best. The film opened in America on May 16, 1986 to good reviews, the aerial scenes being most notably praised. Similar praise followed soon afterwards when the film broke records at the box office, becoming a mega hit. The film accumulated over $350 million worldwide, and broke home-video sales records.

Plot summary

Tom Cruise plays Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a young United States Navy F-14 Tomcat aviator aboard the USS Enterprise. Maverick is the son of Duke Mitchell, a fighter pilot shot down during the Vietnam War (on November 5, 1965) and listed as missing in action with all details classified, a mystery that haunts Maverick. Former Top Gun instructor pilot (and later a disgraced Member of Congress and subsequent incarcerated felon) Randy "Duke" Cunningham claimed to have been the inspiration for Duke Mitchell, although the movie's producer denied this, saying that the character was not based on any specific aviator.[1]

The film begins "somewhere in the Indian Ocean" with Maverick and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) flying wingman to lead pilot "Cougar" and his RIO "Merlin", en route to intercept an unknown inbound aircraft (a bogey). It turns out to be two hostile Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-28 aircraft (of which don't exist and Northrop F5 Tigers are used in a mock-up paint scheme); the country is unnamed, though the adversary pilots (masked by flight helmets) are presumably Soviet advisors flying for some country that is equipped with Soviet equipment. Though restrained by rules of engagement against pre-emptive fire, and despite Cougar being outflown and trapped almost immediately, Maverick manages to intimidate both "bandits" into withdrawing by playing "chicken" with them, gaining a missile lock on the first (though he holds his fire) and outflying the second. Though saved, Cougar is thoroughly shaken and does not obey return-to-base orders from an increasingly impatient CAG, callsign "Stinger" (James Tolkan), despite his fighter's dwindling fuel supply. Maverick, also low on fuel, disobeys Stinger's orders and risks his own plane to guide Cougar home.

Cougar realizes he has "lost the edge" and "turns in his wings" (resigns). This is serendipitous timing for Maverick and Goose, now the top pilot-RIO team in the squadron, as squadron commander Stinger has been called upon to send his best team to the Navy's elite "TOPGUN" fighter-pilot school (US Navy Fighter Weapons School) at NAS Miramar in San Diego, California. With Cougar gone, Stinger has to send Maverick and Goose - something he is reluctant to do, not least because of Maverick's attitude.

While testing his instructors' patience with his reckless flying (on his very first day, he outflies an instructor (LCDR Rick "Jester" Heatherly) but breaks two rules of engagement in the process) and establishing a rivalry with top student Tom "Iceman" Kazanski (Val Kilmer), Maverick falls in love with his beautiful female civilian instructor, Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). Maverick manages to gain her attention by regaling her with details about the MiG encounter from the film's opening, jesting that the details are classified (possibly true, since Maverick saw the MiG-28 outperform its alleged envelope) and claiming, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

Though a talented pilot, Maverick lives up to his name when called upon to be a team player. At one point, flying a mock combat mission alongside the pilot-RIO team of "Hollywood" and "Wolfman," he abandons his teammates to chase after TOPGUN's chief instructor, Commander Mike "Viper" Metcalf (Tom Skerritt). Though he gives the older pilot a run for his money, Viper's wingman, Jester (Michael Ironside), defeats Hollywood and then easily sneaks up on Maverick himself, proving that teamwork outweighs sheer flying ability.

During the next engagement, Maverick and Iceman, ever competitive, chase the same target (Jester), with Maverick tailgating Iceman while the latter attempts to gain a missile lock on the target. When Iceman gives up and pulls out, Maverick gets caught in his jet wash; his F-14's engines flame out, and he enters a flat spin from which he cannot recover (not unexpected behavior from the TF30 turbofan engines used in early-model F-14s) meaning both he and Goose are forced to eject. Maverick ejects clear of the airplane, but Goose ejects directly into the jettisoned cockpit canopy and is killed on impact. Although the inquiry clears Maverick of any responsibility, he is overwhelmed with guilt and subsequently loses his competitive edge, refusing to take risks and engage enemy targets.

Finally, unsure of his future and having alienated Charlie with his despondency, Maverick begins to wonder whether he should remain in the Navy. When he goes to Viper for advice, Viper tells him that he had served with Maverick's father in Vietnam, with the VF-51 Screaming Eagles off USS Oriskany. Viper risks his career to reveal the truth of the Mitchell senior's demise: during a fierce dogfight, Duke Mitchell's F-4 was hit, but he refused to disengage, saving three allied pilots before being downed himself. Normally, this would have qualified Duke Mitchell for the Medal of Honor, but the engagement took place "over the wrong line on some map," and the State Department, hoping to avoid an international incident, classified the details. Maverick, fortified by the memory of his father, decides that he will graduate from TOPGUN and remain a pilot.

During the post-graduation party Iceman, Slider, Hollywood, Wolfman, and Maverick are ordered to report to the Enterprise. The S.S. Layton, an intelligence-gathering ship, has 'broken down' inside hostile waters and the pilots are to fly cover for it until repairs are completed, with the other two teams in the air and Maverick as back-up on Alert Five, to Iceman's dismay. While Hollywood and Iceman are on patrol, six MiGs ambush them, downing Hollywood's craft (the crew safely ejects and pilot and co-pilot are rescued in a helicopter) and damaging Iceman's (he is able to continue flying). Maverick, the back-up pilot, scrambles into action; the Enterprise's catapults are found to be "broken" (in the words of Stinger's subordinate), preventing them from launching any further reinforcements.

When Maverick reaches the dogfight, he inadvertently flies through a MiG-28's jet wash and starts spinning out of control, in circumstances almost identical to those that caused Goose's death. Though he manages to recover, his confidence is gone and he flees the scene. Clutching Goose's dog tags and begging his friend to speak to him one last time, Maverick finds his courage. He re-engages the enemy and downs three MiGs while covering Iceman (who scores a single kill of his own), employing both teamwork as well as his signature high-risk flying style. Returning to the Enterprise as a hero, Maverick is given his choice of any posting and decides to return to Miramar as an instructor, much to Stinger's amusement. On Maverick's return to Fightertown USA, he goes for a drink in the local bar; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" starts playing on the jukebox. Charlie appears, and the two rekindle their romance as the movie closes. The final scenes show each pilot with their respective actors and two F-14s fly off into the sunset.



The primary inspiration for the film was the article "Top Guns," by Ehud Yonay, in the May 1983 issue of California magazine, which also featured aerial photography by then-Lieutenant Commander Charles "Heater" Heatley.[2] The article detailed the TOPGUN fighter pilots at the Miramar Naval Air Station, located in San Diego, self-nicknamed as "Fightertown USA". Numerous screenwriters allegedly turned down the project.[2] 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 capture the imagination of Bruckheimer and Simpson, and the first draft is considered to be very different from the final product in numerous ways.[3]

The producers wanted the assistance of the United States Navy in production of the film. The US Navy was influential in relation to script approval, which saw changes being made; the opening dogfight was moved to international waters as opposed to Cuba, salty language was trimmed down, and a scene that involved a crash on the deck of an aircraft carrier was also scrapped.[4] Also, Maverick's love interest in the film was originally intended to be a female enlisted member of the Navy, but due to the US Department of Defense prohibition of fraternization between officer and enlisted personnel, her position was changed to be that of an outside contractor.[2] The Charlotte Blackwood character also replaced an early draft's love interest for Maverick, an aerobics instructor who lived near the base; Dawn Steel hated the character and wouldn't green-light the film until this role was improved.

Other changes included the introduction of the semi-fictional Top Gun trophy (there had been an interservice air-to-air gunnery competition in the 1940s and 50s; but it is defunct, as the Navy decided to discourage competitive flying). There were also concerns that the lead female was not appropriate and was a stereotype; subsequently changes were made to the lead female character, Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood. She was loosely based on the real-life Christine H. Fox, a mathematician, who at the time was a representative of the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) at NAS Miramar. She briefed aircrew members for multiple types of aircraft before a series of exercises known by the name Hey, Rube!. She was later appointed as the President of CNA in March, 2004.[5] [6]

The real-life TOPGUN flight school moved to NAS Fallon, Nevada, in 1996, while NAS Miramar was turned over to the United States Marine Corps, becoming MCAS Miramar.


Shots of the aircraft carrier sequences were filmed aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). The majority of the shots were of normal aircraft operations and the film crew had to make use of the shots they could, save for the occasional flyby which the film crew would request. During filming, director Tony Scott wanted to shoot the shots of the aircraft landing and taking off backlit 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 bridge that it cost $25,000 to turn the ship and continue. Scott got someone to go to his quarters, grab his checkbook and write the ship's captain a $25,000 check so that the ship could be turned and he could continue shooting for another five minutes. [7]

Most of the sequences of the aircraft maneuvering over land were shot at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada using ground-mounted cameras. Air-to-air shots were filmed using a Learjet. Northrop Grumman was commissioned by Paramount 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. Hand-held cameras were used for some of the interior cabin shots. Navy F-14 pilots were used to fly the planes, and they changed helmets as needed. One of the pilots, credited as "Lt. Scott 'D-Bear' Altman", later became a NASA astronaut.[8]



F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat is the main aircraft featured in the movie, as the plane flown by the TOPGUN trainees. At the time of the film, the Tomcat was the US Navy's primary Air superiority fighter.A-4 Skyhawk. The Skyhawk (or "Scooter") is featured in the movie as the aircraft used by the TOPGUN instructors pitted against the trainees. As in real life, this aircraft was used in the Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) role.F-5E and F-5F Tiger II. The F-5 is featured in the movie as the enemy aircraft. In real life the F-5 was also used in the DACT role at TOPGUN. This is referred to by Charlie, but not shown, in the film.

The enemy aircraft are referred to as MiG-28s. They are painted black, with no NATO reporting name, and of unspecified nationality, but commentary on the movie's Special-Edition DVD release states that they were originally intended to be North Korean. In real life, the MiG design bureau is a Soviet aircraft manufacturer, although they never produced an even numbered fighter model. The MIG-28 in the movie is portrayed by the American Northrop F-5 (E/F Tiger IIs).

The film also features US Navy Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King and US Coast Guard HH-3F Pelican helicopters conducting search and rescue operations.Since the movie, the F-14 Tomcats were retired on September 22, 2006, the A-4 Skyhawk retired from US Navy service in 2003; the Navy's Adversary role is currently flown by a mix of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and the F-5.


The Top Gun soundtrack is one of the most popular soundtracks to date. 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 "Take My Breath Away" and "Danger Zone". Kenny Loggins had 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 Berlin to international acclaim. After the release of Loggins' "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, "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by The Righteous Brothers, were added. The soundtrack does also include "Top Gun Anthem" and "Memories" by 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.[9] Likewise, REO Speedwagon was considered but backed down because they would not be allowed to record their own composition.

Fatal accident during filming

Renowned aerobatic pilot Art Scholl, 53, was hired to do in-flight camera work for the film. The original script called for a flat spin, which he was to perform and capture on an onboard camera. The aircraft was observed to spin through its recovery altitude at which time he radioed "I have a problem...... I have a real problem".

Scholl was unable to recover and crashed his Pitts S-2 into the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast near Carlsbad on September 16, 1985. Neither Scholl nor his aircraft were recovered, leaving the official cause of the accident unknown.

Top Gun was dedicated to the memory of Art Scholl.

Fire at former set

The restaurant, Kansas City Barbeque, where the "sleazy bar scene" and final scene were filmed had a large pit fire on June 26, 2008. Some photographs and props from the film were destroyed but the piano used by Goose and Maverick to sing "Great Balls of Fire" was spared. [10]


The film opened in the United States in 1,028 cinemas on May 16, 1986. On its first weekend, it came in at number one with a $8,193,052 gross, and went on to a total domestic figure of $176,786,701. Internationally it took in $177,030,000 for a worldwide box office total of $353,816,701.[11] The film was highly praised for the action sequences.

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 Pepsi commercial[12], the advanced demand was such that the film became the best-selling videocassette in the industry's history on pre-orders alone. 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.[13] The movie also boosted Air Force and Navy recruitment. This was evident in the fact that the Navy used its success by having recruitment booths in some theaters to lure enthusiastic patrons.[14]

The AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list had the line "I feel the need — the need for speed!" from Top Gun on the list.

The film also ranked at number 455 in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. [15]

Awards and nominations

The film won the following awards:

YearAwardCategory - Recipient(s)
1987ASCAP Film and Television Music AwardMost Performed Songs from Motion Pictures - Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock for the song "Take My Breath Away".
1987Academy AwardBest Music, Original Song - Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics) for the song "Take My Breath Away".
1986Apex Scroll AwardAchievement in Sound Effects
1987BRIT AwardBest Soundtrack
1987Golden GlobeBest Original Song - Motion Picture - Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics) for the song "Take My Breath Away".
1987Golden Screen
1987Grammy AwardsBest Pop Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group or Soloist) - Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens for "Top Gun Anthem".
rowspan=21987rowspan=2Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel AwardBest Sound Editing
Best Sound Editing - Sound Effects
1987People's Choice AwardFavorite Motion Picture
1988Award of the Japanese AcademyBest Foreign Language Film

The film was nominated for the following awards:

Video games

See main article: Top Gun (video game). 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. was released for PlayStation 2 in 2001 and was ported to the Nintendo Game Cube 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.

Mobile Game Publisher Hands-On Mobile (formerly known as Mforma) have published three mobile games based around Top Gun. The first two were top-down scrolling arcade shooters. The third game takes a different approach as a third-person perspective game, similar to Sega's Afterburner games.

The "Top Gun Anthem" is a downloadable song for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of .

References in popular culture

The success of Top Gun has seen it have a cultural influence in society which has spawned many references. The use of the fighter pilot nicknames in masculine communication, particularly Maverick and Goose, is often replicated or parodied. The masculine theme of the film has been the subject of humorous examination, with the homoerotic subtext examined in a monologue by Quentin Tarantino in Sleep with Me. The film has also been the subject of a Rifftrax audio commentary with humorous effects.

Top Gun has also been spoofed in the 1991 comedy film Hot Shots!, and liberally borrowed from in the 2004 Bollywood film Agnipankh..

See also

Historical incidents similar to those in the film's climax:

Similar films:

Notes and References

  1. News: Alex. Roth. The San Diego Union-Tribune. down Cunningham's legend. 2006-01-15. A-1. 2006-02-19.
  2. Top Gun Movie -The 80s Rewind «
  3. Special Edition DVD, Interview with Jack Epps
  4. Special Edition DVD, Interview with the producers
  5. Math Alumna Solves the Military’s Tough Dilemmas - The Mason Gazette - George Mason University
  6. The CNA Corporation - Leadership
  7. Special Edition DVD, Interview with Tony Scott and Pete Pettigrew
  8. Web site: Dickson. Mike. Tazewell County Photo of the Month. Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. 2000-12. 2009-02-26.
  9. Top Gun (1986) - Trivia
  10. Web site: restaurant_fire. Top Gun_(film). mdy. June 27 2008.
  11. Web site: Top Gun (box office). mdy. November 8 2006.
  13. Web site: Through A Glass Darkly. mdy. November 8 2006.
  14.,4029,543821,00.html Top Gun versus Sergeant Bilko? No contest, says the Pentagon | World news | The Guardian