Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Reel 30: TOP GUN

“I feel the need…the need…for speed!”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Tony Scott’s TOP GUN.

A showcase of masculine military might and 1980’s patriotic flag-waving, TOP GUN followed Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Nick “Goose” Bradshaw as they train at the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School and compete to earn the title of “Top Gun” as the best fighter-pilot in the Navy. With modern aerial combat and the larger-than-life personalities of fighter pilots at the center of the story, all the right elements were needed to make it fly.  

The film was inspired by an article published in California magazine in 1983.The article caught the attention of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who was coming off his hit film BEVERLY HILLS COP. The directing job went to the late Tony Scott, the younger brother of director Ridley Scott. Tony was coming of his coldly received horror film THE HUNGER, and was looking for a hit.

With an emphasis on a macho military, casting would be key. The lead role of Maverick went to heartthrob Tom Cruise, who already had a string of hits behind him such as RISKY BUSINESS (1983) and ALL THE RIGHT MOVES (1983). The rest of the cast read like a Hollywood Hunk List; Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Rick Rossovich, John Stockwell, and Whip Hubley filled the squad of brash and cocky fighter pilots. The rest of the cast was rounded out by Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, and Tim Robbins.

The Navy offered full cooperation, and made several of their own aircraft and pilots available. With TOP GUN being a full decade away from computer-generated imagery, dogfight and training sequences were done for real; with new camera housings invented which would allow film cameras to be mounted on different parts of the aircraft, providing for some stunning photography. TOP GUN would embrace the cool of the military, dressing their cast in stylish flight jackets, aviator sunglasses, and beach wear. And the now infamous code-names; Maverick, Goose, Iceman, Viper, Jester, Cougar, Wolfman, Slider, Merlin, Sundown, Hollywood, Chipper and Stinger…was icing on the cake. Rock musician Kenny Loggins contributed two songs for the soundtrack; Playing with the Boys and Danger Zone, and Berlin recorded the love ballad Take My Breath Away…which would win an Oscar for Best Original Song.

TOP GUN would be the highest grossing film of 1986, and would be nominated for four Oscars. It would win the People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Motion Picture, and the score would win a Grammy. After the film’s release, the Navy stated that the number of recruits jumped up by 500 percent, and in 2015, the U.S. Library of Congress selected TOP GUN for preservation in the National Film Registry.


TOP GUN is a film which embodied the spirit of the 1980’s; from a ballsy military, love ballads, and kicking the ass of Russia. Today, with the Cold War long gone and aerial combat now a thing of the past (for now), TOP GUN doesn’t feel like a very relevant film and certainly feels like it came out of the colorful era of the pop-video dominated 1980’s. But TOP GUN has made a mark that is still felt today. It is often quoted, parodied, and referenced (with love) as a significant entry into pop-culture, and Tom Cruise may never have completely shed his “Maverick” persona. As a film, it is thrilling and fun…and director Tony Scott was able to find a heart in all of the chest-beating, as TOP GUN still manages a love story and a father-son tale. There have certainly been more films that came out of the 1980’s that were deeper and more meaningful, but none that were so darn cool as TOP GUN.

“I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.”



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