Top Gun (1986)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Top Gun

Up there with the best of the best

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 110 minutes
BBFC: 15 (1986) | 12 (cinema, 1989) | 15 (video, 1996) | 12 (video, 2004)
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 12th May 1986 (Mexico)
US Release: 16th May 1986
UK Release: 3rd October 1986
Budget: $15 million
Worldwide Gross: $357.5 million

Stars
Tom Cruise (Risky Business, Mission: Impossible)
Kelly McGillis (Witness, The Accused)
Val Kilmer (Top Secret!, Batman Forever)
Anthony Edwards (Revenge of the Nerds, Miracle Mile)

Director
Tony Scott (The Hunger, Crimson Tide)

Screenwriters
Jim Cash (Turner & Hooch, Anaconda)
Jack Epps Jr. (Dick Tracy, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas)

Based on
Top Guns, a magazine article by Ehud Yonay.


The Story
Fighter pilots Maverick and Goose are sent to the US Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School, aka Top Gun, a combat training academy-cum-competition to establish the Navy’s best pilots.

Our Hero
Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is a hotshot pilot who’s prone to bending the rules when he thinks it’s necessary. But that sort of behaviour doesn’t fly with the instructors at Top Gun. Is his daring what gives him the edge, or what makes him a liability?

Our Villain
Maverick’s prime rival in the Top Gun competition is Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, whose callsign comes from the his precise, ‘ice cold’ flying style — the antithesis of Maverick. In the real-world, the villains are the MiG fighter jets of a tactfully unnamed foreign power.

Best Supporting Character
Maverick’s best mate and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) is Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw. While Maverick seems to rub most people up the wrong way, Goose is widely liked. No idea where his nickname comes from.

Memorable Quote
“I feel the need… the need for speed!” — Maverick

Memorable Scene
For all the slick flying and whatnot, arguably the film’s most iconic scene comes on the ground, when the pilots relax by playing a game of beach volleyball — mostly shirtless, their sweaty muscles glistening in the sun. If you weren’t already feeling the homoerotic subtext, this kind of rams it home. (It’s a fairly incidental scene, but if you doubt its impact, know that the makes of the sequel felt they had to include a version of it, which led to the cast prepping for months to make sure their bodies were suitably toned.)

Memorable Music
Top Gun is blessed with multiple memorable tracks, both original songs and soundtrack cues. Several even won awards (see below). But the one that didn’t is the most iconic, and so catchy that it’s played several times throughout the film: Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone.

Making of
There was a lot of cooperation from the US Navy in the production of the film (it paid off: after release, they saw recruitment skyrocket), but they only authorised two actual missile shots for filming purposes. Both were were shot from multiple angles to generate extra usable footage, but it still wasn’t enough, and so the filmmakers commissioned further shots using miniature planes and rockets. These were done so convincingly that the Navy conducted an investigation into whether any unauthorised missile firings had been performed for the film.

Next time…
It took over 35 years (partially thanks to Covid-related delays), but a sequel was finally released this year. But of course you know that: Top Gun: Maverick is probably the most praised blockbuster of the year so far.

Awards
1 Oscar (Original Song (Take My Breath Away))
3 Oscar nominations (Sound, Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing)
1 People’s Choice Award (Favorite Motion Picture)
1 Grammy (Pop Instrumental Performance (Top Gun Anthem))
1 Brit Award (Soundtrack)

Verdict

I loved Top Gun as a young kid — though, as is so often the case with movies from my childhood, I don’t actually know how many times I saw it. We weren’t great rewatchers in my household, so I expect I only actually watched it two, maybe three times, max. But my dad and I used to play jet fighter simulator games on our PC, with usernames like Maverick and Iceman, entirely inspired by the film. So, obviously, it comes with a dose of nostalgia for me, even though I hadn’t seen it for a couple of decades (my recent rewatch inspired by, of course, the release of the sequel). Does it hold up? Well, that depends what you want from a movie. It certainly comes with a more-than-healthy does of ’80s cheese and rampant-but-unacknowledged homoeroticism. For some, that makes it either unwatchable or two hours of laughing at the film. But if you’re onboard with its particular style, it’s still good fun; an entertainment-focused blend of fast-paced action in the skies and matey rivalry on the ground, with a dash of romantic melodrama for good measure.

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