'Top Gun': 15 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About the Tom Cruise Classic
Could there be a more quintessentially 1980s movie than "Top Gun?"
All that lovingly-photographed military hardware, that synth-pop soundtrack featuring two Kenny Loggins tunes, and a grinning Tom Cruise at his cockiest. He felt the need for speed, and for 30 years (since the film's release on May 16, 1986), you've been watching Cruise's Maverick soar in his fighter jet and overcome his paternal-abandonment issues.
Still, as many times as you've re-watched "Top Gun," there's a lot you may not know about the this '80s classic. Here are the Navy pilot saga's secrets, declassified.
1. The film originated as "Top Guns," a 1983 article by Ehud Yonay in California Magazine. It profiled the Navy pilot training center at Miramar, in San Diego, and featured aerial photography by a Top Gun pilot. Co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr. researched the script by attending Top Gun classes and getting flown around in an F-14.
2. Tom Cruise wasn't actually the first choice to play Maverick, but Matthew Modine turned down the role because he didn't agree with the film's militaristic politics. Instead, he went off to star as a Vietnam War Marine private in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war drama "Full Metal Jacket."
3. To obtain access to naval aircraft and personnel, the producers had to grant script approval to the Navy. The biggest change demanded by the service branch was to make Maverick's love interest a civilian, since the Navy officially frowns on fraternization within the ranks.
4.Kelly McGillis initially turned down the love-interest role, since the character was written as an aerobics instructor. Then the filmmakers met Christine "Legs" Fox, a civilian tactician at Miramar who earned her Top Gun nickname because of her 6'0" height. She became the inspiration for Charlie Blackwood, the instructor role that McGillis ultimately accepted. Fox would go on to become the highest ranking woman at the Pentagon before she retired in 2014.
5. Like Fox, McGillis was tall; her 5'10" height made her a tricky match for Tom Cruise, who was 5'7".
"I towered over him," the actress recalled in 2010, noting that she had to slouch and crouch throughout the shoot in order to fit in the frame with her leading man. "I had really bad posture through the whole movie." Indeed, test audiences initially found their romance unconvincing, and the filmmakers called them back for reshoots six months after principal photography had ended. McGillis had cut and dyed her hair darker for another role, which is why she wears a cap throughout the elevator love scene.
6. In real life, no one under 5'8" is eligible to become a Navy pilot. Nonetheless, Cruise spent months taking classes at Top Gun and even learned how to land a plane on an aircraft carrier.
7. The F-14 planes and other naval aircraft -- along with their fuel, their pilots, and support staff -- cost the production $7,800 per hour in rental fees. Even more expensive was the aircraft carrier. During one sequence, the carrier captain had to change course, altering the angle of light for the shot. Told it would cost $25,000 to turn the ship around, director Tony Scott dashed off a check for that amount and got the captain to reverse course in order to get five more minutes of light to finish the sequence.
8. Much of the dizzying aerial photography was shot from a plane flown by pilot Art Scholl. During one sequence, however, Scholl's plane failed to recover from a flat spin and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Neither the aircraft nor Scholl's body was ever recovered. The film was dedicated to his memory.
9. "Top Gun" cost a reported $15 million to make and ultimately earned $180 million in North America, becoming the top-grossing movie of 1986. Its total global gross was $357 million.
10. "Top Gun" also became an early top-seller in the then-new videocassette market, as it was one of the first films priced to sell (at just $20), not just to rent.
11. The film was credited with a 500 percent boost in Naval recruitment; some theaters even had recruiting booths in the lobby. Bomber jackets and Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses also credited the film with a 40 percent jump in sales.
12. Bryan Adams turned down a chance to have a song included on the "Top Gun" soundtrack because he disapproved of the film's militarism. Still, the resulting album became one of the most popular in movie soundtrack in history, selling seven million copies in the U.S. and another two million abroad. It made stars of the band Berlin, who performed the movie's love ballad, "Take My Breath Away."
13. Did all that male bonding, towel-snapping, and shirtless volleyball-playing make "Top Gun" a covertly homoerotic movie? Many critics (and comedians) have thought so. Most famously, Quentin Tarantino delivered a hilarious (and NSFW) monologue on the topic in the 1994 movie "Sleep With Me."
14. At the Academy Awards in 1987, "Top Gun" was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing. It won for Best Original Song, for "Take My Breath Away."
15. A "Top Gun" sequel has been in the works for nearly a decade, though it was nearly derailed by director Tony Scott's suicide in 2012. The new film, which will reportedly focus on the transition from old-school aerial dogfight warfare to drone combat, has gone through several screenwriters. Cruise and Val Kilmer reportedly remain committed to return as Maverick and Iceman.