Top Gun is one of the defining films of the 1980s, forever giving us a ‘need for speed’ as well as a love for Tom Cruise in his Navy uniform. This was the film that brought Tom Cruise to the attention of audiences everywhere, ensuring he was one of the biggest heartthrobs for years to come.
But did you pay attention when watching this classic 80s film? You’re about to find out, because here are 20 things you may have missed in Top Gun.
20. The film is dedicated to a stunt pilot who died during filming
You might have seen that the film Top Gun is dedicated to Art Scholl, but you might not know who that actually is. Scholl was a hugely successful aerobatic pilot, aerial cameraman and flight instructor, who had been doing flight stunts ever since the early 1950s.
Scholl worked on Top Gun’s aviation sequences, and was revered by the cast and crew as a cinema veteran and an authority on stunt flying. Tragically, he was killed during the production of the film when his plane went into a tailspin and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
19. Goose’s real name is never revealed
One of the most iconic things about Top Gun is that none of the characters tend to use their real names. Instead, they mostly opt for being known by their call signs, which include Maverick, Iceman, Viper, Stinger, Wolfman, Jester and Goose.
While some of the real names are revealed (e.g. Tom Cruise’s Maverick is really Pete Mitchell, and Val Kilmer’s Iceman is really Tom Kazansky), one key character’s real name is never spoken aloud: that of Anthony Edwards’ Goose. However, watch Maverick and Goose’s jet very closely and you’ll see his real name is Nick Bradshaw.
18. The upside-down stunt wouldn’t actually work
Top Gun is full of awesome flying sequences, and as many of the stunts were shot practically, there isn’t too much that goes outside the realms of the physically possible. However, there is at least one memorable moment in the movie that couldn’t happen for real.
The scene we’re talking about is when Maverick and Goose fly ‘inverted’ and ‘greet’ another plane that flies below them. In truth, this manoeuvre could never be replicated with these planes, as the rear ends of both vehicles would collide.
17. Cruise And Kilmer were rivals off-screen as well as on
Top Gun is famous for the on-camera tension between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman, and reportedly this wasn’t too far removed from the real relationship between the actors. Cruise and Kilmer never interacted on-set between takes, and gave each other a wide-berth whenever the cameras weren’t rolling.
Val Kilmer eventually explained that he had cultivated the icy tension between them on purpose so that their relationship would be more believable on screen, although he and Cruise did not become close friends after filming ended. Even so, Cruise was reportedly insistent on having Kilmer reprise the role of Iceman in belated sequel Top Gun: Maverick.
16. Maverick doesn’t know how to work the sticks
Top Gun isn’t a documentary, so it makes sense that there are a few lapses in actual realism throughout the film. With that said, the film gets certain things wrong that you would probably expect it to get right, such as the difference between slowing down and speeding up.
Every time Maverick ‘puts on the brakes’ in the film he pushes the throttle quadrant forward and pulls back on the stick. This would actually have put him into a full climb, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what he was supposed to be doing.
15. Flying made most of the actors sick
In a bid for realism, the actors who played pilots in Top Gun had to shoot scenes in actual jets travelling at very high speeds and altitudes (with qualified pilots at the controls, of course). This proved to be a very gruelling experience, and reportedly most of the actors were physically sick at least once during the shoot.
Even Tom Cruise, who would later go on to become famous for his extreme stunt work and commitment to mastering new skills, was queasy whenever he touched back down on the ground. Anthony Edwards is rumoured to have been the only actor who didn’t throw up when filming his aerial shots.
14. One shot of an aircraft carrier cost the production $25k
Top Gun was made for $15 million; a pittance by Hollywood standards today, although a fairly standard film budget at the time. The planes were a large part of the expense, since the filmmakers had to shell out $7,800 per hour for fuel whenever the aircraft were flown outside their normal duties.
In addition to that, it was reported that director Tony Scott had to write a $25,000 cheque in order to have an aircraft carrier moved. The carrier was moved for a grand total of five minutes, just so Scott could get his desired shot. By all accounts, the director considered it money well spent.
13. The love scene was added as an afterthought
The romance between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Kelly McGillis is a large part of what has made Top Gun famous, but this subplot was initially much smaller. While the film always followed the pair’s changing feelings for each other, the love scene between the two was entirely a product of reshoots.
The scene was added after the film was shown to test audiences, who apparently felt like they needed to see the couple’s relationship progress to the next level. It is unclear if the scene would have been deemed necessary at all, had the audience not clamoured so hard for it.
12. Kelly McGillis’ hair had to be hidden in the reshoots, as she’d already changed it
Whilst reshoots are commonplace on major movies, they often present problems for the filmmakers. A big issue tends to be that the actors have changed their appearance since principal photography was completed. This was the case with Kelly McGillis, as after production wrapped on Top Gun she’d dyed her hair brown for her next role.
This was the key reason why the love scene was shot in a very low light with the actors seen primarily in silhouette, so that the colour of McGillis’ hair would not be noticeable. In another scene in the daylight, we see McGillis wearing a hat that she doesn’t wear in any other scene, as this too was a last minute reshoot.
11. Nicolas Cage, Patrick Swayze and Matthew Modine were considered for the role of Maverick
Tom Cruise might seem like the perfect and only choice for Maverick now, but he was far from the only contender for the role. Top Gun’s producers and casting directors had kept many different actors in the running, including some of the biggest names of the era.
Nicolas Cage, Patrick Swayze, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Emilio Estevez, Michael J. Fox and John Cusack were also considered to play Maverick. Reportedly Matthew Modine was offered the role, but declined as he did not approve of the film’s heavily pro-military ethos.
10. The studio were worried audiences would get bored with all the flying
Given the subject matter of Top Gun, it’s unsurprising that it contains a lot of scenes depicting flying. The sheer amount of airborne sequences was a cause of concern for the producers, who advised director Tony Scott to pare back on these scenes for fear of boring the audience.
However, Scott did no such thing, rightly predicting that the flying sequences would be the strongest and most memorable parts of the movie. When the movie hit cinemas and reviews started to pour in, most critics agreed that the scenes shot in the air were by far the best part.
9. Tom Cruise is shorter than Kelly McGillis
At just 5’7″, Tom Cruise’s shortness has made him the butt of plenty of jokes over the years. Back when Top Gun was filmed, however, audiences weren’t so aware of Cruise’s relative height deficiency. It caused some concern with the filmmakers, as Cruise’s on-screen love interest Kelly McGillis is almost three inches taller than him.
Fearing audiences wouldn’t accept a female love interest taller than the leading man, Top Gun’s crew used various tricks to make Cruise appear taller than McGillis, including putting lifts in his shoes and filming him from particular angles that made him look bigger.
8. Director Tony Scott was fired multiple times
It’s not unheard of for directors to get fired from projects, and there have even been occasions where multiple directors have been hired and then let go during the space of one shoot. However, it’s less common for the same director to get hired and fired from a project multiple times.
Top Gun director Tony Scott was fired from the position three times during production, due to various disagreements with producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Thankfully, they rehired the director every time, and would go on to work with him again on further films including Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder and Crimson Tide.
7. The film was a great Navy recruitment tool
The US military has made deals with multiple movies and franchises, helping studios with resources and script consultancy in return for a positive portrayal. However, in many instances it’s unclear what impact these deals have on military recruitment.
In contrast, Top Gun actually had a very clear effect on the Navy’s recruitment numbers. The US Navy reported that after the film’s release they saw a 500% increase in young men interested in becoming Naval Aviators.
6. Tom Cruise had never ridden a motorcycle before playing Maverick
Along with sprinting like a superhuman and being down to tackle just about any stunt, Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle in a movie has become a meme all of its own. As such, it might be a surprise to know that Cruise had never actually ridden one before shooting Top Gun.
Cruise rising to the challenge of learning on-set is already impressive, but it’s made even cooler by the exact model of motorcycle he learned to ride on. Maverick rides a Kawasaki Ninja 900, which at the time was the fastest production motorcycle in the world.
5. Bryan Adams declined to provide music for a film he thought glorified war
Top Gun’s celebrated soundtrack features original music by composer Harold Faltermeyer, Berlin’s Oscar-winning love theme Take My Breath Away, plus two songs by singer Kenny Loggins: Danger Zone and Playing with the Boys. However, early on the filmmakers were keen to get another performer on board: Bryan Adams.
The producers loved Adams’ song Only the Strong Survive, and wanted to use it as Top Gun’s theme song. However, on being told about the film Adams was immediately put off and declined, not wanting his music to be associated with something that took such a pro-military stance.
4. The movie’s sequel arrived 35 years after the original
It’s been a long time coming, but Top Gun finally got the sequel that fans have been clamouring for for decades. Though a sequel was discussed soon after the original’s release, the property was left dormant until sequel plans were finally discussed in 2010 – but this was delayed further following the death of director Tony Scott. Top Gun: Maverick finally went into production in 2018 with director Joseph Kosinski.
The sequel’s release was repeatedly delayed due to Covid-19, but when it finally hits screens in May 2022, the wait proved more than worth it: with box office takings of $1.488 billion, Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t only the biggest hit of the year, but the biggest movie of Tom Cruise’s entire career.
3. It was the highest-grossing movie of 1986
For a movie about a niche subject with a modest budget, Top Gun blew all box office expectations out of the water. Though it got a mixed response from critics, the film made a whopping $356.8 million, way more than its $15 million budget.
This made Top Gun the biggest worldwide hit of 1986, beating out such other popular films as Crocodile Dundee and Platoon. As producers Simpson and Bruckheimer had also produced the biggest hit of 1984, Beverly Hills Cop, this further success helped establish them as the biggest blockbuster producers of the 80s.
2. They got the plane engines the wrong way round
During the scene where Maverick goes into a spin, you can hear a voice say “Engine one is out” as flames burst out on the right engine. This is a mistake – they should have actually announced it was engine two, given that engine one is the engine to the left.
Given that there were flight experts all around during filming, it’s reasonable to expect that one of them would have noticed the mistake. The most likely explanation is that the filmmakers figured they could get away with fudging some details as the wider audience wouldn’t know any better.
1. The missile shots are repeated throughout the film
Top Gun was filmed in close cooperation with the US Navy, meaning the filmmakers needed to get approval from military officials for most of what they put on film involving aircraft. This caused a bit of an issue for dogfight scenes in which missiles needed to be fired.
The missiles in the movie were from F-14s lent to the shoot by the US Navy, who told filmmakers they were only allowed to fire them twice. For this reason, the filmmakers had to re-use shots of those same two missiles repeatedly throughout the film.