Top Gun was one of the biggest movies of the 1980s, inspiring many catch-phrases (“I feel the need for speed!”), igniting the career of Tom Cruise, and creating a stable set of acting jobs for other actors and actresses who co-starred in the film (Remember Anthony Edwards in ER?) The movie also offered one of the best selling soundtracks of all-time. Behind the scenes of the movie, there were many interesting happenings that you probably never heard about.
The Memory of Art Scholl
In the movie Top Gun, there is a pivotal scene that involved a jet plane getting hit with fire, and beginning to descend into a crash, forcing both the pilots to eject from the plane. One of the pilots gets thrust into the plane during the ejection and is killed before he even hits the ocean.
The film Top Gun is dedicated to Art Scholl, a famous stunt pilot who was killed at 53 years of age during the production of the movie when his plane went into a tailspin and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, near San Diego County. Scholl had also flown stunts in other famous movies, such as The Right Stuff, Blue Thunder, and Baa Baa Black Sheep.
The “Real” Top Gun School
Top Gun the movie was based on an actual flight school named U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School or TOPGUN, which used to be based at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. The school was founded in the later part of the 1960s as a way to combat losing the air war in Vietnam. Because of base realignments and closures, TOPGUN was relocated to Fallon, Nevada in 1996, and subsequently renamed the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor.
The hilarious note: If ever a staffer quotes or references the movie Top Gun, the school fines them five dollars! So students there have to refrain from Iceman jokes or screaming the lyrics,”You never close your eyes anymore / when I kiss your lips” or else they owe the dough.
$10,000 An Hour
The shots on the aircraft were quite an expensive venture to film. While aboard the USS Enterprise, there were numerous different types of aircrafts ranging from F-14 squadrons, VF-114 Aardvarks and VF-213 Black Lions. However, all of these planes came at a high price.
For every hour of flight time with an F-14, it cost Paramount $10,000. This was only a small fraction of what it cost to make the film. All in all, it cost $15 million to produce which today is the equivalent of around $32 million, which is quite the budget for a film.
The original (and oft-altered) script called for Goose’s death to be the result of a midair collision. The Navy wouldn’t approve a midair collision, so they changed it to a more realistic scenario, depicting an accident that actually happened (but which didn’t result in death).
In the movie, Goose and Maverick have to eject out of their fighter jet, but during Goose’s ejection, something goes wrong and he gets flung against the cockpit opening. As Maverick swims toward Goose’s lifeless body, buoyed in the ocean by his gear, he cries out to his friend, but Goose was dead before he ever hit the water. This is the pivotal turning point in the movie.
The Participation of the U.S. Navy
The scriptwriters and the producers wanted the U.S. Navy to be heavily involved in the making of the film, and they were. The U.S. Navy particularly held influence in the approval of the script, which had many permeations. One immediate alteration was that the opening dogfight was moved to international waters as opposed to Cuba.
The salty language of the jet pilots was also toned down. A scene that involved a crash on the deck of an aircraft carrier was completely removed from the film. Many Top gun pilots and assistants were instrumental in creating much of the cockpit dialogue heard in the film.
Anthony Edwards As Goose (Then)
Edwards had already made a name for himself before he was cast in Top Gun. Two years before the film hit theaters Edwards starred in the hit comedy, Revenge of The Nerds. He had also previously co-starred in the TV series It Takes Two, and had a cameo appearance in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Playing the beloved Goose in Top Gun, however, made his name more recognized in the entertainment industry and among movie fans. Edwards also says Goose was his best work at the time and that while he wasn’t trying to outshine Cruise, he was determined to play Goose to the best of his ability.
Edwards Was The Only Actor Who Didn’t Throw Up
It’s rumored that Anthony Edwards, who played Goose, was the only actor who didn’t throw up while filming Top Gun.
Filming the pilot scenes involved flying around in actual VF-114 Aardvarks and VF-213 Black Lions. The fighter jets were flown by military pilots who made sure the actors were given the real-world experience they faced on a daily basis. Apparently, if you’re not fully invested in flying around in a supersonic jet, you’re likely to throw up until you get used to the situation.
Tom Cruise as Maverick (Then)
Top Gun catapulted Tom Cruise’s career into superstardom. After playing the lead role of Maverick, women fawned after him and he became one of the biggest movie stars on the planet while in his mid 20’s.
Tom Cruise was known for dating older women, including Cher. A year after the film came out, Cruise married his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers, who introduced him to Scientology. Their marriage lasted just short of three years, and many speculate that Scientology and its leader had a hand in his divorce.
Tom Cruise (Now)
The actor continued his successful career post- Top Gun, including starring in Jerry Maguire and the Mission Impossible franchise. Cruise continued his commitment to Scientology and has raised awareness of the church in mainstream culture, being such a big star.
With an incredible net worth of $570 million, Cruise doesn’t have to work another day in his life if he didn’t want to. His films have grossed over $4 billion in North America and more than $10.1 billion internationally.
Kelly McGillis as Charlie (Then)
The year before Top Gun hit theaters, Kelly McGillis rose to fame for her part in the 1985 film Witness, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Having attended school at Julliard and the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, McGillis was a well-versed performer when she played the role of Charlie.
The 5’8″ blonde beauty won the hearts of viewers as she played Maverick’s love interest. At the time of the film release, McGillis had already been through one marriage that ended in divorce, and a horrifying attack in her New York apartment while attending Julliard. Keep reading to find out where McGillis’ life took her after Top Gun.
Kelly McGillis (Now)
After her role on Top Gun, McGillis went on to land roles in several films and TV series, some of which she liked more than others. She married twice, and divorced twice, before coming out publically as gay in 2009 and committing to a civil union with her partner, Melanie Leis. Unfortunately, that too ended in an annulment.
McGillis also revealed that in 1982 she had been attacked and raped in her apartment, along with her live-in girlfriend at the time. The traumatic experience led her to abuse alcohol, and eventually seek treatment. In 2016 she fought off a mentally unstable woman who broke into her North Carolina home and attacked her, leading her to get a concealed weapon permit.
Meg Ryan as Carole Bradshaw (Then)
The actress from Connecticut began her career in the early ’80s, and quickly picked up roles that would make her a household name. Her role as the wife of Goose in Top Gun wasn’t her biggest, but she played the part flawlessly and fans loved her.
The same year that Top Gun was released, another film Meg Ryan was in, in which she played a bigger role, hit theaters as well, Armed and Dangerous. Keep reading to find out who she was secretly dating at the time.
Meg Ryan (Now)
Meg Ryan went on to star in popular romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. She’s also received a long list of award nominations and two American Comedy Awards for “Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture.” In 1991 Ryan married Dennis Quaid and had a son together named Jack. After their divorce in 1991, Ryan confessed that Quaid was never faithful.
In 2006, Ryan added an adopted daughter to her family and had an on-again-off-again relationship with artist John Mellencamp. Outside of her career, Ryan has been known to be active in politics and supports organizations who seek to protect the environment.
“Stars Wars on Earth”
Top Gun’s genesis was from an article in California magazine in 1983. The movie was based on an article called “Top Guns.” The article followed the TOPGUN fighter pilots at the Miramar Naval Air Station, located in San Diego. The location is nicknamed, “Fightertown USA.”
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer read and loved the piece, and pitched it to his then producing partner, Don Simpson, as “Star Wars on Earth.” After numerous scriptwriters turned down the project, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. were hired to write the movie. The final script is said to be very different than the draft turned in by Cash and Epps.
“The Danger Zone” Almost Wasn’t a Loggins Song
Top Gun producer Jerry Bruckheimer asked soundtrack producer Giorgio Moroder to write a song for the scenes of planes landing on the ship in the ocean. Along with songwriter Tom Whitlock, Moroder composed the song “Danger Zone.” Columbia Records then requested Moroder to have “Danger Zone” performed by an artist signed to the label.
Toto and REO Speedwagon were offered the chance to record Danger Zone before the honor went to Kenny Loggins. Kenny Loggins had a string of great successes with soundtracks, including the beloved soundtrack to the eighties movie Footloose with Kevin Bacon.
The $25,000 Course Change
Cinematographer Tony Scott and his crew spent some days onboard the USS Enterprise (hey, different movie!) shooting aircraft as they landed and took off from the aircraft carrier while on an operational cruise. Scott wanted to shoot some of the aircraft backlit by the sun, but the ship had to change course before he could get all his shots in.
Scott then asked the captain to turn the ship back around, but he was quickly informed it would cost a ridiculous $25,000 to alter their route. Scott apparently wrote a check for the twenty-five grand on the spot, and then was able to grab the required shots over a tiny period of five minutes. Five minutes for twenty-five thousand dollars!
Despite the involvement of the U.S. Navy in the script and cockpit talk, the movie is apparently riddled with inaccuracies and outright wrongs when it comes to jet flight and the U.S. Navy. So much so that the website The Mighty has a page listing 79 of the errors!
A sampling of the errors listed the following complaints: There is no such thing as the Top Gun trophy. Topgun is actually one word. A pilot who showed up to a flight brief wearing a cowboy hat would have his or her wings pulled on the spot. Maverick “hits the brakes” by forward pushing the throttles, which would increase power, not decrease it. Although the character of Goose says “[expletive], we got a flameout. Engine 1 is out” the RIO has no engine instruments in the rear cockpit of the F-14.
The Navy Considered The “Danger Zone” Video A Boost For Enrollment
After Kenny Loggins recorded the song Danger Zone (including some of his own improvisations on the original lyrics) with Dann Huff, the lead singer, and guitarist of the 80’s group, a video was filmed and it had an unintended result.
The music video for “Danger Zone” came out in May of 1986 to promote the release of the single and featured dramatic clips from the movie Top Gun. The U.S. Navy described the video as “the most effective recruiting poster ever produced.”
The Cast Lived It Up
In order to help conjure up the feeling of comradery, the cast was encouraged to hang out together, and head out on long nights of partying during the San Diego-area shoot. Kilmer mentions in the Top Gun DVD commentary that, “I remember it being one giant weekend, as far as making the thing.”
San Diego is a beautiful place full of hot spots; there are bays, a thriving downtown area, and hundreds and hundreds of beach town bars and restaurants and dance floors where groups of people looking for a good time could easily find one. Among some of the places they might have hung out are Coronado Island (the bridge to Coronado is pictured above), the bars of Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach, the restaurants of La Jolla, or anywhere along the Encinitas shoreline.
The Problems of Director Tony Scott
Tony Scott is the brother of the probably more well-known to the general public, Ridley Scott. Together, Ridley and Tony worked together as movie producers for decades, until Tony Scott killed himself in 2012 by jumping off of The Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles.
Top Gun was the biggest hit of Tony Scott’s career, and yet he was fired from the film three times during its making. It was rumored he was once fired for “making Kelly McGillis look beautiful,” in the wrong kind of way
The Love Scene
The love scene between Tom Cruise and actress Kelly McGillis’ characters was actually filmed after filming for the movie had wrapped! The scene was completed after initial test screenings because moviegoers complained that there was no love scene, and they needed more reason to buy into the feelings between the two actors. The company obliged.
Kelly McGillis had already dyed her hair darker for her next film and it was noticeable. This is why that scene is tinted blue. You can also see in the added-on scene that the timing is off if you take a close look at the longer length of Tom Cruise’s hair, especially noting how long it hangs in the front. Despite the obvious changes, the love scene worked its magic on moviegoers.
Shirtless Scenes Were Also Added Later
It wasn’t just lovemaking that brought more females to the theater, it was also the shirtless scenes featuring Maverick and his fellow Top Gun officers. At least that was the thought process from the film’s producers.
The locker room and volleyball scenes where Maverick and his colleagues are shirtless were added after filming on the movie’s major scenes were completed. Apparently, the answer to “less flying” was “fewer shirts for the actors.”
Val Kilmer’s Ad-Lib
Val Kilmer originally declined the role of the Iceman in Top Gun. Ridley Scott hunted him down and talked him into playing the now iconic part of the gum-chewing, Maverick hating pilot. Barry Tubb (who played Wolfman) said that the cast would pile into Kilmer’s van and use it to “wreak havoc across the Mexican border” before hurrying back for their call time on set.
Fitting for a script with so many changes (from the very first script until after the whole thing wrapped) Kilmer ad-libbed the stand-out memorable moment when he coughed a harsher word for bull excrement in the hangar scene.
Tom Cruise Talked About Throwing Up
During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Tom Cruise told his vomit story in detail. “Anyway, we did all the training, and then came the day that we’ve got to fly. We set up the cameras, and it wasn’t like today. It was really challenging—quite brilliant of Tony Scott, how he figured out how to do it. But the guy who flew me in the first flight, his name was Bozo. The pilot’s name was Bozo! So, I’m strapping in, we’re getting in there, and you just see the helmet go on that says ‘Bozo.’ I’m like, ‘Bozo?'” As Bozo was going through the check sheet, Cruise noticed the emergency lights were on, “And we were about to take off!” he recalled. “I remember saying, ‘Bozo, these lights…There’s a lot of red lights.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ He starts turning them off. I’m like, ‘OK.’ He’s like, ‘They don’t call me Bozo for nothing.'”
“My head was on the ground! I was pressed on the floor holding my vomit. I’m trying to press the talk button; it was on the foot. I kept going, ‘Bozo! Bozo! Bozo!’ I was choking, and he just kept pulling up and up and up,” he said. “Finally, he released and we were going straight ahead. I said, ‘Bozo, what’s the matter with you, man? Didn’t you see? You pulled up and my head was hitting the floor.'” But Bozo wasn’t bothered. According to the actor, Bozo responded, “‘Well, I told you they don’t call me Bozo for nothing.'”
Meg and Anthony
Meg Ryan played Goose’s wife in Top Gun, and although she only had a few scenes, they were emblazoned in the mind of anyone who saw and loved the film. Her grief in the film after Goose’s death was an essential part of humanizing Maverick, showing the depth of the pain that he was trying to control and conceal.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Meg and Anthony had secretly started dating. They got serious very quickly and moved in together. It was rumored that Anthony Edwards proposed to Meg Ryan and that she turned him down. They were only together for a year, from 1986 to 1987.
An Officer and a… Gentlewoman?
Kelly McGillis’ character Charlie, was always written as Maverick’s love interest in the movie Top Gun. However, originally she was supposed to be an officer. You can see why the scriptwriters would have liked this idea; there is inherently a lot of conflict in two officers falling in love in such a high stakes career environment.
But the Navy, which was highly involved in every step of the scriptwriting process, and which was assisting the movie makers in staying within the budget, wouldn’t approve a script involving two officers fraternizing. Since filmmakers needed the Navy’s involvement, they changed Charlie’s profession to that of a Navy consultant, one who assesses pilot performance.
Tom Cruise Was Hand Picked
The role of Maverick in Top Gun was written specifically with Tom Cruise in mind, whose performance in All the Right Moves gave the writers the inspiration for the part of Mav. In All The Right Moves, Cruise was at his movie star best; he was charismatic, sparkling-eyed, and often broke into that great grin.
Tom Cruise was reluctant at first to take the role of Maverick, but his mind was immediately changed after his first time up in the air with the Blue Angels. While Cruise was debating whether to take the role, however, producers considered several other big names for the part, reportedly including Patrick Swayze, John Travolta, and Nicholas Cage, who would go on to star in a similar (though much less successful) film called “Fire Birds”. Cruise is now known for his love of action parts and takes pride in doing many of his own stunts. In fact, he’s so well-known for this that The Telegraph has an article entitled “12 Times Tom Cruise has Cheated Death.”
Anthony Edwards (Now)
After his role as Goose, Anthony Edwards found great success in acting, receiving four Emmy nominations, a People’s Choice Award, six Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe. His role as Dr. Mark Greene on the TV series ER spanned eight seasons, and also gave him his first taste as director.
Edwards married his wife, founder of a cosmetics line, in 1994, and have four children together. Still married, the family lives in New York City and he continues his acting career while being active as a philanthropist. Edwards serves as chairman of Shoe4Africa, a non-profit that raises money for healthcare and footwear for children and athletes in Africa.
Top Gun: The Rides
Yup, Top Gun did indeed become a crazy, thrilling roller coaster ride. In 1993, Mason, Ohio’s Kings Island Amusement Park was owned by the film company Paramount, so they built the Top Gun roller coaster. This was a suspended coaster that emulated an F-14 Tomcat. While people waited in line, “Danger Zone” played through the PA system.
In 2008 the ride park came under new ownership so the ride’s name was changed to “Flight Deck,” and in 2014 the ride underwent a huge makeover and became “The Bat.” Besides Kings Island, another ride called “Top Gun” debuted in Santa Clara, California’s Great America from 1993 through 2007. Strangely this ride was also changed to the name “Flight Deck.”
While on a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel asked Cruise about the first time he had traveled the world to promote a movie. Cruise said that it was during the foreign press junket tour for Top Gun, which he said took four months to complete, as he’d spend weeks in every city they visited in Italy, France, and Japan.
Cruise told Jimmy Kimmel at he was the one who came up with the idea of premiering films in other countries, though he said that, “It took me a few years to get it going.” Kimmel quipped, “So all these other actors must want to kill you.” Now international releases for movies are commonplace, requiring a lot of traveling for the actors involved.
Tom Cruise Faked His Height
With his chiseled features, strong jawline, and good looks, Tom Cruise sets the standard for what it means to be a man for many people. However, what isn’t as well-known is that he is lacking in the height department.
His height had been the butt of many jokes for years, so while on screen, he’s learned tricks to fake it. While shooting Top Gun, in the scenes he was filming with McGillis, he wore lifts in order to appear taller than her. In real-life, Cruise is only 5’7″ while she is 5’10.” That’s right, Tom Cruise is a shorty.
Tom Cruise Saved Ray Bans
Ray-Ban Aviators became a type of glasses in after renowned pilot John Macready approached John Bausch and Henry Lomb with his idea for anti-glare goggles. In 1937 the design was improved and patented Ray-Ban Aviators because the glasses “banned” sun rays and the glasses were designed for pilots.
Although at the beginning the glasses had success, by the 70’s and 80’s they were losing ground to disco-style sunglasses. After Tom Cruise appeared in a pair of the Aviators in Top Gun, their sales rose by 40% and Ray-Ban’s were back on their feet and a big name in sunglasses once again.
Ally Sheedy Missed An Opportunity
Originally, Ally Sheedy was the first pick for the Kelly McGillis role but turned it down. She didn’t believe that the film would do well by any means. She even went on to say in an interview “Who wants to see Tom Cruise flying around in an airplane?”
Clearly, she was very wrong after the movie became a smashing success and immortalized the film’s characters and helped launch those involved in stardom. After the film was released, she said that she regretted it and will never judge a role by herself again.
Producers Also Thought There Was ‘Too Much Flying’
When you’re making a movie about the Top Gun program there’s a pretty good chance there will be a lot of filming that takes place inside of fighter jets. Surprisingly, that was one of the biggest complaints received from Paramount’s producers.
One of the notes the producers received from Paramount Studios was that there was “Too much flying.” Throw in some time on the ground, a newly filmed loved scene, and all of a sudden a movie about fighter pilots was something a little bit different. Only in Hollywood would a film studio say a movie about fighter jets has too much flying.
Although Top Gun was an incredibly successful film and is now considered a classic, upon its release, it actually got mixed reviews by critics and audiences. Rotten Tomatoes only gave the film a 55% even though it received an 83% as an audience score.
Furthermore, critic Roger Ebert gave it a mere 2.5 out of 4 stars and said “Movies like Top Gun are hard to review because the good parts are so good and the bad parts are so relentless. The dogfights are the best since Clint Eastwood’s electrifying ariel scenes in Firefox. But look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another.”
The Audience The Movie Was Attempting To Attract
While taking a break during the filming of the hangar scene, a group of Navy officers approached director, Tony Scott. Among the many things that weren’t factually consistent or true about being a pilot or being in the military, they pointed out that the actors had an unrealistic collection of patches on their flight suits.
Scott replied by saying that, “We’re not making this movie for Navy fighter pilots, we’re making it for Kansas wheat farmers who don’t know the difference.” Definitely quite the statement to say to actual Navy officers.
Highest Grossing Film in 1986
Although the film was very expensive to make with all of the use of real Navy and flight equipment, it wasn’t all that bad considering how much the film actually made. In 1986 Top Gun was the highest-grossing film of the year bringing in $177 million in the United States alone and $353 million worldwide.
Crocodile Dundee came in second and Platoon in third. They made a great profit off of the film considering that it only took them around $15 million to produce and made a lot more when they decided to release the film in other countries.
A Quality Recruitment Film
Alongside with the “Danger Zone” video, the actual film was considered to be one of the best-recruiting videos for the United States Navy. One producer, John Davis, claimed that he knew that the film was going to have a positive effect on the image on the Navy.
He said that people who saw the film would decide that they wanted to be a pilot after seeing the culture and lifestyle. He was right, and after the release of the film, the United States Navy reported that the number of young men who said they wanted to be Naval Aviators went up by 500%.
Only Allowed Two Missiles
Throughout the filming of Top Gun, the United States Navy offered up a lot of assistance to director Tony Scott for a number of different requests. However, although they did allow him to fire some F-14 missiles for the film, they only gave him two missiles.
Scott worked with what he had, filmed both missiles being fired, and then continuously re-used the same two shots of the missiles throughout the film. So if you were ever wondering why those missile scenes look familiar, it’s because the movie’s director only had two of them to work with.
Bryan Adams Wouldn’t Allow His Music To Be Used
Bryan Adams was asked if he would allow his song Only The Strong Survive to be used on the soundtrack. The singer, because of his own views, refused the request and producers had to look elsewhere while putting together their best-selling collection of music.
Adams later explained that the movie seemed to glorify fighting and war. For that reason, he told producers they would need to find other music for the movie. Top Gun definitely focused on fighter jets and their pilots but very little actual fighting existed in the final film product.
A Cartoon Cast Reunion?
In 2013, Disney released a movie called Planes and for a brief moment in time a small but significant cast reunion was immortalized with 3D animation.
A small tribute was performed when both Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards were hired to the voice cast for the film. If we can’t get the sequel that was already written at least a few of the movie’s actors had a chance to reunite. Unfortunately, Planes wasn’t the smash hit we witnessed with Cars.
China Stole Footage From The Movie And Claimed It Was Their Air Force
The Chinese government’s own state-run TV tried to pull a fast one on its citizens in 2011. The broadcaster used footage from Top Gun and claimed it was the actual film from their own fighter jets.
The footage on the left was taken from China Central Television and the footage on the right is from Top Gun. The coloring is slightly different but the explosive pattern is obviously an exact match to the film. The full footage showed a dramatically tight shot of an “enemy” jet bursting into a giant fireball after being hit by a Chinese fighter plane’s missile.
Bad At Math Or Privy To Classified Secrets?
We’re pretty sure that Paramount’s producers were not privy to government secrets so we’ll assume they were just really bad at math while filming the Top Gun blockbuster.
When filming started, America’s bombing of Cambodia was said to have commenced in March 1969. It wasn’t until 2000 that Bill Clinton shared Air Force data which revealed the bombing campaign started four years earlier, on October 4th, 1965. Duke Mitchell’s plane disappeared on November 5th, 1965. Maverick was haunted by the loss of his father, Duke.
It Cost Way More To Make Charlie Sheen’s Parody Of The Movie
With a cast that was still coming into their own, the most expensive part of Top Gun may have very well been the $10,000 per hour jet fighter rental fee. It cost just $15 million to film the movie and that included Tom Cruise’s salary of $2 million.
In comparison, it cost $26 million to make Charlie Sheen’s Top Gun parody Hot Shots! While Charlie Sheen’s movie earned $181 million worldwide, it was a far cry from the $353 million earned by the movie it was parodying.