With Top Gun: Maverick currently owning the box office, it's time to celebrate the original — the movie that single-handedly made aviator sunglasses and bomber jackets en vogue in 1986. Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie of the year back then — a jock romance that cut through demographics because of one unique trait: Top Gun had Tom Cruise.
Now, more than 30 years later, Top Gun still resonates. Anyone who grew up in the '80s likely has some kind of romantic story involving the film. It starred Cruise in a role nobody wanted and made him an international superstar. The actor is still called "Maverick" when he visits foreign countries today. Back then, he was a 23-year-old kid looking for his big break. He certainly found it.
Directed by the late Tony Scott and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, Top Gun would also set the template for all those explosive action films of the 1990s. Bruckheimer, in particular, seemed insistent on recreating the swagger of Top Gun and you can feel its influence in films like Days of Thunder, Con Air, Armageddon, and many more.
Here are 20 things you never knew about Top Gun.
1. The Top Gun school seen in the movie is based on the real-life United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, also based near San Diego, CA at the former Naval Air Station Miramar. It's popularly known as TOPGUN and the base is "Fightertown USA." Reportedly, the school fines instructors if they're caught quoting the movie.
2. Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr., Top Gun was inspired by an article in the May 1983 issue of California magazine which featured the school, as well as stunning aerial photography.
3. The role of Maverick wasn't sought after. Some actors objected to the film's politics (Matthew Modine) while others just wanted more money (John Travolta). Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Scott Baio, and Tom Hanks all turned down the role. Charlie Sheen, who would later spoof the Maverick character in Hot Shots, was considered, but deemed too young. Tom Cruise had a connection to Tony Scott through Scott's brother, Ridley, who directed Cruise in Legend. He landed the role, obviously.
4. The role of Maverick's love interest, Charlie Blackwood, was offered to Ally Sheedy, but she declined thinking the movie would flop. Brooke Shields, Debra Winger, Linda Fiorentino, Jodie Foster, Daryl Hannah, Diane Lane, Carrie Fisher, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Linda Hamilton were all either offered the part or considered. In the end, the producers went with the unknown Kelly McGillis.
5. Kenny Loggins was not the first choice to record the song "Danger Zone" for the film. Toto and REO Speedwagon were two of the groups considered prior to Loggins.
6. The tension between Maverick and Iceman wasn't just acting. Cruise and Val Kilmer (who plays Iceman) didn't get along well and kept their distance on set. Kilmer even refused to participate in a charity beach volleyball game with Cruise, saying he was "dangerous" — a curious accusation considering Kilmer reportedly punched Cruise in a fistfight during filming. And Kilmer wasn't alone either, Cruise and McGillis also had personal problems during the shoot.
7. Charlie's "older man" date at the officer's club is the real-life "Viper," Pete Pettigrew, a retired TOPGUN instructor. He served as Technical Consultant on the film. Maverick's real name (Pete Mitchell) is an homage to Pettigrew.
8. Cruise wore lifts in his scenes with McGillis. The diminutive actor is 5'7" while McGillis is 5'10."
9. Kilmer didn't want to be in the film, but was forced to by contractual obligations.
10. Scott was fired three times during production and hired back as many times.
11. In preparation for his role, Cruise was given three rides in the F-14 Tomcat. He vomited during the first trip but was okay during the other two. The other actors all got the same treatment. Anthony Edwards, who plays Goose, was the only one who didn't puke.
12. Iceman's not-so-subtle "Bullshit" line after Maverick says he gave a MiG "the bird" while flying inverted was improvised by Kilmer.
13. After the chase scene when Charlie tells Maverick she didn't want anyone to find out she was falling for him, Maverick was supposed to say something, but Cruise forgot his line and kissed McGillis instead. Scott liked it so much, he left it in.
14. The character of Charlie is based on Christine Fox, a civilian flight instructor the producers met on a visit to Miramar while doing research to prepare for the movie. Fox eventually rose through the ranks at the Pentagon, retiring in May 2014 as Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, the highest post ever held by a woman at the Department of Defense.
15. Paramount Pictures commissioned Grumman, the makers of the F-14, to develop and install special camera mounts on the plane so the filmmakers could use real aerial point-of-view footage of the Tomcat in flight.
16. The film is dedicated to longtime Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl, who was tragically killed while filming. The biplane he was flying crashed off the Pacific Coast. Scholl's last words over the radio were, "I have a problem—I have a real problem!" The exact cause of the crash was never determined and Scholl's body was never recovered.
17. Rick Rossovich, who plays "Slider," reveals in the Top Gun DVD commentary he was kicked off of the ship during filming because he talked back to an officer. Rossovich tried to take a nap in the bunk he was assigned to, but didn't like being so close to the nuclear reactors so he moved. When the owner of the new bunk told him to get out, Rossovich, known for being one of the kindest actors around, made a wise crack that got him booted for disrespect.
18. The elevator scene and love scene with Cruise and McGillis were filmed after test audiences wanted more sex. But McGillis had already dyed her hair for her next film (Made in Heaven). This is why the love scene is tinted blue and she's wearing a hat in the elevator. Cruise's hair is longer as well.
19. Top Gun was one of the first films selected for the Cinema 52 project, which involves a subject watching a movie 52 times over the course of a year. Some of the numbers gleaned: Cruise blinks 469 times; the word "the" is spoken 223 times; and the average time between Air Boss Johnson coffee spills is 27 minutes and 23 seconds.
20. Riding on the back of this film's success, the US Navy set up recruiting booths in major cinemas to catch adrenaline-charged guys leaving the theater. They had the highest applications rate for years as a result.