In 1986, moviegoers flocked to the big screen to get a glimpse into the life of a group of naval fighter pilots in training, making friends with two fellows named Goose and Maverick along the way, and being treated to generous helping of visual eye-candy and a rousing soundtrack. Top Gun not only thrilled audiences of all ages, it also served as one of the most effective recruiting campaigns ever launched by the US Navy.
The iconic film, penned by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., was in fact inspired by an article entitled “Top Guns” in California Magazine. Producer Don Simpson discovered the article and after several writers turned it down, finally found success in the hiring of Cash and Epps. Epps went so far as to attend declassified classes at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego (where the article was based) and even rode along in an F-14 Tomcat during a training run. But with the first draft failing to meet the imaginative standard of both Simpson and co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a call went out for help. That call was answered by the United States Navy. With final say over elements of the script, the Navy allowed the film access to Navy installations and equipment in return for a favorable, recruitment-upping depiction. The result was an authentic depiction that would send recruitment numbers through the roof.
Top Gun starred Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a skilled but undisciplined pilot who is admitted to the nation’s foremost flight academy. With the exception of his close friend and co-pilot, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards,) Maverick manages to quickly alienate his other cohorts with his careless antics, as he sets out to prove he is the best of the bunch. Particularly perturbed is fellow pilot, “Iceman” (Val Kilmer), who finds Maverick’s attitude to be a danger to the entire squad. Slightly more impressed is civilian flight instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, who not only recognizes Mav’s flying talents, but also develops a bit of a crush on her controversial student. But tragedy looms ahead and it remains to be seen if Maverick can escape the ghost of his pilot father and find within what it takes to truly be a top gun.
Thanks to its all-star cast and beautiful cinematography, Top Gun was one of the most visually stunning films of the era, but it certainly didn’t lack in the musical department either. Composer Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop, Flashdance) lent his formidable scoring talents and the film introduced the 1964 Righteous Brothers hit “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’” to a new generation of fans. It also sent Berlin’s haunting “Take My Breath Away” to the top of the charts, and gave Kenny Loggins a #2 hit with the emotionally-rousing “Danger Zone.”
All of this combined to make Top Gun the top-grossing film of 1986, raking in $175 million just in domestic box office receipts. The Navy couldn’t have been happier, as they boasted record recruiting numbers for a number of years after the film’s release. All in all, Top Gun was an undeniable success and still remains a beloved favorite from the era.
If you still consider Top Gun to be one of your favorite 80s movies after all these years, or if you just remember rooting for these two heroes of the sky back in the day, we welcome your thoughts and memories in our comments section as we give a big thumbs up to this iconic film that served its country well.