We’re days away from the release of Top Gun: Maverick, a movie that’s been on my most anticipated list since 2020 thanks to numerous delays. But now seems like a great time to take a quick look back on the original Top Gun, which is one of those peak 80s movies that’s full of action, romance and boasts a killer soundtrack. Is it still a good time today, or does it feel widely dated? Let’s find out!
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You Can Be My Wingman Anytime
Tom Cruise stars as Peter “Maverick” Mitchell, a hotshot pilot who plays by his own rules. Even writing that, I had classic trailer voice narration going in my head due to how cliche and cheesy it sounds. But it’s very much the driving narrative of the film. After an incident goes awry, Maverick and his wingman Goose are bumped up the list and sent to the Naval Academy’s Top Gun academy to learn from the best to be the best. A series of competitions follow, mainly between the narcissistic and egomaniac Maverick and the slick and cool Iceman (Val Kilmer), who cites Maverick as a danger not only to himself, but also to his fellow pilots for his wildcard and cowboy antics. Iceman may have a point, and often proves himself to be the more competent pilot and student, despite being Maverick’s nemesis.
While this is going on, Maverick finds himself attempting to win over the heart of Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), one of the instructors at Top Gun. She initially doesn’t give him the time of day. Like Iceman, she cites his reckless behaviour as a character flaw, but she slowly ends up falling for him, because of course she does.
Throughout the course of the movie, however, Maverick will learn humility and about consequence and he does end up having a believable and painful character arc. The story, while starting off as fun, goes pretty dark and doesn’t simply brush it aside a few minutes later. There’s a surprising amount of maturity for a movie with a volleyball scene set to a Kenny Loggins song.
The story of Top Gun isn’t perse anything to write home about, it can be pretty cliche and cheesy. The film received mixed reviews when it was initially released, but was an instant hit with fans and four weeks after release, the number of screens showing the film increased by 45% and raked in over $350 million dollars against a budget of $15 million. Part of what made Top Gun such a hit was the aviation sequences.
The Need For Speed
It looks like Top Gun: Maverick will make the original film look amateur by comparison, but for 1986, the aviation sequences in the movie were nothing short of jaw-dropping. The US Navy actually rented numerous jets to Paramount for the film, at a rate that would equal to $19,700 an hour in 2022 value. The whole appeal of Top Gun was it was real. No rear-projection, no matte paintings, no props or models. No, this was cameras strapped to fighter jets and audiences got to take to the skies in insanely fast aircraft.
I think it’s safe to say the results speak for themselves. The aviation sequences are easily the high point of the film (no pun intended), as they were something new for audiences to look at while also being immensely difficult to pull off from a production standpoint.
The film also sports a killer soundtrack. Sure, they play Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away numerous times in the movie, to the point of comedy, but that didn’t stop the soundtrack from going nine times platinum, making it one of the most popular soundtracks ever made.
Top Gun is one of those summer movies that’s just plain old fun to watch. The story, while campy and cheesy, actually does have heart and delivers when it counts, elevating the material well beyond generic. The characters are fun to watch and the action sequences are edge of your seat entertaining. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an 80s fun summer movie, you couldn’t do much better than pressing “play” on Top Gun.