11 incredible Top Gun facts you need to know

6 May 2022, 17:30

Top Gun was the highest grossing film of 1986.
Top Gun was the highest grossing film of 1986. Picture: Paramount Pictures

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

Top Gun is one of the most era-defining movies of the 1980s.

Action, drama, fighter jets, aviators, and slamming anthems, the film captured the imagination of adrenaline junkies all around the world.

Now, as its long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick hits cinemas, nostalgia for the epic first instalment is reaching fever pitch.

Not that Top Gun's legacy has been forgotten - 'wingman' for instance has got to be one of the most frequently used phrases out there, let alone the spike in applications to join fighter pilot training schools.

But as we gear up for high-octane action for the Lady Gaga-soundtracked sequel, let's look back on some crucial facts on the 1986 original.

Some will surprise you, even if you've seen the film countless times:

1. John Travolta was the first choice to play ‘Maverick’

Imagine John Travolta as 'Maverick'.....
Imagine John Travolta as 'Maverick'..... Picture: Getty

It's strange to imagine Top Gun without its lead being Tom Cruise.

But Saturday Night Fever icon John Travolta was initially approached to take on the central role of 'Maverick'.

After wrangling with his agent for some time however, the studio's producers pulled the plug as he was too expensive and suffered a series of box-office flops so proved to be too much of a gamble.

2. Tom Cruise didn’t even want to be in Top Gun, at first

Tom Cruise as Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell.
Tom Cruise as Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise was the first name on the list after Travolta, but he also turned down the role.

The film's executives then turned to Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Scott Baio and Tom Hanks, all of which showed no interest in the aviating movie blockbuster.

Producer hot shot Jerry Bruckheimer remembers convincing Cruise to join the production, using the relationship between director Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, who worked with Cruise on Legend in 1985.

Bruckheimer later said: "So they (the Navy) take Tom up there, and they do five Gs. They do barrel rolls, they do everything. He's heaving in the plane. He gets on the tarmac, runs to a payphone ... and he said, 'I'm in. I'm doing the movie. I love it. This is great.'"

3. Val Kilmer didn’t want to be in Top Gun, at all

Val Kilmer as Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky
Val Kilmer as Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Again, it's difficult to envisage anyone other than Val Kilmer embodying the role of Iceman, Maverick's initial nemesis.

His steamy, sarcastic performance became one of Kilmer's defining film roles, but "felt the script was silly and disliked warmongering films."

He shared the same agent as Tom Cruise, so had to attend the film's casting. After trying to sabotage his audition, he finally came round after buying into Tony Scott's vision.

Interestingly, when news of the sequel became rumbling, Kilmer personally reached out to Cruise asking to reprise his role.

4. Maverick and Iceman didn’t get on. In real life too!

It's all water under the bridge between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer these days, but during the original film's shoot they took their on-camera disliking to the next level.

Straight out of the respected Julliard acting school, Kilmer reportedly tried his hand at method during the shoot, which got their working relationship off to a sour start.

In a recent documentary, Kilmer said he “would purposefully play up the rivalry between Tom’s character and mine off-screen as well. And what ended up happening is the actors in true method fashion, split into two distinct camps.”

They kept their distance outside of shooting hours, and never socialised.

5. The Top Gun cast really did take to the skies

Top Gun was made years before the advent of green-screen and CGI, so it required real-life jets and real-life pilots.

The Pentagon charged Paramount $1.8million just to use the aircraft and navy ships, so the producers needed to make the most of their chance to shoot.

This meant all of the actors went into the skies for their scenes in the cockpit, with the fighter jets flown by a designated pilot.

All of Maverick's stunt flying in the film was done by Scott Altman, who later went on to become an astronaut.

6. Not all of the actors felt “the need for speed”

When Tom Cruise went up in a real F-14 for the first time, he almost immediately reached for his sick bag.

However, as he did so, his pilot Lieutenant Commander Lloyd 'Bozo' Abel pulled out a manoeuvre that put Cruise's head to the floor of the cockpit. Cruise called him on the intercom reportedly saying: "Bozo, didn't you see I wasn't in your rear-view mirror?" to which he replied: "Sorry, but then again, they don't call me 'Bozo' for nothing."

I guess he had to learn the hard way.

He wasn't the only actor struggling to keep composed in the cockpit however, with Anthony Edwards aka Goose the only one to not vomit.

7. Berlin won the right to record ‘Take My Breath Away’

Written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock wrote 'Take My Breath Away', they initially offered it to The Motels who turned it down.

Even herself reluctant to take the song, Berlin's singer Terri Nunn won them over with her take of the song, performing it like a tragic, desperate woman reaching the end of her tether.

It convinced Moroder and Whitlock that she had the chops to pull it off, and she did: 'Take My Breath Away' became Berlin's biggest hit.

The song also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

8. ‘Take My Breath Away’ was so good, it inspired more romantic scenes

Director Tony Scott was mesmerised with Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away', and it inspired him to include more romantic scenes within the film.

This was despite the fact that lead actor Tom Cruise and his love interest Kelly McGillis didn't actually have that much romantic chemistry.

Or much chemistry at all - it's reported that they really did not get along.

They did briefly unite at a film premiere in 2010, but were evidently happy to go their separate ways.

9. Tom Cruise’s stature caused an issue…

Tom Cruise's height has plagued him throughout his film career.
Tom Cruise's height has plagued him throughout his film career. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise’s height caused an issue during shoots, and it wasn't to be the last time in his career.

Often derided for his use of platform shoes when stood next to a taller leading lady, it was a similar story with Kelly McGillis.

The height difference really bothered Paramount, with Tom Cruise standing at 5'7 and McGillis at 5'10.

They eventually made specially lifted cowboy boots for their scenes together, with McGillis being told to wear nothing so their heights matched.

10. 'Danger Zone' could've sounded a lot different

Toto were in fact the first band earmarked to record and release Top Gun's first single 'Danger Zone', but disputes between the film's producers and the band's lawyers ended any involvement.

Similarly REO Speedwagon were approached, but declined after not being able to contribute any more of their songs to the soundtrack.

Bryan Adams was also in the running, but refused to be involved with the film due to its supposed glorification of war.

Finally, the job went to Kenny Rogers who turned in into a fist-pumping classic.

11. Top Gun’s production suffered a tragic loss

Top Gun was dedicated to Art Scholl's life.
Top Gun was dedicated to Art Scholl's life. Picture: Paramount Pictures

Stunt pilot Art Scholl was tragically killed during the film's shoot, at the age of 54.

His Pitts S-2 camera plane failed to revert from a flat spin and nosedived into the Pacific Ocean. The plane and his body were sadly never recovered.

The last words his spoke over the jet's radio were: ""I have a problem - I have a real problem."

The film was dedicated to his life.