Swaggering pilots Maverick, Iceman, and Goose made America swoon over Navy stunts, F-14s, and military bromance in the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer stepped into actual fighter jets, making it all look easy. But the year's No. 1 movie, which cost $15 million to make but earned $356.8 million worldwide, featured its share of behind-the-scenes drama.
The film’s director, Tony Scott, was fired at one point. Rick Rossovich (who plays Slider) almost died in a non-film accident. Kenny Loggins came in under the wire to sing about the "Danger Zone." And just how accurate is Top Gun? Ask the Navy, who helped make the film as realistic as possible.
These facts tell the story of a movie that involved some topsy-turvy turns. But it didn't take long for Top Gun to conquer the box office, drum up recruitment for the Navy, and reignite interest in "Great Balls of Fire."
In a 2016 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Tom Cruise revealed he played hard to get with Top Gun's producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. The reason? He wanted to score a flight with the Blue Angels. Cruise said after his first meeting with director Tony Scott, he set up a ruse:
I told my agent, "I'm going to make this movie, but don't tell Jerry that I want to make this movie, because I wanted to fly with the Blue Angels." You've got to work these things, you know? I'm a businessman.
The scheme worked. Cruise flew with a Blue Angels pilot nicknamed "Bozo," who put the actor through the ringer - so much so he puked all over Bozo's jet. Or, as Cruise put it, "I vomited with the Blue Angels."
Even though Top Gun shot Val Kilmer to stardom, he initially didn't want to work on the film. Kilmer told The Independent in 2006 that he avoided director Tony Scott until his agent begged him to go to a meeting. Kilmer said Scott then cornered him near an elevator and urged him to appear in the film:
So I meet him, listen to his deal, and then leave. As I pushed the button of the lift, I heard this swooshing round the corner. The doors opened, and Tony jumped in front of the lift and wouldn't let me leave. He went, "It's going to be great, man. There'll be jets and whoof! And I know you don't want to do it, but your hair's going to be great!"
Top Gun became a lovingly shot, pro-military precursor to Michael Bay films, but director Tony Scott initially envisioned a much darker version of the movie. Scott told Empire:
I had this idea that it was going to be Apocalypse Now. It was going to be in the bowels of this aircraft carrier. It was going to be this very different movie, a very dark journey... And then one of the boys, Jerry Bruckheimer, looked at me and said, "Er no, I don’t think sooo"...
Eventually, I got it. It’s rock 'n' roll stars against blue skies and silver f*cking jets. It’s pure pop culture. In the end, that’s why I took the movie.
When a bunch of actors in their 20s gets together to shoot an action movie near the California-Mexico border, things can grow rowdy. But according to Val Kilmer in a Reddit AMA, Tom Cruise couldn't partake in the fun because he was featured in almost every shot of the film:
We were all quite rowdy - me and all the real flyboys and the actors - so I actually felt a little sorry for him cause we all had time to play and date the cute extras and zoom around San Diego in muscle cars, but Tom was always in some scene and never [got] to play with us.