10 Speedy Facts About ‘Top Gun’

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Released 30 years ago today, Top Gun became the highest grossing film of 1986 (out-earning Crocodile Dundee by about $2 million). To commemorate the film's anniversary—and its permanent place in pop culture history—here are 10 fast facts about Tom Cruise's adrenaline-fueled blockbuster.

1. IT’S BASED ON A REAL SCHOOL.

Top Gun the movie was based on a real flight school called U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School or TOPGUN, formerly based at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. The school was founded in the late 1960s as a way to combat losing the air war in Vietnam. Because of base realignments and closures, TOPGUN relocated to Fallon, Nevada in 1996, and was renamed the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor. Anytime a staffer quotes or references the movie, the school reportedly fines them $5. So if you ever “feel the need, the need for speed” while at the actual school, you may want to keep it to yourself (or you'll have to fork over some coin).

2. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT HELPED FINANCE THE FILM.

According to a 2011 article in The Washington Post, “The Pentagon worked hand-in-hand with the filmmakers [of Top Gun] reportedly charging Paramount Pictures just $1.8 million for the use of its warplanes and aircraft carriers. But that taxpayer-subsidized discount came at a price—the filmmakers were required to submit their script to Pentagon brass for meticulous line edits aimed at casting the military in the most positive light. (One example: Time magazine reported that Goose’s death was changed from a midair collision to an ejection scene, because ‘the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing.')” Top Gun wasn’t the only military-inflected movie that had to cooperate with the military: Armageddon, Patriot Games and a slew of other films in Top Gun’s wake kowtowed to the government’s requests, whereas Forrest Gump, Mars Attacks!, The Thin Red Line, and Independence Day failed in getting two thumbs up from the Pentagon.

3. THE NAVY USED THE FILM AS A RECRUITING TOOL.

To capitalize on the film’s popularity, the Navy set up booths outside theaters in order to recruit moviegoers to join the Navy—and it worked. When recruiters talked to applicants, about 90 percent said they had seen the movie. The Navy also wove in “Danger Zone”-sounding music and Top Gun-esque shots for its 1987 “Join the Navy” commercial, which was about as subtle as that Simpsons/*NSYNC episode where Bart’s boy band Party Posse get brainwashed into joining the Navy.

4. TOP GUN BECAME A RIDE AT TWO AMUSEMENT PARKS.

As an action film, it made sense for Top Gun to become a thrilling roller coaster ride. In 1993, Mason, Ohio’s Kings Island Amusement Park was under the ownership of Paramount, so they built the Top Gun roller coaster, which was a suspended coaster that emulated an F-14 Tomcat. While people waited in line, “Danger Zone” piped through the PA system. In 2008, under new ownership, the ride changed its name to Flight Deck, and in 2014 the ride underwent a makeover and became The Bat. Besides Kings Island, another ride called Top Gun existed at Santa Clara, California’s Great America from 1993 through 2007. In a similar situation, the name got changed to Flight Deck.

5. A SEQUEL IS PROBABLY HAPPENING.

The producers have been discussing a sequel ever since the movie came out, but it sounds like it’s finally coming together. Before Top Gun director Tony Scott's death in 2012, he was onboard to direct the sequel. Since then, a few screenwriters have been attached to write Top Gun 2, including Peter Craig (The Town), and most recently, Justin Marks (The Jungle Book). The script will reportedly center on “drones in modern aerial warfare.” Both Cruise and Val Kilmer (Iceman) have expressed interest in acting in the sequel. Even though Scott and the film’s co-producer, Don Simpson, are deceased, in 2013 Kilmer told Larry King that “it wouldn’t be that difficult to maintain the spirit [of the original].”

6. TOM CRUISE SUPPOSEDLY INVENTED THE IDEA OF INTERNATIONAL FILM PREMIERES.

During a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host asked Cruise about the first time he had traveled the world to promote a movie. Cruise said that it was during the foreign press junket tour for Top Gun, which he said took four months to complete, as he’d spend weeks in every city they visited in Italy, France, and Japan. Cruise told Kimmel that he was the one who came up with the idea of premiering films in other countries, though he said that “It took me a few years to get it going.” Kimmel quipped, “So all these other actors must want to kill you.”

7. THERE ARE SEVERAL TECHNICAL INACCURACIES IN THE FILM.

The military website We Are the Mighty has a list of “79 Cringeworthy Technical Errors in Top Gun,” which includes that there is no such thing as a Top Gun trophy, that MiGs-28s are just black-painted F-5Fs, and that real TOPGUN classes are held in a classroom, not a hangar. At one point in the film Goose yells, “We’re going ballistic, Mav. Go get him,” even though a pilot would have no control over a ballistic airplane. The site also points out that arrogance would be reprimanded, as the Navy abides by an “excellence without arrogance” maxim.

8. KELLY MCGILLIS’ CHARACTER IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE NAVY EMPLOYEE.

Kelly McGillis’ character is based on a woman named Christine Fox who, like McGillis, is tall (Fox is 6’ to McGillis’ 5’11”), blonde, leggy, and has a penchant for clacking high heels. At the time the movie was being produced, the filmmakers wanted the character of Charlie to either be a groupie or a gymnast, but when the producers met Fox—whose call sign was “Legs”— they changed the role. The fictional Charlie is an astrophysicist, but Fox is a mathematician who worked at the Center for Naval Analyses, which was located across the street from TOPGUN. “They always know when I’m coming,” Fox told People in 1985, “because I'm one of the few people around here whose heels click.” From December 2013 to February 2014, Fox served as the acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, making her the Defense Department's highest-ever-ranking female officer. 

9. THE FILM’S SOUNDTRACK SOLD NINE MILLION COPIES.

When the film’s soundtrack—which includes hits like Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”—was released on May 15, 1986, it was a juggernaut (just like the movie). During the summer and fall of 1986, it was the number one album on the Billboard charts for a few weeks. By April of 1987, it had gone platinum four times (read: sold four million) and by July of 2000, after a 1999 special edition release that included some new songs, the soundtrack had sold nine million copies.

10. ONE CHRISTMAS, THE TOPGUN SCHOOL THREATENED THE RUSSIANS.

Even though it’s not mentioned in the movie, the MiG’s are basically the Russians, and the U.S. was in the midst of the Cold War when the movie came out. As a cheeky joke, a group of TOPGUN instructors sent a group photo to the Soviet Air Force with the greeting: “Thinking of you and yours at this joyful Yuletide Season. Trust all is well and cozy at your fireside. If our nations ever pair off in war, check your six o’clock. We’ll be there, hosing you."

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May 16, 2016 - 9:00am
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