20 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Top Gun

Top Gun is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month and the film that helped launch Tom Cruise into megastardom is still very much in the public consciousness. But before the almost inevitable sequel makes it into production, why not explore some little-known facts about one of the greatest action films ever made?

20. Val Kilmer almost wasn’t in the movie

In a 2006 interview for The Independent, Val Kilmer revealed that, “I didn’t want to do Top Gun and I turned down a bunch of meetings with Tony [Scott].” However, director Scott then jumped into an elevator with Kilmer and pestered him until he agreed to take on the role of Iceman –and the rest is history.

19. Don Simpson nearly drowned at the wrap party

After the crew had finished filming the graduation scene, they had a few well-earned drinks to celebrate. But at one point producer Don Simpson got dunked in the pool by a bunch of drunk pilots… and didn’t surface. Tony Scott, speaking on the film commentary, remembered: “We had to dive in and pull him out, and we discovered that he couldn’t swim.”

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18. Robert F. Willard made a cameo

You might recognize Robert F. Willard as the Top Gun pilot who received a rude gesture courtesy of Maverick. But Willard wasn’t an actor – he was a Navy Admiral brought in to advise the cast on set. Back then, he was serving as an executive officer at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, but he went on to become the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, and was responsible for the world’s largest fleet command.

17. Before Top Gun, Tom Cruise had never rode a motorcycle

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Tom Cruise had zero motorcycling experience before Top Gun, and so he went to House of Motorcycles in California to learn how to ride one. In the movie he’s riding a Kawasaki Ninja 900 / GPz900R which, at the time, was the fastest production motorcycle ever made.

16. Tony Scott paid $25,000 to get the perfect backdrop

While filming Top Gun’s opening scene, director Tony Scott decided that he wanted to shoot the flight deck with the sun illuminating the planes from behind. Unfortunately, the commanding officer told him it would cost $25,000 to turn the aircraft around. But Scott, undeterred, just wrote him out a check.

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15. Michael Ironside was mistaken for an actual officer during filming

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On the film’s DVD commentary, Michael Ironside told a story about an officer that he’d encountered while filming. The serviceman was out for a jog when Ironside confronted him and, unaware that he wasn’t a real officer, the young man immediately slowed pace and saluted him. Well, Ironside is a method actor after all.

14. A future astronaut appears in the film

The person flipping the bird in the opening scenes of the movie isn’t actually Tom Cruise at all – it’s stunt pilot Scott Altman. In fact, he doubled for Tom Cruise in all the flying scenes. After Top Gun, Altman himself went on to become a NASA astronaut, and he headed the Atlantis mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.

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13. The final flight scene was shot in just two takes

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Remember the closing scenes when Maverick buzzed the tower? Well, the pilot who actually flew the plane took just two attempts to perfect the maneuver. During a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Michael Ironside revealed that after missing the camera the first time, the high-flying pro “came in on the second pass perfectly at 50 feet, and every camera got him.”

12. Charlie is based on a real person

Top Gun heroine Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, played by Kelly McGillis, is actually based on a real-life heroine called Christine Fox. At the time of filming, Fox was a specialist in Maritime Air Superiority (MAS) – and she later became the highest-ranking female in history to hold a Pentagon position.

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11. James Tolkan’s character is never actually named in the film

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Top Gun fans know him as “Stinger” because that’s what he’s listed as in the credits, but no-one ever calls James Tolkan’s commander anything other than “Sir” for the duration of the movie. And although the character’s real name is Tom Jordan, his badge actually reads “Jardan.”

10. Tom Cruise helped with the script

Before he agreed to star in Top Gun, Tom Cruise first wanted to help edit the script. The actor told Rolling Stone magazine in 1986 that, “it needed a lot of work. I was worried.” Luckily, the scriptwriters agreed to work alongside the young star, and they even sang his praises afterwards.

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9. Tony Scott was fired three times while making Top Gun

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Today, Top Gun is arguably Tony Scott’s most famous production. But during filming, the late director was fired from his role no fewer than three times. The film commentary reveals that the late director was given the boot once for shooting in slow motion; once for making Kelly McGillis look “beautiful in a whorish kind of way;” and once for filming the leads with their visors down and their faces barely visible.

8. Blue light was used to hide Kelly McGillis’s new hair color

After shooting the rest of the movie, producers and test audiences decided that it would be better to include a scene in which Maverick and Charlie make love, and so one was filmed and added to the movie. Unfortunately, Kelly McGillis had already dyed her hair red for another role, and so the scene was shot all in blue to disguise it.

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7. Only one actor didn’t throw up while flying

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Anthony Edwards was the only actor who didn’t have to be sick while filming in the fighter planes. And that’s all the more of an achievement when you consider that some actors refused to even step into a jet at all. The moviemakers have never shamed who wasn’t brave enough to have a go, though.

6. Matthew Modine could have been Maverick

At one point during the film’s production, Full Metal Jacket actor Matthew Modine was offered the role of Maverick, but he decided not to take the part because he disagreed with the film’s principles. Allegedly, other actors that could have been Maverick included Nicolas Cage and Patrick Swayze.

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5. Tom Cruise ad-libbed his kiss with Kelly McGillis

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Remember when Charlie professed her love for Maverick? Well, that scene was meant to go a little differently in the script. Tom Cruise was supposed to have a line at the end, but he forgot it. So he kissed McGillis instead, and the director liked it even more than the original.

4. One significant scene was deleted

As if Goose’s death wasn’t enough of a tearjerker, the scriptwriters had originally planned an additional scene in which Maverick stops by his wingman’s grave to pay his respects. The scene didn’t make the final cut, but it can be found on the special edition DVD.

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3.Tom Cruise had to wear lifts to make him taller than Kelly McGillis

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Okay, so we all know Tom Cruise is pretty short. The diminutive actor is 5’ 7” while his co-star Kelly McGillis is 5’10”. So Cruise had to wear lifts in some scenes to make himself look taller than her. And it’s a trick Cruise has repeated with many other leading ladies since.

2. Critics have called the film war propaganda

Countless people – including Goose actor Anthony Edwards – have spoken of their unease at what they consider to be the film’s pro-war agenda. And, not surprisingly, the film did lead to a 500 percent increase in pilot applications. Paramount even offered to include a Navy recruitment ad to the film’s video release for their help with the production, but the military’s PR advisors considered the film to be an ad in itself.

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1. The movie was based on real-life fighter pilots

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Co-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer got the idea for Top Gun after reading an article in a magazine about the real fighter pilots in San Diego. “These guys were rock and rollers in the sky,” Bruckheimer later told Rolling Stone, and it’s that sort of thing that makes a hit movie.

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