Paramount Pictures commissioned Grumman, the makers of the F-14, to develop and install special camera mounts on the plane. This allowed the filmmakers to use real aerial point-of-view footage of the Tomcat in flight.
The Navy only authorized two actual missile shots to be filmed for the movie. You can clearly pick out these two shots, ultimately shot from several angles each in order to use both shots repeatedly during the dogfighting scenes, because the aircraft firing the missile is holding a steady altitude and heading, something that would never happen in a real close-in dogfight. All other missile shots shown in the movie were conducted using miniatures of both the planes and rockets. The company that produced and fired the model missiles did such a good job that the Department of the Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into whether any additional live firings of missiles, beyond the two originally authorized, were done for the filmmakers.
Riding on the back of this film's success, the U.S. Navy set up recruiting booths in the major cinemas to try and catch some of the adrenaline charged guys leaving the screenings. They had the highest applications rate for years as a result.
When the guys, as students, were first being spoken to by Charlie in the hanger, Maverick explains that he gave "the bird" to a MiG. She asks how he saw the MiG up close, and he says he was flying inverted. Right then, Ice coughs "bullshit" and the guys laughed. The "bullshit" line was ad libbed by Val Kilmer, and everyone's reactions are genuine.
Charlie's "older man" date at the officer's club is the real-life "Viper", Pete Pettigrew. He is a retired Navy pilot and TOP GUN instructor, and shot down a MiG during the Vietnam War. He served as the technical consultant on the film.
Pete "Maverick" Mitchell's first name was Evan in early scripts of the film. It was later changed to Pete as an homage to Pete Pettigrew, who worked on the film (Pettigrew appears in the bar scene early in the film as Charlie's older male date.)
After the "car chase" when Charlie tells Maverick that she didn't want anyone to find out she was falling for him, Maverick originally had a line to say. Tom Cruise forgot the line and "ad libbed" by kissing Kelly McGillis instead. Tony Scott liked it so much, he left the scene like that.
The character portrayed by Kelly McGillis is based on Christine Fox, a civilian flight instructor the producers met on a visit to Miramar while doing research to prepare for the movie. Fox eventually rose through the ranks at the Pentagon, retiring in May 2014 as Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, the highest post ever held by a woman at the Department of Defense.
When Maverick receives his orders to the carrier following the graduation ceremony, there is a pilot standing behind him, with a mustache and wearing sunglasses. The pilot is "Heater" C.J. Heatley, a real-life former F-14 air show demonstration pilot and TOP GUN instructor.
During the filming of some sequences from civilian aircraft, longtime Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed. A biplane he was flying crashed off the Pacific Coast. The film is dedicated to his memory.
Rick Rossovich stated, in the DVD commentary, that he was kicked off of the ship, used for filming, because he smarted off to an officer. Rossovich had gone to sleep in the bunk to which he was assigned, but didn't like being so close to the nuclear reactors that powered the ship, so he moved. When he smarted off to the officer who wanted his bunk back, Rossovich was told to report to the Captain, who ordered him thrown off the ship for disrespect.
Judas Priest were asked to contribute the song "Reckless" to the soundtrack, but declined because they thought the movie would flop. Two years later, they contributed a cover of Johnny Be Good (1988) to the movie of the same name, which turned out to be a flop.
The pilot that gets "flipped off" by Maverick and Goose is Admiral Robert Willard, the lead flight choreographer for the film. He was Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet (2007-2009) before transferring to United States Pacific Command.
No one had ever "buzzed the tower" at Miramar before. The Navy pilots, who were flying the scenes for the film, drew straws to see who would get to do it. It went to Lieutenant Commander Lloyd "Bozo" Abel. Michael Ironside just happened to be at the hangar that day, and the plane flew low enough to where he could actually see into the cockpit as it flew by. He said it was one of the most spectacular things he'd ever seen.
The ship that Viper served on with Maverick's father, the U.S.S. Oriskany, was the first United States warship slated to become an artificial reef, under authority granted by the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 108-136). It was sunk with controlled charges 24 miles (39 km) south of Pensacola on May 17, 2006. It is now popularly known as the "Great Carrier Reef", a reference to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The elevator scene (in which Maverick and Charlie meet after his workout) was filmed post-production. Kelly McGillis's hair had already been colored for another movie role, which is why she is wearing a hat. Tom Cruise's hair is longer in the shot as well.
Michael Ironside stated, in the DVD commentary, that he was so convincing as an officer, that when he heard someone running towards him below decks, he got on to the sailor who was running. The sailor saluted and slowed down until he got out of Ironside's line of sight and started running again. The sailor never knew that Ironside was an actor on the film.
The piano scene and the final bar/jukebox scene were shot in a San Diego restaurant called Kansas City BBQ, at the corner of Kettner Boulevard and West Harbor Drive. The restaurant housed many props and memorabilia from the film. However, on June 26, 2008, Kansas City BBQ suffered a grease fire that destroyed much of the interior of the establishment. The restaurant has since been repaired to its original state, but much of the Top Gun memorabilia on display was damaged, and some destroyed. The two most prominent pieces that remain are the piano (relocated to another corner of the bar) and one of the original Maverick flight helmets used during filming, which sits in a locked display case behind the bar. The helmet shows some slight damage, as the heat from the fire caused the plastic visor to bubble and warp.
Giorgio Moroder wrote most of the music for the songs on the soundtrack. Tom Whitlock, who wrote the majority of the lyrics to these songs, was actually the mechanic who worked on Moroder's sports car.
In several locker scenes, one of the lockers is labeled as belonging to "TEX". This is the call sign for one of the Top Gun instructors and MiG pilots that worked on the film, Lieutenant "Tex" William Spence.
Numerous critics complained that the movie largely amounted to a Navy recruitment film. The U.S. Navy stated that the film's popularity resulted in a 500 percent increase in the number of recruits wanting to enter into their aviation program. Paramount offered to include a Navy Recruitment ad on the initial home video release in exchange for debits owed the U.S. Navy for their cooperation. However, the ad agency who produced ads for the U.S. Military informed the Pentagon that the movie itself was enough of a propaganda tool, and that an official recruiting ad would be redundant.
While many terms used in the movie either match or are closely based on real terms used by naval aviators and the pilots in general, the term "going ballistic" is a real phrase that was incorrectly used to describe a pilot successfully reaching maximum speed, when it actually meant that the pilot was going too slow to maintain control of his aircraft, i.e., the aircraft is ballistic like a ball thrown in the air and will be influenced by gravity rather than the control surfaces as there is too little airflow over them. The phrase is used in Air Combat Maneuvers where the aircraft is put into a vertical or nearly-vertical climb and slows below an acceptable control speed. The pilot is then just along for the ride as gravity takes over and the airplane begins to descend and accelerate back to flying speed. The call is given over the radio to warn other pilots that the aircraft cannot maneuver to avoid a collision.
In the last scene, in which Maverick is sitting at the counter, and you see someone go to the jukebox and put in a quarter for "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," when he and Charlie walk up to each other, Kelly McGillis is actually standing in a trench that was dug by the Hollywood technicians because they wanted the two to look like they were the same height.
An original draft of the script specified that the final showdown involved North Korean aircraft. The final script made the nationalities of the enemy planes unknown and simply specified they were MiGs over the Indian Ocean.
Don Simpson was known for being a very hands-on producer but was noticeably absent during the making of Top Gun. This was mainly due to the fact that he was in rehab, being treated for his major dependency on prescription drugs. His use of illegal narcotics also led to him becoming increasingly paranoid, to the extent that he rarely left his home.
Jerry Bruckheimer on convincing Tom Cruise to sign on to the film after his initial reluctance: "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 pay phone ... and he said, 'I'm in. I'm doing the movie. I love it. This is great.'"
One of the first films to be selected for the Cinema 52 project, in which a subject watches a film 52 times over the course of a year. Revelations of note about Top Gun resulting from this experiment include: Tom Cruise blinks 469 times, the word "the" is spoken 223 times, and the average time between Air Boss Johnson coffee spills is 27 minutes and 23 seconds.
Stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed during the production of the movie, aged 54. He died when his Pitts S-2 camera plane failed to recover from a flat spin and plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Scholl's last words over the radio were "I have a problem - I have a real problem." The exact cause of the crash was never determined, and neither the aircraft nor Scholl's body were ever recovered. The film is dedicated to him.
The callsign 'Ghostrider' that Maverick uses for his plane was the name of a real F-14 squadron (VF-142), and a model of a Tomcat from that squadron can be seen behind Sundown in the shot where Maverick tells Slider he stinks.
A test audience, who saw the movie before it was released, were annoyed that there was no love scene. The producers obliged, and five months after the production had wrapped, they summoned Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis to Chicago to film the infamous elevator scene and the sex scene. During their time away from the set, McGillis had lost approximately sixty pounds, and Cruise was actually filming The Color of Money (1986), so his hair was much longer in those two scenes. McGillis' hair was also much darker, hence why she hid it underneath a cap in the elevator scene.
The scene in which Maverick follows Charlie into the bathroom, was filmed at the Headquarters Building at Recruit Training Command, San Diego. [The Naval Training Center installation was later demolished in the late 1990s to make way for more Navy housing. Before the headquarters building could be inspected for demolition, the bathroom counter that "Maverick" leans on and "stress tests" was stolen.]
During the pilot briefing before the final air battle, Stinger mentions that the MiGs carry the Exocet anti-ship missile. This is a real missile, however, it is of French manufacture and has never been used by the Soviet Union, nor any of the countries that made up the Soviet Bloc.
During a break in the filming of the hangar scene a group of Navy officers being used as extras approached Tony Scott and complained about the unrealistic collection of patches on the flight suits of the actors. He replied, paraphrasing, "We're not making this movie for Navy fighter pilots, we're making it for Kansas wheat farmers who don't know the difference."
Other real names of the pilots/RIOs that are not otherwise mentioned in the movie, but only by their callsigns are: Hollywood: Lieutenant Rick Neven; Wolfman: Lieutenant (JG) Leonard Wolfe; Slider: Lieutenant (JG) Ron Kerner; Cougar: Lieutenant Bill Cortell; Merlin: Lieutenant (JG) Sam Wills.
The call sign 'Sundown' is a reference to VF-111, a squadron of F-14s called The Sundowners that have the same sundown graphic on their tail fins as on Sundown's helmet. VF-111 supplied the F-14s used for Maverick and Goose, and Iceman and Hollywood's Tomcats. In some shots 'VF-111' is visible on the under-engine fins of the F-14s.
Two video games based very loosely on the movie were released on the Nintendo NES. While the first game really had no storyline, the second actually served as a "sequel" storyline, regarding Maverick going up against a new group of villains.
When Tom Cruise went up in a real F-14 for the first time, he was with Lieutenant Commander Lloyd "Bozo" Abel. After Bozo did some maneuvers, Cruise finally had no choice but to reach for his sick bag. However, as he did so, Bozo did a maneuver that put Cruise's head to the floor of the cockpit as he struggled to activate the intercom to tell Bozo what was happening. When Bozo finally leveled the plane, Cruise hit the intercom and said, "Bozo, didn't you see I wasn't in your rear-view mirror?" Bozo replied, "Sorry, but then again, they don't call me 'Bozo' for nothing."
During a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2003), Jimmy asked Tom Cruise about the first time he had travelled 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."
The original soundtrack release initially only included original songs written expressly for the movie. In 2000, the soundtrack was re-released to include "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", "Great Balls of Fire" and "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay", existing songs which were prominently featured in the movie.
Tom Cruise is three inches shorter than Kelly McGillis, which bothered Paramount greatly. To even up their heights, Cruise wore special cowboy boots that gave him a little height boost, while McGillis didn't wear any shoes at all during their scenes.
Charlie Blackwood is based on a woman named Christine Fox who is tall, 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 TOP GUN. "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.
Cougar was supposed to have crashed while trying to land back on the carrier, and his death was supposed to be why Maverick "slid into Cougar's spot", but this was summarily cut by the Navy. As this was intended to be a recruitment tool for the Navy, they didn't want negative attention drawn on a particularly hazardous aspect of serving on a carrier, or flying fighters.
Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood's character metamorphosed out of a character called 'Kirsten Lindstrom' and was originally a classic bimbo. 'Dawn Steel', then head of Paramount Pictures, allegedly refused to authorise the project until she was made a more real, intelligent woman.
The address that Charlie (Kelly McGillis) gives Maverick (Tom Cruise), when inviting him to dinner, 100 Laurel Beach, is (like most films) a false address. There is a 100 W. Laurel Avenue in downtown San Diego, but it is several miles from the beach. The actual location used for shooting was 100 S. Pacific Street in Oceanside, which is in North San Diego County. The area has since been redeveloped for commercial and tourist uses, but the house was preserved as a landmark. It is locally referred to simply as "The Top Gun House", and until 2008, was still a rentable property.
Top Gun (1986) was the highest grossing film of 1986. It took in 177 million dollars in the U.S. alone, and 356 million dollars worldwide. Australian hit Crocodile Dundee (1986) was the second biggest film of the year, with Platoon (1986) coming in third.
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 ninety 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.
Terri Nunn of Berlin states in an interview that she and her band were in Taiwan when they received a call letting her know that the song "Take My Breath Away" was being nominated for an Oscar and asking her to fly out to Los Angeles to perform the song at the Academy Awards. She told them that she would only do it if she could sing the entire song. She was told that that wouldn't be the case as the song was going to be sung in a medley with the other nominated songs. Nunn turned it down. Nunn says she deeply regrets her decision, especially upon finding out that "Take My Breath Away" won the Oscar for "Best Song."
During the opening dogfight, music from Thief of Hearts (1984), also composed by Harold Faltermeyer, can be heard over-scoring action. The sequence had originally been temp-tracked to this music, so it was used when Faltermeyer had left the project and the score incomplete.
The squadron patch "Maverick" and "Goose" are seen wearing, which reads "VF-1" is actually that of VAW-120, the "Greyhawks" (formerly VAW-110, the "Firebirds"), which is actually an E2 Hawkeye / C2 Greyhound squadron. Both aircraft are carrier-capable twin-turboprop craft. VF-1 was an F-14 squadron based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, until its disestablishment on October 1, 1993.
While Navy squadrons do stencil crew names onto aircraft, the airplanes are not assigned for missions on this basis. They are simply rotated in a pool, and at any given time some number of planes are out of rotation for maintenance purposes. Each airwing flew two squadrons of F-14s numbered in the 100s and 200s. Other aircraft types had planes in higher ranges. The lowest numbered airplane in each squadron is nicknamed "nuts", and these are all stenciled with the airwing commander's name. Each squadron has its own commanding officer, and his crew's names would be on the plane numbered -01. The executive officer is on aircraft -02, followed by senior officers in descending order. There are more crews than airplanes, so junior officers are only on airplanes if they are crewed with a senior aircraft commander. In the case of the F-14, radar intercept officers ("backseaters") are in the line of command all the way up to squadron CO, so it is possible to find an F-14 with a senior RIO in the rear seat and a more junior pilot in the front.
The callsign 'Ghostrider' that Maverick uses for his plane was the name of a real F-14 squadron (VF-142), and a model of a Tomcat from that squadron can be seen behind Sundown in the shot where Maverick tells Slider he stinks.
Veteran stunt coordinator and helicopter pilot Monty Jordan was on set frequently during filming, and assisted pilot Art Scholl in the aerial sequences. He served as a stand-in occasionally for Michael Ironside, and was also cast unnamed as a U.S. Navy Commander in several scenes during filming.
"Take My Breath Away" was also offered to The Motels, who subsequently recorded and submitted their own Demo of the song. Lead singer Martha Davis knew the song would be a huge hit, but was ultimately satisfied that their version was passed over, as she wanted her and the band to be better remembered for the songs they wrote themselves.
Kenny Loggins's upbeat song Danger Zone is played three times in the film, which is more than any other song. There is even a thrilling scene in which Maverick races a Tomcat taking off on his motorbike with the song playing.
The movie and novel, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), written by James A. Michener were based on actual missions flown against the railroad bridges at Majon-ni and Samdong-ni, North Korea, when he was a news correspondent aboard the aircraft carriers U.S.S. Essex and U.S.S. Oriskany.
Men of the Fighting Lady (1954) (also known as Panther Squadron) was filmed aboard the U.S.S. Oriskany (CV-34) aircraft carrier in 1954 written by U.S. Navy Commander Harry A. Burns. It was inspired by a Saturday Evening Post article, "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea" by James A. Michener.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Goose's real name is Nick Bradshaw. His name is briefly seen on a flight patch on top of his dresser when Maverick goes to retrieve Goose's belongings after he dies. It can also be seen numerous times written on the side of the F-14 he and Maverick fly. It is most noticeable when Goose hits the canopy after ejecting.
A script for "Top Gun 2" was completed shortly after the release of the film, but it broke down in pre-production because, 1) the military's technology had become updated and they didn't want camera crew anywhere near their new aircraft, and, 2) Tom Cruise did not want a sequel and finally agreed to star in one for a very high amount that was deemed "unaffordable." The script followed the further adventures of Maverick as an instructor at the Top Gun academy, the twist being a cocky female reminiscent of himself joining the team.
The film was originally going to have a scene near the end where Maverick visited Goose's grave. A filmed version of this scene was never released, however still screen shots from what such a scene would have looked like are available on the special edition DVD.
Goose was originally to have died in a flaming crash aboard an aircraft carrier, but the Navy objected, and the scene was changed to the training accident that has been featured since the film's release.
The Pentagon demanded script approval to ensure that the Navy was portrayed in a positive light. They demanded the cause of Goose's death be changed from a midair collision to an ejection mishap because the Navy was concerned that it looked like too many pilots were crashing.