30 Years of Top Gun

Today, we celebrate the need, the need for speed. 

May 16th marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of Top Gun. The story is about a pilot with the code name Maverick (Tom Cruise), who is sent to an elite academy called the Top Gun Naval Flying School. Only the best pilots are sent there in order to learn how to dogfight against other planes, notably, at the time, the Russians. There, he competes for the trophy for the best pilot against his rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), and both annoys and impresses the other two main instructors played by Tom Skerrit and Michael Ironside. He also begins a relationship and falls in love with his civilian instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). This review will examine the film’s impact when it was released, how it was received by critics, and whether it still holds up today.
It debuted at number one at the box office on May 16, 1986 with $12.2 million, nearly doubling the earnings of its main competition Short Circuit [2]. It fell to number three in its second week, losing out to Cobra and Poltergeist 2 but dropped only 2.4% in its earnings [2]. It took back the number one spot for the next two weeks, remaining in the top five through October 9th, and staying in the top 10 until November 6th [2]. It ended up being the highest grossing picture of the year, earning $179,800,601 domestically and a worldwide total of $356,830,601 [2].

This was the movie that showed the industry that video sales were a viable market when they drastically reduced the price of the cassettes to $26.95 [3]. This resulted in the sale of 2.5 million cassettes and earning the studio “wholesale revenues of more than $40 million, nearly half of the film’s 82 million domestic theatrical rentals” [3]. This was the first time that videos were sold in rental stores, and this was the first motion picture to have a major commercial sponsorship promoting it [3] -- Diet Pepsi. The commercials matched the “style and thematic content” of the movie [3]. In addition, a video game based upon the movie was released on all of the major gaming platforms at the time.  There was also an increase in the sales of bomber jackets, aviator sunglasses, and in Naval recruitment [4].

The soundtrack was a huge success and is one of the most popular soundtracks to ever be released, reaching 9x Platinum certification, and it was the number one album on the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart for five non-consecutive weeks in 1986 [5] [6]. It featured the popular singles “Danger Zone” and "Playing with the Boys” performed by Kenny Loggins and “Take My Breath Away,” which was recorded by the American new wave band Berlin. Some of the scored music from Harold Faltermeyer is contained in the album, most notably what is referred to as the “Top Gun Anthem.” “Take My Breath Away” would end up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song, with Giorgio Moroder credited for music and Tom Whitlock credited for the lyrics. It was also nominated for Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Editing.

Dude. Are you Jim Morrison? Whoa. Pleased to meet you. 

The movie received somewhat mixed reviews upon its release. Roger Ebert gave 2.5 out of 4 stars and stated that “Movies like Top Gun are hard to review because the good parts are so good and the bad parts are so relentless. The dogfights are absolutely the best since Clint Eastwood's electrifying aerial scenes in Firefox. But look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another” [7]. Walter Goodman’s New York Times review said that it “fires off as spectacular a show of state-of-the-art jet battle as the movies have given us. The F-14 Tomcats soar, swoop and somersault at fantastic speed….As directed by Tony Scott, with the technical assistance of a couple of former Navy pilots, the snappily edited sequences of battle and mock battle sweep us in and out of the cockpit. You can't always be sure exactly what's going on, but it's exciting anyhow. The excitement is switched off on landing. Tom Cruise brings little but a good build to the role of Maverick, and the role of the astrophysicist brings little but impossible lines (''When I first met you, you were larger than life'') to attractive Kelly McGillis [8].

So, does it still hold up today? I think it does, especially when comparing it to other summer blockbusters. It has a little bit of everything. There’s action, humor, romance, drama, and plenty of tension. It still contains some of the best aerial footage that has been put on a big screen, using a combination of specially-made camera pods placed onto the aircraft, air shots using a Learjet, ground mounted cameras, and the filming of normal aircraft carrier operations.  Without these excellent shots that take place onboard the USS Enterprise, and the training sequences that took place at NAS Fallon in Nevada, the motion picture would simply not be the same. Adding to that the effective editing and sound effects makes these air scenes and dogfights some of the most tense and dramatic ones that we have ever seen cinematically. The stunts were dangerous enough that renowned stunt pilot Art Scholl crashed in the Pacific Ocean attempting to do a flat spin. His body and the plane were never recovered.

I have big....white....balls. 
There are several scenes that are considered iconic. This includes the infamous volleyball scene and Cruise doing a Karaoke style serenade of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers. These have been spoofed in films like Hot Shots! And multiple television shows like American Dad and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It was also recently added to the Library of Congress’s National film registry in 2015, along with The Ghostbusters and The Shawshank Redemption and several others for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” [9].

Do the acting and dialogue actually detract from the impact of the overall film? I think it depends on your interpretation of pictures from the 1980s. The cast is more than adequate in this film, and it includes a large collection of great character actors that are more than effective in their respective roles. This would not be as good of a movie without Tom Skerrit, Michael Ironside, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Kelly McGillis, and, of course, Tom Cruise. This was the movie that made Cruise a superstar and helped elevate Kilmer’s status. Originally, they wanted to cast Matthew Modine for the lead role but he turned it down because of his political stance. It would be hard to imagine Modine in place of Cruise; it simply would be a totally different movie.

There is something special about doing real practical effects versus half of them being computer-generated. I understand that technology has changed the cinematic landscape, and that more can be done in a safer manner, but it’s simply not as great as practical effects.

Bottom line: Top Gun is a classic action flick and is highly recommended. I cannot in good conscience give this a lower score than Captain America: Civil War.

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-Raul VanTassle

Works Cited

"boxofficemojo," boxofficemojo, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=topgun.htm. [Accessed 13 5 2016].
S. Prince, A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 1980-1989, Berkeley: University of California Press, Ltd., 2000.
M. August, M. Derrow, A. Durham, D. S. Levy, L. Lofaro, D. Spitz and C. Taylor, "Through a Glass Darkly," Time, 12 7 1999.
"RIAA," RIAA, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?artist=%22Top+Gun%22#. [Accessed 13 5 2016].
"Billboard," Billboard, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.billboard.com/charts/billboard-200/1986-08-02. [Accessed 13 5 2016].
"rogerebert.com," rogerebert.com, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/top-gun-1986. [Accessed 13 5 2016].
"nytimes," nytimes, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A0DE0DC1E38F935A25756C0A960948260. [Accessed 13 5 2016].
"hollywoodreporter," hollywoodreporter, 13 5 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ghostbusters-top-gun-enter-national-849092. [Accessed 13 5 2016].