11 Behind-the-Scenes “Top Gun” Facts You Probably Didn't Know
Over the past few decades, “Top Gun” has become ingrained in our collective pop culture history, from the quotable lines to the memorable soundtrack and more. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just joined in with “Top Gun: Maverick,” there’s plenty of fun to be had with the high-flying action franchise – and that includes plenty of fun facts, too.
Have you ever wondered which characters and storylines almost didn’t happen? What about whether or not the actors developed their own love of flying from playing their roles? We’ve rounded up some of our favourite trivia and factoids about the “Top Gun” movies, from hidden talents to script rewrites and much more. Here’s what you might not know about this iconic series.
Miles Teller Was Really Playing Piano in "Top Gun: Maverick"
One scene in “Top Gun: Maverick” features Miles Teller’s character, Rooster, playing piano and singing in an homage to his father, Goose, doing the exact same thing in the original movie. As it turns out, they didn’t need any piano-playing doubles for that scene – Teller brushed up his own skills on the keys.
“I started with piano when I was six, picked up saxophone in middle school and high school bands, and then I picked up a guitar because my mom played guitar,” Teller told Black Book during the press junket for the jazz drama “Whiplash.” Turns out that elementary-school talent came in handy again!
"Bob" From "Top Gun: Maverick" Is Actually Hollywood Royalty
Chill, adorkable Bob is already a fan-favorite among the new pilots introduced in “Top Gun: Maverick.” If you feel like he looks familiar but can’t quite put your finger on it, it might be the family resemblance. His dad is Bill Pullman, aka the star of ’80s and ’90s faves like “While You Were Sleeping” and “Independence Day.”
An Actual Astronaut Did the Original "Top Gun" Stunts
The original “Top Gun” features a ton of high-intensity stunts, including a few that would have serious consequences for real-life military aviators (like flipping off the enemy and “buzzing” the control tower). To achieve the realism necessary, the filmmakers turned to highly trained military pilots – including Scott Altman, a young aviator who went on to command the space shuttle Atlantis.
“The skipper of our squadron picked four guys he thought he could trust to have this kind of carte blanche to break the rules a little bit,” Altman told CNN in a 2009 interview. He also revealed that he’s the pilot who has the memorable moment of giving the finger to an enemy fighter. “They said go ahead and gesture at the other airplane. So when you’re looking at the scene where he’s communicating with the Russian, or the bad-guy pilots in the movie, that would be my finger.”
The First "Top Gun" Movie Had to Add More of a Love Story
In original versions of the first “Top Gun,” the romance between Maverick and Charlie was much more out of focus than it was in the final cut audiences saw. The increased focus on the romance came after some negative feedback from exhibitors ahead of the movie’s release, according to an interview with Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber in The Hollywood Reporter.
“It was the exhibitors that wanted to extend the love story. We were basically done with the movie, and they had a screening in New York for exhibitors that went very well and a screening on the West Coast for exhibitors that went very well. And they did one in Chicago that didn’t do very well. And the Chicago exhibitors came out saying, ‘We wish there was more of a love story.’ Boom,” said Lebenzon. The filmmakers quickly shot two more scenes with Cruise and Kelly McGillis: an elevator scene, and the famous love scene set to “Take My Breath Away.”
That Iconic "Top Gun" Volleyball Scene Almost Got the Director Fired
We can’t imagine “Top Gun” without that famous (and unintentionally campy) beach volleyball scene, but in reality, that scene almost cost director Tony Scott his job.
“That scene was scripted as a real game. Remember they kept score and everything, and Tony shot it like a commercial and they were angry,” Lebenzon told The Hollywood Reporter. “The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, ‘I’m gonna fire him,’ meaning Tony, because he spent a whole day shooting this scene. And then of course it turns out it’s one of the most famous scenes in the movie,” Weber added.
Val Kilmer Ad-Libbed One of Iceman's "Top Gun" Callouts
Iceman and Maverick’s rivalry forms the main conflict in the first “Top Gun,” and thanks to Kilmer, it got a very funny and realistic boost. In one scene, Maverick has to explain how, exactly, he saw an enemy plane perform a particular maneuver. After revealing that he saw it by flying, inverted, over said plane, Iceman chimes in with a faux-coughed, “Bulls**t,” sending their fellow pilots into giggles. According to ScreenRant, that jab wasn’t in the script – it was all Kilmer.
One of Maverick and Charlie's "Top Gun" Kisses Was a Total Fluke
Perhaps fitting, given the haphazard way the romance arc was filmed in the first movie, one of the epic smooches between Mav and Charlie actually wasn’t in the script at all. During an argument over whether or not anyone can know about their feelings for each other, Maverick effectively halts the conversation by just kissing her. According to ScreenRant, though, that wasn’t a planned passionate moment. Instead, it came about because Cruise forgot his line and just improvised at the moment.
Another "Top Gun: Maverick" Costar Nearly Got the Role of Rooster
While Teller takes the spotlight as next-gen pilot Rooster, the son of Maverick’s late BFF Goose, his top competition for the role actually was one of his costars. Glen Powell, who plays Hangman, actually auditioned for the role, too, and made it all the way to the final round before the filmmakers settled on Teller.
“I felt like I really delivered, and when I didn’t get it, I was absolutely heartbroken,” Powell told Men’s Health. “I got the news on July 3rd, and on July 4th, which is pretty much my favourite holiday – I’m a very patriotic dude from a very patriotic family – I was basically in the fetal position the entire day.”
Tom Cruise Convinced Glen Powell to Play Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick"
After the disappointment of not landing the role of Rooster, Powell was wary of taking the filmmakers up on their offer to play Hangman, the cocky, antagonistic pilot who fills a similar role as Iceman in the original movie.
“Once Tom found out, he was like, ‘Bring him in here,'” director Joseph Kosinski told Entertainment Weekly. “So Glen came in and I sat down in a room with him and Tom. Tom said to him, ‘What kind of career do you want Glen?’ And Glen said, ‘I want your career, Tom.’ Tom said, ‘How do you think I got here?’ And Glen said, ‘By picking great roles.’ And Tom said, ‘No, it’s by picking great movies and then I made the roles good.’ For Glen that was a real eye-opening moment. He took the role that, on the page, wasn’t as big as it is in the film and just turned it into something really, really special.”
Cruise continued mentoring Powell throughout shooting and beyond – even gifting him with real flying lessons! “I would be updating him about my progress and he would check in with me,” Powell revealed to Entertainment Weekly. “After I got my pilot’s license, there was a little card that just said, ‘Welcome to the skies.’ And there was a certificate for a stunt driving school next to it. That’s next.”
Val Kilmer Had Some High-Tech Help to Reprise His Role in "Top Gun: Maverick"
Kilmer’s single scene as Iceman is one of the most emotional in “Top Gun: Maverick,” especially since it incorporates the actor’s real-life struggles. Iceman is shown typing most of his conversation with Maverick and is in the late stages of an unspecified illness that has taken his voice. In real life, Kilmer has battled throat cancer, which left him with severe difficulty speaking.
For the few spoken lines Iceman has in the new movie, the filmmakers turned to advanced AI technology. According to Fortune, the tech startup Sonatic worked with the creative team and Kilmer to digitally re-create Kilmer’s voice using real, archival recordings of his previous work.
“As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence, and the effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me,” Kilmer said of the process. “The chance to tell my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
Quoting Lines From "Top Gun" Is Banned at the Real TOPGUN Academy
“Top Gun” may be super quotable, but don’t get caught quoting the movies at the real TOPGUN academy! Former fighter pilot and TOPGUN instructor Cmdr. Guy “Bus” Snodgrass revealed in his book, “TOPGUN’s Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit,” that quoting the movie’s iconic lines will cost you – literally.
“When you get to TOPGUN, because it is such a professional organisation and you want to emphasise that you are at the top of your game, that it’s about professionalism, about good leadership, you don’t turn TOPGUN into a joke by referencing the movie,” he explains.
So what’s the cost?
“If someone overtly references the movie – it could be a direct quote, it could be something that is really close to a direct quote – that’s an automatic $5 fine. And it’s enforced. And you are expected to pay right then. You pull out your wallet and pay the $5. I think at some point we were all fined because it’s so ingrained in our aviation culture,” Snodgrass told Insider.