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The Need For Speed
TOP GUN Returns For Another Flyby

TOP GUN isn’t a movie.

It never was.

It is an instigator of nostalgia, and it has been since its May 1986 release.

Actually, perhaps even before that, since the genesis of the movie was culled together from a reflective California Magazine article about pilots in San Diego. Aerial shots of fighter jets and plenty of second unit coverage started to shape what ultimately became the film visually, and with the participation of the US Navy, the movie Top Gun was almost instantly the most sure-fire commercial for the armed forces in cinema history.

As for pure derivative nostalgia in Top Gun, you can find it in both pre and post 1986 culture. Look at the dogfight scenes from 50 years prior in Hollywood’s own Hell’s Angels (1930). Fast forward seventeen years after Maverick “buzzed the tower,” and you have real-life President George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” landing on an aircraft carrier near San Diego.

Viewing the movie nearly 27 years later, you can see the reason for its success and its impact on pop culture. At its most accessible, it’s a crowd-pleasing action-drama that pretty much runs on autopilot. At its most introspective it’s a homoerotic battle of male ego and status.

At the time, many a teenage boy found it to be the perfect date flick. The big military action film meets gushy romance. To quote my good friend Rachel, “there isn’t a woman out there who doesn’t get a little wet when they hear the first few notes of “Take My Breath Away.”

Today, the blockbuster movie returns yet again to homes in a 3D Blu-ray, hot off a fairly successful IMAX limited release last week. I caught the release in IMAX last week, and although it should go without saying that the upconvert 3D is hardly necessary, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a fun experience. The remastered sound alone is worth it.

Here’s a quick recap of the many ways in which audiences have put Top Gun in the Zeitgeist for over 25 years…

Theatrical Release: May 16, 1986
Total Box Office to Date: $354 Million

The highest grossing film of 1986. Tom Cruise seals his fate as the hot movie star of modern cinema. Leather bomber jacket sales increase. Beach volleyball becomes an acceptable sport. According to David Robb’s “Operation Hollywood,” enlistment for naval aviators increased 500% after the film’s release.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – 1986

Released day and date with the film, this was one of the big soundtracks in a decade of big soundtracks. Danger Zone, Take My Breath Away, Heaven in Your Eyes were single hits, but the entire soundtrack reached number one for five nonconsecutive weeks in 1986 and reached 9x Platinum certification. A 1999 Special Edition put back Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, Great Balls of Fire and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, which hit resurgence due to the film’s success. “Take My Breath Away” won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Song.

Home Media – 1987 to TODAY

It’s hard to remember there actually was a time when you couldn’t buy the movie cheaper to own as a download or Blu-ray only months after seeing it theaters. Top Gun was one of the first affordable (under $20) VHS releases so soon after the theatrical date. Diet Pepsi helped bring the cost down for consumers, as if there wasn’t enough on-screen product placement in the movie already from them. Here’s the ridiculously bad commercial you had to fast-forward through at the start of the tape…

The VHS was the video industry’s biggest best-seller on pre-orders alone, and to this day, Top Gun remains one of those movies consumers will buy again and again. Since 1987, it has had its mark also on Beta, Video8, Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray in multiple rereleases, special editions and remasters.

And, let’s face it, Top Gun has also been a quintessential way to show off your home theatre, even since the VHS.

The Games – 1987 to TODAY

There have been a number of ways to take on the mighty wings yourself. In 1987, the simply titled “Top Gun” game was released for IBM, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Nintendo Entertainment System. Sales were big, especially for the NES. There were a ton of knock off flyer games that followed, and some nifty sequels to the original game itself. I personally loved the Nintendo Game Boy version in the 90s. More recent attempts include Top Gun: Hard Lock for XBOX 360 from 505 Games and Top Gun for iPad from Paramount Digital.

DAYS OF THUNDER – June, 1990

Tom Cruise returned to work with Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson as well as Director Tony Scott for this race-car vehicle. It never got the critical or commercial success of Top Gun, much to the regret of Paramount Pictures. It still managed one Academy Award nomination for Best Sound.

HOT SHOTS – 1991

Coming off a resurgence of spoof success with The Naked Gun, director Jim Abrahams gave Top Gun and a few other overly successful crowd pleasers its due. It was a critical and commercial success, grossing nearly $200 worldwide and spawned a sequel, unlike its source material. It marked the first time anyone spoke the question “who knew Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer had such chemistry?”

THE RIDE– 1993

Paramount rebranded the California Great America in 1993 and launched the signature Top Gun roller coaster ride. It was one of the world’s first inverted coasters, attempting to recreate the intensity of a fighter jet and its inversions. Sadly, Kelly McGillis was not waiting for riders at the end of the attraction in her sexed out white shirt and faded jeans.


Not yet a pick for “Greatest Movies,” but certainly well deserving of this award, the AFI picked “I feel the need—the need for speed!” for its “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes” awards.


The “Army Times” names TOP GUN as one of the top 10 Best Military Movies of all time. They admit though that it is “alternately cliché and charismatic.”

TOP GUN 2 – October 2010

Announced by Paramount as something being moved ahead by Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott to do, with Tom Cruise returning to the role of Maverick (with original co-star Kelly McGillis, above). Possibly in respect to Tony Scott’s involvement with the project, it was cancelled when Scott was found dead last year.


Though it is technically started the moment the first audience member stepped out of the cinema and on to a Navy recruiting office or aviator glasses retailer, Top Gun has been gracing everything from t-shirts to key chains courtesy of Paramount Worldwide Licensing. There’s even a Top Gun Slot Machine in casinos across the country guaranteed to take your coins away.

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