(Credit: Netflix)

Films

'Top Gun' was such a hit it boosted US Navy enlistment

There are moments in cinematic history that reach beyond the confines of the silver screen to affect wider society. One such moment came when Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer went streaming across our screens as part of the flight team that turned Top Gun into one of the most successful movies of the 1980s.

Making superstars of Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Kelly McGillis, the high-octane naval aviation drama raised the bar for big-budget Hollywood productions. It certified Tony Scott as one of the most sought-after directors of his generation, with him going on to have a successful career before his tragic death in 2012. Notably, the film also boasted a brilliant soundtrack that made Berlin’s track ‘Take My Breath Away’ a mega-hit.

In fact, Top Gun took a lot of people’s breath away. Either through the scintillating set pieces, the on-screen romance, or the fact that Cruise and Kilmer were regarded as grade-A hunks in their day. One of the most memorable lines comes in Cruise’s Maverick defiantly saying, “I am dangerous” to his rival Iceman.

The movie was so successful that fans of many different generations were touched when Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer returned for the 2022 sequel Top Gun: Maverick. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie revealed that after Cruise privately screened the film for Tony’s brother, the director Ridley Scott, he effused about his legacy. 

“We’re all here because of Tony. You’ve got to remember that in 1986 when you saw Top Gun, Top Gun wasn’t Top Gun yet — the movies weren’t what they are now, and Top Gun was a tectonic shift, and that’s owed to Tony,” McQuarrie recounted. “When Tony was firing on all cylinders there was nobody better, and I don’t think in his lifetime he really got the recognition he deserves as a truly influential, powerful filmmaker.”

Top Gun made such an impact when it debuted that even the US Navy – on which it was based – saw legions of hopeful pilots queuing up with the need for speed. Interestingly, the movie was actually made in cooperation with the Navy, who agreed to provide resources to Scott and crew on the proviso that they gave the script final approval. Unsurprisingly, given the context of the Cold War, they made numerous changes before it was released. 

According to the book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, after Top Gun was released, the Navy’s edits to the film had a substantial effect. The number of young men who enlisted in the Navy with the hope of becoming pilots increased by 500%. 

Watch Top Gun on Netflix now.