Top Gun

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"Up there with the best of the best."
  • PG
  • 1986
  • 1 hr 51 min
  • 6.9  (496,743)
  • 50

Tom Cruise plays Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a young United States Navy F-14 Tomcat aviator aboard the USS Enterprise. Maverick is the son of Duke Mitchell, a fighter pilot shot down during the Vietnam War (on November 5, 1965) and listed as missing in action with all details classified, a mystery that haunts Maverick. Former Top Gun instructor pilot (and later a disgraced Member of Congress and subsequent incarcerated felon) Randy "Duke" Cunningham claimed to have been the inspiration for Duke Mitchell, although the movie's producer denied this, saying that the character was not based on any specific aviator.

The film begins "somewhere in the Indian Ocean" with Maverick and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) flying wingman to lead pilot "Cougar" and his RIO "Merlin", en route to intercept an unknown inbound aircraft (a bogey). It turns out to be two hostile Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-28 aircraft (which don't exist- Northrop F5 Tigers are used in a mock-up paint scheme); the country is unnamed, though the adversary pilots (masked by flight helmets) are presumably Soviet advisors flying for some country that is equipped with Soviet equipment. Though restrained by rules of engagement against pre-emptive fire, and despite Cougar being outflown and trapped almost immediately, Maverick manages to intimidate both "bandits" into withdrawing by playing "chicken" with them, gaining a missile lock on the first (though he holds his fire) and outflying the second. Though saved, Cougar is thoroughly shaken and does not obey return-to-base orders from an increasingly impatient CAG, callsign "Stinger" (James Tolkan), despite his fighter's dwindling fuel supply. Maverick, also low on fuel, disobeys Stinger's orders and risks his own plane to guide Cougar home.

Cougar realizes he has "lost the edge" and "turns in his wings" (resigns). This is serendipitous timing for Maverick and Goose, now the top pilot-RIO team in the squadron, as squadron commander Stinger has been called upon to send his best team to the Navy's elite "TOPGUN" fighter-pilot school (US Navy Fighter Weapons School) at NAS Miramar in San Diego, California. With Cougar gone, Stinger has to send Maverick and Goose - something he is reluctant to do, not least because of Maverick's attitude.

While testing his instructors' patience with his reckless flying (on his very first day, he outflies an instructor (LCDR Rick "Jester" Heatherly) but breaks two rules of engagement in the process) and establishing a rivalry with top student Tom "Iceman" Kazanski (Val Kilmer), Maverick falls in love with his beautiful female civilian instructor, Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). Maverick manages to gain her attention by regaling her with details about the MiG encounter from the film's opening, jesting that the details are classified (possibly true, since Maverick saw the MiG-28 outperform its alleged envelope) and claiming, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

Though a talented pilot, Maverick lives up to his name when called upon to be a team player. At one point, flying a mock combat mission alongside the pilot-RIO team of "Hollywood" and "Wolfman," he abandons his teammates to chase after TOPGUN's chief instructor, Commander Mike "Viper" Metcalf (Tom Skerritt). Though he gives the older pilot a run for his money, Viper's wingman, Jester (Michael Ironside), defeats Hollywood and then easily sneaks up on Maverick himself, proving that teamwork outweighs sheer flying ability.

During the next engagement, Maverick and Iceman, ever competitive, chase the same target (Jester), with Maverick tailgating Iceman while the latter attempts to gain a missile lock on the target. When Iceman gives up and pulls out, Maverick gets caught in his jet wash; his F-14's engines flame out, and he enters a flat spin from which he cannot recover (not unexpected behavior from the TF30 turbofan engines used in early-model F-14s) meaning both he and Goose are forced to eject. Maverick ejects clear of the airplane, but Goose ejects directly into the jettisoned cockpit canopy and is killed on impact. Although the inquiry clears Maverick of any responsibility, he is overwhelmed with guilt and subsequently loses his competitive edge, refusing to take risks and engage enemy targets.

Finally, unsure of his future and having alienated Charlie with his despondency, Maverick begins to wonder whether he should remain in the Navy. When he goes to Viper for advice, Viper tells him that he had served with Maverick's father in Vietnam, with the VF-51 Screaming Eagles off USS Oriskany. Viper risks his career to reveal the truth of the senior Mitchell's demise: during a fierce dogfight, Duke Mitchell's F-4 was hit, but he refused to disengage, saving three allied pilots before being downed himself. Normally, this would have qualified Duke Mitchell for the Medal of Honor, but the engagement took place "over the wrong line on some map," and the State Department, hoping to avoid an international incident, classified the details. Viper tells Maverick that he has accomplished enough during the Top Gun course to graduate, but he has to get past his sense of responsibility about Goose's death, and his "confidence problem." Maverick, fortified by the memory of his father, decides that he will graduate from TOPGUN and remain a pilot.

During the post-graduation party Iceman, Slider, Hollywood, Wolfman, and Maverick are ordered to report to the Enterprise. The S.S. Layton, an intelligence-gathering ship, has 'broken down' inside hostile waters and the pilots are to fly cover for it until repairs are completed, with the other two teams in the air and Maverick as back-up on Alert Five, to Iceman's dismay. While Hollywood and Iceman are on patrol, five MiGs ambush them, downing Hollywood's craft (the crew safely ejects and pilot and co-pilot are rescued in a helicopter) and damaging Iceman's (he is able to continue flying). Maverick, the back-up pilot, scrambles into action; the Enterprise's catapults are found to be "broken" (in the words of Stinger's subordinate), preventing them from launching any further reinforcements.

When Maverick reaches the dogfight, he inadvertently flies through a MiG-28's jet wash and starts spinning out of control, in circumstances almost identical to those that caused Goose's death. Though he manages to recover, his confidence is gone and he flees the scene. Clutching Goose's dog tags and begging his friend to speak to him one last time, Maverick finds his courage. He re-engages the enemy and downs three MiGs while covering Iceman (who scores a single kill of his own), employing both teamwork as well as his signature high-risk flying style. Returning to the Enterprise as a hero, Maverick is given his choice of any posting and decides to return to Miramar as an instructor, much to Stinger's amusement. On Maverick's return to Fightertown USA, he goes for a drink in the local bar; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" starts playing on the jukebox. Charlie appears, and the two rekindle their romance as the movie closes. The final scenes show each pilot with their respective real life names for credit review, as two F-14s fly off into the mountains at sunset.

Top Gun is a 1986 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 51 minutes. It has received mostly poor reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.9 and a MetaScore of 50.

Top Gun
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 51 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.9  (496,743)
  • Metascore