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Story Notes for Top Gun

Monday through Thursday, at 8PM | 7C, AMC presents Story Notes — real-time on-air trivia about your favorite movies. Tonight’s movie was Top Gun.

Automotive Note
The Kawasaki Ninja 900 was then the fastest bike in production. Top Gun made it famous.

Charlie’s car is a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster. 356s also appear in 48 Hrs. and Bullitt.

Beauty Note
One scene was filmed six months after the movie wrapped. Kelly McGillis’s hat is hiding her different hairstyle. Tom Cruise’s hair was different, too; that’s why he’s just leaving the shower.

Biography Notes
Director Tony Scott was hired because he filmed an ad of a car racing a jet, similar to one scene. This was his second feature. He went on to direct hits like Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State.

Tom Skerritt was also in Alien, directed by Scott’s older brother, Ridley.

Top Gun transformed Cruise from a young actor to an international star. He was only 23.

Casting Notes
From the very beginning, the filmmakers wanted Cruise for Maverick. He kept turning it down until Jerry Bruckheimer arranged for a ride along with the Blue Angels.

That’s Anthony Edwards as Goose. He’d just come off starring in Revenge of the Nerds. Years later, he became a household name on the hit TV show ER.

Did you catch a glimpse of Merlin? That was Tim Robbins.

Actor John Stockwell works behind the camera as well. He directed Blue Crush and Turistas, among several other features.

James Tolkan is best known as Mr. Strickland in the Back to the Future movies.

The instructor is Michael Ironside. The director describes him as “tough, angry, and Canadian.” He’s made a career of playing villains (Total Recall, Scanners) and soldiers (Starship Troopers).

Skerritt is probably best known now for his TV work on Picket Fences and Cheers.

Actor Val Kilmer was just starting out when cast in Top Gun. He went on to play Jim Morrison in The Doors and Doc Holliday in Tombstone.

McGillis was cast because the producers loved her in 1985’s Witness.

Rick Rossovich went on to star in Roxanne and the TV series Pacific Blue.

Meg Ryan was coming off her role as Betsy Stewart on the daytime soap As the World Turns. When Harry Met Sally and major movie stardom was still three years away.

Maverick’s new RIO is played by Clarence Gilyard Jr., known for his role in Walker, Texas Ranger. He played Walker’s friend, James Trivette.

Fashion Note
Producers knew Top Gun was big when leather jackets and white shirts became in again.

Finance Notes
Top Gun was the No. 1 movie of 1986, making over $170 million in the U.S. alone. It was so popular it stayed in some theaters for an entire year.

In 1986, jet fuel was pretty cheap — about $1 a gallon. Paramount still paid $10,000 an hour every time they went up to film an F-14, though.

An F-14 costs at least $18 million. So that’s a lot of taxpayer dough.

History Notes
The Officers’ Club was the place to go in San Diego for local girls to meet fighter pilots. Until the mid-eighties, some of those local girls were actually strippers.

Maverick’s father is based on an actual WWII and Korean War pilot killed in an F-9 crash. The pilot’s son, call sign Wizard, was also a Topgun fighter pilot like Maverick.

Topgun was established to curb the high casualty rates of American fighter pilots during Vietnam.

Instructors wouldn’t score oceanfront property anymore. Topgun moved to Nevada in 1996.

There were two historical incidents in the eighties that are similar to the deployment. Both involved American F-14 clashes with Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra.

In 1986, the F-14 was the best fighter jet in the world. The U.S. Navy used it from 1970 to 2006. Today, Topgun pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Love Notes
Maverick and Charlie have chemistry, but in real life McGillis fell for Wolfman (Barry Tubb), literally. Tubb: “She fell down in the middle of the street, and she had my heart.”

Ryan and Edwards actually became an item after filming concluded.

Pop-Culture Notes
For the decade after Vietnam, war movies were anti-military. Top Gun reversed that. It helped that Reagan was in the White House and America was feeling patriotic again.

The high-five-low-five move became a popular thing after Top Gun was released. There’s even an I Only High-five Top Gun Style group on Facebook with almost 10,000 members.

At Topgun today, there’s a $5 fine for anyone on staff who references or quotes the movie.

Ray-Ban sunglasses had a spike in sales in 1986, thanks to Top Gun. The same thing happened three years earlier, with Risky Business.

Yahoo! Movies calls Top Gun the nineteenth-best action film ever, and it’s still making news. In 2011, the Chinese government broadcast Top Gun footage, claiming it was the Chinese air force.

Paramount actually has proposed a sequel to Top Gun with Cruise in a cameo role as an instructor.

Scott calls Top Gun the “purest form of escapism” and says it “mainlines entertainment.” It went on to define the blockbusters of the eighties the same way Jaws did for the seventies.

Quotation Notes
Writer Jack Epps Jr. says not to let “truth get in the way of a good movie.”

Real pilots say you have to believe that you’re the best in the sky to maintain an edge.

Edwards says, “A lot of the humor was discovered at the moment. The script was skeletal.”

Kilmer: “The only egos bigger than actors are rock stars. And the only people beyond that are fighter pilots.”

Epps Jr. says, “Dogfighting isn’t just flying; it’s physical. It’s one of the greatest sporting events in the world.”

Ironside: “‘Jester’s dead. Hee-haw.’ I must have heard it 100,000 times.”

Scott says Goose was “always the buddy.” He provided a nice contrast to Maverick and Iceman.

Epps Jr. says that until Top Gun movies “hadn’t portrayed fighter pilots as real people.”

Scott says Ryan breaks his heart.

Scott thought McGillis was collegial, smart, and had a “mental maturity” about her.

Top Gun songwriter Kenny Loggins says the movie has an “eighties John Wayne attitude.”

Script Notes
The original idea for Top Gun came from a magazine article about fighter pilots. Bruckheimer says the goal was to make “Star Wars on earth.”

There isn’t really a Topgun plaque. It was created to give the characters a competition.

Producers based Charlie on a civilian who worked for the Center for Naval Analyses. She was originally going to be in the Navy, but they don’t allow dating between officers.

Epps Jr. says “losing Goose was a tough choice.” But it needed to happen to sell the emotional story of the movie.

Cruise says Maverick was the first character he ever played who was “larger than life.” It was also the first time he’d been involved from the early stages, helping with the script.

Set Notes
Iceman’s cough was totally improvised on the spot by Kilmer.

All of the actors playing pilots went on actual F-14 hops except for Kilmer, who refused. Edwards was the only one who made it through without getting sick.

Scott wanted all visual effects in the movie to have a “documentary realism.” So they hired documentary cameramen to film all the effects footage.

No pilot in the history of Miramar had actually buzzed the tower, but they all wanted to.

Cruise and Kilmer never interacted off set. So their onscreen tension came naturally.

Cruise and McGillis almost never stand side by side in Top Gun. McGillis is taller, so she acted mostly in bare feet while Cruise wore lifts.

Scott had only a few minutes to film the famous sex scene. Scott: “I’m good at shooting sex scenes.”

Edwards had no idea he was going to sing and pretend to play piano in one scene. Scott was listening to Lee Lewis that morning and added it in last minute.

Scott loved to film the jets at dawn so he could capture the beautiful natural light. Producer Don Simpson said the first cut of the movie “felt like one long sunset.”

Cruise was the only actor to get his actual flying footage in the final cut of the film. In his F-14 hops, Cruise went twice the speed of sound, or 1,536 miles per hour.

The production built an almost-perfect F-14 cockpit just from photocopies of the manual.

There are some actual Topgun pilots as extras in the graduation scene.

The MiG pilots were played by actual Topgun instructors.

The Navy let them film two missiles, which were reused in several scenes.

Symbolism Note
Maverick is both literally and figuratively boxes up his memories of Goose. Compartmentalization is the way the Navy teaches pilots to stay focused on their missions.

Technology Note
One sequence was filmed using F-14 models being dropped from a ladder. Some were literally bought off the shelves at a nearby store.

Trivia Notes
Top Gun would have been impossible to film without the Navy’s jets, carriers, and cooperation. It paid off for them. The Navy set up booths outside theaters, and recruitment went up 500 percent.

MiG is a Russian aircraft company similar to Boeing or Lockheed Martin in the U.S. The MiG-28 isn’t a real MiG jet, though. Those are F-5s, chosen because they look sinister.

As Maverick’s RIO (radar intercept officer), Goose is in charge of most of the jet’s electronics.

Air-to-air combat usually takes place in an egg-shaped fighting arena around five miles wide. Topgun pilots attack in pairs, which is an old dogfighting move called “loose deuce.”

Pilots fear landing on a carrier at night, comparing it to blindly landing on a postage stamp.

The commanding officer of a ship is called the CO. He is the voice of experience onboard. A CO usually sends a single two-man crew to Topgun every two years.

A fighter pilot can’t give himself a call name; it has to be chosen for him.

The real Topgun doesn’t hold classes in hangars. They hold them in actual classrooms.

The locker-room scenes were added to drive home that this is really a sport movie.

400 knots equals 460 miles per hour.

The Sidewinder is an infrared homing weapon that entered production in the mid-fifties. An F-14 can carry up to four Sidewinders.

The locker room is one of the only places pilots can talk freely without worrying about rank.

A flat spin creates a low-pressure area and stalls the canopy when ejected. Producers wanted a midair crash but based this accident on a real-life incident instead.

Green dye helps rescuers find a downed pilot in the ocean.

If a pilot has a midair accident, it is reviewed, but it’s not this formal. It’s called “going in front of the green table” because they used to cover it with green felt.

Every pilot has a room dedicated to his accomplishments. It’s called the I Love Me room.

Approximately 48 students graduate from Topgun every year.

Topgun doesn’t deploy pilots. They’d get that info from their squadrons after they left.

During takeoff, steam-powered catapults send a jet from 0 to 165 miles per hour in two seconds.

Technically, a “bogey” is any radar contact, but usually it’s an unknown aircraft or enemy. An enemy aircraft is also called a “bandit.”

The Navy doesn’t have that many planes, so they’re usually outnumbered by enemy aircraft. The Air Force might send in twenty airplanes whereas the Navy could send in only four.

“Jet wash” is a plane’s exhaust. An F-14’s engines can stall if it flies through jet wash. That’s what caused Maverick to lose control when Goose died.

The movie never mentions where the MiGs are from. The Navy didn’t want to upset any nation. Pilots don’t train to face a certain military anyway. They train for equipment and tactics.

The odds of taking machine-gun fire and continuing to fly are pretty slim.

An aileron roll looks pretty cool but tactically doesn’t do much.

There aren’t many MiG kills, so when a pilot shoots down an enemy it’s a big deal. Tech adviser Pete Pettigrew: “It’s just like this. Everybody’s screaming. It’s really wonderful.”

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