MOTW: Five Facts about the Movie Blockbuster "Top Gun"

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The hit action drama starring Tom Cruise as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a daring young flyer who's out to become the best of the best. Kelly McGillis sizzles as the civilian instructor who teaches Maverick a few things you can't learn in a classroom. Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards & Meg Ryan also star.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
November 5th, 2013

MOTW: Five Facts about the Movie Blockbuster "Top Gun"

"Top Gun" was a huge hit for Paramount Pictures on its release in 1986 and helped turn Tom Cruise from a successful actor to a bona fide superstar. The film also did well on home video and is still a part of the pop culture lexicon, with quotes such as "I feel the need, the need for speed" still being used today. As with most movies of this stature, lots of interesting things happened before, during, and after filming. Here are five of the more interesting facts about "Top Gun."

A Laundry List of Actors Passed on the Lead Role

Cruise looked so comfortable in the lead role of Maverick that it is hard to picture anyone else filling his flight suit. It turns out lots of other actors, who were bigger names at the time, were asked to take the lead role, but they declined for a variety of reasons. Matthew Modine, who had already done a war movie with "Full Metal Jacket," passed on the film because of the movie's politics. Brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen also passed, as did Scott Baio, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, and even Patrick Swayze among others.

The Love Scene Was Not Originally a Part of the Film

Paramount decided to hold a few test screenings with carefully selected audience members to gauge their reaction to the film. Though many liked the movie as it was, a number of people were disappointed there was no love scene. The film's producers hurriedly called stars Cruise and Kelly McGillis to shoot one, but a few issues had to be taken care of first. Cruise's hair was quite a bit longer than the military style he sported during filming, and McGillis had dyed her hair brown for a new role. That's why the love scene was shot using lots of shadows and silhouettes, to mask the changes in the actors' appearances.

This isn't the only fun piece of trivia regarding the love affair in the film. In the scene right before the love scene, Cruise chases McGillis's car on his motorcycle until she finally pulls over to talk to him. She admits she is falling for him, and Cruise kisses her, which leads to the steamy bedroom session. Cruise actually had another line to say right after McGillis makes her love admission, but he forgot it. Instead of stopping the scene, he simply kissed McGillis, and director Tony Scott loved the new moment so much, he left it in the final cut of the film.

One of the Stunt Pilots Was an Astronaut

If "Top Gun" had been set in space, the same man who performed many of the aerial stunts could have still worked on the film. That's because Scott "Scooter" Altman was not only a naval aviator; he was also an experienced NASA astronaut. Altman performed lots of stunts in the film, but the most famous is probably the scene where Maverick and Goose invert themselves over a Russian MiG aircraft. In fact, it was Altman who flipped the bird at the MiG pilot in one of the funnier scenes from the film. The MiG pilot was played by another stunt pilot, Bob Willard, who would later go on to become a much-decorated admiral in the Navy.

The US Navy Saw a Huge Influx of Recruits as a Result of the Film

The pulse-pounding aerial shots in the film were unlike anything seen on film at the time. The stunts made flying and being in the Navy look cool and desirable, which led to a lot of new recruits signing up to be in the Navy. The Navy claimed there was a 500 percent jump in enlistees who wanted to be pilots, which meant "Top Gun" was essentially a two-hour recruitment video. This was the largest hike to the ranks since World War II, though the draft gets most of the credit for the rise in numbers back then.

The Film is Dedicated to Art Scholl

The complex set of stunts for the film required several stunt pilots, one of whom was Art Scholl, who tragically died while filming. He was in a plane to perform a complex maneuver where he would have to enter into a flat spin in order to get footage of the spin for a scene in the movie. Unfortunately, a problem arose and he could not get himself out of the spin, causing the plane to crash into the ocean. Neither his body nor his plane was ever recovered from the water.