10 Speedy Facts About Top Gun

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Released in 1986, Top Gun became the highest grossing film of 1986 (out-earning Crocodile Dundee by about $2 million). Here are 10 fast facts about Tom Cruise's adrenaline-fueled blockbuster.

1. IT’S BASED ON A REAL SCHOOL.

Top Gun the movie was based on a real flight school called U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School or TOPGUN, formerly based at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. The school was founded in the late 1960s as a way to combat losing the air war in Vietnam. Because of base realignments and closures, TOPGUN relocated to Fallon, Nevada in 1996, and was renamed the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor. Anytime a staffer quotes or references the movie, the school reportedly fines them $5. So if you ever “feel the need, the need for speed” while at the actual school, you may want to keep it to yourself (or you'll have to fork over some coin).

2. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT HELPED FINANCE THE FILM.

According to a 2011 article in The Washington Post, “The Pentagon worked hand-in-hand with the filmmakers [of Top Gun] reportedly charging Paramount Pictures just $1.8 million for the use of its warplanes and aircraft carriers. But that taxpayer-subsidized discount came at a price—the filmmakers were required to submit their script to Pentagon brass for meticulous line edits aimed at casting the military in the most positive light. (One example: Time magazine reported that Goose’s death was changed from a midair collision to an ejection scene, because ‘the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing.')” Top Gun wasn’t the only military-inflected movie that had to cooperate with the military: Armageddon, Patriot Games and a slew of other films in Top Gun’s wake kowtowed to the government’s requests, whereas Forrest Gump, Mars Attacks!, The Thin Red Line, and Independence Day failed in getting two thumbs up from the Pentagon.

3. THE NAVY USED THE FILM AS A RECRUITING TOOL.

To capitalize on the film’s popularity, the Navy set up booths outside theaters in order to recruit moviegoers to join the Navy—and it worked. When recruiters talked to applicants, about 90 percent said they had seen the movie. The Navy also wove in “Danger Zone”-sounding music and Top Gun-esque shots for its 1987 “Join the Navy” commercial, which was about as subtle as that Simpsons/*NSYNC episode where Bart’s boy band Party Posse get brainwashed into joining the Navy.

4. TOP GUN BECAME A RIDE AT TWO AMUSEMENT PARKS.

As an action film, it made sense for Top Gun to become a thrilling roller coaster ride. In 1993, Mason, Ohio’s Kings Island Amusement Park was under the ownership of Paramount, so they built the Top Gun roller coaster, which was a suspended coaster that emulated an F-14 Tomcat. While people waited in line, “Danger Zone” piped through the PA system. In 2008, under new ownership, the ride changed its name to Flight Deck, and in 2014 the ride underwent a makeover and became The Bat. Besides Kings Island, another ride called Top Gun existed at Santa Clara, California’s Great America from 1993 through 2007. In a similar situation, the name got changed to Flight Deck.

5. A SEQUEL IS PROBABLY HAPPENING.

The producers have been discussing a sequel ever since the movie came out, but it sounds like it’s finally coming together. Before Top Gun director Tony Scott's death in 2012, he was onboard to direct the sequel. Since then, a few screenwriters have been attached to write Top Gun 2, including Peter Craig (The Town), and most recently, Justin Marks (The Jungle Book). The script will reportedly center on “drones in modern aerial warfare.” Both Cruise and Val Kilmer (Iceman) have expressed interest in acting in the sequel. Even though Scott and the film’s co-producer, Don Simpson, are deceased, in 2013 Kilmer told Larry King that “it wouldn’t be that difficult to maintain the spirit [of the original].”

6. TOM CRUISE SUPPOSEDLY INVENTED THE IDEA OF INTERNATIONAL FILM PREMIERES.

During a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host asked Cruise about the first time he had traveled the world to promote a movie. Cruise said that it was during the foreign press junket tour for Top Gun, which he said took four months to complete, as he’d spend weeks in every city they visited in Italy, France, and Japan. Cruise told Kimmel that he was the one who came up with the idea of premiering films in other countries, though he said that “It took me a few years to get it going.” Kimmel quipped, “So all these other actors must want to kill you.”

7. THERE ARE SEVERAL TECHNICAL INACCURACIES IN THE FILM.

The military website We Are the Mighty has a list of “79 Cringeworthy Technical Errors in Top Gun,” which includes that there is no such thing as a Top Gun trophy, that MiGs-28s are just black-painted F-5Fs, and that real TOPGUN classes are held in a classroom, not a hangar. At one point in the film Goose yells, “We’re going ballistic, Mav. Go get him,” even though a pilot would have no control over a ballistic airplane. The site also points out that arrogance would be reprimanded, as the Navy abides by an “excellence without arrogance” maxim.

8. KELLY MCGILLIS’ CHARACTER IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE NAVY EMPLOYEE.

Kelly McGillis’ character is based on a woman named Christine Fox who, like McGillis, is tall (Fox is 6’ to McGillis’ 5’11”), blonde, leggy, and has a penchant for clacking high heels. At the time the movie was being produced, the filmmakers wanted the character of Charlie to either be a groupie or a gymnast, but when the producers met Fox—whose call sign was “Legs”— they changed the role. The fictional Charlie is an astrophysicist, but Fox is a mathematician who worked at the Center for Naval Analyses, which was located across the street from TOPGUN. “They always know when I’m coming,” Fox told People in 1985, “because I'm one of the few people around here whose heels click.” From December 2013 to February 2014, Fox served as the acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, making her the Defense Department's highest-ever-ranking female officer. 

9. THE FILM’S SOUNDTRACK SOLD NINE MILLION COPIES.

When the film’s soundtrack—which includes hits like Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”—was released on May 15, 1986, it was a juggernaut (just like the movie). During the summer and fall of 1986, it was the number one album on the Billboard charts for a few weeks. By April of 1987, it had gone platinum four times (read: sold four million) and by July of 2000, after a 1999 special edition release that included some new songs, the soundtrack had sold nine million copies.

10. ONE CHRISTMAS, THE TOPGUN SCHOOL THREATENED THE RUSSIANS.

Even though it’s not mentioned in the movie, the MiG’s are basically the Russians, and the U.S. was in the midst of the Cold War when the movie came out. As a cheeky joke, a group of TOPGUN instructors sent a group photo to the Soviet Air Force with the greeting: “Thinking of you and yours at this joyful Yuletide Season. Trust all is well and cozy at your fireside. If our nations ever pair off in war, check your six o’clock. We’ll be there, hosing you."

10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars

Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most people, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you're Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you'd think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are (we're looking at you, Colin Firth).

1. Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie with her Oscar in 2000.
HO/AMPAS

At the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, after Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world collectively squirm, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage when Marcheline died in 2007, but it hasn't yet surfaced. "I didn't actually lose it," Jolie said, "but nobody knows where it is at the moment."

2. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg with her Oscar.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. "Oscar will never leave my house again," Goldberg said.

3. Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis with an Oscar statue.
Steven Henry/Getty Images

When Olympia Dukakis's Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. "For $78," they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando in 1957.
Keystone/Getty Images

"I don't know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. "Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared." He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. "The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don't know where it is now."

5. Jeff Bridges

Actor Jeff Bridges, winner of Best Actor award for
Jeff Bridges, winner of the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, poses in the press room at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on March 7, 2010.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In 2010, Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges won his first-ever Oscar for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the time next year's ceremony rolled around, when he was nominated yet again for his role in the Coen brothers's True Grit

When asked about his year-old statuette, Bridges admitted that "It's been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now." Finding the MIA Oscar seemed even more urgent when Bridges lost the 2011 Best Actor Oscar to Colin Firth for The King's Speech. "I'm hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven't won a spare," Bridges said. "But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better." 

6. Colin Firth

Colin Firth with his Oscar in 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed Colin Firth as he said those aforementioned words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. Matt Damon

Actor Matt Damon in 1999
Brenda Chase/Hulton Archive

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn't sure where his award went. "I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it," Damon said in 2007.

8. Margaret O'Brien

Child actress Margaret O'Brien.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, 7-year-old Margaret O'Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O'Briens' maid took the award home to polish it, as she had done before, but never returned. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O'Brien's mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There's a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O'Brien. "I'll never give it to anyone to polish again," she said.

9. Bing Crosby

Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944's Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school's library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a 3-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. "I wanted to make people laugh," the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. Hattie McDaniel

A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting A
A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

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