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."

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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