'Top Gun' History and Influences in Pop Culture and the Military

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Except for films with major characters heroically manning war aircrafts, many pilot characters were generally parts of movies' airborne fight scenes. Combat pilots were mostly stereotyped as "living props" in other films. Suddenly, there came a movie that featured naval aviation as its central theme. "Top Gun" glamorized this theme as the heroic vocation for the best Navy pilots in the U.S. military.

Inspired by a Magazine Article

The Top Gun U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School wasn't that known to the general public before. This changed when the inspiration for a movie that would feature it came out through an article from California Magazine entitled "Top Guns." The article's striking photo of an airman taking a shot of jets and blue skies from thousands of feet off the ground made it clear that there was a movie waiting to be made from it.

Participation of the U.S. Navy

Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, during a time when they weren't big shots yet, brought the concept to Hollywood. They knew there wouldn't be justice in making the movie without the actual gears and aircrafts from the Navy. After sparking the interest of Paramount Pictures, buying the rights for the said article written by Ehud Yonay, and getting clearance from the U.S. government, the producers and Don Simpson started initial consultations with a team from the military for the development of the story. Since then, a number of script revisions from writers Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., in collaboration with the U.S. Navy, were made.

Concept and Visuals

Looking for the right director for "Top Gun" led to mixed reactions when Tony Scott came in. During that early point in his career, he was known for the movie "The Hunger," which Hollywood hated, according to Scott himself. He described it as an artsy fartsy, esoteric stuff that was too dark, too slow, and too artsy as a sample work for a "Top Gun" movie. But what actually convinced the studio to hire him was his advertising work, specifically his ad for Saab, which featured cool shots of jets and engines.

It took a while before Scott had a clear vision of the route the film should take. He woke up one morning with a vision for a rock 'n roll popcorn movie filled with clouds and skies, jet fight paths, and supersonic aircrafts. As the story and the visual treatment further developed, the production chose a more athletic feel to a story set in a military environment. The mood and feel focused on speed and altitude with a jet working more like a sports car. More than just aero combat, the story was treated like an athletic competition for young, promising Navy pilots.

A Blockbuster Hit

Acknowledged as the greatest promotional movie for the U.S. Navy, "Top Gun" changed the landscape of Navy recruitment. From recruitment booths to tour buses, there was a steady rise of people interested in Naval aviation. People went crazy over aviator shades and new haircuts inspired by the "Top Gun" stars' hairdos. People were talking about the "need for speed."

During its release in 1986, "Top Gun" was the highest-grossing film of the year. This blockbuster hit was a stay-in feature in movie theaters for one year. It became a box office phenomenon that made history both in the United States and the international scene. It continued breaking records in the home video market. Because of its worldwide success, all the tough experiences of the mostly industry newbie cast and crew paid off. In no time, they became instant on-cam and off-cam Hollywood celebrities.

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