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From Aviators to Kawasaki Ninja, the legend of Top Gun lives on

Back in the 80s, no man-cave was complete without posters of Tom Cruise zipping through turbulence in his F-14 jet. It still is.

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You refuse to die’—a quote that can be used for both the Top Gun universe and Tom Cruise himself. The 59-year-old actor, a legend of his own, keeps coming back, much like Top Gun. Few films create and sustain their own universe without sequels. So while Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick comes after 37 years, the popularity of the original movie and Cruise’s swagger as Maverick endures today.

In 1986, Tony Scott’s Top Gun was released to mixed reviews but became a smash hit at the box office, grossing over $350 million on a $15 million budget. The movie is iconic for a variety of reasons.

From the aviator sunglasses to the Kawasaki bike, the movie holds a special place in popular culture. In fact, aviators even found their place in Bollywood, with Salman Khan’s Chulbul Pandey wearing them in Dabbang and Shah Rukh’s Kabir Khan sporting them in Chak De India. Although the trend caught on late in India, it was clearly a trickle-down effect that began with Tom Cruise, the OG action hero.

Back in the day, sales of the Ray-Ban aviator catapulted to over 40 per cent due to the popularity of Top Gun.

The Kawasaki Ninja that Cruise uses to impress his lady loves, both in the original and the latest, is one of the most iconic movie bikes of all time.


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Soundtrack, games as impressive as the movie

Top Gun‘s soundtrack was just as successful as the movie. Hits like Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away helped the album sell over four million copies. The album eventually topped the Billboard 200 list.

There was also a Top Gun video game for platforms like Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC, and a Top Gun arcade game. Released a year after the movie, it allowed you to become a naval aviator like Tom Cruise’s character.

Top Gun video games have continued to be released, including PC titles like Top Gun: Fire at WillTop Gun: Hornet’s Nest and Top Gun: Combat Zones.


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Impact on US military recruitment

According to the US Navy, the box office success of Top Gun saw their recruitment rates balloon by 500 per cent in 1987. The US Navy set up recruiting stations outside of movie theatres when Top Gun was released. It made it easier for the Navy to catch potential recruits. The last time the US Navy saw such massive recruitment drives was during the Vietnam War.

Top Gun made life in the Navy seem glamorous, a combination of thrills and spills that could seduce any viewer. Captain Kevin Ferguson, the Navy’s technical advisor for Top Gun: Maverick, became a pilot only after seeing the original film. Lieutenant Commander Laura Marlowe, who was in charge of recruiting for the naval officer programme in Arizona and San Diego, told the LA Times that 90 per cent of those who got on board that year had seen Top Gun. Movie producer John Davis even described the film as a recruiting video for the Navy. Of course, not everyone who joined the Navy became a ‘Maverick’ or ‘Iceman’ or even made it through basic training.

The atmosphere of being inside an F-14 back in the 80s and now an F-18 also gives vicarious pleasure to those who will never fly one or be in the Navy. Imagine you are in a plane, experiencing every emotion Maverick and his team do.

Despite Navy recruitments, the film does not pump jingoism in any way. Instead, it promotes pure dedication towards duty, profession and flying. Maverick lives to fly, and Top Gun, too, lives to sustain the drama and thrill of flying, friendship and camaraderie.

This article is part of a series called Beyond the Reel. You can read all the articles here.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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