The long-awaited sequel to “Top Gun” is just one of hundreds of films to delay its release due to the ongoing pandemic, but that hasn’t kept its star actor Tom Cruise or film producer Jerry Bruckheimer from basking in the naval aviation spotlight.
Prior to a screening last month at Paramount Studios of the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick,” Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, commander of Naval Air Forces, designated Cruise and Bruckheimer as honorary naval aviators, meaning they are officially authorized to wear the Navy’s “wings of gold,” according to a Navy release.
“In the history of motion pictures, there is not a more iconic aviation movie than the 1986 Paramount Pictures film Top Gun,” the citation read. "Its characters, dialogue and imagery are ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of Americans. The movie captured the hearts of millions, making a profound positive impact on recruiting for Naval Aviation” and “significantly promoted and supported Naval Aviation and put aircraft carriers and naval aircraft into popular culture.”
The Navy commended Cruise and Bruckheimer for going to great lengths to be as authentic as possible, while “staying true to the unparalleled tactical excellence of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, the ethos of Naval Aviation, and the fighting spirit of the men and women of the world’s greatest Navy.”
The title of honorary aviator has been bestowed just 36 times in the service’s history. Previous awardees include figures such as Bob Hope, Jim Neighbors, and Susan Ford Bales, among others.
When it comes to the actual high-flying sequel to the 1986 hit, Paramount Pictures officials have remained adamant about releasing a project of its scale on the most immersive platform possible.
“We truly believe that there is no movie-viewing experience like the one enjoyed in theatres,” Paramount officials Chris Aronson and Mark Viane said in a release.
“We are committed to the theatrical experience and our exhibition partners, and want to stress that we are confident that, when the time comes, audiences everywhere will once again enjoy the singular joy of seeing Paramount films on the big screen.”
Tom Cruise announced an early round of delays in April, tweeting, “I know many of you have waited 34 years. Unfortunately, it will be a little longer. ... Stay safe, everyone.”
The postponement dealt a blow to film and aviation nerds everywhere after anticipation soared in the wake of the release of multiple hair-raising trailers.
A subsequent Empire Magazine interview with Tom Cruise and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, meanwhile, managed to stoke the suspense even more. Details revealed in the interview included director Joseph Kosinski’s (“Oblivion,” “Only the Brave”) decision to place IMAX cameras inside the cockpit of an F/A-18 Super Hornet to showcase CGI-free in-flight sequences featuring actors physically in the aircraft. (Trained pilots were at the helm off-camera.)
“I said to the studio, 'You don’t know how hard this movie’s going to be,” Cruise told Empire. “No-one’s ever done this before. There’s never been an aerial sequence shot this way. I don’t know if there ever will be again, to be honest.”
But before the actors could climb into the cockpit of one of the world’s premier fighter aircraft, they had to prepare for the physical stress of what the job would entail. This posed a new challenge, especially given Jerry Bruckheimer’s confession that putting the actors of the original “Top Gun” in the cockpit of an F-14 didn’t exactly go well.
“They all threw up. It’s hysterical to see their eyes roll back in their heads … everything was done on a gimbal.”
To prepare, Cruise, who owns and flies a World War II-era P-51 Mustang and “can do just about anything in an airplane,” according to Bruckheimer, designed a bootcamp-style training regimen to get co-stars like Miles Teller and Glen Powell ready.
“When you’re pulling heavy Gs, it compresses your spine, your skull, it makes some people delirious,” Cruise told Empire.
“Some people can’t handle it. So I had to get them up to being able to sustain high Gs, because they have to act in the plane. I can’t have them sick the whole time.”
When it finally does land in theaters, the film, which Cruise characterized as “emotional,” promises to be one of the more visually immersive cinematic experiences.
For now, “Top Gun: Maverick” has an official release date of July 2, 2021 — pending additional dreaded amendments and assuming COVID-19 kindly sits this one out.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.