Top Gun (1986) Review – Watching the Original 36 Years After Its Release and Sequel

I finally watched Top Gun, 36 years after it came out and after watching Top Gun: Maverick.
Top Gun

I finally watched Top Gun, 36 years after it came out and after watching Top Gun: Maverick.

As a “critic” not seeing cultural staples in cinema is usually an exaggerated ordeal. Even for non-critics, people tend to lose it a bit when they hear someone they know hasn’t seen something like The Godfather or Star Wars. I get it, but life happens and sometimes it’s just hard to take the time to watch an older film. That being said, I just watched Top Gun for the first time on Netflix. This is 36 years after it was released in theaters and immediately after watching Top Gun: Maverick. The funny thing is, Top Gun has played a notable part in my upbringing, and I own it on Blu-Ray, but just never seen it until now.

There was never any malice or intent to not watch the film. It’s just one of those things. Growing up, my favorite roller coaster was Top Gun. It is an awesome coaster based on the film located in Paramount’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA. Easily the theme park’s best coaster, which has stiff competition with Invertigo and The Demon also in contention. Clips of the film would play on screens while you waited in line, as Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone” would sporadically play through the glaring speakers. It was a whole little production that did inspire me to watch the film. I would just lose that inspiration after the 2-hour drive home.

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Top Gun also inspired much of the philosophy of my fraternity, which is about all I can say about that.

But it wasn’t until I saw Top Gun: Maverick, and being unable to do anything else but watch something while I donated plasma, that I made it a mission to finally watch Top Gun. I know I am 36 years behind, but Top Gun is a damn good movie. Also, for the record, the movie is older than I am too. I don’t know why but I feel like that needs to be included in my defense of having missed out on the film.

I Finally Watched Top Gun

Top Gun

I want to reiterate that I watched the original after the sequel that came out 36 years later. So I was thoroughly unimpressed by the visuals. I’m sure they were great for 1986, but they did absolutely nothing for me. In my mind, it reminded me a lot of the Troy and Abed “Space Ships” stinger. It’s still very entertaining but just lacks a certain polish that most of us take for granted with modern films. It is still masterfully shot and I can see where the influence from the ride came from. It has really made me want to go to Great America when I get the chance.

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What sticks out most about Top Gun is how every character is a sub-category of the traditional one-dimension 80’s stereotypes. Most 80’s movies in general are big on people playing an archetype, the jock, the nerd, the hot girl, etc. This film is kind of the best version of that. Everyone is pretty much a different version of the jock and the hot girls. The pilots are all jocks, without question. The lockerroom scenes and volleyball scene make that irrefutable. But what makes this the best version of 80’s archetypes, each pilot is essentially named after the type of jock they are.

Tom Cruise is Maverick, who is a stubborn do it his way kind of guy regardless of the consequences. Or a maverick. Val Kilmer is Iceman, who is a steadfast career pilot who is cold to Maverick and Goose, but eventually melts a bit to respect them. Goose is the funny best friend and co-pilot. It’s all just presented front and center. No complex symbolism, it is right there painted on their helmets who these characters are. It’s direct, to the point, and lets you just sit back and enjoy the film.

Top Gun

The heart and easily the most powerful aspect of the film are the bonds between the characters. The friends that become family, the family you become at work, and the loved ones that become family, it’s all about elevating relationships. Watching an entire room of people stop everything they are doing to support Tom Cruise’s Maverick sing The RIghteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” is the kind of unconditional support everyone should have in their life. It is a truly aspirational and inspirational goal to not only have that kind of support but to offer that kind of support. Maverick perfectly embodies the unconditional support with his line,

“I think I’ll go embarrass myself with Goose.”

Maverick, Top Gun

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It’s not really about what they are or aren’t doing. It’s about never leaving your wingman and being there regardless of the situation. Even in the contentious rivalry between Iceman and Maverick, the support and desire to build a strong bond are always there. Iceman constantly tells Maverick what is preventing them from having that powerful bond and relationship.

“Maverick, it’s not your flying, it’s your attitude. The enemy’s dangerous, but right now you’re worse. Dangerous and foolish. You may not like who’s flying with you, but whose side are you on?”

Iceman,Top Gun

Top Gun is what I feel is the standard to which summer movies have come to recreate. Not necessarily storywise, but in terms of enjoyment and resonating feeling. The movie is nowhere near an Inception-level think piece. However, it makes you feel a wide range of emotions. You get the visual spectacle that you almost only get from big-budget movies, attractive people for everyone in the audience to swoon over, and master performances, while maybe not quite Academy Award noticeable, still make you believe and fully feel. Then you leave the movie having a great memory and experience.

Top Gun
Tom Cruise The Last Movie Star

In addition, Tom Cruise is what I feel is the movie star archetype. You can see it in this film, and you can still see it now, this guy is a bona fide movie star. It is what he is. The looks, the charisma, the presence, he is it. It is him. He and Will Smith might be the last for their breed. This isn’t to say that other movie stars are less talented or anything negative, it’s just a certain heir about Tom Cruise that you just kind of get from him. He might stumble and maybe his real-life character is questionable, but regardless, he is a MOVIE STAR.

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While some parts haven’t aged well, Top Gun still seems like THE summer movie. It seems to have set the benchmark for summer movies that you can feel in other summer films like Independence Day, Men in Black, and Mission Impossible II also hit. It seems somewhat formulaic, but the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a complete movie-going experience that over-delivers on every aspect you would want from a major Hollywood film. It’s a wonderfully complete and encompassing movie-going experience, that will make you feel a lot of emotions and leave you with a lasting memory.

For being what is essentially the gold standard archetype of a great summer blockbuster film, I give Top Gun a 4/5. I probably would have gone higher, but the extra wow factors are probably lost on me since I’m 36 years too late.

Top Gun is widely available on home media and currently streaming on Netflix. Be sure to come back tomorrow for my review of the sequel.

Top Gun

About Top Gun

Release date: May 16, 1986 (USA)
Director: Tony Scott
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures Studios
Starring: Tom Cruise; Kelly McGillis; Val Kilmer; Anthony Edwards; Tom Skerritt
As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be best in the class, one daring young pilot learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.

What did you think of Top Gun? Are you excited it is finally getting a sequel? What extremely popular movies have you not seen? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on Twitter!

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Kevin Fenix

Kevin Fenix

Professional Nerd | Amateur Human | Creative/Content Director The best way to describe Kevin Fenix is the kid you never tell what the buttons do in video games so you have a chance to win. Being 6’ 4” and Asian, he never really fit in, so he got comfortable standing out. Not only is it easy to find him in crowds, he dabbles in the culinary arts, does a little stand up and improv, and can honestly say Spider-Man is the Jesus-like influence of his life. Kevin Fenix loves dogs, movies, television, comics, comedy, and to shoot people… with video.