Do you feel the need? The need to speed back to the 80s and bro out with Iceman, Viper, Wolfman, Slider, Goose, and Maverick all over again? We’ve got you covered in the first part of our cruise through the career of the galaxy’s biggest superstar (don’t tell Xenu), starting with the 1986 blockbuster that first catapulted him to worldwide fame — Top Gun.
The name “Tom Cruise” may be synonymous with movie stardom now, but back in 1986, he was still best known for his undie-baring breakout in the teen sex comedy Risky Business, so having him headline an action-packed military drama was a bit of a gamble. Of course, Top Gun ended up topping all expectations, becoming the year’s highest-grossing film, launching a killer soundtrack, winning an Academy Award for the soaring romantic ballad “Take My Breath Away,” and cementing its place in history as one of the most iconic 80s movies.
Now, as Top Gun approaches its 35th anniversary with a long-awaited sequel on the horizon, it’s time to find out whether these boys are still worth playing with — or if we’ve lost that loving feeling after all these years. So take a deep breath, get inverted, and select your wingman carefully, because we’re heading right into the danger zone of Reagan-era jingoism and mid-80s machismo — and we’re not stopping until we’re going Mach 2 with our hair on fire. (Whatever that means!) Will we take Top Gun to bed, or lose it forever?
Top Gun was never a particular favorite of mine growing up. By the time I saw it in the mid-to-late 90s, its unabashed Reagan-era flag-waving and earnest love story already felt a tad dated (though “Danger Zone” was never not badass). I owned the film on VHS and watched it occasionally, but it never meant much to me.
So I didn’t know quite what I was getting into rewatching Top Gun in 2021. What I found was that the mysterious rule of bygone eras applies — everything old comes back around again. When you’re too close to a particular era, the memory of the real thing still lingers. It’s embarrassing. You avoid it in favor of what’s newer (or even older). Eventually, though, it becomes cool again — kitschy-cool, maybe — and its period trappings stop being embarrassing and become charming again.
That was the case for me with Top Gun. A cool-hued love scene set to “Take My Breath Away” became sexy and romantic all over again. Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle along to a throbbing Kenny Loggins tune became awesome again. Shirtless hunks one-upping each other in the locker room and during a female-free beach volleyball game is so blatantly gay-baiting that it could only be so obtusely heterosexual.
Top Gun is a classic, not because it’s a truly great film, but because it’s such a pure distillation of what an 80s movie was — big stars, killer soundtracks, heavy on the machinery, memorable one-liners, clear-cut (if rather wrong-headed) in its pro-America politics, all pop music and sunsets and fighter jets whizzing by. Top Gun clearly created the monster that is Michael Bay, and a whole lot of other mediocre-to-bad filmmakers. I can’t say I’m fond of what it left in its wake, but Top Gun itself is surprisingly sweet, intimate and small-scale — a romantic drama first, its action-packed climax almost an afterthought. As nostalgia watches go, this one was perfection.