“Up there with the best of the best.”
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Top Gun, the popular military action-drama starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards.
Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott (The Hunger, Crimson Tide) and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop), opened 30 years ago this week.
To mark the occasion, The Bits features a compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, passages from vintage film reviews, a list of the 70-millimeter “showcase” presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with documentarian and Tony Scott associate, Charles de Lauzirika. [Read on here...]
TOP GUN NUMBER$
- 0 = Number of sequels and remakes
- 1 = Number of Academy Awards
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (calendar year)
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (summer season)
- 1 = Rank among top-selling live-action, feature-film videocassettes and discs of 1987
- 3 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie (week #1, #4 & #19)
- 4 = Number of Academy Award nominations
- 4 = Rank among Paramount’s top-earning movies of all time at close of original run
- 5 = Number of weeks soundtrack album was #1 on Billboard top album chart
- 10 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
- 12 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1980s
- 14 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release
- 38 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement
- 73 = Number of days to gross $100 million
- 111 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
- 125 = Number of 70mm prints
- 214 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic)
- 280 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (worldwide)
- 1,028 = Number of opening-week engagements
- 1.9 million = Number of pre-ordered home video units sold in 1987*
- 9 million = Number of copies of soundtrack album sold
- $26.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release*
- $7,969 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
- $3.0 million = Box-office gross (2013 3-D re-release)
- $8.2 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
- $15.0 million = Production cost
- $32.6 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
- $79.4 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
- $176.8 million = Box-office gross (original release)
- $177.1 million = Box-office gross (international)
- $179.8 million = Box-office gross (original release + 3-D re-release)
- $356.8 million = Worldwide box-office gross (worldwide)
- $384.8 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
- $387.2 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
- $772.0 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)
*Established new industry record
A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES
“No doubt about it: Top Gun is going to be the hit that The Right Stuff should have been. They are not in the same class of films, but this much must be said: The aerial sequences in Top Gun are as thrilling—while remaining coherent—as any ever put on film.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
“A lot of people are going to want to fly Navy jets by the end of the summer, because Top Gun may be the best military recruiting film ever made.” — Donald Porter, Ogden Standard-Examiner
“Top Gun is a male bonding adventure movie that’s both exciting and disturbing, mind-boggling and vacuous…. Measuring the movie against its model—Hawks’ air films—you can see the difference between a great director making his movies breathe, and a superproduction that depends on action and hardware. Top Gun is an empty-headed technological marvel. The actors—especially Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan—are good, but only connect as archetypes. The emotion heats up only when the planes are flying. (If Howard Hughes were alive, he might watch Top Gun more times than Ice Station Zebra.)” — Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times
“Top Gun is a visual stunner. I think its chief entertainment value lies in protracted photographic excitement—simply the best aerial photography seen in the jet age…. To get the full aerial photo effects of Top Gun, you ought to catch it at a theater where it’s playing in 70mm with full-crank sound. That way you’ll feel like you’re inside a 100-watt stereo set that is inside a video game that is on a roller coaster.” — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle
“There hasn’t been such a star-making role for a male performer since John Travolta primped, posed and pranced his way to the top in Saturday Night Fever. Cruise, who has played adolescents until now, is given the full treatment in Top Gun. The camera caresses him, in beaming close-ups of his face and body, and he responds to its overtures with the kind of charismatic narcissism that only a male sex symbol can muster.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Paramount’s Top Gun is precisely the kind of slick, commercial, well-crafted, general-audience blockbuster the other major studios have been looking for all year, and it will probably still be filling Paramount’s coffers by year’s end. The movie makes everyone in it look good, but it’s particularly a triumph for its director, Tony Scott, who was undeservedly trashed by most critics for his stylish first film, The Hunger.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times
“The dogfights are absolutely the best since Clint Eastwood’s electrifying aerial scenes in Firefox. But look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“[Top Gun] resembles a sparkling, shining replica of a 1940s John Wayne Flying Seabees-Flying Tigers-Flying Leathernecks movie, updated to the mid-1980s. Judging from the audience reaction to several sneak previews of the film, Top Gun may be exactly what audiences want. Whatever that says about today’s audiences, it augurs well for the picture’s financial fate.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News
“A trite, predictable script, weak on characterization, draws commensurate performances from Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Some nice aerial photography and military lingo dialogue lend authenticity—but the film needs more than that.” — Catharine Rambeau, Detroit Free Press
“Two hours of pure pow!” — Peter Travers, People
“Top Gun is a summer film in the expected form, a wild visceral ride—especially in 70mm. This is as old-fashioned as they come, a John Wayne military shoot-’em-up in the sky, with aerial dogfights [that] are genuinely thrilling. On the ground, however, Top Gun misfires. Or crash-lands. The problem is an unconvincing romance and an overly contrived plotline, apparently aiming for the audience that made An Officer and a Gentleman a hit.” — Christopher Hicks, (Salt Lake City) Deseret News
“Top Gun has ‘big summer hit’ written all over it.” — Rob Salem, Toronto Star
“This movie seems determined to break the sound barrier; if it isn’t the roar of the jets, it’s the roar of Maverick’s motorcycle, and when that subsides, there’s always the clamor of the music.” — Walter Goodman, The New York Times
“Top Gun is top drawer, top dog, tops!” — Joel Siegel, ABC-TV
“If you’ve ever fantasized about flying at twice the speed of sound, tumbling through clouds and banking against the stratosphere, then Top Gun is the daredevil film for you. Or if you simply like good cinema—enhanced by wide-film technology, superior sound recording and plane-mounted camerawork—Top Gun is the solid drama you crave.” — Shirley Jinkins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Top Gun has Rambo’s military core without any of its political effluvia. When Top Gun becomes successful, as presumably it will, we will see that war movies succeed because they are dramatic, not political.” — David Brooks, The Washington Times
“Top Gun is Flashdance in the skies.” — Digby Diehl, CBS-TV
“Not since Duke Wayne took the sands of Iwo Jima has Hollywood produced a more gung-ho invitation to join the military than Top Gun. I saw the film in the company of several hundred teen-age boys who whooped, hollered, cheered and applauded throughout, and then, no doubt, headed straight to the nearest Navy recruitment center to sign up for life.” — Michael Burkett, The (Santa Ana) Orange County Register
THE 70MM ENGAGEMENTS
The following is a list of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Top Gun in the United States and Canada. These were, arguably, the best theaters in which to experience Top Gun and the only way to faithfully hear the movie’s Oscar-nominated audio mix. Only about ten percent of the film’s print run was in the deluxe, expensive-to-manufacture 70mm format. And of the 200+ movies released during 1986, Top Gun was among only 17 to have 70mm prints produced and had the third-highest number of such prints that year behind Fox’s Aliens and Paramount’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
For this release, Paramount employed the services of Lucasfilm’s Theater Alignment Program (TAP) to evaluate and approve the theaters selected to book a 70mm print. As well, the movie was booked into as many THX-certified venues as possible.
The noise-reduction and signal-processing format for the prints was Dolby “A,” and the soundtrack was a split-surround/single-surround combo format. Some of the markets in which the split-surround format (essentially the same as the contemporary 5.1 channel layout) was heard included Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. The aspect ratio was 2.20:1 and was blown up from Super-35 photography.
A 70mm teaser trailer for The Golden Child was sent out with the 70mm Top Gun prints and which the distributor recommended be screened with the presentation.
The listing includes those 70mm engagements that commenced May 16th, 1986. With one Week #2 exception, the listing does not include any of the additional wave, mid-run upgrade, move-over, sub-run, re-release or international engagements, nor does it include any of the movie’s thousands of standard 35mm engagements.
So, which North American theaters screened the 70mm version of Top Gun? Read on…
- Calgary — Famous Players’ Palliser Square Twin
- Calgary — Famous Players’ Sunridge 5-plex
- Edmonton — Famous Players’ Paramount
- Edmonton — Famous Players’ Westmall 5-plex
- Tucson — Mann’s Buena Vista Twin
- Little Rock — United Artists’ Cinema 150
- Burnaby — Famous Players’ Lougheed Mall Triplex
- Vancouver — Famous Players’ Stanley <THX>
- Victoria — Famous Players’ Coronet
- Berkeley — Blumenfeld/Cinerama’s Berkeley
- Burlingame — Syufy’s Hyatt Triplex
- Corte Madera — Blumenfeld/Marin’s Cinema
- Costa Mesa — Edwards’ South Coast Plaza Triplex
- Daly City — Plitt’s Plaza Twin <THX>
- Fremont — Syufy’s Cinedome East 8-plex
- Lakewood — Pacific’s Lakewood Center 4-plex
- Los Angeles (Hollywood) — Mann’s Chinese Triplex <THX>
- Los Angeles (Westwood Village) — Mann’s National <THX>
- Montclair — Pacific’s Montclair Triplex
- Newport Beach — Edwards’ Newport Twin
- Orange — Syufy’s Cinedome 6-plex
- Sacramento — Syufy’s Century 6-plex
- Sacramento — Syufy’s Cinedome 8-plex
- San Diego — Mann’s Loma
- San Diego — Pacific’s Cinerama
- San Francisco — Blumenfeld’s Regency I
- San Jose — Syufy’s Town & Country
- Torrance — Mann’s Old Towne 6-plex
- Denver — Mann’s Century 21 <THX>
- East Hartford — Redstone’s Showcase 9-plex
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- Washington — Kogod-Burka’s Cinema
- Kendall — American Multi-Cinema’s Town & Country 10-plex
- North Miami Beach — Wometco’s 163rd Street Triplex
- Tampa — Plitt’s University Collection 6-plex
- Winter Park — Wometco’s Winter Park Triplex
- Atlanta — Georgia Theatre Company’s Lenox Square 6-plex
- Kennesaw — Storey’s Town Center 8-plex <opened May 23rd>
- Tucker — American Multi-Cinema’s Northlake Festival 8-plex
- Honolulu — Consolidated’s Waikiki Twin <HPS-4000>
- Belleville — Bloomer Amusement Company’s Cinema
- Calumet City — Plitt’s River Oaks 8-plex
- Chicago — Plitt’s Carnegie
- Lombard — General Cinema Corporation’s Yorktown 6-plex <THX>
- Schaumburg — Plitt’s Woodfield 9-plex
- Skokie — Marks & Rosenfield’s Old Orchard 4-plex
- Fort Wayne — Mallers-Spirou’s Holiday Twin
- Overland Park — Dickinson’s Glenwood Twin
- Louisville — Redstone’s Showcase 11-plex
- Metairie — Cobb’s Lakeside 4-plex
- Winnipeg — Famous Players’ Metropolitan
- Baltimore — Durkee’s Senator
- Woodlawn — General Cinema Corporation’s Security Square Mall 4-plex
- Boston — USA’s Charles Triplex
- Ann Arbor — United Artists’ Fox Village 4-plex
- Bloomfield Hills — Redstone’s Showcase 10-plex
- Burton — Redstone’s Showcase 6-plex
- Cascade Township — Redstone’s Showcase 10-plex
- Dearborn — United Artists’ The Movies at Fairlane 10-plex
- Harper Woods — Suburban Detroit’s Eastland 7-plex
- Southfield — Suburban Detroit’s Northland Twin
- Sterling Heights — Redstone’s Showcase 11-plex
- Maplewood — United Artists’ The Movies at Maplewood II 6-plex
- Chesterfield — Wehrenberg’s Clarkson 6-plex
- Independence — Mid-America’s Blue Ridge East 5-plex
- Kansas City — Commonwealth’s Bannister Mall 5-plex
- Las Vegas — Syufy’s Parkway Triplex
- New York — Loews’ 34th Street Showplace Triplex
- New York — Loews’ 84th Street 6-plex
- New York — Loews’ Astor Plaza
- New York — Loews’ Orpheum Twin
- New York — Loews’ State Twin
- Raleigh — Litchfield’s Mission Valley 5-plex
- Halifax — Famous Players’ Scotia Square
- Columbus — General Cinema Corporation’s Northland 8-plex <THX>
- Dayton — Chakeres’ Dayton Mall 8-plex
- Mentor — National’s Great Lakes Mall 5-plex
- Springdale — Redstone’s Showcase 8-plex
- Toledo — Redstone’s Showcase 5-plex
- Westerville — American Multi-Cinema’s Westerville 6-plex
- Oklahoma City — Commonwealth’s Quail Twin
- Tulsa — United Artists’ Boman Twin
- Hamilton — Famous Players’ Tivoli
- London — Famous Players’ Park
- Mississauga — Famous Players’ Square One 4-plex
- North York — Famous Players’ Town & Countrye Twin
- Ottawa — Famous Players’ Elgin Twin
- Scarborough — Famous Players’ Cedarbrae 6-plex
- Toronto — Famous Players’ Cumberland 4-plex <“La Reserve”/reserved seats>
- Toronto — Famous Players’ Eglinton <THX>
- Toronto — Famous Players’ Runnymede Twin
- Toronto — Famous Players’ University
- Portland — Moyer’s Bagdad Triplex
- Montgomeryville — Budco’s 309 4-plex
- Philadelphia — Budco’s Orleans 8-plex
- Philadelphia — SamEric’s Sam’s Place Twin
- Dorval — United’s Dorval Triplex
- Laval — United’s Laval 5-plex
- Montreal — United’s Imperial <THX>
- Knoxville — Simpson’s Capri 4-plex
- Nashville — Carmike’s Belle Meade
- Addison — United Artists’ Prestonwood Creek 5-plex <THX>
- Arlington — Loews’ Lincoln Square 6-plex
- Austin — American Multi-Cinema’s Americana
- Austin — Presidio’s Arbor 4-plex <THX>
- Dallas — Loews’ Park Central 4-plex
- Dallas — United Artists’ Cine Twin
- Dallas — United Artists’ Walnut Hill 6-plex
- Fort Worth — United Artists’ Hulen 6-plex <THX>
- Houston — Plitt’s West Oaks 7-plex
- Houston — Plitt’s Woodlake Triplex
- Hurst — United Artists’ North East 6-plex <THX>
- Mesquite — American Multi-Cinema’s Towne Crossing 8-plex
- San Antonio — Santikos’ Galaxy 10-plex <THX>
- San Antonio — Santikos’ Northwest 10-plex <THX>
- Salt Lake City — Mann’s Villa
- Salt Lake City — Plitt’s Centre
- Richmond — Neighborhood’s Ridge 7-plex
- Bellevue — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Factoria 5-plex
- Lynnwood — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Grand Cinemas Alderwood 7-plex
- Seattle — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Cinerama
- Seattle — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Oak Tree 6-plex <THX>
- Spokane — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Lyons Avenue 4-plex
- Tacoma — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Tacoma Mall Twin
- Tukwila — Sterling Recreation Organization’s Lewis & Clark 7-plex
- Brookfield — General Cinema Corporation’s Brookfield Square Twin
Charles de Lauzirika is the producer of Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun, which originally appeared on the 2004 Special Edition DVD release of Top Gun and subsequently ported over to the Blu-ray Disc releases of the film. Charles is an acclaimed film documentarian and DVD/Blu-ray producer with over 100 credits, including several of Tony Scott’s films (including Man on Fire, Revenge: Director’s Cut and Domino) and such essential home video box sets as Blade Runner, Twin Peaks, Prometheus and the Alien Anthology. His feature directorial debut Crave, starring Ron Perlman, was released in 2013, and won multiple awards at festivals around the world. He recently produced the Star Wars: Launch Bay featurette now playing at both Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, which explores the past, present and future of the Star Wars franchise.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Top Gun worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?
Charles de Lauzirika: I think that 30 years later, Top Gun is still referenced quite a bit in pop culture and even casual conversation, so even though it’s kind of an ’80s artifact, it’s still very relevant. I mean, look at the Resistance attack on Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. Some of those X-Wing-mounted camera angles are straight out of Top Gun. And that’s kind of a fun full-circle since Top Gun was inspired by Star Wars to a major degree. And let’s not get forget the recurring Danger Zone gags on Archer. Or all the other references, songs, visuals and lines of dialogue that get repeated over and over to this day.
Coate: When did you first see Top Gun and what did you think of it?
Lauzirika: I was living in Barcelona when it was released in 1986, and back then, American movies wouldn’t usually open abroad until several weeks or months later. But I moved back to Los Angeles a couple months into its theatrical run and my friends back home had really been hyping it up like it was the greatest movie ever. They were actually going around in public wearing aviator sunglasses and flight jackets emblazoned with various Top Gun and U.S. Navy patches. So when I finally saw it at the Mann National in Westwood, expectations were impossibly high. And I have to admit, after it was over, I was kind of disappointed initially. I mean, it was fun and really well-made. Beautifully shot with some truly exceptional aerial work. But it was also kind of goofy, cheesy and fluffy, which I wasn’t expecting. Eventually, I grew to enjoy it more and more over the years and now just accept it as a straight-up fun, energetic ’80s flick.
Coate: Top Gun is among a fairly small group of movies in its success range to not have any sequels. Do you think there should be a sequel (remake, reboot, etc.)?
Lauzirika: I know there’s been quite a bit of work put into a sequel over the years. It could be very interesting, since aerial combat has changed over the last three decades, and today so much of the war on terror is waged by predator drones. So I think the current state of the world and the cutting edge technology in play would provide for some interesting new twists in the Top Gun formula. Ultimately, what’s most important is that they find a compelling story for the characters to be challenged by. I’m not sure how an older Maverick would adapt to the mentor role that Tom Skerritt’s Viper played in the first film. I just don’t see Maverick ever being that grounded. He’s a lot like Captain Kirk in that way. No matter how old he gets, he still wants to be in control, getting his hands dirty in the heat of battle. But I’d be curious to see how the old characters have evolved over time, and also how they relate to the next generation, who will probably be even more wild, arrogant and irresponsible than they were.
Coate: Top Gun was only director Tony Scott’s second feature film. How risky was it for him to be chosen to direct, and what did having a director with a fresh vision bring to the project compared with how the movie may have turned out if made by say a more experienced journeyman type?
Lauzirika: See, I think picking a director like Tony, coming off a dark, artsy film like The Hunger, shows the kind of vision and bravery that doesn’t really exist in quite the same way anymore. It’s funny because at the time, it seemed like Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were largely known as A-list hit makers, churning out popcorn blockbusters for the masses. But looking back at their work, I think they actually made some really brilliant artistic decisions in how they cultivated a whole roster of bold visualists like Tony, Michael Bay and others. And these directors were allowed to establish their own unique creative style that flourished even beyond their Simpson and Bruckheimer projects. So picking a filmmaker like Tony for Top Gun might have been a risk, but it was a smart risk. He had a cinematic style and personality all his own, which then influenced a whole other generation of filmmakers. When you watch a Tony Scott film, you damn well know who’s directing it. In the hands of another more journeyman director, I’m not sure Top Gun would be even a fraction as memorable as the film Tony made.
Coate: It’s been just over a decade since the DVD Special Edition and your Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun documentaries were made. What else would you like to do special edition-wise should another opportunity arise?
Lauzirika: I wish there was a way to resurrect those seemingly forever lost deleted scenes, like the one showing Goose’s funeral, but I’m afraid that will never come to pass. And yet I think the existing Top Gun disc is pretty comprehensive, all things considered. At this point, I think it would be more interesting to do a special edition for Days of Thunder. I’ve heard a lot of very interesting behind-the-scenes stories on that one. And with Tony and Don Simpson no longer with us, I think it would make for a nice tribute to their work.
Coate: Where do you think Top Gun ranks among director Tom Cruise’s body of work?
Lauzirika: I could try to rank it, but it would be futile. Tom Cruise just keeps making some really great, interesting, enjoyable films, so the ranking would always be fluid. I mean, Rogue Nation turned out to be my favorite Mission: Impossible movie, and it was the fifth in the series. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big movie star so laser-focused and deeply committed to entertaining audiences the way Cruise is. The guy is fearless and even when it might seem like he’s going off the rails, I would never bet against him. I certainly think Top Gun will always be remembered as one of his signature films.
Coate: Where do you think Top Gun ranks among director Tony Scott’s body of work?
Lauzirika: Top Gun put Tony on the map when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking. So it’s obviously an important milestone in his filmography. I think he made far more personal and daring films throughout his career, but Top Gun captures so much of what we, as an audience, know about what “a Tony Scott film” is. It’s stylish and sexy, fast and furious, and it beautifully combines Tony’s artistic sensibilities—like his love of blue-black desert skies, dark smoky rooms, long lenses and painterly grad filters—and fuses them with his one-of-a-kind rock-and-roll sense of insanity and playfulness. Whenever I think back on my meetings with Tony over the years, I remember his easy smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. In that regard, he and his films often like felt one and the same to me.
Coate: What is the legacy of Top Gun?
Lauzirika: I think at its most basic level, Top Gun will always be remembered as an essential ’80s movie that delivered high entertainment and show-stopping spectacle. I think there’s a variety of levels beneath its glossy surface to consider, even ironically. Just listen to Quentin Tarantino talk about it. But, ultimately, I think it’s a fun movie that intends to give you a good time, a few thrills, a few laughs, and send you on your way feeling better than you did beforehand. That’s what good movies do.
Coate: Thank you, Charlie, for participating and sharing your thoughts about Top Gun on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.
Laura Baas, Don Beelik, Raymond Caple, Nick DiMaggio, Thomas Hauerslev, John Hazelton, Rusty Heckaman, Mike Heenan, Bobby Henderson, Sarah Kenyon, Bill Kretzel, Charles de Lauzirika, Ronald A. Lee, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, Tim Reed, Stephen Rice, Desirée Sharland, Alex Smith, Cliff Stephenson, John Stewart, Kurt Wahlner, and to all of the librarians who helped with the research for this project.
Primary references for this project were promotional material published in hundreds of daily newspapers archived digitally and/or on microfilm plus numerous articles published in film industry trade publications Billboard, Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.
Copyright 1986 Paramount Pictures Corporation
All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.
- Art Scholl (Stunt Pilot), 1931-1985
- Warren Skaaren (Associate Producer/Uncredited Screenwriter), 1946-1990
- Don Simpson (Producer), 1943-1996
- Jim Cash (Screenwriter), 1941-2000
- Teena Marie (Lead Me On vocalist), 1956-2010
- Tony Scott (Director), 1944-2012
- Michael Coate