A Wildly Popular Tom Cruise Movie Is Finally On Netflix

By Nathan Kamal | 3 months ago

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As spring approaches, we have gained the traditional sign of the world waking up: the new batch of content added to Netflix. As of March 1, one of the most iconic movies from actor Tom Cruise has just been added to the streaming service, and it is a pretty big one. That movie is 1986’s Top Gun, the Tony Scott-directed ode to the men who fly fighter jets that reportedly boosted US Navy recruitment efforts by 500%. In a career filled with culturally massive roles like Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt, Interview with the Vampire’s Lestat de Lioncourt and everyone’s favorite, Matthew Knight in James Mangold’s Knight and Day, there might not be as one as significant to Tom Cruise’s career as Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. While it could not be considered a truly “great” movie in Cruise’s filmography, it may be the single most defining movie of his career. 

Top Gun is inarguably a Tom Cruise star vehicle, but in 1986, he was not yet at the point of having film projects built around him. The role of the hotshot aviator Maverick was originally offered to Matthew Modine, who turned it down because of the pro-military tone of the film. Ironically, Modine would have his own breakout military movie the very next year, starring in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam war epic Full Metal Jacket. Of course, the two movies could not be more different in their treatment of the US Armed Services. Kubrick’s movie is most famous for its portrayal of how the Army psychologically breaks down recruits to turn them into killing machines, while Top Gun is about how awesome it is that jets go fast. Like, really fast. 

tom cruise top gun

The movie was inspired by a California magazine article on fighter pilots at San Diego’s Naval Air Station Miramar, and shepherded into production by the superteam of 1980s cinema, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Together, the two would have hits like Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop and The Rock, and turn Michael Bay’s flashy style into the default visual style of action movies for decades. But director Tony Scott and his trademark quick cuts and reliance on striking visuals over narrative coherence were the main precedents for Bay’s work, and nowhere is it more clear than Top Gun. Tom Cruise may have been the star of the film, but Scott’s loving shots of screaming fighter jets and the intensely martial soundtrack are what made the movie as influential as it is. 

Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer famously enlisted the help of the US Navy for the film, essentially exchanging creative input for use of real-life fighter jets and the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) (the aircraft carrier, not the starship). Reportedly, the Navy toned down any potentially politically contentious plot elements the climactic dogfight between US Navy aviators and Russian-coded jets originally took place over Cuba). And the film absolutely plays like a weird fever dream of the military, where beach volleyball games are scored to Kenny Loggins, the only deaths in armed services are accidental, and anyone would possibly ever think Tom Cruise was cooler than Val Kilmer. In portraying the US Navy as an institution where only the best and brightest get awesome nicknames like “Iceman” and uh, “Goose,” Top Gun is absolutely a success. 

tom cruise

But more than that, the film is enormously successful at defining Tom Cruise in the first part of his career. After making an impression in the movie Risky Business, where he played a neurotic high school student who finds himself being threatened by Joe Pantaliano, he followed up with All the Right Moves. That high school drama essentially is the proto-Top Gun, except that it’s about Cruise being good at football, rather than jets.

For the next decade, Cruise would specialize in parts that were nearly interchangeable: the massively talented hotshot who has to learn that his only flaw is believing he might have a flaw. He could play this kind of character in Days of Thunder, Cocktail, A Few Good Men and The Firm, among others. It would essentially define him as an actor, and no movie does it with more style and certainty than Top Gun. It’s the kind of movie where when he gets his best friend killed by his literally maverick ways, the film’s essential message is that Anthony Edwards’ death is in the greater good of teaching Cruise how to be even better. The fact that the movie still feels like a heroic story is a testament to the power of it. 

While Top Gun received lukewarm reviews on its release, it didn’t much matter. It was the single highest-grossing movie of 1986, and turned Tom Cruise into a legitimate A-lister. It is notable that in a long career that includes almost no sequels (Mission: Impossible being the exception), Cruise is prepared to return to the role with the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick. In a career that has had enormous highs and couch-jumping lows, Top Gun will probably be remembered as the single most Tom Cruise movie of all Tom Cruise movies. Cue “Danger Zone,” and chill out with Netflix.