Top Gun: Maverick Theory Suggests One Hero Didn’t Survive

There's a Top Gun: Maverick theory that one of the main characters actually didn't survive in the movie. It changes the flick for sure

By Doug Norrie | Published

top gun: maverick

Top Gun: Maverick was thirty years in the making and most definitely worth the wait. The sequel to the Tom Cruise classic from the 1980s delivered on almost every conceivable angle from its storylines, character arcs, and especially the fighter plane scenes which were about some of the coolest ever filmed. But did the story not really go down the way the writers wanted it to seem on-screen?

A wild new fan theory is suggesting that nearly the entire plot of Top Gun: Maverick didn’t actually happen and that one main character didn’t even survive the events of the film. Before you read on, warning, there are Spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick below. Stop here if you haven’t seen the film and/ or don’t want to know the plot/ ending.

The Top Gun: Maverick fan theory came from Vulture (via ScreenRant) and posits that the movie didn’t really play out the way folks may have thought for Tom Cruise’s Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. Instead, it goes that the character actually didn’t even survive the first moments of the film and everything afterward was just an extended death dream sequence for the guy. To be honest, I think this one kind of has legs. While it might be unlikely that the filmmakers intended to expressly go in this direction, there are pieces of the theory that fit into the overall plot.

In the opening moments of Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise is flying an experimental jet in an effort to reach the vaunted Mach 10. He does it before pushing the plane a decimal point too far, thereby destroying it and having to punch out. The theory suggests that in reality, he died during this test and everything else is just a fantastic reconstruction of all the things that didn’t work out for the character while he was living.

This is why nearly everything else plays “perfectly” from there on out. Tom Cruise as Maverick returns to Top Gun as an instructor, sees his friend Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer) one last time, makes amends with former RIO Goose’s son, Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (who wears Goose’s clothes and sings his songs), completes a near-impossible mission that sees him attempt to give his own life to save the others, and finally lands with Jennifer Connelly’s Penny (the Admiral’s daughter that got away). It’s all too perfect.

It would take a moderate leap of faith to consider that Top Gun: Maverick was actually just a heroic death dream for the main character, but in a sense, that’s what a good movie is anyway. It’s sometimes an all-too-perfect amalgamation of different forces and characters that wrap into a tidy, two-hour narrative. Having Maverick’s arc come full circle in a way that ties together every loose end for the character and his inner psyche might as well be something that flashes before his eyes right before the test jet breaks apart in the sky. We might never know, and really, it doesn’t matter. The movie works in both scenarios and is still a cinematic feat, whether it happened in Maverick’s mind’s eye or in “reality”.

Death dream or not, Top Gun: Maverick has proven to be a blockbuster of the highest order. It’s scored near perfect with critics and fans (97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 99% Audience Score) and has blown past $600 million at the box office. It’s why movies are made. To be just a little too perfect.