Film: Top Gun

Maverick: I feel the need...
Maverick and Goose: ...the need for speed!

Tom Cruise flies F-14 Tomcats and gives the Commie Landers the finger while playing volleyball.

Okay, a bit more detail. Top Gun (1986) was inspired by a magazine article on Navy pilots. The screenwriters and director Tony Scott viewed it as "Sports Movie meets jets". In it, a hotshot pilot named "Maverick" (Cruise) is sent to the TOPGUNnote  training school, a five-week workshop where pilots learn how to really kick ass in an Old School Dogfight. Here Maverick has to deal with competition from fellow pilots, and conquer his own demons.

The film had full cooperation from the Pentagon, and much of its aerial combat was shot "reel for real" using actual Navy hardware. (So real, somebody died making it.) It was an unanticipated success and caused an immediate boost in Navy enlistment figures, to the point that they started putting recruiting booths right there in the theatre.

Tropes contained therein:

  • Ace Pilot: Obviously. As far as particular styles:
    • Iceman is described as a Steamroller. To paraphrase Goose, he just stays on you and harries you relentlessly until you make a mistake.
    • During one exercise Viper and Jester collaborate as a Plugger and Bushwhacker/Sniper respectively, with Viper drawing an overeager Maverick off while Jester sneaks up on him from another direction.
    • Mav doesn't really have any particular style; he flies almost entirely on instinct. At one point he flat-out states to Charlie that, "You think, you're dead."
  • Actually Four Mooks: The MiG pilots like to fly in close formation to disguise their radar signatures as fewer planes than are actually present. This is Truth in Television, and has also been used by American pilots from time to time.
  • Anonymous Ringer: The nation whose air force the main characters fly against is never named. Speculation pegs it as South Yemen, a then Soviet client. IMDB suggests it was intended to be North Korea, which is rather unlikely as dialogue in the film establishes the setting as the Indian Ocean.
  • Award Bait Song/Ear Worm: Take my breath awaaaaaaaaay...
  • Badass Biker: Maverick, when he's not flying.
  • Badass Mustache: Goose and Viper.
  • Bald of Awesome: Stinger, Maverick's commanding officer on the Enterprise.
  • Bruiser With A Soft Centre: Maverick.
    • Maverick's CO, Stinger, also counts. He's built like a fireplug and he tears both Maverick and Goose a new asshole, but he begins with a soft "Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing..." and ends with "Good luck, Gentlemen."
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Maverick. He's too hotheaded for his own good, but he's one of the absolute best pilots around.
  • Buzzing The Tower: Maverick has a history of doing these over control towers, and one admiral's daughter. In the course of the film he does it twice more, both time causing the control Sergeant to spill coffee on himself.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A couple of notable ones:
  • Code Name: Aviator callsigns, but here they're far cooler than RL examples. The credits demonstrate this.
  • Colonel Badass: Commander Mike "Viper" Metcalf and Commander Tom "Stinger" Jordan definitely qualify.
  • Coming In Hot: Cougar goes a bit crazy after a close encounter with some MiGs, and has to be talked down, despite there being nothing wrong with his plane itself.
  • Cool Old Guy: Viper.
  • Cool Plane: The F-14 Tomcat.
    • And at least an honorable mention to the A-4 Skyhawk and F-5E Tiger II ("MiG-28").
  • *Cough* Snark *Cough*: Iceman's reaction to Maverick's MiG story.
  • Crowd Song: "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
  • Defrosting Iceman: Iceman, by the end of the film.
  • Disappeared Dad: Maverick's father was shot down and killed in an unnamed conflict.
  • Disqualification-Induced Victory: The pilot Cougar loses his cool and turns in his wings. So Maverick and Goose get a slot at the Fighter Weapons school in his place. Their commander wanted to ground them both after their antics with Soviet Migs.
  • Dodge by Braking: The Trope Maker in modern filmmaking, Maverick uses this technique to make his enemies overshoot. It works every time.
    • So as not to give the wrong idea, he only does it twice, each time to a different opponent which is why it is listed above as a Chekhov's Skill.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Averted by the instructors at Top Gun; while they may be stern taskmasters at times, they never raise their voices very much and really have their students' best interests in mind.
  • The Dreaded: Viper. Oh, sure, he might just be an instructor, but even his presence on the field is enough to give the trainees pause.
    Viper: ''Good morning, gentlemen. The temperature is 110 degrees..."
    Wolfman: "Holy shit, it's Viper!"
    Goose: "Viper's up here? Great! ...oooh, shit!"
    Maverick "Great, he's probably saying, "Holy shit, it's Maverick and Goose" "
  • Due to the Dead: Maverick throws his dearly departed friend's dog tags into the sea after winning the dogfight.
  • Eject...Eject...Eject...: Maverick to Goose.
  • Faceless Goons: With visors and masks, everyone is technically faceless in the fighting scenes, but the U.S. pilots wear coloured helmets with their names on them and rarely use their visors, while the enemy pilots just have black always-visored helmets with a red star on.
    • Notably, the U.S. pilots are also frequently shown flying with their oxygen masks dangling to the side. This provides a minor Lock and Load Montage - the pilots snap their masks in place when they are about to enter combat.
  • Fanservice: The volleyball scene, the shower scene(s).
  • Fatal Family Photo: Subverted — Cougar has such a photo, but Maverick prevents him from crashing. He then resigns his commission.
  • Fighter Launching Sequence
  • Flipping the Bird: Maverick does it to the MiG pilot while inverted and snapping photos. Goose does it to the entire briefing room while telling the story of their aerobatic international relations.
  • Follow the Leader:
    • Inspired several imitators, including Fire Birds and the short-lived TV series Supercarrier, the long-running TV series JAG, as well as multiple air-combat video games.
    • The movie Navy SEALS with Charlie Sheen was requested by the Navy, who hoped it would provide a bump in enlistments the way Top Gun did.
    • The Navy also fully supported the production of The Hunt for Red October as they thought it would do for the submarine service what Top Gun did for Navy aviation.
  • Gatling Good: The shots of the MiGs firing their guns during the final dogfight cut to a shot of a Minigun firing. The F-14 carries an internal 20mm Vulcan cannon as well, but it's never used on-screen.
    • No mig fighters in reality uses a gatling gun, the only Mig plane to use one is the MIG-27 which is a ground attack airplane.
  • The General's Daughter: A high-speed pass over an admiral's daughter is mentioned a couple of times, but we never hear the whole story. It's within the realm of possibility that Maverick didn't literally do a high speed pass over the admiral's daughter, in fact it's strongly implied that Stinger was being figurative and that Mav had a fling with her.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: This film practically flaunts crap for the radar. How they managed a PG rating with that sex scene is a miracle.
  • Glasses Pull: Maverick, near constantly.
  • Hot-Blooded: Maverick, who likes yanking stunts like the picture-taking with the MiG at dangerously close range and abandoning his wingman for a perfect shot. His ego's writing checks his body can't cash, and it's noted he got it from his father.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: While all pilots do wear helmets, none of the named characters have their sun visors covering their eyes while flying (not even strict "by the book" pilots like Jester or Viper).
  • Heroic BSOD: Maverick is stuck in one after Goose's death.
    • Cougar has one in-flight after an enemy fighter gets a missile lock on him.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Maverick and Goose. It is strongly implied that they have been friends and flight-team partners for quite some time, and at one point Maverick calls Goose "the only family I've got."
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Maverick, most of the time.
  • Insistent Terminology: Maverick corrects Charlie when she calls him a "pilot." Truth in Television, the Navy has Aviators, not "pilots."
  • Introduction by Hookup: Mav tries to pick up a random blonde at a bar near the base. Next day the blonde, Charlie, is briefing him and the other Top Gun students on the performance differences between the MiG-28 and the American planes standing in for them. After he corrects her on something her intel says the 28 can't do but he saw it pull off:
    Charlie: You never told me you were a famous MiG insulter.
    Maverick: Would it have made a difference?
    Charlie: Not in the ladies room, no.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Iceman.
  • "Join the Army," They Said: Retroactively, it was discovered that the film made an incredible recruitment tool for the Navy. However, one must be an officer to fly.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • Very much so. Most notably, all combat takes place within what the military would consider spitting distance; the flame-out scene, which is a real defect of the F-14, should have happened much earlier than it did. In all fairness, the military pilots doing the flying pointed this out, and the filmmakers agreed to try shooting actual aerial combat. The result was that you couldn't see anything, and Real Life bowed to Rule of Cool.
    • There is no such plane as the MiG-28. Even if there was, Mig naming traditions mean that it would be a odd-number (mig doesn't do even numbers).
  • Love Theme: Berlin's "Take My Breath Away", which plays pretty much anytime Maverick and Charlie are together.
  • Military Maverick: Call sign "Maverick".
  • Missile Lock On: Constantly during the aerial combat scenes. Ironically, most of the dogfights in the film take place INSIDE the minimum effective range of the missiles carried by the aircraft in the film, as noted by several characters when 'switching to guns', yet they go back to missiles by the time they actually fire.
  • Nice Guy: Goose, in spades. A devoted family man, liked by everyone, and pretty much the only one who can rein his impetuous partner in. Naturally, he dies two-thirds of the way through the film.
  • Nintendo Hard: The NES video game, thanks to those bloody difficult carrier landings.
  • Nom de Guerre: All of the aviators. Gets a Lampshade Hanging when Maverick introduces himself this way to a stranger.
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently one reason Mav's still just a lieutenant (besides being a Bunny-Ears Lawyer) is because he hit on an admiral's daughter at one point. Or something to that effect.
  • Number Two: Jester to Viper.
  • Oh, Crap: Wolfman's reaction to learning he's up against Viper, as well as Goose's
    • Maverick and Goose's reaction when they realize that their new instructor is the woman they'd tried to hit on the night before.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Goose's actual name is never stated onscreen. Everyone, even his wife, just calls him Goose. His real name was Nick Bradshaw.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: The carrier's catapult breaks down in the climax, preventing the launch of more aircraft to assist Maverick and Iceman.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Maverick was already upset at Charlie for dressing him down for pushing the envelope at a training exercise debriefing. It didn't help that she nearly hit two cars trying to follow him afterward.
    Maverick: JESUS CHRIST! And you think I'm reckless?! When I fly, I'll have you know that MY CREW! AND MY PLANE! COME FIRST!
  • Rated M for Manly: And...HOW!
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Maverick and Iceman. Maverick and Goose.
  • The Rival: Iceman for Maverick, who doesn't like Maverick's habit of abandoning his wingmen. Ice wins the Top Gun trophy, but Mav eventually earns his respect in the final battle when he at last learns to never abandon his wingman thereby saving Iceman's ass.
  • Running Gag: The Air Boss can't seem to keep his coffee in the cup when Maverick "buzzes the tower".
    • "I'm sorry, I hate it when he/she/it does that."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Also an Establishing Character Moment, in the beginning, Maverick aborts his landing to help the badly-shaken Cougar land his plane even though he's low on fuel himself.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Viper says it best during orientation:
    "Gentlemen, this school is about combat. There are no points for second place."
  • Serenade Your Lover: Featuring "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", albeit for a one-night stand than a lover.
  • Shirtless Scene: Beach volleyball.
  • Shown Their Work: With certain exceptions made because of Rule of Cool, this movie is a pretty accurate portrayal of US Naval aviation.
    • Special mention goes to the accident resulting in Goose's death; both the engine flameout due to jetwash and the danger to the RIO of ejecting during a flat spin are known faults of the F-14A.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The relationship between Maverick and Charlie, especially at first.
    • In real life, Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis despised each other.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Cougar. It's because of his Heroic BSOD in the beginning that Maverick and Goose get to go to Top Gun.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Iceman and Maverick, respectively. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: When Maverick and Goose first meet Iceman and Slider at the bar, Slider says, "It's Mr. Iceman to you."
  • Time Marches On:
    • The Top Gun school left Miramar years ago. It's now based in Nevada under a different name and teaches both air combat -and- ground-attack.
    • F-14s, which feature so prominently in the film, have all been retired from service with the Navy. While the A-4 as a aggressor has also been retired, the navy still uses the bad guys plane the Mig28 (in reality the F-5)for aggressor combat.
    • Despite still being a minority, it would now be very unusual for absolutely no women to be seen serving aboard a carrier.
    • The USS Enterprise has since been deactivated.
  • Tragic Bromance: Goose dies in a training accident, and Maverick almost dies on the inside.
  • Weapons Understudies: A-4s and F-5s for MiGs. A-4s and F-5s were chosen by the actual TOPGUN training seminar for "Dissimilar Air Combat Training," which is military jargon for, "We can't get real MiGs, but these planes can be modified to have have similar flight characteristics of just about any soviet fighter (the f-5 interestedly enough is still the most maneuverable fighter in subsonic flight in the US military except for thrust vectoring planes), so they'll do." They did actually have some Russian planes in the Constant Peg program, but its existence was classified at that time.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Inverted. Maverick's dad died in air combat, and Maverick is constantly reassuring himself that his father was, indeed, the ace that he has told himself since childhood. Viper, whose role is partly Big Brother Mentor, eventually assures him that this was the case.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Viper chews out Maverick over breaking the Top Gun rules of engagement and his flyby after the first hop.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Nicknames really but the effect is the same.
    Charlotte: I'm Charlotte Blackwood.
    Maverick: I'm Maverick.
    Charlotte: Did your mother not like you?
    Maverick: No, it's my call sign.

Alternative Title(s):

Top Gun The Second Mission