Top Gun celebrates 37 years

An F-14 Tomcat at Miramar
PH2 Michael D.P. Flynn, U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The original Top Gun movie was first released across the USA on May 16th 1986, so we thought we would celebrate its 37th anniversary with some interesting facts about the film, and the biggest star of the movie – the F-14 Tomcat.

The Original: Some facts you might not know

The movie was initially released on May 12th in theatres in New York City only. With a budget of just $15million, it went on to gross $357.3 million in the box office. A large proportion of that budget was spent on using real aircraft and Navy ships during the filming.

The cost for the F-14s to be used for filming apparently came in at $8000 an hours – equivalent to about $21,000 in today’s money.

Two F-14 Tomcats in flight
Above: Two U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcats from Fighter Squadron VF-194 Red Lightnings in flight near Naval Air Station Miramar, California (USA), in 1988.Photo Credit: LCDR Art Legare, USN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

The shot with them taking off from the USS Enterprise into the sunset apparently cost around $25,000 because it required the repositioning of the aircraft carrier. All in all, the filming with real aircraft and Navy ships cost Paramount a rumoured $1.8million.

Above: U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat fighters of Fighter Squadron VF-114 “Aardvarks” and VF-213 “Black Lions” aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, 1989. Photo Credit:  JOCS Kirby Harrison, U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The success of the film benefited the Navy too – it became something of a recruitment video, and ‘Danger Zone’ was reused by them as the soundtrack for their 1987 ‘Join the Navy’ commercial.

Above: Kansas City Barbeque in San Diego; location of bar bar scene with Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan, and Anthony Edwards. Photo Credit: Nan Palmero, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite that, quoting lines from Top Gun is apparently (sadly) banned at the real Top Gun academy. In fact, if anyone does they are automatically fined (although rumour has it, its only $5).

Grumman – the manufacturer of the F-14s – were commissioned to construct pods to attach to the aircraft to enable filming from them while they were being flown.

While the F-14s are real though, other scenes are less ‘technically’ accurate – the enemy MiG aircraft are actually Douglas A-4 Skyhawks painted black to simulate them.

Above: A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4E Skyhawk (BuNo 151095) from the Fighter Weapons School (“Top Gun”) at Naval Air Station Miramar, California. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The original movie was reportedly inspired by an article published in California Magazine. Have a read of it here if you’re interested.

The F-14 Tomcat

The F-14 was first delivered to the US Navy in 1972, and finally retired from service in 2016. The aircraft had a top speed of 2.34 Mach, produce by two P&W augmented turbofan engines rated at 20,000lb thrust each.

It replaced the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom Into serve as the Navy’s main maritime superiority fighter, interceptor and tactical aerial reconnaissance aircraft.

Above: Grumman F-14A Tomcat of VF-154 ‘Black Knights’ based at NAS Miramar on deployment, 1989. Photo Credit: Mike Freer Touchdown-aviation via Wikimedia Commons

The flexibility of the aircraft comes from its variable geometry wings that swing automatically in flight, allowing high speed intercept manoeuvres by sweeping back, and lower speed flight by sweeping forwards.

The fuselage and wing design also enabled much faster climb rates, while the tail design helped improve stability, while the bubble canopy provided far better all-around visibility for the crew during air-to-air combat.

The name ‘Tomcat’ was chosen to pay tribute to Admiral Thomas Connelly (nickname ‘Tomcat’) who played a big part in the design of the aircraft.

Topgun 2 (Maverick)

The long awaited sequel came out on May 27th 2022 and cost over 10 times the budget to produce, but grossed nearly 1.5 billion dollars.

By Rebecca Lougheed 5 Min Read
5 Min Read
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