I’ll be the first to admit that I loved watching Top Gun: Maverick (so much so that I watched it twice in a week). I was delightfully surprised. I wasn’t a fan of the 1986 film, and I don’t find myself gravitating to ones that involve planes, trains, and automobiles (the only exceptions are Cars and the Fast & Furious franchises). However, Top Gun: Maverick blew my mind—in that it kept me engaged for 2 whole hours, and used the characters’ military standing as a mere backdrop to the fun-filled team building theme.
Despite many films opting for the CGI and green screen route, Tom Cruise and the team behind Maverick wanted to go above and beyond for this highly anticipated sequel. Cruise has gone on record saying that he wanted to wait until the technology was advanced enough to seamlessly blend practical effects with the necessary technological effects as a supplement. After reading some of the lengths they went through to make this film the best it could possibly be, you’ll watch it again with a fresh perspective and a whole lot of appreciation.
1. Flying lessons and withstanding G-force
The entire main cast of Top Gun: Maverick had to take classes that revolved around the basics of flying and how to withstand G-force. They would go up into the air for about 90 minutes a few times a day to acclimate themselves in that environment. This makes sense, because these actors were actually in the planes as they were flying in the air. Learning to handle G-force was the only way they could survive filming without constantly blacking out and throwing up.
2. The P-51 in the final scene is Tom Cruise’s
Yes, you read that correctly. Tom Cruise has a whole fighter jet parked in his personal hangar. During the final few minutes of the film, we see Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) taking his love interest Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) on a joy ride in a (World War II-era) P-51 Mustang fighter jet as they ride off together into the sunset; in classic ’80s fashion.
3. Mach 10 take-off scene was real (and done in one take)
If you’re familiar with Maverick’s personality in the OG movie, then you know this man finds enjoyment in disobeying commanding officers. In the opening scene, we hear that the Mach 9 program has been scrapped in favor of the new Mach 10 program. Maverick, disappointed in losing the opportunity to fly at such speed, takes things into his own hands, and attempts to reach Mach 10 before getting the OK from the Rear admiral (Ed Harris).
This scene was not done by the hand of CGI. It was done by one of the very few Navy pilots cleared to fly a low-altitude transition maneuver. The maneuver created a massive pressure wave, effectively destroying a piece of the set…which meant the crew was only able to do the shot once.
4. The piano scene was not filled with extras
The scene where Rooster (Miles Teller) joyfully sings “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis while playing the piano at the Hard Deck Bar is easily better than the piano scene in the original Top Gun. Usually, scenes with this many people are packed with extras, regular people who are hired to just fill the background. While that’s normally the case, this time we got an extra added dose of authenticity.
The “extras” you see in the bar scene are actual pilots who were just as happy as Rooster to be there loudly singing the classic Top Gun song while cheering on their “fellow pilot.”
5. Val Kilmer’s voice was generated with AI
Val Kilmer reprised his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and to many fans’ surprise, he had a speaking line. It came as a surprise to just about everyone because Kilmer came forward about his throat cancer diagnosis in 2017. Since then, he has progressively lost his voice, rendering him nearly incapable of speaking. Using the power of technology, the Top Gun: Maverick crew was able to generate Kilmer’s voice using an AI program, Sonantic, and managed to stitch together a full sentence using compiled audio clips from Kilmer’s prior works.
6. Tom Cruise’s boot camp
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Just like its predecessor, the Top Gun sequel is becoming a little too popular because of “the beach scene.” Granted, it’s not as focused on objectifying the bodies of Naval pilots like the 1986 film, but it would be ridiculous to say it doesn’t have a lot of people in awe. It’s not all fun in the sun and hard abs though.
The cast had to workout an insane amount just for this one scene. The cast had to undergo a Tom Cruise bootcamp of sorts (confirmed by Miles Teller), and when they thought they had wrapped the scene, they went out to celebrate with burgers and the like, only to find out that they had to reshoot the scene — bringing them back to painful “bootcamp” before the reshoot.
7. No CGI in the cockpit
The cast didn’t do aerial training for nothing. All aerial scenes were shot in actual planes that were being piloted — just not by the cast. The planes were being piloted by real Navy pilots. The cast rode along, but that doesn’t mean it was any easier. As a part of the aforementioned intensive “bootcamp,” they had to train as if they were about to pilot a real F/A 18 Super Hornet.
Since the actors couldn’t be contacted by director Joseph Kosinski in the air during filming, this made the actor fully in charge of the shot—as a director and cinematographer. Their only point of contact was the pilot with them. The crew of the sequel invented new camera rigs to go inside the cockpit with the actors, which required them to properly frame and light the shots.
8. Running a low-level course like Maverick did will probably never happen again
Kosinski and Cruise worked very closely with the Navy to plan out Maverick’s rogue course test-run. Not only was it approaching a low-level hard deck (meaning it’s way too close to the ground), but there were a lot of aspects in regards to the types of cameras they could use to properly get this shot. This required them to remove any unnecessary bulk from the plane.
This gave them ample space to install a 6k Sony Venice digital cinema camera with lightweight lenses. Plus, the new Rialto system extending the camera’s sensor blocks, which allowed for film to be shot over the actors’ shoulders and in toward the plane.
Apart from figuring out how to get a camera inside and get the shot, they had to make sure that the batteries didn’t tap into the plane’s power, and could safely and securely withstand shocks, vibration, and more than 7.5 Gs. It’s safe to assume that for the safety of everyone and everything, this kind of shot will not happen again.
9. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace’s dance background was a huge asset
Actor Monica Barbaro had a leg up on a lot of her main cast. As a professionally trained dancer, she was more than prepared to withstand the intensity of the flying maneuvers without throwing up. Before acting, Barbaro got her BFA in dance at New York University. She attributes her high pain tolerance that she built up during her time training as a dancer giving her the strength during flight training.
“There was a funny moment where a couple of the guys were saying they hated going upside down, and I was like, ‘I’ve been going upside down forever. I would do handstands before flights…. It helped me control some of the weird feelings of blood rushing to spaces you don’t usually want it to.'”
Photos via Paramount Pictures