Tom Cruise made several requests before agreeing to star in Top Gun: Maverick, with the main one being that the film be as realistic as possible. The first Top Gun tried with great success to remain realistic, but only Tom Cruise succeeded in withstanding the G forces of an F-14.
It presented a challenge as the filmmakers graduated to the brutal F/A 18 Hornet. Cruise said:
“You don’t know how hard this movie is going to be. No one’s ever done this before. There’s never been an aerial sequence shot this way. I don’t know if there ever will be again, to be honest.”
Despite the challenges involved, Top Gun: Maverick managed to be very convincing.
The actors in Top Gun: Maverick underwent intensive training to handle the G-forces of some of the maneuvers
Tony Scott, the original Top Gun filmmaker, wanted to shoot as many flying scenes as possible, but the actors failed to keep their lunches inside during flights. Val Kilmer wrote in his memoir I’m Your Huckleberry:
“We went up in the jets several times and… I have to report that I was the only one who didn’t regurgitate, which, given the gut-wrenching drops and spins of those ferocious flights, was no mean feat.”
Committed to using CGI only when absolutely necessary, Cruise created a training program for the film’s pilots to prepare them for the G-forces they would experience.
Actor Miles Teller told Men’s Health that the cast prepared for three months, starting with a Cessna before moving to an Extra 300 and finally an L-39 Albatros. Director Joseph Kosinski talked to Entertainment Weekly about Tom’s training program:
“That was Tom’s expertise. He knew that they wouldn’t be able to get in the plane and hold their lunch down and be able to do these scenes, so he created a training program that they all went through.”
Miles Teller said that the training worked, but most people never got used to the extreme forces of the jets. He said:
“The F-18 is just a completely different beast. Every element of our training came into play during those sequences, all of the breathing techniques and tolerances. Every single day of the shoot we were really getting after it, up until the very last day people were fainting and puking.”
Monica Barbaro told New York Daily News that the actors spent time in planes during breaks in filming. “If we ever had a day off from filming, we would be sent over to the airport to go fly… to keep sustaining Gs,” she said. “It would have been a huge disservice to get out of shape.”
The commitment to realism made filming difficult for the director
Director Joseph Kosinski faced a unique problem: how to film actors flying inside small cockpits at breakneck speeds. Kosinski told Entertainment Weekly that he worked with navy pilots for 15 months to figure out how and where to place cameras in the cockpit.
“We ended up getting IMAX-quality cameras into the cockpit with the pilots and the actor,” Kosinski said. Kosinski couldn’t direct actors during flights, making filming a tedious but fun process.
The actors would fly for a couple of hours before returning to view the footage with Joseph. He would then advise them on what to change before sending them back to the skies for another take. Kosinski said:
“It was a very unique way to direct, because it was a lot of prep and a lot of rehearsal. And it was very tedious — you’re only getting a minute or two of good stuff every day. But it’s the only way to get footage that looks like this.”
Glenn Powell told Entertainment Weekly that he never thought the idea would work, but the final product justified the intense and expensive preparations. Powell said:
“You just feel the peril for everyone in the movie in a different way. If you were using CGI, audiences are very smart, they can tell the difference. When you are whipping through canyons at 650 knots, you can’t fake that, and you can’t fake the Gs on actors’ faces.”
The final cut included some bloopers that made the film more realistic
Film bloopers usually appear during the credits scene, but in Top Gun: Maverick, some bloopers appear in the final cut.
For instance, Miles Teller, who plays Rooster in the film, failed to strap himself tightly enough onto his seat. The forces lifted him off when the jet inverted, banging his head against the canopy.
This scene made it into the film as it brought out the realism of oversight and added tension to the sequence. In the first scene, the jet’s take-off ripped apart a shack’s roof, but Kosinski saw no need to rebuild the set, as though unplanned, the shack’s collapse made the scene look real.
Joseph Kosinski told CineFix: “I think when you see the film, you really feel what it’s like to be a Top Gun pilot. You can’t fake the G-forces. You can’t fake the vibration. You can’t fake what it’s like to be in one of these fighter jets. We wanted to capture every bit of that, and shooting it for real allowed us to do that.”
Despite the filmmakers’ effort, some experts opine that the maneuvers in Top Gun: Maverick fail the realism test. Bernardo Malfitano, an aeronautical engineer and pilot, praised the flying in the first Top Gun. He told Popular Mechanics:
“So, although Top Gun’s depiction of the life of a naval aviator might not have been exceptionally well-written, the flying is almost all very realistic.”
However, he said that some of the moves depicted in Top Gun: Maverick are unrealistic. For instance, the backflipped performed in Top Gun: Maverick is challenging to perform in the planes shown in the film, Malfitano opined.
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