There's a movie where Tom Cruise stars as a cocky guy with specialized skills and a lot of daddy-abandonment issues. He excels at his chosen pursuit until he's sidelined by a crisis of confidence, but after hearing a pep talk, he climbs back in the saddle and wins the day. Okay, that could be just about any Tom Cruise movie, but the one that really set the pattern is 'Top Gun,' released 25 years ago this week, on May 16, 1986. Not only is it the signature movie of Cruise's career, it's pretty much the signature movie of the entire 1980s.
At the height of the Cold War and the gung-ho Reagan era, 'Top Gun' played like a naval recruiting ad crafted by MTV. The macho camaraderie among the Navy pilots-in-training, the awesome (and awesomely expensive) military hardware on display, the flight montages set to carefully chosen rock anthems -- all date the movie, though its impact is felt to this day.
Besides Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Kelly McGillis, the stars of the movie were the F-14 fighter planes. The filmmakers secured the cooperation of the Navy and the use of its fighter pilots, planes and aircraft carriers in return for ceding script approval (the Navy toned down some plot elements and made McGillis' character a civilian so that Cruise's lieutenant wouldn't violate military policy by romancing someone else who was in the service) and spare-no-expense rental fees. In addition to paying $7,800 per hour for use of the planes outside their scheduled maneuvers, director Tony Scott once whipped out a check for $25,000 to pay an aircraft carrier captain to change course so that he could shoot for five minutes with the sunlight behind the planes taking off and landing on deck.
That's in addition to the planes the production rented to film from the air. One stunt pilot and in-air cameraman, Art Scholl, died in a plane crash during filming; the movie was dedicated to his memory.
While the film's advertising played up the action and the romance between the Cruise and McGillis characters, at its heart, 'Top Gun' was about male bonding. The strongest relationship in the movie is actually the bromance of Maverick (Cruise) and Goose (Edwards); McGillis and Meg Ryan (as Goose's gal, Carole) are almost afterthoughts. Goose's death in a training accident makes Maverick inconsolable with grief, but commander Viper (Tom Skerritt) restores his morale with tales of Maverick's late father's unheralded heroism. Maverick goes on to prove himself in battle and finally makes an admiring friend out of bitter rival Iceman (Kilmer).
The locker-room towel-snapping camaraderie of the pilots is, like most everything else about 'Top Gun,' a little over the top. So much so, in fact, that its easy to snicker about 'Top Gun's' (probably) unintentional homoeroticism. A few years later, the film would get a notorious and hilarious deconstruction of its secret gay subtext in a monologue delivered by Quentin Tarantino in the 1994 movie 'Sleep With Me.'
Still, none of this kept the film from being the biggest hit of 1986 or having an enormous impact beyond the movie theater. It was also one of the first blockbusters of the then-new home videocassette market, as it was priced to sell (at $20) instead of to rent. It also boosted Naval recruitment 500 percent and lifted the sales of bomber jackets and Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses. Its soundtrack sold an astonishing 7 million copies and made stars of Berlin, whose ballad "Take My Breath Away" won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Cruise's line, "I feel the need... the need for speed!" became a popular catchphrase.
And of course, it sent into the stratosphere the careers of nearly everyone involved. Besides setting the template for Cruise's success as the world's top leading man for the next 20 years, it also provided career boosts to the rest of the cast, to director Tony Scott ('Top Gun' elevated him to A-list status as an action director) and to its producers, especially Jerry Bruckheimer. The lavish spectacle he bankrolled in 'Top Gun' has been the norm for the rest of his career, particularly the movies he produced for director Michael Bay (whose career is unthinkable without the blueprint of 'Top Gun') and Bruckheimer's last decade or so of Disney action movies, including this week's new 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.'
1929 (May 16): The very first Academy Awards ceremony is held as a banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. The winners having been announced in advance ('Wings' and 'Sunrise' shared Best Picture honors), the actual handing out of prizes takes only about five minutes.
2001 (May 18): 'Shrek' is released, launching a fractured-fairytale franchise that includes four movies (so far) and a Broadway musical. It goes on to win the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature and establishes DreamWorks Animation as the first viable rival to Disney in the field of feature-length cartoons.
2008 (May 15): Former "private investigator to the stars" Anthony Pellicano is convicted on 76 or 77 counts of racketeering activities involving illegal wiretaps of celebrities' phones and unauthorized accessing of police files. He had acted as his own attorney during the trial, which also saw four of his associates convicted.
Megan Fox turned 25 on May 16; does that mean she's officially over the hill? '21' star Jim Sturgess turned 30 that same day, which was also the birthday of Debra Winger (56) and Pierce Brosnan (58).
Diva-turned-action star Grace Jones turns 59 on May 19; other action icons with birthdays this week are Chow Yun-Fat (56 on May 18) and Mr. T (59 on May 21). Also celebrating are funny ladies Tina Fey (41 on May 18) and writer/director Nora Ephron (70 on May 19). On May 20, Cher turns 65 (or at least, parts of her do).
Other birthdays this week: On May 17, 'Social Network' Oscar-winning composer Trent Reznor turned 46, while Bill Paxton turned 56. Bronson Pinchot turns 52 on May 20, and Fairuza Balk turns 37 on May 21.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' - Trailer No. 3
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (PG-13)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush
Directed By: Rob Marshall
What's It About? Capt. Jack Sparrow is back, on an adventure that takes him in search of the Fountain of Youth. Also aboard are an old flame (Cruz), the legendary pirate Blackbeard (McShane), and Sparrow's old frenemy Barbossa (Rush), now an admiral in the British Navy.
Why Should You See It? The last two 'Pirates' movies, with their confusing mythology, probably didn't leave you wanting more. This one, however, is supposed to be a more streamlined, stand-alone story. Gone is the soggy romantic subplot involving civilians Will and Elizabeth (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley aren't in this movie), and the focus is back where it should be, on Depp's loopy buccaneer.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'
Penélope Cruz's Sexiest Moments
At the Premiere, With Kermit the Frog | On the Set
'Midnight in Paris,' Woody Allen's latest romantic comedy, stars Owen Wilson as a writer who, with doubts about his talent and his upcoming marriage, finds himself traveling back in time to Jazz Age Paris and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Naturally, the French loved this one when it opened the Cannes Film Festival last week.
Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
•'Bridesmaids' - The 'Hangover Part II' guys will have their work cut out for them if they want to outfunny this bridal party. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
•'Priest' - If you're going to see just one movie about a vampire-hunting clergyman this year... Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
•'Something Borrowed' - Will Ferrell proves he can do straight drama in this minimalist tale of a drunken salesman whose life is literally reduced to a yard sale. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Cinematical's Review
New on DVD: It's all about mentors and proteges this week, in professions few of us would dare try. In 'The Mechanic' (Buy or rent the DVD), Jason Statham is an assassin who takes on an apprentice while wreaking mayhem. In 'The Rite' (Buy or rent the DVD), Anthony Hopkins is an exorcist who teaches a young priest how to find and cast out demons. Both make a point of offering genre fans the expected thrills and chills, but the real reason to see these is to catch the elder actors doing what they do best. Statham grimly kicks butt without breaking a sweat or a smile, and Hopkins gleefully chews scenery in ways that only beloved British master thespians can get away with. More new DVD releases
On Our Netflix Queue: If Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz display any chemistry in the new 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' it's because they have a history together, having played a more modern variety of Caribbean pirate. Ten years ago, they co-starred in the little-seen cocaine saga 'Blow.' Depp plays real-life smuggler George Jung, who claimed credit for having opened up the American cocaine market to the Medellín cartel in the 1970s. Cruz plays his upper-crust, Colombian-born wife, Mirtha. The film is a 'Goodfellas'-like tale of a life in the drug-dealing underworld; Ray Liotta even appears as Jung's hard-working, struggling dad. But you know the coke-fueled nightmare that marks Henry Hill's downfall during the last few minutes of 'Goodfellas'? That takes up about half the film here, with George on a long, merciless descent thanks to drugs, betrayals and his passionate, tumultuous, scary relationship with Mirtha. The pretty pair make life at the top of the drug pyrmaid seem both bleak and powerfully seductive. Buy or rent the DVD
On TV: Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the news so much lately that it's easy to forget that, 30 years ago, he wasn't a movie star, a retired politician or a sex scandal pariah, just a bodybuilder with a funny accent and unlikely dreams of stardom. That changed with the one-two punch of 'Conan the Barbarian' (1982) and 'Conan the Destroyer' (1984). Robert E. Howard had created the prehistoric fantasy warrior character decades earlier, but Conan seemed tailor-made for Schwarzenegger's rippling shoulders. (Granted, the films demanded a lot more of him, in emotional range and tongue-twisting archaic dialogue, than he could muster, a problem his stoic, nearly silent Terminator character would eventually remedy.) The two movies, pretty hard to take seriously even then, may appear even sillier now, but there ought to be a good drinking game in watching them, particularly every time Arnold drops a howler like the one about gloating over the lamentations of women. Try it out (and steel yourself for this summer's 'Conan the Barbarian' reboot) with this weekend's double feature. (AMC, Saturday, 5PM and 8PM). Check your local listings
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.