TOP GUN [1986]

On May 16, 1986, two new films debuted on mall cineplexes around the country.  One was Sweet Liberty - written by, directed by and starring Alan Alda.  The movie grossed $3M that weekend good for 3rd place.  The second place film had been #1 the week prior but Short Circuit took in 17% less at the box office and ended up as the runner-up.  The film that debuted in the top spot that week went on to be the highest grossing film of the year, spending 30 consecutive weeks in the Top 11 while earning $177M or $378M in 2013 dollars.  That film was Top Gun... which you probably guessed from the image above.

The movie traveled a long, hard road to production, only getting the greenlight after a regime change at Paramount Studios.  At least seven versions of the script were written by Jack Epps Jr and Jim Cash; Tony Scott, the director, was fired three times and stunt pilot Art Schorr died while filming footage, resulting in the film being dedicated to him.

Although the screenwriters confirm they had Tom Cruise in mind for the lead role of "Maverick" when they were working on the script, the studio, producers and director offered the role to several other actors before Cruise signed on.  Among the contenders were Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr, John Cusack, Scott Baio, Nicolas Cage, Patrick Swayze, John Travolta, Emilio Estevez (and his little brother, Charlie Sheen), Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Eric Stolz, Tom Hanks, Ferris Beuller Matthew Broderick, Matthew Modine and Jim Carrey.

Before Kelly McGillis, fresh from her role in Witness, was cast as "Maverick"'s love interest "Charlie", filmmakers looked at Jodie Foster, Diane Lane, Linda Hamilton, Brooke Shields, Tatum O'Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Carrie Fisher and Sarah Jessica Parker for the role.

HERC recommends Top Gun not for it's military (in)accuracy or patriotic tone but for it's terrific flight sequences, all filmed without CGI. It is the modern day equivalent of Howard Hughes's epic aerial combat film Wings, a 1927 Paramount movie.  Top Gun is rated PG for "action sequences, language and some sexual content."Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise both confirm a sequel has been in the works since shortly after the original premiered.  The two did reteam for Days Of Thunder in 1990 which was pitched as "Top Gun meets NASCAR".

Top Gun was released on VHS (with the Diet Pepsi commercial above preceding the movie on the tape) then DVD, HD-DVD and blu ray.  HERC has owned the film in all of those formats and still has his HD-DVD and blu ray.  In February 2013, a 3D version of the film was re-released in theaters for a week before being issued on blu ray.

Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the producers of Top Gun, had previously worked with Harold Faltermeyer on two movies (1983's Flashdance and 1984's Beverly Hills Cop) with bestselling soundtracks, so they tapped him to score the film.  It was Harold, who was working on recording synth parts for Billy Idol's Whiplash Smile album at the time, that brought in Idol's guitarist Steve Stevens to lay down the soaring guitar solo on the film opener and soundtrack album closer "Top Gun Anthem".

The official 10 song soundtrack album was released on May 13, 1986, on Columbia Records.  Although The Cars's "Stranger Eyes" was featured in the film's trailer as seen (and heard) above, it was not featured in the film or on the soundtrack album.  In a misguided attempt to amp up the film's patriotism, producers made an offer to Bruce Springsteen to use his song "Born In The USA".  To his credit, The Boss turned them down.  Judas Priest was asked to include their song "Reckless" in the film; they declined, fearing it would be a flop.  Another band, Ratt, were asked to if their song "Reach For The Sky" could be included in the film; they also declined.  Then the producers reached out to proven hitmaker Giorgio Moroder (who Faltermeyer had often worked with) for songs they could use on the film's soundtrack.  He came back with two which they rejected but then he came up with two more: "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away".

"Danger Zone" was written expressly to follow the "Top Gun Anthem" at the film's beginning, as seen in the movie's opening credits scene, above.  Bryan Adams was given first crack at recording "Danger Zone" in a deal that would have seen his song "Only The Strong Survive" included in the film also.  He declined because he believed the film glorified war. The song was then offered to Columbia Records recording artist Toto who hoped to use their own song "Only You" as the film's love theme.  The lawyers, labels and producers couldn't work it out so the track was offered to fellow label artists REO Speedwagon, who insisted they be able to include one of their own compositions on the soundtrack, as had been the deal for both Adams and Toto.  The film's producers refused and Moroder offered Kenny Loggins, who in addition to being a Columbia Records artist had already written and recorded one song for the soundtrack, the chance to record "Danger Zone".  He accepted.

"Take My Breath Away" had originally been considered for the soundtrack of 9½ Weeks but Moroder instead decided to submit it for inclusion in Top Gun.  A demo of the song was recorded with Martha Davis, front woman of The Motels, on vocals.  Here's the story in Davis's own words, just posted last week, from her official website Martha Davis + The Motels:
I got a call from Giorgio… “Hey Martha, I would like you to sing on this song” and he sent over a cassette of “Take My Breath Away.” I don’t consider myself very A&R-ish but when I heard it I said, “damn, that’s a hit!” I went in and sang the song, but then, Terri ended up doing it and having it featured in Top Gun. There’s a big part of me that is glad that I didn’t do it because I’m a writer and I think I would have been known more for that song than any other. –m

The group Berlin was recording a song ("No More Words") with Moroder as producer for their next album at the time and he asked if they'd be interested in recording "Take My Breath Away".  They said "yes" even though only singer Terri Nunn (who had starred in the film Thank God It's Friday years earlier) would be featured on the track.  (The boys in the band were featured in the video, however.)  The version by Berlin won the battle of the demos and was featured as the film's obligatory love theme.  On a personal note, "Take My Breath Away" has been HERC and MRs. HERC's song ever since they saw the movie in the Summer of 1986.

In addition to "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away",  the other singles released from the soundtrack album included Loggins's "Playing With The Boys" which is heard during the volleyball scene; Cheap Trick's "Mighty Wings" which is heard over the closing credits and Loverboy's "Heaven In Your Eyes".  Only "Mighty Wings" failed to chart on Billboard's Hot 100.

The soundtrack album went on to sell over nine million copies making it not only one of the best selling soundtracks of all time but one of the 200 best selling albums of all time.  In 1987, "Take My Breath Away" won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song while "Top Gun Anthem" won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.  In 1999, an expanded and remastered Special Edition of the Top Gun soundtrack was released on CD containing five bonus tracks:
  • Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay"
  • Harold Faltermeyer's "Memories"
  • Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire"
  • The Righteous Brothers's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
  • and the Jellybean Benitez 12" remix of Kenny Loggins's "Playing with the Boys"

For the film's 20th Anniversary in 2006, a Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack was released featuring "Music From And Inspired By TOP GUN" which in this case meant that five songs that had nothing to do with the movie were tacked onto the previous fifteen track Special Edition disc to create a twenty track disc.  The five "Inspired By" songs are:
  • REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" (they made the soundtrack album after all)
  • Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings"
  • Europe's "The Final Countdown"
  • Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"
  • Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love"

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