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Top Gun 2 Nearly Got Made Back In The ’80s. Why I’m Really Glad It Didn’t Happen

Back in 1986, when a movie connected with the general public as fully as Top Gun did, the producers behind the film usually pushed for a sequel. Daniel Larusso kept returning for The Karate Kid chapters, long before Cobra Kai extended the story of karate in the Valley. RoboCop continuously took a bite out of crime. And dumb swimmers kept going back into the water, even after Jaws terrified summer blockbuster crowds. Tom Cruise wasn’t known for making sequels at the time, though, and 36 years have passed between the original movie and the new Top Gun: Maverick. But producer Jerry Bruckheimer recently told CinemaBlend why the sequel fell apart in the late 1980s… and I, for one, am glad that it did.

Ironically, Tom Cruise shared the general disdain for sequels with his Top Gun producer Jerry Bruckheimer. While the legendary producer was working on 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II with Eddie Murphy around the time that Top Gun dropped into theaters, Bruckheimer’s credits and projects tended to be original. But he did tell us that they considered Top Gun 2 in the late 1980s, until life got in the way. As Bruckheimer said to us at a recent Top Gun: Maverick press day: 

We certainly worked on it, but we got sidetracked with all the movies that we had to shoot right away. And that’s kind of what happens in our business. And Tom went off and did a lot of terrific movies, working with great directors and writers. So it finally came together when there was some zeitgeist that wanted to say, ‘It’s about time we get this (new) movie made.’ And thanks to Joe (Koskinski), we came up with a story that Tom loved.

That story, Top Gun: Maverick, is getting raves from critics ahead of its release. By waiting decades to return to this series, a Top Gun sequel is able to properly explore where Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is at this stage in his career, and how the loss of his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards) continues to affect him. There are emotional beats involving new co-stars like Jennifer Connelly and returning colleagues such as Val Kilmer. Those likely wouldn’t resonate the same way had Bruckheimer and Cruise gone right back to the well of Top Gun and tried to recapture the magic. 

Advancements in modern filmmaking also have helped Top Gun: Maverick to deliver on a thrilling aerial roller coaster ride that wasn’t possible when the original movie came out. The way that Joseph Kosinski films the flight sequences in Top Gun: Maverick will make audiences literally feel like they are accompanying Tom Cruise and his younger co-stars in the back of the Navy’s F-18 jets. Cruise reportedly even considered making an Extreme version of Top Gun: Maverick, filled with footage that would push the tolerance of risk-seeing audience members.

Had Jerry Bruckheimer convinced Tom Cruise to dive back into the world of Naval pilots, it might have prevented the A-lister from making his next movie – the dud of a NASCAR tribute titled Days of Thunder. That wouldn’t have been so bad. But spending too much time developing and shooting Top Gun 2 in the late 1980s or early 1990s could have also prevented Bruckheimer from backing Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys, the phenomenal Crimson Tide, or the one-two punch of The Rock and Con Air from Nicolas Cage. I don’t know about you, but I’m not trading any of those films for a possible Top Gun 2. For those reasons, I’m glad that Cruise and company waited.

Our own Eric Eisenberg gave Top Gun: Maverick four stars in his review, joining the list of critics who have sung the praises of this legacy sequel. There are so many reasons this one should be on your radar, from the shirtless beach football scene to the new track from Lady Gaga, which Cruise says eased a major concern he had about the film finally working. Be on the lookout for Top Gun: Maverick when it lands in theaters this Memorial Day weekend.

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.