Top Gun: Maverick Director Won't Shoot Down One Wild Fan Theory Related To The Movie

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick. If you have not yet seen the film, proceed at your own risk!

Some movies feel like they are specifically designed to eternally be parsed and dissected by audiences (the filmography of Jordan Peele immediately springs to mind), but the truth of the matter is that even the most straight-forward films become the subjects of intense speculation in the internet age. A fan can start focusing on a specific detail, and if it garners enough attention on social media it can become "a thing."

Naturally, this activity is even more fun when filmmakers make the choice not to dismiss this kind of speculation – and that's the exact circumstance we have here, as Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski is opting not to refute a theory that the whole movie is just a post-mortem dream experienced by Tom Cruise's titular hero.

The filmmaker recently did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, and when Kosinski was asked if he wanted to dispute the fan theory, he decided to decline. Said the director,

No, movies are meant to be interpreted in a variety of ways, and I love it when people read different meanings into it. So I love hearing that theory, and certainly, there’s a mythic kind of element to the story that I think lends itself to that sort of interpretation, based on who Maverick is and what he represents and the fact that he’s kind of going through this rite of passage at a different phase of his life.

The Top Gun: Maverick death dream theory seems to trace back to a piece from Vulture published back in May. As those who have seen the movie will remember, the story begins with Tom Cruise's Maverick serving the military as a test pilot for experimental aircraft. Against the wishes of his superiors, Maverick takes flight in a plane called the "Darkstar" and pushes the machine to go Mach 10.3 (a.k.a. more than 10 times the speed of sound). 

Maverick is reassigned to the TOPGUN program as a consequence for his actions – but the theory states that's not actually what happens to the character. Instead, the idea proposes that the brilliant pilot is killed during the test, and everything that happens after in Top Gun: Maverick is a fantasy created by his dying mind.

When you take a macro look at Top Gun: Maverick, one can see why this perspective holds water in a lot of minds. There are a lot of things that happen to Maverick that could be called idyllic for the character: he makes peace with Goose's son (Miles Teller) after interfering with his Navy career, he reunites with his lost love (Jennifer Connelly), and he is able to lead a successful mission that, on paper, was deemed a near-impossibility.   

"It was all just a dream" and "the character was dead the whole time" are fairly basic fan theories that movie-goers have applied to a lot of films over the years, but Joseph Kosinski can be marked down as a fan of this take as applied to Top Gun: Maverick, and he appreciates that viewers are crafting their own interpretations of his work:

So I like that theory. Movies are things that are meant to be interpreted in your own way and based on how you see the world and the experiences that you’ve had. So I will not throw cold water on that. It’s a really cool interpretation of the story.

If you're not sure exactly how to feel about this fan theory and want to rewatch the movie with the idea in mind, the good news is that it's still incredibly easy to find screenings of Top Gun: Maverick. While the film came out in late May, it is still in the Top 5 at the box office, and as of this past weekend was still playing in over 2,900 theaters nationwide.

To discover all of the features that are coming out between now and the end of the year, both in theaters and on streaming services, check out our 2022 Movie Release Calendar.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.