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Top Gun: Maverick Ending: What Happens To Tom Cruise’s Character And Does The Film Set Up For A Sequel

Tom Cruise pumps his fist in excitement in Top Gun: Maverick.
(Image credit: Paramount)

Warning: spoilers for the Top Gun: Maverick ending are in play. If you haven’t seen this Tom Cruise legacy-quel, you may want to land on another runway of coverage at CinemaBlend. 

Arriving in theaters decades after Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell first took to the skies on the big screen, director Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick is one of the most hotly anticipated upcoming movies because of the film it succeeds. With that return came some ghosts of the past looking to be exorcised, thanks to Captain Mitchell’s previous exploits. By the time the movie ends though, there’s definitely potential for a sequel, as Maverick goes through quite a bit in Top Gun’s big follow-up.

For the sake of clarity, and as a last call for spoilers, I’m about to dig into what happens at the end of Top Gun 2, and some options for where the future could lead. As such, you’ll want to avoid reading any further if you want to remain surprised.

If you want to know more without spoilers, head to Eric Eisenberg’s official Top Gun: Maverick review. Also, don’t forget that Top Gun is, at the time of this writing, streaming for all Paramount+ subscribers; offering additional research into the lore of Maverick. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Pete Mitchell’s potential future might look like.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount)

What Happens To Maverick At The End Of Top Gun 2?

After a breathtaking third act that leads us to believe Maverick (Tom Cruise) is dead, we see Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller) turn back to rescue the man he held responsible for his father’s death. One last harrowing dogfight behind enemy lines sees Maverick and Rooster surviving by the skin of their teeth, allowing them to head home to safety. 

Upon returning victoriously, Rooster officially buries the hatchet with Maverick, putting them on good terms. The young squad that was taught to fly one of the most dangerous missions in modern aviation history also bonds together a bit closer. Even the cocky Lieutenant Jake "Hangman" Seresin (Glen Powell) learns a lesson in teamwork, befriending Rooster after a movie’s worth of aggravation. 

It’s all thanks to Captain Pete Mitchell’s Top Gun: Maverick training program, which teaches these young folks how to engage the enemy, and make it home. As his reward for overcoming the ghosts of his past, while enriching future generations of aviators, Maverick gets to literally fly into the sunset with the woman he loves, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). It’s a rather beautiful ending, but where does that leave Pete Mitchell’s potential future?

Tom Cruise flying jet in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

What Does This Mean For A Potential Top Gun 3?

First and foremost, we need to ask ourselves whether or not Top Gun 3 is possible after the events of Maverick. The short answer is yes, of course it's possible. Tom Cruise’s character survived, lived happily ever after, and managed to not get any of his young aviators killed in the process. That’s the basic formula for any Top Gun installment, and it’s met with flying colors. 

That being said, there are a couple of choice paths that are laid out ahead of Captain Pete Mitchell. With everything that happened in Top Gun: Maverick, you can’t just jump into another movie without the right plan. Keeping the events of the second film in mind, as well as Maverick’s personal journey and what it means, here’s a couple of options for what Top Gun 3 could be about.

Tom Cruise as Pete Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Option 1: Maverick Becomes A Trainer To A New Class Of Recruits

Now that Pete Mitchell has found love with Penny Benjamin in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick’s days of risking his life in the air seem to be over. To continue to put himself in danger like we’ve seen him do for almost 30 years would strain the relationship he has with Penny. She even explicitly mentions that he’s sworn time and again he’d quit, only to break her heart by reneging.

At this point, one of the sensible things to do in Top Gun 3 would be to make Captain Pete Mitchell a full-time Top Gun instructor. In a sense, Maverick would become the new Viper, continuing to teach the next generation how to maintain air powered superiority. Tom Cruise could still fly and ride motorcycles on screen, but his combat days would have to be officially over.

Jon Hamm in Top Gun Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Option 2: Aviation Strategy Becomes Maverick’s New Command

Having Pete Mitchell teaching newer, younger pilots almost sounds like a total retread of Top Gun: Maverick. While this legacy-quel does include a lot of nostalgic replays in its story, those moments were all included with specific purpose. Teaching might not be Captain Mitchell’s strong suit, which means that strategy would put Maverick on track to fight on a battlefield he’s never experienced before: the chain of command

Now that Top Gun 2 has put him on a path to a different life, perhaps Tom Cruise’s pop culture icon can finally let himself get promoted. As a higher ranking officer, Pete Mitchell could help engineer (and maybe test) those plans that need intense structure to really work. Even better, this plot line could see the rising star of Captain Mitchell clash even more with Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (Jon Hamm); which happened to be one of Top Gun: Maverick’s most powerful sources of conflict. 

Miles Teller in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Option 3: Top Gun 3 Focuses On Rooster’s Career As An Aviator

Top Gun 3 doesn’t only have to be about Captain Pete Mitchell and his post Maverick career. This potential route for a sequel does what most legacy follow-ups intend to do: pass the torch to the next generation. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to think about Top Gun: Rooster as the next chapter; with Tom Cruise’s aviator playing an advisor that sits more on the sidelines. 

The very end of Top Gun: Maverick isn’t only focused on where Maverick is going, as we see Lieutenant Bradley Bradshaw coming to terms with his father’s death as well. Standing in Pete Mitchell’s hanger, seeing the wall of memories that involve the late great Goose (Anthony Edwards), the way forward could see Top Gun 3 using Bradley as the key to more adventures with him squarely in the center of the new squad formed in Maverick.

Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Option 4: There Is No Sequel To Top Gun: Maverick

Looking at all of the ways Top Gun: Maverick could set up a sequel, there’s one final option we need to talk about. Looking at how well this second trip into the Danger Zone wrapped everything up, perhaps there doesn’t need to be a sequel to Maverick after all. If you need any evidence as to why, consider this: each of the concepts I’ve described mostly grounds Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell. 

Each of the sequels above takes into consideration the events of Top Gun 2, which all tie off several legacy plot points with great precision. That wasn’t by accident either, as Maverick needed the perfect story approach to even exist in the first place; a lesson that was amplified after learning why Top Gun 2 wasn’t made back in the ‘80s. Seeing how it all shook out in the end, Top Gun: Maverick just might be the best end point for the franchise.

At this point in his career, Tom Cruise might be close to giving up his trademark stunt work. There’s even talk of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part Two marking the end of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character; which sounds like more of a sign that a new era in the actor’s career is on the horizon. A Top Gun sequel without those sorts of hijinks needs to be carefully crafted; otherwise all of the work done on Maverick would be squandered. 

Of course, that’s a subject that’s up for discussion. Should you have read this feature before seeing the movie, or if you need a refresher before really digging in, Top Gun: Maverick is now in theaters! And while we’re at it, you can check out the trailer for Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, which will most assuredly be playing in front of that very feature presentation.

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.