Top Gun and the myth of Tom Cruise


In the pantheon of great Tom Cruise films, we find the usual suspects. There’s the Mission: Impossible series, of course, a franchise that redefined the way we experience action blockbusters. then there are the tent poles – Interview with the Vampire, Minority report, The last Samourai — which cemented it as a box office draw. And finally, we have the critical darlings – some good men, Born July 4, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia – who confirmed that he was more than just a pretty face. And then there are the years 1986 Upper gun.

Cruise was no stranger when he first played Maverick – indeed, the actor rose to prominence with the one-two punch of The foreigners and Risky business in 1983 – but Upper gun marked a before and after in his career. Cruise went from young and promising actor pre-Upper gun to the hunky, genuine movie star and legend-in-the-making after-Upper gun. In other words, Upper gun took Tom Cruise and turned him into Tom Cruise.


What was it Upper gun who fascinated the public of yesterday and today? Was it Cruise’s undeniable charm and charisma, a sexiness that few if any actors of his time had? Was it the surprising love story between Cruise’s famed Maverick and absurdly handsome but tough instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis), enhanced by the timelessness of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the mother of all ballads? powerhouses of the 80s? Was it the latent homoerotic tension shared between one of the film‘s many male characters, or the over-the-top, heart-pounding action sequences that seemed lifted from real life while remaining blatantly extravagant? All the foregoing.

Upper gun was one of a kind when it premiered in May 1986. Action films of the 1970s were brutal and somewhat unforgiving – a natural progression from the noir and detective genres that spawned masterpieces like The French Connection and Chinese district. There was a deeply human quality to their hardened detectives and dangerous women. But Upper gun was a new breed of genre, an action film that remarkably emphasized the action rather than the characters performing it. The aerial sequences were monumental, going far beyond thrilling and electrifying, bringing a sense of dynamism that made them utterly extraordinary, yet somehow possible.

The film redefined what it meant to be a Navy pilot, romanticizing the experience and reframing it as a hot guy’s job. Even Goose’s death wasn’t enough to convince the young men not to join the navy afterwards. Upper gun. In his book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors Moviesveteran journalist David L. Robb recounts how the Navy said the number of young men enlisting rose 500% after Upper gunthe exit.

Because who wouldn’t want to be Tom Cruise, wearing aviator sunglasses and soaring skyward after feeling the need for speed? Who wouldn’t want to charm the ladies by wearing a bomber jacket or playing shirtless volleyball on the beach? Upper gun did for the navy what the Indiana Jones movies did for archeology: make it hot, incredibly exciting, and ridiculously unreal.

The Tom Cruise Myth

Maverick turning to his right in Top Gun.

Risky business turned Tom Cruise into an idol, but Upper gun made him a star. The film marked the beginning of Cruise’s undisputed reign as a major box office attraction, cementing him as the definitive star of the late ’80s and early ’90s and the action hero of tomorrow. Long gone are the hardened, unbreakable men of the noir and crime thrillers of yesteryear, replaced by a new kind of hero, one who seemed straight out of a magazine, more at home in a Calvin Klein ad than in the post. from police. He looked stunning shirtless and had a dazzling smile that could charm both men and women. And Tom Cruise was the poster child of the archetype.

Upper gun was the prototype for many of Cruise’s future roles. In his thunder days review, Roger Ebert described the typical Tom Cruise image, using Upper gun as a template for the formula. Indeed, many portrayals of Cruise – young and inexperienced, but naturally talented and fiery men, humiliated by a female character Ebert describes as “the superior woman” – resembled Maverick in more ways than one. Of The color of money and Cocktail at The company and thunder days, and well into the new millennium with movies like The last Samourai, the Cruise formula prevailed. It’s no surprise that some of Cruise’s most acclaimed performances – Born July 4, Jerry Maguire, Magnoliaand the underrated Collateral – openly rejects the archetype, allowing Cruise much more freedom and range.

Still, it’s hard to hold anything against Upper gun. After all, the movie created the Tom Cruise mythos. Sure, rain man was the most successful film of 1988, and some good men delivered some of the most quoted lines of the early 90s, but none that made Tom Cruise a legend; on the contrary, Cruise is a huge reason these movies are modern-day classics.

But Upper gun was Cruise’s platform to stardom. We rarely see such a perfect combination between the right actor and the ideal project. Cruise and Upper gun were a match made in heaven, with the film providing Cruise with the perfect opportunity to bask and display his undeniable charisma and good looks, and he took the opportunity to shape his image. It’s no wonder Cruise chose to remain associated with the Maverick archetype; if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The connection of the cruise with Upper gun remained undeniable for years to come, even as her career became Hollywood’s pinnacle. The film’s influence may not have been explicitly stated, especially as other roles have become more closely associated with Cruise’s work but have remained tacitly present. Naturally, no one was even remotely surprised when Paramount announced a legacy sequel to the film. If anything, most of us were shocked that it took so long to make.

The one and only

Tom Cruise as Maverick in a poster for Top Gun: Maverick.

Top Gun: Maverick created with near universal fame. Critics deemed it vastly superior to the original, praising the action and calling it one of the great blockbusters of all time. Top Gun: Maverick is another highlight of a career full of them. Cruise and company have taken the time to deliver something perfectly crafted, and their efforts are noticeable.

The original movie welcomed Cruise as the action man of tomorrow, but Top Gun: Maverick cements him as today’s star. Nobody does it like Cruise because hardly anyone tries anymore. The actor continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, delivering increasingly thrilling and unparalleled cinematic experiences. Many have called Cruise the last movie star, and there’s a good reason; it’s not that no one else can do what he does — it’s that no one seems to even want to try. But Cruise cares enough about everyone else, and his fans care in return.

Tom Cruise knows his stuff. Like Maverick himself, he put in the work, learned from the best, and humbled himself before the audience who built his mythos, becoming the master of his craft. Now he takes on the role of mentor, inspiring new generations with his prowess. It’s the circle of life and a beautiful, almost poetic development that the character that initiated Cruise’s path to cinematic immortality is the one that cements it for good. Cruise and Maverick: Legends of the Screen.

Upper gun is now streaming on Paramount+. Top Gun: Maverick is currently in theaters nationwide.

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