Jerry Bruckheimer is the king of Hollywood blockbusters. It has produced box office hits from Flashdance and The Rock to Armageddon and Con Air (not to mention TV winners, including the CSI franchise). Many of his hits, such as Beverly Hills Cop or Pirates of the Caribbean, spawned sequels and follow-ups – but no one waited as long as the sequel to a 1980s classic. “Every time I do a sequel,” says Bruckheimer, “they ask me, ‘What about Top Gun?’
This question is finally answered with Top Gunn: Maverick, which hits theaters on May 27, about 36 years after the original. It’s a ridiculously fun blockbuster powered by the twin engines of spectacular air battles and Tom Cruise’s winning turn as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in need of speed again. But in the years that followed, was there ever an opportunity to return to Top Gun without Tom Cruise?
“Not for me,” Bruckheimer said as we sat in London a few days before the big premiere of the film at the Cannes Film Festival. Nor was there any question of the finished film being released through the streaming service of the film studio Paramount Plus after the pandemic closed cinemas. “He would always be on the big screen,” says Bruckheimer. “That’s where you’re watching this movie.”
Even a year or two ago, when Maverick was actually sitting on the shelf, plans for a sequel had already been postponed due to the death of the director of the original film, Tony Scottin 2012, Cruz and Scott explored locations just days before the director died after jumping off a bridge in LA.
Scott’s sequel version included drones competing with human pilots, a theme that is covered in Maverick’s initial sequence.
So what brought Maverick back to the hands of new director Joseph Kosinski? “Joe came to me with a great story,” says Bruckheimer. It must be difficult for a director to make a film with so many powerful people: Cruz, Bruckheimer, the studio, even the US Navy. Who has the last word on the set?
“The best idea,” Bruckheimer grinned.
Back to the danger zone
With such a long career and so many iconic titles in his autobiography, it is inevitable that there will be more sequels and restarts taken from the back catalog of Bruckheimer’s hits. Paramount digs up much-loved older titles such as National Treasure and Flashdance to make TV shows for Paramount Plus. And while Bruckheimer admits that films like Black Hawk Down and Remember the Titans aren’t suitable for a sequel, he’s working on another Beverly Hills cop with Eddie Murphy, another Pirates of the Caribbean (with or without embarrassed Johnny Depp) and a reworking of American Gigolo.
I ask the 78-year-old Bruckheimer how well he handles film production these days. “I’ve been there a long time,” he says. “I’m trying to protect Joe and Tom from what happens tomorrow.… I was definitely not in the air, I promise.”
Bruckheimer refers to Cruz and his colleagues, who board real-life jets to capture spectacular aerial battle scenes in the sequel. While modern computer-generated digital effects are apparently used in the film, some scenes require actors to learn how to operate the camera so that they can shoot indoors in a cockpit while the pilot performs daring high-speed maneuvers. Cruz is known for doing stunts himself – hanging on skyscrapers and cargo planes in the movies Mission: Impossible, for example – so it’s probably annoying to see the 59-year-old star of a multi-million dollar movie cast. headlong into danger.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Bruckheimer said, perhaps with a hint of a smile. “You’re worried about that, but I know Tom and I know how careful he is and how calculating the stunts are. And I also knew how good these pilots were. The mechanics and all the people who worked around the jets we use for the film were so professional and it was just a great experience to deal with these technicians and master fighters. Seeing what they are going through and what their body is going through. You see it in the movie when you see what our actors are going through – and these guys do it every day. It’s brutal, really kicked the hell out of your body. “
Both the original film and the sequel are based on an air battle in which Maverick confronts fighters from an unnamed enemy nation. But Bruckheimer insists that no film has anything to say about the war. “It should never have been a war,” he said. “It always had to be a racing movie. It’s all about the pilots, the training and where Maverick is in his life … The war never went into it. “
Still, the U.S. Navy is actively involved in both films, supplying aircraft carriers and jet planes for movies that make being a fighter pilot look pretty cool. After the first film, the Navy has seen a huge boost in recruiting young men who want to be naval pilots – even if it takes them into a very real danger zone. Bruckheimer notes that several pilots told him they had joined the Navy for Top Gun.
“They want to take their sons and daughters to see the movie, just like their fathers did,” he said. Even the women who were in the army, some of the pilots who flew with our actors, said, “Hey, that’s why I’m here.”
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