Skip to main content

Tom Cruise likes to do his own stunts when possible. The self-described adrenaline junkie has done more death-defying stunts than some career stunt people. It’s no surprise that when he was asked to do a sequel to his ’80s career-defining hit Top Gun he insisted on it being as realistic as possible. 

Tom Cruise giving a thumbs up, sitting in a plane on set of 'Top Gun'
Tom Cruise on set of ‘Top Gun’ | Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In fact, Cruise insisted on using real planes and not CGI for the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick film. Let’s take a look at how that played out and some consequences of using real versus CGI footage.

Cruise insisted on everyone flying

Navy pilots undergo years of training to be able to withstand the G-forces related to flying these powerful jets. As part of the stipulations of creating authentic aerial footage in the film, Cruise insisted that not only he himself be filmed in flight, but that the other actors in the film be trained as well for the flight scenes.

As a result, he put some of his own money into training his fellow actors in the film.

Because the actors would be in the air, there is no room for a director in these shots. Therefore, the stationary cameras that were staged on-board the aircraft could capture more intimate and authentic shots of the actors in flight.

Cruise himself is an accomplished pilot. In fact, he is seen flying a World War II P-51 Mustang in the movie, which Cruise owns as his personal plane. According to Fox Business, Cruise was also the only cast member to be able to handle G-force.

How the actors were chosen

The cast was selected based on how well they would be able to handle the training. The actors endured hours of aerial stunt training starting with Cessna’s and working up to jets. The actors did occasionally get sick, although this also happens to Navy pilots during training.

However, one actor was necessary for filming whether he could physically handle the training or not. According to MARCA, Tom Cruise would not agree to do the movie unless Val Kilmer was brought in to reprise his role as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky. Cruise, of course, got his wish. Kilmer does appear in the sequel. 

How the aerial scenes were shot

The movie features a lot of impressive aerial scenes, but one scene was very close to the ground. This kind of scene had never been done before and the stunt was so dangerous, they had to get a specific clearance from the Navy to film it. In an interview with EW, director Joseph Kosinski said:

“For the sequence where Tom got to do some extreme low-altitude flying in this film, we had to get special permission from the Navy to do it. It was one of the most extreme aerial sequences that we could come up with. Also, getting to do a real launch off a carrier and a real landing on a carrier — no one else has been able to ever do that in a movie before. Tom got to fulfill every kind of aviation dream that he had.”


Tom Cruise Movies ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Mission Impossible 7’ Debut Footage in CinemaCon

Special equipment was also used to capture the scenes in the cockpit of the plane. The planes used for the majority of filming were F-18 Super Hornets, which were rigged with six IMAX-quality cameras to capture the actors as they pretended to pilot the planes. The planes were actually operated by real Navy pilots seated in another seat. 

Top Gun: Maverick is a film not to be missed by any die-hard Top Gun fans. The aerial flying sequences alone will be worth the price of admission. So if you feel the need for speed, go check it out in theaters beginning November 19, 2021.