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Top Gun was a landmark ’80s movie and also launched Tom Cruise’s blockbuster career. It took 35 years for a sequel but the original has been playing nonstop since 1986. So, it’s hard to imagine Paramount was close to not even making the movie. Their catalog is surely glad this disaster was narrowly averted. 

Tom Cruise | CBS via Getty Images

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was a guest on Rob Lowe’s Literally podcast on Nov. 11. He told Lowe the story of making Top Gun, as well as what almost stood in his way. Cruise returns in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, due in theaters in 2021.

Why Jerry Bruckheimer thought ‘Top Gun’ was ‘Star Wars for real’

Today, Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and other blockbuster hits. In the mid-’80s, he had already done Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop with his partner Don Simpson, both for Paramount. So, he saw his next big hit in a magazine article.

Jerry Bruckheimer produced Top Gun
L-R: Anthony Edwards and Tom Cruise | CBS via Getty Images

“It was New West magazine I think it was called, which has now become LA Magazine,” Bruckheimer told Lowe. “It was a story about this school in MIramar, California. I saw this photograph of this jet pilot and another pilot I think upside down from another plane against it. I said, ‘Wow, this is Star Wars for real.’ I read the article and went into Don’s office and threw the magazine on his desk. He said, ‘Sh*t, we gotta to get this.’ We got a hold of the magazine and the author and bought the rights to it.”

The ‘Top Gun’ screenwriters got these classic elements from the article

Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. wrote Top Gun. From the article, they invented some of the details that became classic parts of the movie, such as the pilots’ handles.

Top Gun: Iceman and Maverick
L-R: Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise | Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

“I didn’t know they had names,” Bruckheimer said. “All the pilots had names, Maverick and all the different names that we had, Iceman. We made up our own of course. Cash and Epps were two writers at the time Paramount loved. We sent them the article, they flipped over it and they wrote the draft I guess we turned into the studio.”

The reason the movie almost didn’t happen 

Paramount actually turned Top Gun down at first. Could you imagine?

“What was interesting is a TV show at the time was on about the Air Force,” Bruckheimer said. “Unfortunately, nobody tuned it in. So the Paramount management said, ‘Well, people don’t want to see aviators. Forget it, we’re not going to make it.’”

What saved ‘Top Gun’

Nothing lasts forever in Hollywood and Top Gun got its chance to take flight. Bruckheimer reveals the studio politics that saved the film.

“They changed management,” Bruckheimer said. “A new head of the studio came in named Ned Tanen. Ned called Don and myself and said, ‘What do you guys got? The cupboard’s bare. Tell me what movies you’re developing.’ We said, ‘We have this movie Top Gun we’re excited about and we have a director, Tony Scott. We’d love to get it made.’ He said, ‘Come to my house, get Tony up here.’”

Top Gun: Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise | CBS via Getty Images

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Scott, who would go on to direct Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide and many, many more, did not make the best first impression, blaming jet lack from his London flight.

We’re sitting in Ned Tanen’s house, Don and myself. Ned has a dog also and Tony’s just petting the dog. Ned turns to Tony and says, ‘Tell me the story’ and Tony just totally froze. So Don, the ultimate salesman, just great storyteller, brilliant guy, tells the story that we developed. Ned looks to me and says, ‘Jerry, what’s this going to cost?’ I said, ‘I think around $14 million.’ He turned to us and said, ‘Go make it but are you sure this guy can direct it? The only thing he knows how to do is pet the dog.’

Jerry Bruckheimer, Literally! podcast, 11/11/2020

Fortunately, Simpson and Bruckheimer vouched for Scott and Top Gun is history. 

“We said, ‘No, we have a lot of faith in him. He’s an amazing visual artist and storyteller,’” Bruckheimer said. “He’d only done The Hunger at that point.”