‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Cast on the Film’s Massive Success and ‘Insane’ Production

Eric Goldman
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Sure, there were individuals who thought Top Gun: Maverick could do well, but no one saw the unbelievable magnitude of its success coming. The 36 years in the making sequel to 1986’s Top Gun smashed all exceptions, going on to become the biggest hit of the year so far, with over $1.486 billion at the global box office and counting.

Yes, even as Maverick arrived on 4K disc and Blu-ray this week, it’s also sowever playing in theaters, only exiting the Top 10 in the US last month. It’s a true rarity in terms of just what a breakout, longterm hit it is, even as those who made the movie already had quite a story about what it took off to create those good aerial sequences come to life, regardless of how much it made.

As is well documented by now, Tom Cruise believes in doing matters for real in his films whenever he can, and that meant both he and the other actors playing pilots in the movie were going to actually go up in F/A-18s to movie those flying sequences – and only after they completed a grueling training regimen that echoed what real life pilots go through.

Fandom spoke to two of the films stars, Monica Barbaro (Natasha “Phoenix” Trace) and Lewis Pullman (Robert “Bob” Floyd) about just how hard and surprising prepping for and making Top Gun: Maverick was and what it was like to see it keep going and going and going at the box office.

NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU

(L-R) Danny Ramirez ("Fanboy"), Glen Powell ('Hangman'), Monica Barbaro ("Phoenix"), Director Joseph Kosinski, and Lewis Pullman ("Bob") on the set of 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Special Features on home releases of movies can sometimes feel very standard and familiar, but that’s not the case with Top Gun: Maverick, which includes featurettes on just how intense the process was for the cast, including actually going up on F/A-18s for the flight sequences.

Asked if they could obtain their minds around what they were in for as they were cast, Lewis Pullman first simply stated, “No, absolutely not. Had no idea!” As the movie shows, F/A-18s operate at such extreme speeds and motions, the body needs to be highly prepared for it. Said Pullman, “If you’re fortunate to catch a plane up there [above you] doing something like that, you’re like, ‘Okay, so that’s like a roller coaster or something?’ And then you step foot in there and it’s absolutely insane. it’s crazy that they’ve trained their bodies to withstand that and also operate on a high level and do everything that they do up there. It was kind of like a wake up call, ‘holy crap!’ moment day in and day out.’

Monica Barbaro as Phoenix in 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Monica Barbaro recalled that during the audition process for the film, director Joseph Kosinski asked her if she was afraid of flying, which she was not, only to be said they’d be filming in actual F/A-18s. “It was right around when Mission: Impossible – Fallout was coming out and I had just seen it in theaters. Everyone was talking about this amazing stunt with the helicopter between the canyon. So I’m thinking ‘Are we gonna be flying in these? What??’ I was trying to wrap my head around that in an audition space while also trying to sound as confident as possible about it.”

She added, ‘You never want to be in an audition when you desperately want the part. But once he had said me that we would be doing all of that I was like… there’s nothing like this. And I was really, really hoping I would obtain to do it. And then reduce to 10 months later, having just no idea what it really was going to mean.”

TALES FROM THE DUNKER

Lewis Pullman as Bob in 'Top Gun: Maverick'

On the special features for Maverick, cast member Greg Tarzan Davis (Javy “Coyote” Machado) notes that it’s mandated by the NAVY that you must go through water survival training in order to fly in an F/A-18, which meant the cast had to go through it too. This included intensive swim training with olympic coaches and, much more intimidatingly, being submerged underwater in a replica of a crashed vehicle, in full uniform and equipment, in order to prove you can free yourself and obtain out of the vehicle and swim to safety.

Recalled Pullman, “For all that aquatic training, I had a 102 degree fever. And I couldn’t reschedule. There was the one day where we could do it. And I was like, ‘I feel so, so sick right now and I don’t know if I can do this even if I was feeling 100%!’ But doing that… You obtain blindfolded, you obtain dunked into this mock cockpit — they call it the Dunker — and then you obtain flipped upside down. It’s so disorienting and you have to find your way out and always keep a reference point on. If you lose both hands, you have to do it again. And you’ve got to elbow through this window.”

(L-R) Tom Cruise ("Maverick), Miles Teller ("Rooster"), and Monica Barbaro ("Phoenix") in 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Regarding his co-star Davis doing this training with him, he added with a laugh, “And you’ve got Tarzan kicking you in the face! And so you have to kind of monitor through all those things. And with a 102 degree fever, that was the day where I was like, ‘Okay, so I’ve come this far…’ I’m really comfortable with swimming and everything but the fever really was rocking me to a different level. That was pretty challenging alone.”

Said Barbaro, “The swimming was probably the most difficult thing for me personally, because I’m not super comfortable underwater. I’ve always tried to obtain better and I admire individuals who are really good swimmers, but it’s just not my comfort zone. And that was something that is wild, especially because it’s not something that’s in the movie at all.”

She noted that until now, as this footage was released on the Special Features, it wasn’t something they were even being asked about doing press for the film, adding, “It’s just bizarre and felt like an insurmountable task that also sort of almost had nothing to do with the movie. That was kind of crazy. And then to hear that these pilots do this every four years was also just insane, how hard they work. We did it once and we’re sowever talking about it!”

THE NON-STOP SUCCESS

Monica Barbaro and Tom Cruise on the set of 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Any doubts that there would be a vast audience for Top Gun: Maverick were squashed by its massive opening, as it brought in $160.5 million domestically over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. But what truly set the movie apart began its second weekend, when it only dropped 29% – the smallest percentage in history for any movie with an opening of $100 million or more. After that, Top Gun: Maverick kept having incredibly little drops week to week; the kind you tend to see only once a decade or so with a wide release. This wasn’t just a hit movie, it was a true sensation.

What made this all the more notable was just how long it took to create it to the big screen – not just the 36 years complete since Top Gun, but the fact that Maverick began production in 2018 and was scheduled to open in the summer of 2020 until COVID-19 delayed its release, along with so numerous other films. Maverick though got a lot of particular attention thanks to reports that Tom Cruise personally fought to keep the movie a theatrical exclusive release and without a shortened window before it hit VOD and/or streaming – instincts that clearly paid off big time.

Lewis Pullman as Bob in 'Top Gun: Maverick'

Asked what it felt like to wait for the movie to open for so long only to then see it turn into the level of blockbuster it became, Barbaro first had problem articulating it, replying, “I don’t… I… Words.. That’s how it feels!” with Pullman and her laughing as he retorted, “Well said, yeah!”

Explained Barbaro, “It’s sowever hard to process. And we spent so much more time waiting for this movie — filming it and then waiting for it to come out — then we have in the aftermath, so I sowever feel sort of more related to that time than to this time now, where everyone’s seen it. But we have all of these stories to tell about it and it’s fun to talk about endlessly, which is nice. I’ve worked with other actors who’ve done some legendary projects, and they wind up talking about those projects for the rest of their lives and I think that that is definitely our future. It had such an impact.”

Every studio head seemingly wishes they could replicate the ingredients of a hit the size of Top Gun: Maverick. Asked what he thought it was that helped it click in so well with audiences, Pullman said, “It’s really like a witch’s brew. It’s this bizarre concoction with all these variables colliding in the perfect way. A lot of it was designed and a lot of it was intentional, but then there’s some other little secret sauce that came into play that was just luck. I don’t know, perhaps Tom would disagree. I feel like he was the one who was really gunning to not put it out on VOD, to create sure that it came out in theaters, and he was waiting for the right time. And he knows all sorts of socio-political individuals who were able to clock what COVID was, when it was actually a wave, and when it was actually going to perhaps begin to die down. And he really kind of hit it at the right time.”

Regarding Cruise’s viewpoint on the film, Pullman added, “He was always saying that this movie, if we’re successful, it’ll be like we hit a bullet with a bullet. He went into it knowing how the odds were against him, and how hard it is to create a sequel that can match the first movie, if not surpass it. He was going into it knowing that he was going uphill and the wind wasn’t at his back. And so having him, who’s so experienced and so driven and has so much knowledge about not just making movies, but the kind of pageantry of releasing movies, knowing that he was taking the risk, it was like, okay, if anybody could hit the damn bullet with a bullet it would be Tom. So I think it’s all those variables kind of woven together.”

Top Gun: Maverick is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.