“Top Gun” is undoubtedly one of the most iconic military films in history. The 1986 blockbuster film starring Tom Cruise as Navy pilot Maverick is still beloved by both those who saw it in theaters more than 30 years ago or as recently as 30 days ago.
Just ask actor Tom Skerritt, who played TOPGUN commanding officer Cmdr. Mike “Viper” Metcalf.
“Generation after generation have come to love that film and watch it with the same enthusiasm as the past ones,” Skerritt said in the Blu-Ray special edition of the film released in 2016 for the movie’s 30th anniversary. “There’s not a pilot in the world who hasn’t seen Top Gun multiple times.”
Even if you’ve seen it 20 times, there are some facts you still may not know about the film.
Call sign “Viper” came from U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Pete Pettigrew
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Pete “Viper” Pettigrew, a naval aviator and flight instructor at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School that became known as TOPGUN. Pettigrew served as a technical advisor for the film and apparently provided the inspiration for the call sign “Viper” in the “Top Gun” movie.
“My claim to fame is I am actually, really the Viper... that was actually my real call sign many, many years ago,” Pettigrew said in 2017.
According to Pettigrew, two writers asked if they could use his call sign for Metcalf in the film. Although Pettigrew said he pointed out he never was the commanding officer of TOPGUN, the writers told him it didn’t matter.
Another fun fact — Pettigrew also made an appearance in the film with Kelly McGillis, who played Charlie, as her friend “Perry” after Maverick infamously sang “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.”
Charlie’s character was inspired by a real, badass woman
Maverick’s love interest was not originally intended to be Top Gun flight instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood. In fact, a 1985 People magazine article said that filmmakers were weighing having his love interest be a gymnast at one point. Ultimately, the idea for Charlie was solidified after filmmakers briefly met Christine Fox during a meeting at then-Naval Air Station Miramar with the air wing’s commanding admiral. Fox, who was then 30, was working as an analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses.
She told Military.com in September that Charlie’s character was only “loosely” based on her. She acknowledged she spent a day with McGillis, sharing more about her work with the actress. Furthermore, Fox went on to serve as the acting deputy secretary of defense during the Obama administration from 2013 to 2014 — earning her a title as the highest ranking woman the Pentagon has seen as of yet.
Iconic moments were ad-libbed
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie was not included in the original script. Actor Val Kilmer, who plays Lt. Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, improvised his reaction coughing and saying “bullsh*t” as he cast doubt on Maverick’s description of giving the finger to enemy aircraft, according to IMDB. The other actors’ reactions to the comment are reportedly authentic.