How Gay Is 'Top Gun' Really? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

How Gay Is 'Top Gun' Really?

By Sean Braswell


Because as everyone’s favorite ambiguously gay flyboys prepare to take to the skies again, it’s a good time to revisit the film classic’s true orientation.

The producers of Top Gun recently put to rest years of speculation surrounding the 1980s chest-bumping hit. Yes, the rumors were true: A long-awaited sequel to the Cold War classic is in the works, with Tom Cruise reprising his role as airman Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.

That’s great news for the millions of fans of the film — the highest grossing of 1986 — but what people want to know is not how the sequel will orient itself in the post-Cold War landscape but whether the original film should come clean about its own orientation. To wit: Is Top Gun the greatest gay love story of all time?

Could one movie be both an unabashed paean to the military and a closeted gay epic?

The film’s homoeroticism and suggestive undertones have long been noted by conspiracy theorists, critics and film studies majors, most notably Quentin Tarantino. And for those looking to find a gay subtext, there are plenty of ripe examples for the picking. Exhibit one: The infamous “Playing with the Boys” beach volleyball scene. Case closed, right?

Or how about the pilots’ call names: Maverick, Iceman, Slider and, of course, Maverick’s “rear” and BFF, Goose.

Or consider the multiple locker room encounters between Maverick and his nemesis, Iceman (played by a sultry Val Kilmer), in which you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. As Tarantino once laid out, this ambiguously gay duo’s relationship arguably forms the core of the film: It is only after he is tempted by the heterosexual life, embodied by Kelly McGillis, says Tarantino, that the “dangerous” Maverick can come to terms with his sexuality and announce that Iceman is his “wingman” in the film’s climactic scene. 

And, of course, there is the dialogue: “Get your butts above the hard deck,” “I want somebody’s butt, I want it now” and numerous other gems come to mind all too easily.

But what makes the film even more subversive for conspiracy theorists is the fact that the U.S. military — in exchange for using its planes and carriers — was deeply involved in developing the script for the film, which proved to be one of the best recruiting tools of the post-Vietnam era.

Could one movie be both an unabashed paean to the military and a closeted gay epic?

Well, to answer that question requires a razor — and not the sort that airmen apparently use to shave their well-oiled chests. Rather, Occam’s razor, or the principle that the simplest explanation is the best one.

If you set out to create a realistic depiction of a nearly all-male institution in the hopes of attracting millions of hormone-fueled teenage boys to join its ranks (not to mention hordes of female moviegoers as well), then homoeroticism and latent sexual tension are probably going to be added to the mix. And if you look at the making of the film, and who made it, then a not-so-thinly-veiled gay epic is far from the simplest explanation for what the film delivers.

Starting with Bruckheimer, the film’s own Top Gun, it is worth recalling that the producer, whose earlier work included American Gigolo and Flashdance, was no stranger to making erotic, highly suggestive movies designed to appeal to younger audiences.

Moreover, Top Gun’s director, Tony Scott, cut his creative teeth shooting stylized commercials in England. And like any good ad man, as critic David Denby observed on the film’s release, Scott “fetishizes whatever he shoots,” whether it be motorcycles, jet engines at sunrise or Goose’s death in the ocean’s “lovely nacreous foam.”

Top Gun’s innuendo-laden script was penned by Jim Cash, an English professor at Michigan State University, and one of his former students, Jack Epps Jr., whose other films like Legal Eagles and Turner & Hooch were not what anyone would call heavily eroticized.

In fact, the writing duo meticulously researched the lives of the airmen attending the real TOPGUN flight school in Miramar, Calif. As Epps later recalled, “Virtually everything that happens in the film is based on a story that was told to me by a pilot.”

In short, when your film’s formula consists of a carnally-inclined filmmaker, a fetishist director, true-to-life locker-room dialogue and a military recruitment wing looking to redirect the aggressions of testosterone-laden teenage viewers, then it’s not surprising that the result is a turbo-charged homoerotic vehicle capable of firing up imaginations.

And with Maverick set to show the world why pilots are not obsolete in the age of drone warfare in Top Gun 2, the ambiguously gay possibilities abound. Here are just some of the one-liners we’re hoping to find in the sequel:

“This entire squadron is in danger of becoming unmanned.”

Sometimes you need a man with some skin in the game to make it a fair fight.”

True engagement means having your hand on the stick, not sitting in a dark room in front of a computer.”

Which others would you like to hear?


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