History, Legacy & Showmanship
Monday, 16 May 2016 13:35

Mighty Wings: Remembering “Top Gun” on its 30th Anniversary

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“Up there with the best of the best.”

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Top Gun, the popular military action-drama starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards.

Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott (The Hunger, Crimson Tide) and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop), opened 30 years ago this week.

To mark the occasion, The Bits features a compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, passages from vintage film reviews, a list of the 70-millimeter “showcase” presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with documentarian and Tony Scott associate, Charles de Lauzirika.  [Read on here...]

Ton Cruise in Top Gun



  • 0 = Number of sequels and remakes
  • 1 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (calendar year)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1986 (summer season)
  • 1 = Rank among top-selling live-action, feature-film videocassettes and discs of 1987
  • 3 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie (week #1, #4 & #19)
  • 4 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 4 = Rank among Paramount’s top-earning movies of all time at close of original run
  • 5 = Number of weeks soundtrack album was #1 on Billboard top album chart
  • 10 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 12 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1980s
  • 14 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release
  • 38 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement
  • 73 = Number of days to gross $100 million
  • 111 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • 125 = Number of 70mm prints
  • 214 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic)
  • 280 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (worldwide)
  • 1,028 = Number of opening-week engagements
  • 1.9 million = Number of pre-ordered home video units sold in 1987*
  • 9 million = Number of copies of soundtrack album sold
  • $26.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release*
  • $7,969 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
  • $3.0 million = Box-office gross (2013 3-D re-release)
  • $8.2 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
  • $15.0 million = Production cost
  • $32.6 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $79.4 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
  • $176.8 million = Box-office gross (original release)
  • $177.1 million = Box-office gross (international)
  • $179.8 million = Box-office gross (original release + 3-D re-release)
  • $356.8 million = Worldwide box-office gross (worldwide)
  • $384.8 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
  • $387.2 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $772.0 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)

*Established new industry record

Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in Top Gun



“No doubt about it: Top Gun is going to be the hit that The Right Stuff should have been. They are not in the same class of films, but this much must be said: The aerial sequences in Top Gun are as thrilling—while remaining coherent—as any ever put on film.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“A lot of people are going to want to fly Navy jets by the end of the summer, because Top Gun may be the best military recruiting film ever made.” — Donald Porter, Ogden Standard-Examiner

Top Gun is a male bonding adventure movie that’s both exciting and disturbing, mind-boggling and vacuous…. Measuring the movie against its model—Hawks’ air films—you can see the difference between a great director making his movies breathe, and a superproduction that depends on action and hardware. Top Gun is an empty-headed technological marvel. The actors—especially Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan—are good, but only connect as archetypes. The emotion heats up only when the planes are flying. (If Howard Hughes were alive, he might watch Top Gun more times than Ice Station Zebra.)” — Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times

Top Gun is a visual stunner. I think its chief entertainment value lies in protracted photographic excitement—simply the best aerial photography seen in the jet age…. To get the full aerial photo effects of Top Gun, you ought to catch it at a theater where it’s playing in 70mm with full-crank sound. That way you’ll feel like you’re inside a 100-watt stereo set that is inside a video game that is on a roller coaster.” — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

“There hasn’t been such a star-making role for a male performer since John Travolta primped, posed and pranced his way to the top in Saturday Night Fever. Cruise, who has played adolescents until now, is given the full treatment in Top Gun. The camera caresses him, in beaming close-ups of his face and body, and he responds to its overtures with the kind of charismatic narcissism that only a male sex symbol can muster.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Paramount’s Top Gun is precisely the kind of slick, commercial, well-crafted, general-audience blockbuster the other major studios have been looking for all year, and it will probably still be filling Paramount’s coffers by year’s end. The movie makes everyone in it look good, but it’s particularly a triumph for its director, Tony Scott, who was undeservedly trashed by most critics for his stylish first film, The Hunger.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“The dogfights are absolutely the best since Clint Eastwood’s electrifying aerial scenes in Firefox. But look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“[Top Gun] resembles a sparkling, shining replica of a 1940s John Wayne Flying Seabees-Flying Tigers-Flying Leathernecks movie, updated to the mid-1980s. Judging from the audience reaction to several sneak previews of the film, Top Gun may be exactly what audiences want. Whatever that says about today’s audiences, it augurs well for the picture’s financial fate.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“A trite, predictable script, weak on characterization, draws commensurate performances from Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Some nice aerial photography and military lingo dialogue lend authenticity—but the film needs more than that.” — Catharine Rambeau, Detroit Free Press

“Two hours of pure pow!” — Peter Travers, People

Top Gun is a summer film in the expected form, a wild visceral ride—especially in 70mm. This is as old-fashioned as they come, a John Wayne military shoot-’em-up in the sky, with aerial dogfights [that] are genuinely thrilling. On the ground, however, Top Gun misfires. Or crash-lands. The problem is an unconvincing romance and an overly contrived plotline, apparently aiming for the audience that made An Officer and a Gentleman a hit.” — Christopher Hicks, (Salt Lake City) Deseret News

Top Gun has ‘big summer hit’ written all over it.” — Rob Salem, Toronto Star

“This movie seems determined to break the sound barrier; if it isn’t the roar of the jets, it’s the roar of Maverick’s motorcycle, and when that subsides, there’s always the clamor of the music.” — Walter Goodman, The New York Times

Top Gun is top drawer, top dog, tops!” — Joel Siegel, ABC-TV

“If you’ve ever fantasized about flying at twice the speed of sound, tumbling through clouds and banking against the stratosphere, then Top Gun is the daredevil film for you. Or if you simply like good cinema—enhanced by wide-film technology, superior sound recording and plane-mounted camerawork—Top Gun is the solid drama you crave.” — Shirley Jinkins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Top Gun has Rambo’s military core without any of its political effluvia. When Top Gun becomes successful, as presumably it will, we will see that war movies succeed because they are dramatic, not political.” — David Brooks, The Washington Times

Top Gun is Flashdance in the skies.” — Digby Diehl, CBS-TV

“Not since Duke Wayne took the sands of Iwo Jima has Hollywood produced a more gung-ho invitation to join the military than Top Gun. I saw the film in the company of several hundred teen-age boys who whooped, hollered, cheered and applauded throughout, and then, no doubt, headed straight to the nearest Navy recruitment center to sign up for life.” — Michael Burkett, The (Santa Ana) Orange County Register

Top Gun in 70mm



The following is a list of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Top Gun in the United States and Canada. These were, arguably, the best theaters in which to experience Top Gun and the only way to faithfully hear the movie’s Oscar-nominated audio mix. Only about ten percent of the film’s print run was in the deluxe, expensive-to-manufacture 70mm format. And of the 200+ movies released during 1986, Top Gun was among only 17 to have 70mm prints produced and had the third-highest number of such prints that year behind Fox’s Aliens and Paramount’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For this release, Paramount employed the services of Lucasfilm’s Theater Alignment Program (TAP) to evaluate and approve the theaters selected to book a 70mm print. As well, the movie was booked into as many THX-certified venues as possible.

The noise-reduction and signal-processing format for the prints was Dolby “A,” and the soundtrack was a split-surround/single-surround combo format. Some of the markets in which the split-surround format (essentially the same as the contemporary 5.1 channel layout) was heard included Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. The aspect ratio was 2.20:1 and was blown up from Super-35 photography.

A 70mm teaser trailer for The Golden Child was sent out with the 70mm Top Gun prints and which the distributor recommended be screened with the presentation.

The listing includes those 70mm engagements that commenced May 16th, 1986. With one Week #2 exception, the listing does not include any of the additional wave, mid-run upgrade, move-over, sub-run, re-release or international engagements, nor does it include any of the movie’s thousands of standard 35mm engagements.

So, which North American theaters screened the 70mm version of Top Gun? Read on…

Mann's Chinese Theater



  • Calgary — Famous Players’ Palliser Square Twin
  • Calgary — Famous Players’ Sunridge 5-plex
  • Edmonton — Famous Players’ Paramount
  • Edmonton — Famous Players’ Westmall 5-plex


  • Tucson — Mann’s Buena Vista Twin


  • Little Rock — United Artists’ Cinema 150


  • Burnaby — Famous Players’ Lougheed Mall Triplex
  • Vancouver — Famous Players’ Stanley <THX>
  • Victoria — Famous Players’ Coronet


  • Berkeley — Blumenfeld/Cinerama’s Berkeley
  • Burlingame — Syufy’s Hyatt Triplex
  • Corte Madera — Blumenfeld/Marin’s Cinema
  • Costa Mesa — Edwards’ South Coast Plaza Triplex
  • Daly City — Plitt’s Plaza Twin <THX>
  • Fremont — Syufy’s Cinedome East 8-plex
  • Lakewood — Pacific’s Lakewood Center 4-plex
  • Los Angeles (Hollywood) — Mann’s Chinese Triplex <THX>
  • Los Angeles (Westwood Village) — Mann’s National <THX>
  • Montclair — Pacific’s Montclair Triplex
  • Newport Beach — Edwards’ Newport Twin
  • Orange — Syufy’s Cinedome 6-plex
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Century 6-plex
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Cinedome 8-plex
  • San Diego — Mann’s Loma
  • San Diego — Pacific’s Cinerama
  • San Francisco — Blumenfeld’s Regency I
  • San Jose — Syufy’s Town & Country
  • Torrance — Mann’s Old Towne 6-plex

The cast & crew of Top Gun


  • Denver — Mann’s Century 21 <THX>


  • East Hartford — Redstone’s Showcase 9-plex


  • Washington — Kogod-Burka’s Cinema


  • Kendall — American Multi-Cinema’s Town & Country 10-plex
  • North Miami Beach — Wometco’s 163rd Street Triplex
  • Tampa — Plitt’s University Collection 6-plex
  • Winter Park — Wometco’s Winter Park Triplex


  • Atlanta — Georgia Theatre Company’s Lenox Square 6-plex
  • Kennesaw — Storey’s Town Center 8-plex <opened May 23rd>
  • Tucker — American Multi-Cinema’s Northlake Festival 8-plex


  • Honolulu — Consolidated’s Waikiki Twin <HPS-4000>


  • Belleville — Bloomer Amusement Company’s Cinema
  • Calumet City — Plitt’s River Oaks 8-plex
  • Chicago — Plitt’s Carnegie
  • Lombard — General Cinema Corporation’s Yorktown 6-plex <THX>
  • Schaumburg — Plitt’s Woodfield 9-plex
  • Skokie — Marks & Rosenfield’s Old Orchard 4-plex


  • Fort Wayne — Mallers-Spirou’s Holiday Twin


  • Overland Park — Dickinson’s Glenwood Twin


  • Louisville — Redstone’s Showcase 11-plex


  • Metairie — Cobb’s Lakeside 4-plex

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun

 [On to Page 2]

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