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Maverick's 12 Best Moments In Top Gun: Maverick Ranked

The biggest surprise of 2022, cinematically speaking, was the enormous box office success of the long-delayed "Top Gun: Maverick." Initially slated to release in 2019, Paramount pushed the anticipated sequel back several times before finally unleashing the action epic in theaters on May 27, 2022. Audiences flocked to cinemas to witness the further exploits of Pete "Maverick" Mitchell some 36 years after Tony Scott's 1986 classic, and also to see Tom Cruise flash that iconic smile whilst blasting faceless enemies from the sky amidst Kenny Loggins' equally iconic "Danger Zone."

"Top Gun: Maverick" went on to gross over $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office, placing the sequel among the highest-grossing films, and the film earned stellar reviews from critics who praised its use of practical effects, Joseph Kosinski's direction and the performances of Cruise and his co-stars — namely, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Glen Powell, and Jon Hamm.

Still, this is Cruise's show, and the actor delivers some of his best work as an aged Maverick whose need for speed often puts him in the "danger zone," resulting in a number of incredible sequences that literally take our breath away. As such, we decided to rank Pete "Maverick" Mitchell's 12 best moments in "Top Gun: Maverick," just in case you wanted to skip the slower parts and leap right into juicy bits, or relive the action all over again.

12. Maverick cruises the airstrip

Director Joseph Kosinski mostly sticks to the template established in Tony Scott's "Top Gun," which means audiences are treated to a hefty dose of fan service, none more egregious than Maverick's joyride down an airstrip atop a Kawasaki Ninja H2. We're not complaining. "Top Gun" really isn't "Top Gun" unless Maverick breaks a few rules, and seeing the character adorned in his bomber jacket whilst pushing his motorcycle to supersonic speeds is enough to induce plenty of goosebumps.

So why isn't the sequence higher on this list? Well, as amazing as it is to see Tom Cruise recreate one of his most iconic scenes, the moment isn't quite on par with his first go back in 1986. In the original "Top Gun," Maverick literally races an F-14 Tomcat and throws up a wicked fist pump for good measure while Kenny Loggins blares over the soundtrack. In the sequel, Maverick cruises by the more advanced Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, gives a little smile to acknowledge the shameless nostalgia, and zips off amidst a quiet orchestral score. It all happens so quickly and feels more perfunctory than necessary. It's still awesome, though.

11. Maverick gooses Rooster

One of the main plot points of "Top Gun: Maverick" involves our hero's relationship with Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his former co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards). As fans already know, Goose was killed during a training exercise in the original film, which left Maverick and Goose's wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), a tad overprotective in their handling of Rooster. As a result, when Rooster decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a pilot, Maverick did all he could to impede his progress — actions that didn't sit well with the young man.

Naturally, Rooster is none too pleased to have Maverick as his instructor. Tempers eventually boil over during an early training exercise in which Maverick goes head-to-head with his eventual wingman. As their jets descend towards the hard deck (and the terrain), Maverick gives his student every opportunity to bring him down. Except, Rooster panics and Maverick, ever the hard-nosed instructor, hits the breaks, soars behind his opponent, and takes him down with deadly precision.

10. Maverick plays dogfight football

We'll be perfectly honest here: We have no idea how "dogfight football" works. Even after dozens of viewings, it's hard to tell how one would even keep score of the puzzling sporting contest. As far as we can tell, two teams assemble on the line of scrimmage like they would in a normal game of football. Except, here they use two balls instead of one. Each ball is hiked to a different team, and the players must try to score whilst defending their own goal at the same time ... yeah, it doesn't make much sense.

No matter. Everyone involved looks like they're having a great time, including Tom Cruise, whose 60-year-old body somehow appears more ripped than those of his much younger co-stars.

Of course, this sequence also raises a lot of questions: Does Maverick pump iron? Does he go on early morning jogs? Does he use creatine? Or is he just naturally built like a Spartan warrior? We need some answers, people! At any rate, while itself a knockoff of the famous volleyball sequence in "Top Gun," the dogfight football game shows that Maverick can hang with the youngsters inside and outside his cockpit.

9. Maverick pushes Rooster

During the final mission, things eventually take a dip towards chaos for our heroes when enemy missiles begin firing upon their aircraft. Having successfully completed the bombing run, the squad need only evade the bad guys long enough to escape. Easier said than done. Rooster tries his best to dodge incoming fire but eventually runs out of decoy flares, leaving him exposed. Maverick senses Rooster's demise and quickly intervenes by sliding his aircraft between Rooster's and an oncoming missile; his jet explodes, and he crash-lands in a nearby field.

Moments later, Rooster's aircraft is likewise struck by a missile when he attempts to save Maverick from an enemy helicopter. Rooster manages to eject, lands in a forest, and ... is promptly pushed to the ground by an enraged Maverick, who hilariously chastises the young man for his recklessness.

"What were you thinking?" Maverick asks.

"You told me not to think!" Rooster replies.

It's a genuinely funny character beat that demonstrates Tom Cruise's knack for comedy whilst also revealing a softer side of Maverick that typically gets lost amidst the testosterone-fueled action.

8. Maverick flies the final mission

After plenty of buildup, Maverick finally embarks on the big, top-secret mission his team has been training for. Thankfully, the bombing run doesn't disappoint and is packed with enough dramatic thrills to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Maverick takes point and swiftly guides his crew through the narrow canyon, careful to stay below enemy radar. He evades obstacles, flies through bridges, and even gives Rooster a much-needed pep talk that helps the frightened young pilot reengage.

Moments later, Maverick's team — consisting of Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman), Payback (Jay Ellis), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), and Rooster — arrives undetected at the enemy facility and hits their targets before successfully completing the difficult 10G ascent over the massive mountain towering above the locale. Phew. Except, the mission isn't over. Our team still needs to escape, a challenging proposition in and of itself.

Seriously, the entire bombing run is a tour de force of action spectacle, and once again proves just how much of a bada** Maverick truly is. From the moment he takes off from that aircraft carrier to the point where he saves Rooster's life, the final mission ranks amongst the character's finest hours.

7. Maverick takes the lead

One of the best Pete Mitchell moments in "Top Gun: Maverick" is so fleeting you may not have picked up on it. After his now-legendary canyon run in which Maverick proved to his students that the bombing mission could indeed be accomplished, Adm. Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (Jon Hamm) calls him into his office for what appears to be another reprimand. Instead, Cyclone is stuck between a rock and hard place. Should he court-martial Maverick for insubordination, an action that would put the remaining pilots at risk, or jeopardize his own career by appointing Maverick team leader? 

Upon hearing that last part, Maverick excitedly steps forward and struggles for words. Luckily, Adm. Solomon "Warlock" Bates (Charles Parnell) is on hand to yank our hero down from the clouds. "I think the Admiral is asking a rhetorical question, Captain," Warlock quips.

Maverick's shock and excitement at hearing the good news is such a powerful moment that you can't help but be happy for the man. After years of being glossed over and more or less forgotten about, Maverick gets an opportunity to do something truly special. Though, he's not doing it for himself. Maverick wants to lead the team in order to personally ensure everyone returns from the mission, which is one of the many reasons we love the guy.

6. Maverick reaches Mach 10

Following a terrific opening credits sequence, "Top Gun: Maverick" quickly reintroduces us to a much older Pete Mitchell. The legendary hero of "Top Gun" apparently lives in the Mojave Desert, where he spends his days testing top-secret military aircraft. Unfortunately, Rear Adm. Chester "Hammer" Cain (Ed Harris) is en route to shut down Maverick's latest project, dubbed "Darkstar," in favor of unmanned drones. To keep the program from shutting down — which would effectively end a lot of jobs and prevent them from achieving the project's goals — Maverick hops in the Darkstar hypersonic jet in a last-ditch effort to reach Mach 10. 

After buzzing the Admiral, Maverick gets to business. He pushes the plane to its absolute limit and manages to accomplish his goal. It's a glorious moment for our hero that's only undone when his reckless nature takes hold and urges him to go just a little faster. Predictably, the plane explodes and tosses Maverick into a backwater town far away from his place of origin.

Some wild "Top Gun: Maverick" fan theories posit that Pete dies in this sequence — meaning the rest of the movie is some sort of purgatory where Maverick must make amends with everyone he wronged in his life — as there's no plausible way he could have ejected from Darkstar at that altitude or speed. If that's the case, then this moment is even more poignant than we realized, as it represents Maverick's last hurrah on Earth.

5. Maverick toasts his teammates

Make no mistake, "Top Gun: Maverick" is essentially Tom Cruise: The Movie. As such, our hero spends the majority of the film kicking a** and taking names. Case in point: The first training montage sees our titular protagonist dunking all over his students in order to impart some first-class humility. No, seriously, Maverick is head and shoulders above the other characters to the point that it's not exactly a fair fight. He zips past their planes, sneaks up behind them, and even recreates the iconic moment from the original movie by inverting his aircraft over another. 

To be fair, the students, including Rooster, Hangman (Glen Powell), Phoenix, Payback, and Bob, among others, goad Maverick into a bet — whoever loses has to do 200 pushups. Maverick promptly accepts the challenge and proceeds to wipe the floor, er, sky with them, resulting in a humorous montage featuring our young pilots struggling to fulfill their end of the bargain on the tarmac. This is our first look at Maverick in the cockpit of a fighter jet (Darkstar notwithstanding), and the man has obviously become even more dangerous with age. He's awesome.

4. Maverick saves Rooster

As noted above, following their successful bombing run on the enemy facility, our heroes must evade hundreds of missiles in order to escape. The situation becomes more precarious with each passing second. Explosions fill the air, and missiles streak through the sky. The team holds on for dear life by launching countermeasures and utilizing evasive maneuvers they learned throughout the course of the film. The battle comes to a head when Rooster fails to shake a particularly pesky missile, leading Maverick to take control of the situation.

Our hero (flying directly in front of his wingman) hits the breaks and, like he did during the training exercise, soars over Rooster's cockpit and places his aircraft in the missile's path. Maverick takes the hit and his plane goes down in a blaze of glory, but he accomplished his task and saved Rooster from certain death in the most exhilarating way possible. Of course, Rooster quickly returns the favor, leading to the adrenaline-pumping finale.

3. Maverick reunites with Iceman

"Top Gun: Maverick" does a great job balancing intense action with quiet moments or reflection that allow us to get to know our characters on a deeper level. Maverick's romantic fling with Penny (Jennifer Connelly), for example, reveals the uncertainty lingering within the otherwise cocky pilot while his constant bickering with the higher-ups displays a certain, ah, immaturity lingering within our well-groomed hero. 

Still, the best character interaction in "Top Gun: Maverick" is obviously the scene between Pete and former rival-turned-friend, Lt. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer). The latter is suffering from throat cancer (mirroring Kilmer's personal struggle) and must use a computer to communicate. Surprisingly, despite his current situation, Iceman only wants to talk about work — Maverick, the mission, and the motley crew of young pilots. Maverick eventually breaks down at the thought of losing Rooster and the other squad members and admits he's not sure how to handle the situation. Upon hearing this, Iceman stands and says (via computer technology): "The Navy needs Maverick. The kid needs Maverick. That's why I fought for you."

It's a genuinely touching scene that supplies Maverick with a much-needed dose of confidence, but also allows him to say goodbye to his friend. Of course, what would a scene with Maverick and Iceman be without a little friendly competition? "One last thing: who's the better pilot? You or me," Iceman asks. 

"This was a nice moment, let's not ruin it," Maverick quips. 

2. Maverick flies an F-14

After saving Rooster's life, Maverick is promptly struck down by an enemy missile. He manages to eject from his aircraft and parachute to safety but is quickly confronted by a machine gun-packing helicopter. Luckily, Rooster takes down the enemy chopper just in the nick of time but likewise gets shot down while saving his mentor. Maverick manages to find the young man and together the pair sneak onto a nearby runway in search of a getaway vehicle. Wouldn't you know it? The bad guys have an extra plane stowed in a garage that is already prepped and waiting to fly — and it just happens to be an F-14 Tomcat. Hell yeah!

For those unaware, the F-14 was the jet Maverick flew throughout the original "Top Gun." So while this scene offers even more shameless nostalgia, we can't help but cheer when our boy takes to the skies like the good ole days with Rooster in tow (as his co-pilot, no less) to engage in some intense dogfights with a couple of faceless villains. Honestly, we wouldn't have it any other way.

1. Maverick makes the canyon run

We'll cut right to the chase: The best Maverick moment in "Top Gun: Maverick" remains the now-iconic canyon run. Sensing his imminent career demise at the hands of Adm. Simpson and knowing that his students are in dire need of positive morale days before their mission, Maverick decides to hop in a jet to accomplish the seemingly impossible bombing run in the time allotted.

The best thing about this sequence is how it plays out. Simpson is in the middle of lecturing the group of young pilots when a small beep informs the class that an aircraft has entered the training area. "Who the hell is that," Simpson asks. 

"Maverick to range control," a familiar voice says over the radio. "Entering point alpha. Confirm green range."

The dejected pilots immediately perk up. Even Hangman flashes a knowing grin. "Nice," says Phoenix.

Maverick dives into the flight pattern, maneuvers his aircraft through the rough terrain, drops his payload, hits the target, accelerates to Mach 10, and makes the difficult climb out of the invisible canyon — all in the span of 2 minutes and 15 seconds. His students excitedly applaud the accomplishment. Simpson looks positively stunned. Adm. Bates offers a quiet fist pump.

Here we have one of the more thrilling, stand-up-and-cheer cinematic moments to grace the silver screen in quite some time. The canyon run shows Maverick at his best, best doing heroic things for the sake of others, and it confirms what we already knew: Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is a gosh-darn legend.