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Val Kilmer Came Up With The Iceman Storyline For Top Gun: Maverick

In a year of box-office highs and lows, with non-superhero movies struggling to make a profit, "Top Gun: Maverick" is arguably the year's biggest surprise. The sequel to the iconic 1986 film absolutely destroyed its competition, elevating the series to a brand new altitude. The movie earned an incredible $1.4 billion at the box office, drastically helping the industry that was still feeling the lingering side effects of the COVID pandemic.  

"Top Gun: Maverick" brought action star Tom Cruise back as the character Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a role that helped propel him into a global sensation. The sequel saw Cruise back at his usual death-defying antics, performing numerous stunts with real fighter jets. Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, and Val Kilmer joined him in the cast. 

The inclusion of Kilmer in the sequel was a massive surprise to fans of the original movie. The actor all but retired from the industry after his battle with throat cancer left him requiring a voice box to speak. In "Top Gun: Maverick," Kilmer reprises his role of Iceman, now an admiral who sends Maverick to lead an up-and-coming group of pilots. He eventually dies of cancer, inspiring Maverick to become the leader the young Navy pilots need. 

Iceman's storyline is the emotional backbone of "Top Gun: Maverick," and Kilmer was the one to suggest his character mimic his real-life struggles.

The script was edited to include Kilmer's ideas

As part of Variety's "Directors on Directors" series, "Top Gun: Maverick" filmmaker Joseph Kosinski sat down with "Glass Onion" director Rian Johnson to discuss their two critically-acclaimed 2022 movies. Johnson brought the conversation to Val Kilmer's appearance in "Maverick," wondering how Kosinski managed to include such an emotional storyline that closely mirrors the actor's real life. Kosinski revealed that it was Kilmer who wanted Iceman to go through similar struggles.

"One of the most memorable days on set, for sure," Kosinski said. "It was Val who came up with the idea of Iceman being ill. I thought it was a very brave idea on Val's part, but obviously then opened up this whole storyline for Iceman and Maverick that then we worked into the script. In the first versions, Iceman and Maverick had a conversation all the way through the scene — it was more spoken. As we got further into it, we changed it so that Iceman types out the first half of the scene."

Kosinski said the changes were partially because of Kilmer's difficulties speaking, but the result was one of the most emotional scenes of the year. The director noted that those feelings came through during that day of filming too. Tom Cruise and Kilmer didn't need many takes to nail the scene, but there wasn't a dry eye in the room afterward. It's a day that Kosinski says he'll never forget.