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Top Gun: Maverick Release Date, Trailer, Cast And Story

It was back in 1986 that Top Gun took our collective breath away, with gravity-defying aerial stunts that involved real fighter jets, plus cool uniforms, a steamy illicit love story, and a tragic true bromance. The movie won a People's Choice Award in 1987 for Favorite Motion Picture, and maintains its place on various "Best of the '80s" lists. Despite its cheesy undertones, it has penetrated pop culture with lines like, "I feel the need — the need for speed," to the extent that in 2015, it was one of 25 "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry. 

Accelerate ahead 30-something years, and we're strapping ourselves in for the long-awaited followup, Top Gun: Maverick. The trailer dropped at Comic-Con on July 18th 2019, when Maverick himself — better known IRL as Tom Cruise  — dropped by a panel for Terminator: Dark Fate to announce the film. Here's everything we've learned about who else is involved, the story they'll be telling, and when we can expect to take our seats for the second Top Gun. Oh, and did you know there are already some scandals brewing? Here's the scoop.

What's the release date for Top Gun: Maverick?

Speculation over the release date of the Top Gun sequel was flying around for a while. The film's existence was first almost confirmed in 2016, when Tom Cruise cryptically said during an appearance on the BBC's The Graham Norton Show that he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were "discussing" making a sequel. A year later, in June 2017, Cruise revealed the title, shortly before his Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski was appointed to take the helm. Sadly, original Top Gun director Tony Scott died in 2012. 

The project gained speed in May 2018, when Cruise marked the first day of filming by tweeting a photo of himself as Maverick standing on a runway, with the hashtag #Day1. In June 2018, Variety reported that the film would be out on July 12th 2019 — which, as you may have noticed, has come and gone with no Top Gun sequel reaching cinemas. In August 2018, it was announced that the film's release date had been pushed back by a little under a year, supposedly to give the team enough time to work their magic on the flight scenes. 

Paramount finally announced June 26th, 2020 as Maverick's release date, putting an end to all the speculation — or so it seemed. In March, the studio announced that the movie was being bumped up by just two days, giving it a head start on the weekend with a Wednesday, June 24th opening. Then, of course, came the spring of 2020 — like every other summer blockbuster, Top Gun: Maverick got yet another new date: December 23,

The trailer shows Maverick older but no wiser

Just as Cruise continued to remain tight-lipped about the film in its early days, the trailer was so secret that it wasn't even announced in advance. Instead, as we mentioned up, er, top, Cruise released it to a surprised Comic-Con audience, who had gathered for a panel about the new Terminator movie, Dark Fate

Unsurprisingly, the trailer doesn't reveal too much. It focuses on Cruise's Maverick, a.k.a. Pete Mitchell. In the first film, Mitchell was famous for being brilliant and brave but difficult to control — hence his call sign. A voiceover from Ed Harris' character implies that 30 years on he's pretty much the same, earning combat medals and honors along with citations, as Harris puts it. Most telling, however, is that Maverick is still 'only' a captain — just three ranks higher than when we last encountered him. Not to dismiss Naval Air Force captains, but as Harris says, "You should be at least a two-star admiral by now. Yet here you are. Captain. Why is that?" 

The majority of the trailer is based around a scene of Maverick firing up a jet, interspersed with shots of his interaction with Harris' character. However, there are a few callbacks to the original, through his trademark flight jacket and aviators — plus but we do briefly meet the next generation of pilots. Like all good trailers, it's enough to get your attention, without giving anything away.

Tom Cruise is still a Maverick

Tom Cruise is, of course, reprising his role as bad boy of the skies Maverick... and he has high demands from the sequel. When he introduced the trailer, he told the Comic-Con crowd, "34 years, you guys have been very, very patient with me. I felt that it was my responsibility to finally really deliver for you... I really wanted to give you all the experience of what it's like to be inside that aircraft."

Cruise is famous for doing his own stunts, and for the first Top Gun, he made sure that his deal with Paramount included the stipulation that he would be shown flying in an F-14 fighter plane. While skillfully evading questions about the sequel, Cruise has been happy to talk about this intense preparation for the original Top Gun. He told Graham Norton in 2016 that his first time flying in the plane made him throw up, only for his pilot to pull up sharply, leading to an unfortunate cleanup situation. He didn't mention that he nearly drowned when his parachute filled with water during a scene in the ocean — all in a day's work when you're Tom Cruise.

Jon Hamm joins the cast of Top Gun: Maverick

Since wrapping up his star-making turn as hard-drinking ad man Don Draper in AMC's Mad Men in 2015, Jon Hamm has traded brooding in the boardroom for guns and glory in thrill-heavy movies. See 2017's Baby Driver or 2018's Beirut and Bad Times at the El Royale for examples of just how well the man can pull off the action hero (or villain) role. 

Top Gun: Maverick seems like another good move. It's unclear exactly who Hamm will be playing, but there are a few clues in the trailer. A brief shot of him shows three stars on his collar, which indicates that he's playing a vice admiral. And counter to Cruise's ever-smirking Maverick, Hamm's character looks somewhat stone-faced — although we'll obviously have to wait to find out why.

Hamm is as excited for the movie as the rest of us. He told People that he's managed to get a sneaky glimpse at some of the footage, revealing that it was shot in what he thinks is 6K definition. "I think it's gonna be, for the people who love the first movie, I think it's gonna be very interesting to watch," he added. "But I think for the new fans it's gonna be something very cool, too. I've seen some of the footage, it is out of this world." We're on board.

Ed Harris returns to military duty for Top Gun: Maverick

The actor doing the majority of the speaking in the first trailer is Ed Harris, who is most recognizable — at least as of late — for his role as the Man in Black in Westworld. Harris's casting was announced in August 2018, at the same time as Hamm's. Even more than Hamm, Top Gun: Maverick feels like a natural fit with the rest of Harris's career. He's played military men before, notably German sniper Major König in Enemy at the Gates and General Francis Hummel in The Rock. He even voiced a CIA operative, Jason Hudson, in first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Black Ops.

As with Hamm, it's unclear exactly who Harris' character is — or even his relationship to Maverick. Based on the two stars on his collar, visible in the trailer, he appears to be playing a rear admiral (upper half), which puts him a rank below Hamm's vice admiral and two ranks above Cruise's captain. As for his role in the rest, we'll have to sit tight.

Jennifer Connelly had a top time with Maverick

Jennifer Connelly's role in the film was confirmed in July 2018, a month before Hamm and Harris — her co-star from A Beautiful Mind. She's also worked with director Joseph Kosinski before, on 2017's Only the Brave

At Comic-Con in 2019, Connelly said of filming, "All of it was surreal." She added, "It was so exciting for me to be part of it, I had an amazing time shooting it. It exceeded my expectations, working on the film, and seeing the footage that I've seen so far, it's pretty extraordinary... It's been a really wonderful experience for me." She also praised Cruise: "He was great, you know, he's extraordinary... I thought he was kind of extra everything." Although Paramount hasn't revealed exactly who she'll be playing, Variety reported that she's expected to be a single mom running a bar near the base. 

We also know that Connelly spent a significant amount of time on the back of Maverick's motorbike, which heavily suggests that her character could be the pilot's new love interest. If you're wondering what happened to Maverick's previous flame, flight instructor Charlie Blackwood, you're not the only one. Kelly McGillis, who played Charlie, told Entertainment Tonight that she hasn't been contacted by anyone from the new film.

Miles Teller is feeling pressure unrelated to G Force

If you haven't seen the first Top Gun, stop reading this and watch it now because A) you've had more than three decades, and B) spoilers for the first movie are coming up.

In Top Gun: MaverickMiles Teller will be playing Bradley Bradshaw, the son of Maverick's late colleague Nick "Goose" Bradshaw. Bradley is now in training to become a fighter pilot (we'd like to suggest the call sign Gosling). Teller went through a physical transformation to take on the part — and we're not just talking about bulking up his upper body. Judging by his brief appearance in the trailer, Teller apparently grew a mustache very similar to the one sported by Anthony Edwards as Goose in the original. 

Even though Teller has clearly been hitting the gym, he admitted that he struggled to keep up with famously full-on Cruise, who is 25 years his senior. In June 2019, he told The Wrap, "I'm sure a lot of people can do it for a couple days or a week, but can you do it month after month after month? There's been nothing on this film that didn't take a lot of training to accomplish." But he learned a lot: "I got a masterclass in how to make a movie... To work with someone who is so meticulous on every aspect... literally every detail that guy is dialed in on, and anybody who works with him is fortunate."

Val Kilmer is back as Iceman for Top Gun: Maverick... but fans are worried

Alongside Cruise, the only other Top Gun actor we know is returning for the sequel is Val Kilmer, who played Maverick's frenemy and would-be wingman Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. But brace yourself: there's already a fan theory based on the trailer that argues that Iceman is going to die. We see Maverick attending a funeral, which suggests that at some point someone is going down. The fact that Kilmer's character failed to appear in the trailer implies to some malevolent minds that it's Iceman in the coffin.

Regardless of his character's fate, it's good to see Kilmer back on screen. The actor has been largely out of the public eye recently, after spending two years between 2015 and 2017 battling throat cancer, with an operation on his trachea affecting his voice and leaving him short of breath. However, he's excited for Top Gun: Maverick, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2019, "It will be a great film, I promise. This time around had me laughing with Tom like a high schooler. He's so funny. I hope he's saved the world enough to take a decade and re-establish himself as a great comedian as he has it in him."

Glen Powell muscled his way to a Top Gun: Maverick role

While Miles Teller ultimately emerged victorious in the dogfight for the major role of Bradley Bradshaw,another contender was granted a pretty impressive consolation prize. 

You may know up-and-comer Glen Powell's face from his small but important role as astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures, or from the Richard Linklater-directed Everybody Wants Some!! He's most recently been finding fans as a romantic lead in the Netflix original movies Set It Up and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

After it was confirmed that Teller would play Bradshaw, Powell joked that he'd considered taking down his Tom Cruise posters, tweeting, "I'm taking down all the Tom Cruise posters in my bedroom. Maybe, I'll leave one. Two for symmetry. Okay, the posters are staying." However, he quickly had a reason to keep them up. As part of his audition process, Powell had flown to Cruise's home in Clearwater, Florida. The movie's producers, including Cruise, decided that they liked Powell so much that they would be casting him in a different role, and beefing it up for him. His appearance in the trailer has already made an impression

Jay Ellis has family pride on the line in Maverick

HBO fans may recognize Jay Ellis as clueless love interest/tech bro Lawrence on Insecure. But Top Gun: Maverick is slightly closer to his roots, since Ellis grew up in a military family. However, as he made clear to Jimmy Kimmel in 2018, his family were Air Force, not Navy like the fighter pilots in the film. "My dad was in the Air Force. My grandfather was in the Air Force. Mechanics," he explained. "[My dad] was very disappointed. I called him and I said, 'Hey, I booked Top Gun,' and he goes, 'Oh, man. That's the Navy, right?'"

Ellis, who appears to be playing a young recruit, also gushed over working with Tom Cruise. "He has this ability to look you in the eye and make you feel like you're the prettiest girl in the room," he told Kimmel. "Nicest, most genuine, giving, open guy — I've never worked with anyone who's like, 'Listen, if you need anything, truly pick up the phone and call, I'm going to show you every single thing I know.' It's really amazing." A few months later, he echoed Hamm and Connelly's predictions for the audiences' reactions, telling Entertainment Tonight, "I'm going to tell you right now, we are literally going to blow people's minds."

Monica Barbaro is on the rise as Phoenix

Depending on your TV preferences, you may know Monica Barbaro from season two of UnREAL, a dark comedy about the making of a fictional reality TV show, or from crime-based thrillers Chicago P.D., Chicago Justice, or The Good Cop. And if you don't recognize her, consider this her breakout moment. In August 2018, Variety reported that Barbaro would be playing a fighter pilot with the call sign Phoenix, a love interest to Teller's character.

As with the first movie, there appears to be a sizable group of backup characters with cool call signs supporting the front-line cast. Other confirmed cast members include New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie, who is most famous for critically acclaimed drama Leave No Trace; Charles Parnell, who appeared in Transformers: Age of Extinction and TNT drama The Last Ship; Bashir Salahuddin, who plays a wrestling referee and stuntman on Netflix series GLOW; and Danny Ramirez, best known for his role in hacker dark comedy Assassination Nation. Remember them as they were before Top Gun: Maverick took them to new heights.

What's the plot of Top Gun: Maverick?

Most details around the plot of Top Gun: Maverick are unclear. At Comic-Con, Cruise limited his comments, saying simply that "Top Gun is about family, about sacrifice, and it's about aviation." Which, frankly, we could have guessed. However, we have got a few tidbits to work with. First of all, there's a strong implication that Maverick's persistent daredevil antics are putting him behind the times. In the trailer, Harris' rear admiral tells him, "The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction." Further reports suggest that the plot revolves around the captain's role as a mentor to the new recruits, as he tries to come to terms with technical advances like drones that could make skill sets and attitudes like his obsolete. 

However, before you worry that we're going to see people with remote controls instead of cockpit controls, director Joseph Kosinski has already quashed rumors that drones will play a big role. In 2017, he said, "Personally, I would never want to see a movie about drones. For me Top Gun has always been about fighter planes. It's been about fighter pilots." And Maverick himself is in denial, responding to Harris' warning: "Maybe so, sir. But not today."

The second Top Gun: Maverick trailer is haunted by Goose

The second Maverick trailer landed on December 16th, 2019, and in addition to more shots of incredible stunts, it brought fresh clues about the potential plot and some of the characters.

The voice-over confirms that Maverick is returning as an instructor, and while we aren't told where he's been, a scene at the end implies that he's been working as a test pilot. We also get more clarity on some of his pupils. The callsign of Monica Barbaro's character is Phoenix, Danny Ramirez is Fanboy, and Miles Teller's Bradley Bradshaw is Rooster — a suitably bird-related tribute to the character's father. Hopefully Rooster's flying attempts are more successful than his namesake. 

The trailer also nods at Goose's fate in two more moments. A scene of the jet stalling reflects the circumstances of his death in the first movie, and when the voice-over says that Maverick's lessons could be the difference between life and death, the camera zooms in on Rooster on the last word. Rooster also starts a fight in a classroom, so it's clear that the character has some pent up emotions to wrestle with.

Speaking of emotions, the trailer confirms another plot point that the first teaser hinted at: we know that a character who served in the Navy dies, thanks to an extended view of the funeral. It's not a whole lot more to go on, but it's got us feeling the need for a sequel, with Maverick-inspired levels of impatience.

Top Gun: Maverick's new recruits aren't so new

After months of keeping all things Top Gun 2 top secret, in January 2020 director Joseph Kosinski teased more of the plot, shared some photos, and confirmed the new pilots' names. In addition to Teller's Rooster, Barbaro's Phoenix, and Ramirez's Fanboy, Powell's character's call sign is Hangman, Ellis is playing Payback, and Lewis Pullman is, er, BOB. (You may recognize Pullman as Jon Hamm's Bad Times at the El Royale co-star.) The director told Entertainment Weekly that this batch of young pilots have already graduated from Top Gun, and are returning to school for "a special training detachment." They're at a higher level than the students in the first film, which means more impressive maneuvers for the audience, and truly terrifying training for the actors.

Kosinski revealed that Cruise himself designed an aerial training course to prepare them. When they were ready, the team rigged six IMAX-quality cameras in the cockpit of each actor's F-18 Super Hornet to capture them as they pretended to fly the plane (a job that was actually left to a Navy pilot.) As Cruise found on the first film, being tossed around like this takes a physical toll: Kosinski admitted that some of the actors occasionally threw up. 

Away from the action, he offered one other insight into the movie's story: Rooster and Maverick's relationship is the film's "emotional core." Fly all the planes you want, but no amount of preparation will get you ready to relive the emotional swings of Maverick and Goose.

There may be an action replay of that volleyball scene — with a twist

Although the costumes from Top Gun are some of the most iconic in Hollywood history (and we promise we're getting to why the new jacket is so controversial), one of the film's most famous and enduring scenes involved very few clothes. That would be the scene showing the pilots blowing off steam with a game of shirtless volleyball (still wearing their aviators, of course). On the DVD, director Tony Scott joked that his only vision for the scene was "soft porn," adding, "I got the guys to get all their gear off and their pants and sprayed them in baby oil." Even decades later, it's a topic of discussion and parody. 

So it makes sense that we couldn't have a trailer without a reference — even a quick one. We see Glen Powell's character shirtless and silhouetted against the sun, spinning a ball on his finger, before cutting to a scene of him mimicking Iceman's roar from the original movie. However, in a twist, the ball is a football, implying a different sport of choice for the new movie. Can they live up to the sizzling reputation set by Cruise and company 30-plus years ago?

Why is Maverick's flight jacket controversial?

Let's talk about this jacket controversy. Maverick's classic fur-collared leather aviator jacket became an icon in its own right after the first movie, so you'd think fans would be pleased to see an old friend returning for the trailer. However, the jacket's appearance caused a stir among eagle-eyed viewers, thanks to the patches on the back. 

In the original Top Gun, the patch on the back left shoulder bears four rectangles, including the Taiwanese flag (top right) and the Japanese flag (bottom left). In the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, when Maverick puts on the jacket, these flags have been replaced with two similar-looking designs in the same color schemes. 

So what's the big deal? Well, some fans suggested that this was a political decision and not a costuming one. Top Gun: Maverick is partly funded by Chinese internet company Tencent. And since China has a tense history with Japan and Taiwan, it may be that they weren't too keen on seeing a portrayal of an alliance between those two countries and the U.S. Navy.

However, at least one former naval pilot, Ward Carroll, dismissed the suggestion, pointing out that the Top Gun patches are notoriously haphazard, meaning that this latest alteration is also, well, meaningless. But conspiracy theorists can still dream.

The real stunts of Top Gun: Maverick

There's no hot air around those stunts: as Tom Cruise assured his Comic-Con audience, "Everything you see in this film is real." Jon Hamm echoed this, telling People, "The aerial footage is mind-blowing. And it's mostly practical. There's not a lot of CG. Those guys are really up in planes and getting thrown around in multiple Gs." 

And it wasn't just the planes. Jennifer Connelly said that she and Cruise really rode Maverick's motorcycle. "He's an excellent, excellent motorcyclist, I have to say." She went on to recall a particularly impressive riding scene, saying, "Every single time, he stops exactly on the mark, like an inch from the curb. Very skilled."

Just as Cruise learned to fly in the F-14s, he made sure the rest of the cast could handle the impact for themselves. He told Conan O'Brien, "We hired incredible actors, great cast, brilliant, but they also had to be able to fly in the airplane. So we had to train them and actually test to see, can they sustain these kinds of Gs? Because some people can't fly this way... and then I had to take the fighter pilots  who were flying the aircraft and really teach them about cinematography, editing." Talk about taking method acting to new heights.

How can Maverick still only be a captain after 30 years?

Getting to the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy is nothing to sniff at. As Cruise himself pointed out, "We're working with the Navy — incredible pilots, the greatest fighter pilots in the world." And yet, the fact that over 30 years into a distinguished service, Maverick is still not at a higher rank is not just a question that's troubling Ed Harris's rear admiral — it's something IRL naval officers have wondered too. Luckily, one stepped in to answer. 

According to Navy Personnel Command, there are three reasons why Maverick could still be a captain. The first (and least likely) is that he started out as an enlisted, and thus not in the officer branch that leads to the higher ranks. However, the first movie dispels this, since he was a lieutenant in 1986. He could also technically have retired but been retained — something that rarely happens, and which runs counter to Harris' character's statement that Maverick won't retire. Or, he could have taken some time out, perhaps after Goose's death — a break in service could mean forfeiting promotion. 

Alternatively, it could just be that he really likes the hands-on job of flying planes more than he wants to be a well-paid manager. We may get our answer when the movie comes out — or it could remain, as Maverick tells Harris, "one of life's mysteries." 

What we learned from the Top Gun: Maverick Super Bowl trailer

Football fans watching Super Bowl LIV on February 2nd got an extra treat in between the drama on the field and the Chiefs' incredible comeback. Sprinkled among painfully long Tide commercials and Mr. Peanut's NSFW offspring were a few highly anticipated Super Bowl trailers and TV spots, including one for Top Gun: Maverick

As well as editing existing trailer footage into a Super Bowl-friendly 30 seconds, the team delivered a couple of tantalizing hints. Firstly, Miles Teller's Rooster does not have the same warm and fuzzy feelings about Cruise's Maverick that his dad Goose did. In this trailer, we hear Rooster tell an unseen someone (presumably Maverick), "My dad believed in you. I'm not going to make the same mistake." Although Kosinski previously revealed that this pair's relationship will be core to the movie's plot, it's not starting out so rosy. Maverick isn't the only one feeling Rooster's rage — in the longer trailers we saw him punch an unidentified character, who now looks to be Glen Powell's Hangman.

Driving home the point that all is not well in the Top Gun team, we hear Jon Hamm's vice admiral tell someone, "I have everything I need to have you court-martialed and dishonorably discharged." It sounds like something that could conceivably be said to Maverick, but maybe Rooster's outbursts and unresolved anger will make him the new bad boy on deck.