War movies are not often left out of the nomination process for Hollywood’s most prestigious trophy: The Academy Award for Best Picture. Historical dramas like “Dunkirk,” “1917,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Saving Private Ryan” have all received nods in years past. In 2009, the controversial Iraq War movie about EOD soldiers, “The Hurt Locker,” even won the coveted prize in addition to snagging Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow.
This year, two military movies were included among the list of Oscar nominees: “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”
While the former is a dramatic, critically acclaimed, stunning and artistic depiction of the events of World War I that’s very much in line with a typical Oscar selection, it’s worth considering rooting for “Top Gun” to win it all, because it’s pure, unadulterated fun.
“Maverick,” more than 35 years in the making after the original “Top Gun” premiered in 1986, inspired the nation to shake two years’ worth of pandemic chip dust off its chest, stop its endless marathon of “The Office” reruns on Netflix, get off its couch and go out to see a God’s honest summer blockbuster. While its premise was far-fetched, characters a little goofy, and uniforms mildly inaccurate, it was undoubtedly the biggest movie of year — the most beloved 2022 film by audiences of all ages, by a landslide.
As far as year-end domestic box office statistics go, “Top Gun: Maverick” was number one, grossing $718,318,561. It eclipsed number two, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” by a little under $300 million, with majority of other movies from 2022 not able to rake in even half the cash. And that’s if you only count a film’s success by its profits.
Alas, it’s common knowledge that despite recent attempts by the Oscars to broaden the definition of Best Picture, for decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been known, almost to a comical degree, for selecting the most Avant-garde, socially prescient, or downright strange movie to bear that title each year.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is none of those things, so it likely won’t win. But wouldn’t it be great if it did?
Much of the buzz is rightly going to “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” While the absurdist comedy is as brilliant and beautiful as it is surreal, it wasn’t the film that made us all love the movies again the way the long-awaited “Top Gun” sequel did. “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” was a movie we wanted, but “Top Gun: Maverick” was the film we needed.
“Maverick” being selected for Best Picture would signify a rare instance where the Academy and millions of audience members aligned on the idea that it’s actually acceptable to enjoy a popcorn movie — a film that is beloved despite the notion that it doesn’t represent an elevated level of artistry.
In 2023, isn’t that an art in and of itself, making audiences happy? Its stunningly self-aware nostalgia play, big explosions and analogous global conflict made it a piece of cinema that was almost impossible not to like regardless of your age or educational background. It took us for a cruise down the “highway to the danger zone,” and we rode blissfully with the top down and our hair waving in the wind.
It didn’t make us introspective. It didn’t awaken us to any social ills. It didn’t provide political commentary. The movie, in essence, let us all check out and be carefree kids for three hours.
“Top Gun: Maverick” was an escape from reality. And in a time where everyday life seems poised to make us feel bad constantly, isn’t the experience of pure joy and the magic of a movie something worth celebrating?
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.