When a Russian SU-27 fighter pulled a risky barrel-roll maneuver over a U.S. Air Force RC-135 jet last month in the Baltic Sea, everyone from politicians to defense officials asked "Why?" Tom Skerritt, who played flight instructor Viper in 1986's Top Gun, is pretty sure he knows the answer.
The need for speed.
"That was some Russian pilot, maybe 24 years old, showing his stuff, saying, 'This is what I got,' " says Skerritt. "There's no doubt he's seen Top Gun. There's not a pilot in the world who hasn't seen Top Gun multiple times."
It's not just hot-dog pilots who love the jet-fueled adventure story starring Tom Cruise as the brash upstart Maverick. Fans worldwide have continued to turn to the Tony Scott-directed film, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on Monday with a new Blu-ray and Digital HD version (both out now).
"Generation after generation have come to love that film and watch it with the same enthusiasm as the past ones," says Skerritt.
Maverick (Tom Cruise, left) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) stand at attention at Viper's desk (Tom Skerritt) in 'Top Gun.'
Photo Credit: Paramount
Top Gun did not endear itself to critics when it opened May 16, 1986 — it still scores an anemic 55% positive rating on aggregate review site RottenTomatoes.com.
But the slick, MTV-influenced production and power soundtrack (including Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone) was enough to soar to $357 million worldwide and push its cast of stars to new celebrity heights. Cruise locked in his role as an international superstar, while his castmates' profiles rose — Anthony Edwards(Maverick's sidekick Goose), Kelly McGillis (his love-interest/civilian flight instructor Charlie) and Val Kilmer (as rival pilot Iceman).
"Talk about being in the right place at the right time with the right material. Everything aligned for Top Gun," says film historian Leonard Maltin.
Top Gun's enduring popularity is tied to Maverick's struggle to reach his pilot dreams, says producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
"If the movie was just about speed and great dialogue, but you didn't care about the characters, we wouldn't be talking about it right now," says Bruckheimer. "It's the wish fulfillment, overcoming your demons to triumph in the end, that we all strive for."
Bruckheimer continues to pursue a new Top Gun tale, a decades-long quest which hit jet boosters again after he tweeted a new photo in January of himself with Cruise. Bruckheimer says he flew to Louisiana to talk to the star about making the long-discussed Top Gun 2, calling the meeting "excellent."
The duo threw out ideas for a new story centered around a now-senior Maverick, and Jungle Book writer Justin Marks is incorporating the discussion into a screenplay in the works.
"It's something that if we get the script right, and Tom loves it, we'll be off very shortly," says Bruckheimer.
Skerritt has heard the sequel talk before ("I'll believe it when I see it") and isn't convinced a second movie could match the original's global propulsion.
"Trying to capture that lightning in a bottle over and over again as they are doing down in Los Angeles is a pretty desperate way to go," says Skerritt. "(But) Top Gun was just a wonderful film, I was thrilled to be a part of it."
Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun.'
Photo Credit: Paramount