What started as an action-packed movie paying homage to naval aviation in the mid-1980s, has evolved over the past three decades into an international phenomenon that has built a massive and still growing global cult following.
It’s estimated, albeit unofficially, that members of “Top Gun” fan clubs, Facebook groups and Tom Cruise fansites around the world number in the hundreds of thousands, maybe even more.
These fans crave, in a good way, everything “Top Gun.” They love to eat, sleep and drink anything related to a film that has become one of Hollywood’s all-time iconic motion pictures.
“There is the love of aviation that draws people in,” said Paul “Chappie” Ward, a Midway volunteer docent and member of one of the largest “Top Gun” Facebook groups. “It’s just the film itself, the cinematography, soundtrack and relationships grab you.”
In 2018, Michael Sherriff established a “Top Gun” Facebook group in his native Scotland. In four short years, the group’s fan base has grown to nearly 80,000. In the last month alone, more than one million people have visited this Facebook page.
On the eve of the public release of the new “Top Gun: Maverick” film, more than 200 members of the Facebook group converged on San Diego from nine countries for a bus tour of filming locations, panel discussion with the filmmakers of the original “Top Gun,” lively dinner at Kansas City BBQ (made famous in the original motion picture) and a behind-the-scenes visit to the USS Midway Museum.
The tour of Midway was designed to show members of the group many of the actual spaces on an aircraft carrier that they saw in the movie.
“Those who toured Midway were just blown away by the sheer size of the ship,” said Paul, who facilitated the ship visit. “Being able to share the Midway story with new friends was wonderful. Seeing them experience eureka moments and make a personal connection with not only the function of a carrier, but with those young men who made Midway Magic happen every day for 47 years was very fulfilling.”
“I have a deeper amount of respect for this film, which I didn’t know was possible,” said Kristine Wateri, a group member who traveled to San Diego from Oregon. “After being on the Midway’s flight deck, talking with “Top Gun” pilots, and learning about life on a carrier, this film has an even deeper meaning for me.”
Bill Badalato, the executive producer of “Top Gun,” was also with the group during its visit to Midway. Walking on the museum’s flight deck brought back memories of when he was filming scenes on an aircraft carrier for the original movie more than 30 years ago.
“It’s very impressive the engineering that goes into the launching of aircraft,” said the 81-year-old producer whose credits also include the films “Broken Arrow,” “Alien: Resurrection” and “Men of Honor.” “I had seen the steam on the flight deck but did not realize the process beneath the flight deck. It was overwhelming.”