The Stars of Top Gun Then and Now Will Take Your Breath Away

With Top Gun: Maverick nominated for six Oscars, let's catch up with the original 1986 film's cast—and meet the stars who joined Tom Cruise on his years-in-the-making sequel mission.

By Natalie Finn Mar 11, 2023 8:00 AMTags

Mission accomplished for Top Gun: Maverick.

The years-in-the-making sequel made almost $1.5 billion at the global box office and proved that pandemic-weary audiences' need for speed was greater than any reservations they might have about sitting in a crowded theater. And now it's nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, heading into the March 12 ceremony.

Though snubbed for his true-to-form performance as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Tom Cruise still picked up a nomination as a producer on the film, which landed in theaters a few years behind schedule because foregoing IMAX screens and that collective lovin' feeling was not an option.

And, happily, it was worth the wait. Which is never a given when you're talking sequels to beloved classics.

It had been 36 years since the original Top Gun first took up residence in the cultural lexicon with its sleek jets, perfect soundtrack, shirtless volleyball, bar-room serenade and endlessly quotable dialogue.

2023 Oscar Nominations: Snubs and Surprises

The bromantic action-adventure drama made $354 million worldwide, put director Tony Scott on the map and inspired countless future fighter pilots.

Oh, and it's an Oscar winner, taking home Best Original Song for "Take My Breath Away."

Scott Garfield. © Paramount Pictures Corporation

But Maverick's return as a promotion-resistant flight instructor tasked with training the incoming class of Top Guns, at least one of whom is not impressed, was just the shot of adrenaline the 2022 theater schedule needed (and the Academy is hoping for).

Though you've since been treated to a whole new crop of call signs, keep scrolling to see where it all began and what the crew from 1986's Top Gun looks like now:

Tom Cruise

Maverick may be the oldest guy in the squad, but he's looking none the worse for wear since Cruise's first go-round as the best Navy pilot in the land after three Oscar nominations for acting (for Born on the Fourth of JulyJerry Maguire and Magnolia), three recently returned Golden Globe statues (wins for those same three movies), six Mission: Impossible films (with at least two more coming); many, many other films; and the achievement of iconic movie star status.

The father of Connor, Isabella and Suri Cruise has also tirelessly powered through three divorces, from Mimi Rogers in 1990, Nicole Kidman in 2000 and Katie Holmes in 2012.

Kelly McGillis

Astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor Charlie Blackwood took Maverick's breath away and theirs was a cinematic love story for the ages...or at least the 1980s, since McGillis said she was not asked to be in the sequel. And she almost didn't make it into the first film, either.

"I didn't want to do it," she recalled to The Guardian in 2001. "But because I'd done Witness, I owed Paramount another film, and my agent said, 'You have to do this.' I took one look at it and said, 'This is like a Western in the sky—I don't wanna do this.' It wasn't about acting, it was about being a cartoon character. You know what I mean? I could have done it blindfolded. I was grateful for the fact that it gave me opportunities I wouldn't otherwise have had. But I showed up for work, did my bit, hung out with a bunch of boys, played baseball, and went home. It was like being at camp. Why they hired me I'll never know."

McGillis next portrayed a prosecutor seeking justice for a rape victim played by eventual Oscar winner Jodie Foster in The Accused. She kept acting in the likes of The BabeNorth and many smaller films and TV movies, but she also opened a restaurant in Florida with her yacht mogul second husband, Fred Tillman, in the 1990s and put acting on the back burner.

She has two daughters with Tillman, whom she divorced in 2002. She came out as gay in 2009 and had a civil union ceremony with Melanie Leis in 2010, but they broke up the following year.

"I think just my priorities in life changed," McGillis told Entertainment Tonight in 2019 from home in North Carolina. "It wasn't like a major decision that I made to leave [acting], it was just that other things became more important. I love acting, I love what I do, I love doing theater, but I don't know. To me, my relationships to other people became far more important than my relationship to fame."

Val Kilmer

The Top Secret! and Real Genius star was as cool as they come as Maverick's nemesis turned fellow hero in combat Lt. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. And he returned for the sequel in a touching cameo, Iceman having become a four-star general who had Maverick's rogue back for the past 30 years. 

After the first Top Gun, Kilmer preceded to have one of the premiere acting careers of the 1990s, starring in WillowThe DoorsTrue Romance, TombstoneBatman ForeverHeatThe Island of Dr. MoreauThe Ghost and the DarknessThe Saint and The Prince of Egypt (as the voice of Moses and God).

Rumors swirled about the state of Kilmer's health toward the end of the 2010s as he became more elusive and, in April 2020, he confirmed that he survived a battle with throat cancer. "You may notice I sound like I have a frog in my throat. It's not. It's a buffalo," he wrote online ahead of an appearance on Good Morning America, his first TV interview in 10 years. "Though being healed from cancer, I am slowly and surely regaining my speech. As I haven't let the adversity stifle my voice as an artist."

Kilmer has two children, daughter Mercedes and son Jack, with ex-wife Joanne Whalley, and he opened the door into his private world for the critically acclaimed 2021 documentary Val.

Anthony Edwards

Goooooooose! The Revenge of the Nerds star was known primarily as Maverick's doomed wingman, Officer Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, for a good eight years before he landed the role of Dr. Mark Greene on ER. Over his eight-year run on the show before his tearjerker of a farewell, Edwards won a Golden Globe and was nominated for four Emmys.

He won an Emmy in 2010 as an executive producer of that year's Best TV Movie, Temple Grandin.

Edwards' acting work on the big and small screens over the years has included The ClientNorthforkZodiac, Showtime's BillionsLaw & Order: True Crime and Designated Survivor, and he's currently streaming in the inspired-by-true-scandal dramas WeCrashed on Apple TV+ and Inventing Anna on Netflix.

He has four children with ex-wife Jeanine Lobell, the founder of Stila Cosmetics, whom he was married to from 1994 until 2015. He married Emmy winner Mare Winningham, who also has four kids, in 2021.

"Morning coffee, get up on news and get out and do something I'm fortunate to do," Edwards told Fox News in April 2020, giving a glimpse of his pared-down pandemic schedule. "I'm fortunate to be able to work on my garden and there are these kinds of chores that you've put off for years."

Meg Ryan

After her emotional supporting role as Goose's wife, Carole, Ryan's career took off. After solid supporting turns in Innerspace and D.O.A. (both with future husband Dennis Quaid, whom she married in 1991), she starred in When Harry Met Sally... and the title of America's Sweetheart soon followed.

She had classic rom-com chemistry with Tom Hanks in Joe vs. the Volcano (playing three characters), Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, as well as other adorable moments in French KissI.Q. (with Top Gun's Tim Robbins) and Kate and Leopold. Ryan also did heavy drama, playing Jim Morrison's long-suffering partner Pamela Courson in The Doors (opposite Kilmer as the volatile rocker), an alcoholic wife and mom in When a Man Loves a Woman, an Army captain whose death is posthumously investigated in Courage Under Fire, and a wife trying to get her husband back from kidnappers with the help of professional rescuer Russell Crowe in Proof of Life.

Ryan and Quaid divorced in 2001. They're parents of son Jack and Ryan adopted daughter Daisy in 2004. She later dated John Mellencamp off and on for years before they split up for good in 2019. 

Later work included In the CutAgainst the RopesIn the Land of WomenThe Women and she reunited with Hanks in Ithaca.

"Now I'm focused on producing," Ryan told InStyle in the summer of 2019. "I'm also teeing myself up to direct, and I'm working on a fun e-commerce project with some of my friends. But most of all, what I'm ambitious for in the 12 hours a day that I'm awake is my kids' happiness. I just am."

Tim Robbins

After getting his start on TV shows like St. ElsewhereThe Love Boat and Hill Street Blues, Robbins made his film debut in the teens vs. terrorists action movie Toy Soldiers and carpooled with John Cusack in The Sure Thing before landing the role of Lt. Sam "Merlin" Wells. 

He was in Howard the Duck but then his career took off after he plays an eager minor league pitcher vying with Kevin Costner for Susan Sarandon's heart in Bull Durham. He got the girl in real life, and he and Sarandon were together for 21 years and had two sons, Jack and Miles, before amicably splitting up in 2009. He also directed Sarandon in her Oscar-winning turn in 1995's Dead Man Walking and was also behind the camera for Bob Roberts and Cradle Will Rock.

Throughout, Robbins has remained politically active, he founded the Actors' Gang Theater Group, and he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2004 for Mystic River. A further sampling of his screen highlights includes Jacob's LadderThe PlayerThe Hudsucker Proxy, The Shawshank RedemptionArlington Road, cameos in Zoolander and on Portlandia, HBO's The BrinkDark Waters and Hulu's Castle Rock.

Adrian Pasdar

Fresh-faced Lt. Charles "Chipper" Piper marked the movie debut of the future star of HeroesColonyPolitical AnimalsAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and much more. And if you haven't been seeing Pasdar, you've been hearing him as the voice of Tony Stark/Iron Man in his own animated series and assorted other Marvel shows, including Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble.

In the flesh he's also been on the small screen in Lethal WeaponGrand Hotel and Supergirl. Pasdar has a son, Jackson, with ex-wife Natalie Maines. He and the Dixie Chicks singer married in 2000 and she filed for divorce in 2017; the split was settled in 2019.

Michael Ironside

His name alone is tough. And sure enough, Lt. Cmdr Rick "Jester" Heatherly, Maverick's flight instructor, had a gaze of steel.

Ironside is a prolific character actor who, since Top Gun, has showed up in movies such as (to name a few) Total RecallStarship TroopersThe Next Karate KidThe Perfect StormThe MachinistTerminator: Salvation, and X-Men: First Class, as well as on TV in Walker, Texas Ranger, ERCold CaseCastleSmallvilleCommunityVegasThe Flash, JustifiedThe AlienistHawaii 5-0... and the list goes on. Most recently he appeared in The Dropout and on Barry.

He's been married to his second wife, Karen Dinwiddie, since 1986 and has one child with her and another from his previous marriage.

Tom Skerritt

You may know him as Julia Roberts' dad in Steel Magnolias (or Sara Gilbert's dad in Poison Ivy—lots of father roles and foliage), but first he was Cmdr. Mike "Viper" Metcalf, the voice of reason who helps Maverick, racked with guilt over Goose's death, recover his confidence.

Born in 1933, Skerritt has been acting since the 1960s and had previously starred in the likes of MASH and Alien, so just add Viper to his list of classic roles. He remained a go-to guy for law enforcement, military men and politicians, whether it was his cameo as the mayor of Seattle in Singles, playing Sheriff Brock on Picket Fences (for which he won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama in 1993), having a turn as Sen. Carrick on The West Wing, his arc as a CIA agent on The Grid or showing up as a bureaucratic scientist in Contact.

He had a recurring role as the deceased but often-referred-to Walker family patriarch on Brothers & Sisters and appeared on The Good Wife and Madam Secretary. More recently he played a terminally ill retired heart surgeon who returns to his hometown in a feature adaptation of David Guterson's novel East of the Mountains and the patriarch of a gun-slinging family in the western Catch the Bullet.

Skerritt has three children from his first marriage and one from his second, and has been married to third wife Julie Tokashiki since 1998.

And meet the class of recruits who joined Cruise for his sequel mission:

Miles Teller

The tension is thick when Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell's late best friend's son, Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, played by Teller, shows up among the Navy's latest crop of Top Gun pilots.

Even sporting a mustache like his dad, Anthony Edward's Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, count Rooster among the long list of people who don't think much of Maverick's rogue ways.

"That was all me, I showed up with it at the camera test," Teller, who previously worked with Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski on the harrowing firefighter drama Only the Bravetold USA Today of the facial hair. "Tom was like, 'This is perfect; you look so much like him.'"

Glen Powell

Powell does Iceman-dipped-in-honey as the cocky but charming Lt. Jake "Hangman" Seresin, a character he collaborated on with Tom Cruise in order to get the notes right.

"I can't top what Val did in the first one," Powell told USA Today. "I tried to make Hangman stand on his own. That just comes with growing up in Texas."

Having previously played astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures and after zooming through the skies in real F-18s, the actor decided to lean into this whole pilot thing, getting his certification with Cruise's help.

"So I get my pilot's license, I get to sign the whole thing and they're like, 'You're a private pilot'—Tom had a thing waiting for me," Powell told E! News. "It was a note that said, 'Welcome to the skies,' and it was a certificate for stunt driving lessons."

In case his need for speed had yet to be fulfilled.

Monica Barbaro

The Top Gun program has come a long way(ish) since 1986.

Barbaro plays mission candidate Lt. Natasha "Phoenix" Trace, Rooster's love interest but first and foremost a hell of an F/A-18F pilot.

"Of course, part of this role is about being a woman," the actress told USA Today. "But she also represents a pilot who is just very capable."

Lewis Pullman

Lt. Robert "Bob" Floyd may look bookish, but any weapon systems officer played by Bill Pullman's son obviously belongs in the air!

"There was a guy with a sign saying 'I Love Bob' outside my first TV interview," the younger Pullman told USA Today. "He said to me, 'I keep thinking, what would Bob do?'"

He likes that "audiences can see that soft-spoken people can become pilots. And they can be absolute road dogs in the sky." But as for his instantly iconic call sign...

"I like that it doesn't have an explanation," Pullman said. "There's great mystery behind Bob."

Danny Ramirez

Playing Air Force Lt. Joaquin Torres in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier didn't turn Ramirez onto flying—but portraying the very sure-of-himself Lt. Mickey "Fanboy" Garcia did, despite the occasional bout with air sickness.

"I didn't love it before this, but I love flying now," he told USA Today. "I was having so much fun. I can be cocky in the air."

Playing a weapons systems officer, the guy in the plane who's directing his attention this way and that, could be a little nauseating, he admitted. "It's like texting in the back seat of a car, but you're moving at 500 knots," he explained. "So I tossed my cookies quite a bit."

Jay Ellis

Playing mission candidate Lieutenant Reuben "Payback" Fitch, Ellis—whose dad, two grandfathers and step-grandfather served in the Air Force—is proud to represent his lineage onscreen, even if it is as a Navy man.

"I grew up around aviation, and I think about the sacrifice that so many men and women take—they give, rather—just for us to be safe," the actor told NBC News. "I think we all wrap our arms around this community and we protect it so much. And we understand the responsibility to be amazing on-screen for these folks."

Ellis also found another use for his air sickness bag after realizing early on that once you're up, you're not coming down for awhile. "Every flight from there on, I peed and I got it down to a science," he told USA Today. "It just became a thing."

Greg "Tarzan" Davis

"When I saw the first Top Gun, obviously there was one Black character, Sundown [played by Clarence Gilyard], but I don't think he was represented as fully as he could have been," Davis, who suits up as Lt. Javy "Coyote" Machado, told NBC News. "So I think that it's really cool that we have the representation, not just of Black characters, but of many different men and women."

Newer to being a working actor when he was cast in Top Gun: Maverick ages ago but having since amassed credits including The Call of the Wild and Grey's Anatomy, he'll will make his mark yet again with Cruise in the also-years-in-the-making Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning, due out in 2023. 

"Four of my six years of acting have been with Tom Cruise," the Davis remarked to USA Today. "I cannot complain about life."

Jennifer Connelly

New to the franchise but not to the lore, Connelly's Penny Benjamin is the "one admiral's daughter" referred to in the Top Gun bar scene, when Maverick's said to have "a history of high-speed passes over five air control towers and one admiral's daughter."

Goose's wife Carole (Meg Ryan, seen in flashback in Top Gun: Maverick) mentions her by name when she tells her husband's best friend that Goose "told me all about the time you went ballistic with Penny Benjamin."

Penny is now a bar owner and single mom who's cautiously willing to give Maverick another shot.

Jon Hamm

Someone's got to be serious and in charge. Hamm joins the fleet as Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson, commander of Naval Air Forces.

"He's the adult in the room," the Emmy winner told The Hollywood Reporter. "He's not the petulant angry chief, and he's not the cigar-chomping guy [James Tolkan's Stinger] in [Top Gun], whose ego is writing checks his body can't cash. Cyclone is way more in the Tom Skerritt vein, who I really looked to for inspiration. First of all, I love Tom as an actor, but I loved him in the film, too. He's got that tough-love sensibility, but he also has that great line at the end, 'I'll fly with you.' It's a begrudging mutual respect, and my character has a lot of that, too."

Ed Harris

Four-time Oscar nominee Harris has a brief turn as Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain, head of the Darkstar program, aka the mission involving the SR-72 Son of Blackbird aircraft, and another officer who Maverick manages to cross in a short period of time.

"I had a good time on it. Just worked a few days, but it was fun," the actor told NBC News' Willie Geist. "I'm sure it'll be spectacular." But, he added, "I'm just really in the first three minutes of it."

(Originally published May 16, 2020, at 7 a.m. PT)

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