Top Gun: Maverick – Do You Need to See the Original Movie First?

It’s been 36 years since Top Gun came out. Can you watch Tom Cruise's long-awaited sequel without seeing the first one?

Tom Cruise as Maverick
Photo: Paramount Pictures


The original Top Gun came out almost exactly 36 years ago, turning Tom Cruise from a rising star into a legitimate superstar and implanting things like shirtless beach volleyball, callsigns, F-14 jets, and the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School into the public consciousness for decades to come.

The movie followed hotshot pilots Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) as they joined the school (known as TOPGUN), clashed with their commanding officers and fellow trainees (including Val Kilmer’s Tom “Iceman” Kazansky), and experienced tragedy, romance and some of the most dangerous yet exhilarating flying in the world.

Maverick arguably remains Tom Cruise’s most famous role, which is why it’s extraordinary in some ways that it’s taken more than three decades for a sequel to finally go into production (he’s spent a lot of time tending to his other franchise, Mission: Impossible, which will go eight films deep when all is said and done). But Top Gun: Maverick is arriving on screens at last, leaving us with one question: Do you need to see the original movie to understand what’s happening in this one?

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The answer is… no, not really.

If you are a fan of the original – or if you do choose to watch it again or for the first time—your enjoyment of the sequel will of course be enhanced. Top Gun: Maverick is awash in nostalgia, to the point of recreating signature moments from the first movie like the opening montage of jets taking off (set again to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”) and the shirtless beach sports scene (although here volleyball is replaced by football, and the homoeroticism is turned way down).

But if you’ve never flown with Maverick before, you’re still in good hands. Cruise (who also produced with Jerry Bruckheimer), director Joseph Kosinski, and a team of screenwriters have ensured that Top Gun: Maverick is a well-oiled machine that requires no previous flight time from viewers just joining the action now in 2022.

For instance, Maverick’s main motivating factor—the guilt that still haunts him over the death of Goose, his best friend and Radar Intercept Officer, in the original movie—is quite clearly explained and signaled. Photos of Goose are everywhere, the new film flashes back to the sequence in the original in which Goose is killed, and the memory of Goose is further put front and center by the arrival of his son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) at the flight school, where he is one of the trainees who may be selected to fly the film’s incredibly risky central mission.

The new movie spells out quite clearly that Maverick has resisted promotion over the years because a) he still feels bad over Goose’s death, and b) he would rather fly than sit behind a desk. That’s all you need to know.

When Maverick also visits his old friend Iceman, now commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (and the only other returning cast member), it’s also made quite evident that they are very dear friends. Although they were bitter rivals in the original movie, only earning each other’s respect at the end, that’s not necessarily knowledge needed for this film (and the genuine warmth between Cruise and Kilmer—whose own real-life health problems have been built into Iceman’s story—goes a long way toward selling their rapport).

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As for Maverick’s other major relationship in the movie—his romance with The Hard Deck bar owner Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly)—there is enough interaction between them to give one the impression that this is a longstanding, on-and-off affair that they have pursued over the years. Did the sparks first fly in Top Gun?

They did not. Maverick’s major romance in the first movie was with flight instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), whose image is glimpsed in the sequel but whose name is not brought up once. On the other hand, Penny Benjamin is referenced in the original movie as an “admiral’s daughter” that Maverick got in trouble with, but that’s about it. We don’t meet her until now. So if you’re worried that you missed something from the first movie, you didn’t (we’ve seen the original—just recently, too—and actually wondered where the hell the Penny subplot in Maverick came from).

The bottom line? While a viewing of Top Gun will certainly help and perhaps deepen your understanding of some of the relationships and plot points in the sequel, you can walk into Top Gun: Maverick cold and still comprehend everything that’s going on. Plus, as outstanding as the flying sequences were in the 1986 film, they’re way more spectacular in the new one. Strap yourself in and enjoy.

Top Gun: Maverick is out in theaters this Friday, May 27.