Producer Jerry Bruckheimer insists it took an angelic intervention to get Tom Cruise to sign onto the 1986 film Top Gun - a Blue Angels intervention.
Cruise just wouldn't commit to the role of pilot Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell until Bruckheimer secured him an outing with the U.S. Navy's celebrated Blue Angels flight demonstration team. Their jets apparently gave Cruise the need for speed.
"He had the time of his life in that ride. It excited the heck out of him," says Bruckheimer. "Right after, he went to a pay phone - they didn't have mobile phones then - and he called me up to say 'I'm in.' I can thank the Blue Angels for this."
The gift keeps on giving more than 26 years later: On Tuesday, Paramount Pictures is releasing the film in Blu-ray 3-D for the first time. That comes on the heels of last week's special six-day run for an IMAX 3-D version, which added $2.8 million to Top Gun's $353 million worldwide box office.
"It's a good old-fashioned bad guy vs. good guy kind of a movie, a Western in the sky done in a very contemporary way," says Kelly McGillis, who starred as Cruise's love interest, defense contractor Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood.
The film, directed by Tony Scott, who died last year, features a who's-who of the biggest stars of the next decade: McGillis; Cruise; Anthony Edwards as sidekick Nick "Goose" Bradshaw; Val Kilmer as Cruise's nemesis, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky; and Meg Ryan as Edwards' young wife. There are even scenes with a young fighter pilot played by Tim Robbins.
"Tony had a great eye for talent, he always found interesting actors, known or unknown," says Bruckheimer.
Earning the Top Gun honors wasn't easy. During the shoot at Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego (it's now a Marine facility), hot-shot Navy pilots were brought on board to train the actors. Scott Altman, an accomplished Navy pilot, recalls taking Edwards up for a test flight in an F-14.
"We were simulating a spin, there's a lot of dynamic motion, and the camera in back filmed his response to that," says Altman. He doesn't go into details. "But I will give (Edwards) credit. He did not fill his air sickness bag. "
Working on Top Gun presented unusual opportunities for the real pilots, especially when they were asked to buzz the tower, as Cruise's character does throughout the film. Altman did nine such flybys at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, where additional scenes were filmed.
"In the real Navy, if you buzz the tower, when you land they just take your wings away. That's it. And you're done," says Altman. "But they wanted it for the movie. That was one of the neat things about filming."
Rick Rossovich, who played radio intercept officer Ron "Slider" Kerner, recalls that Cruise and Kilmer stayed in separate residences. But the rest of the cast played poker and partied together at a San Diego hotel and would often pull Kilmer into their late-night shenanigans.
"We went down to Tijuana at like 2 in the morning at the drop of a hat," says Rossovich. "Val had the van and we'd all pile in and take off. We had a ball making that movie."
After filming, test audiences were thrilled with the flight sequences, and they loved the romance sequences with McGillis and Cruise enough that they demanded more. Filmmakers were forced to head to Chicago, where Cruise was filming The Color of Money, to shoot additional scenes with McGillis, including one where the two flirt heavily in an elevator.
"The audience felt the romance wasn't earned. They really liked the two of them together on-screen," says Bruckheimer. "We felt we had cheated a little by not having more of it."
After the movie, many of the players went onto other big-name projects. But Rossovich, who starred alongside Steve Martin in the 1987 romantic comedy Roxanne, would eventually settle in Stockholm. He even lost touch with Kilmer, who is the godfather of his 26-year-old son, Roy. But he and Kilmer are just recently back in touch via e-mail.
"We have all kind of gone our own ways and everyone's good. But when you run into the guys, you go right back to the relationship that you had on that day," says Rossovich. "There's a bond when you make a movie like that. "
Beyond the enhanced 3-D version, there could be an additional Top Gun in the future. Bruckheimer continues to push for a sequel that would follow Cruise taking to the skies once more.
"We've been trying to get it made for quite a while," says Bruckheimer. "Paramount is enthusiastic about doing it, as are Tom and myself. We just have to get a story that everyone loves."