Since the iconic Tom Cruise airplane flick came out 30 years ago, fans have argued the testosterone-fuelled actioner is actually laden with homoerotic subtext – a coming-out movie in blockbuster clothing. But how true is that?
“I want somebody’s butt, I want it now!”
“You can be my wingman anytime.”
These are just two of the lines in ‘Top Gun’, the 1986 classic set in a flight school for Navy fighter pilots.
Directed by the late Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise as Maverick and Val Kilmer as frenemy Iceman, it was a massive summer hit, perceived as a perfect recruitment tool for the Navy and featuring epic dogfights alongside witty guy banter.
But is there more to it? Legendary US film critic Pauline Kael wrote in her review at the time, “the movie is a shiny homoerotic commercial: the pilots strut around the locker room, towels hanging precariously from their waists.”
And the camera certainly gazes longingly as the actors’ ripped bodies – the hilarious topless volleyball game (never mind the locker room scenes) is proof enough of that.
“We didn’t write it as that,” Jack Epps Jr, the movie’s co-writer, tells Yahoo. “[But] I see how you can interpret it that way.”
One of the catalysts for the movie’s re-interpretation was actually Quentin Tarantino. Appearing as an actor in 1994 indie ‘Sleep With Me’, the writer/director delivers a speech written by his ‘Pulp Fiction’ co-author Roger Avary which hilariously re-imagines the ‘Top Gun’ plot.
“It is a story about a man’s struggle with his own homosexuality,” he says in the film. “You’ve got Maverick, all right? He’s on the edge, man…And you’ve got Iceman, and all his crew. They’re gay, they represent the gay man, all right? And they’re saying, go, go the gay way, go the gay way. He could go both ways. Kelly McGillis (Maverick’s love interest Charlie Blackwood), she’s heterosexuality. She’s saying: no, no, no, no, no, no, go the normal way, play by the rules, go the normal way. They’re saying no, go the gay way, be the gay way, go for the gay way, all right? That is what’s going on throughout that whole movie.”
Watching it with this in the back of your mind, it’s hard not to see some of what he’s saying. Fans have said McGillis’s character was deliberately given an ambiguously-gendered name and have even argued Charlie is wearing a cap in the flirty elevator scene because she’s trying to look like a guy to attract Maverick.
The latter is definitely not true. McGillis has since revealed she’s wearing a hat because the scene was done during a reshoot and by that time her hair was a different colour.
As for that sweaty locker room?
“It’s really a sports movie,” says Jack Epps Jr. “Both [co-writer Jim Cash] and I were athletes and so as athletes, a lot of sports takes place in the locker room. You’re with the guys, the team gets together, you get your heads on straight. If you’re not together in the locker room, you’re never together on the field. We wrote locker room scenes because that’s where you get that sense of community.”
He also suggests director Tony Scott had something to do with it.
“Tony has a certain look that he was using stylistically and you look at that look and it’s a very gay look in terms of the haircuts and the styles and the male beefcake,” he says. “I don’t think it was intentional, but I don’t think you can avoid [it].”
Let’s face it though – if you look closely enough, you can find whatever you want in any film. Just ask the people who think ‘The Shining’ is Stanley Kubrick admitting he directed the fake Moon landing.
So there’s lots of talk of butts and Maverick calls his co-pilot Goose “honey”, but does that mean they’re all secretly gay and struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
The guy who wrote the script thinks it’s up to the people who watch the film.
“It adds a whole different layer to it,” he says. “It’s part of the myth of the movie. Movies become what they become. At the end of the day you want the audience to react to it, interact with it. If that’s part of the interaction, then that’s what the movie is.”
Image credits: Rex_Shutterstock, Paramount