Study Guide

Top Gun Themes

  • War

    Top Gun is a special kind of war movie, the kind where there is actually very little warfare, but where the possibility of war is imminent. See, Top Gun takes place sometime during the early 1980's, i.e. right smack in the middle of the Cold War, a really long conflict between the United States and Russia that really entailed whole lot of getting ready for War-with-a-capital-W (mostly in the form of a massive, massive armament on both sides and tons of intelligence gathering). Nevertheless, the Top Gun pilots train as if war is imminent, and the film is framed by two encounters with enemy fighters (the fictional MiG-28's). In the final dogfight, Maverick and Iceman actually shoot down several enemy jets in a dazzling display of their newly acquired Top Gun skills.

    Questions About War

    1. Why isn't there more actual combat in Top Gun? What is the effect of the film's lack of actual battle scenes?
    2. Is this actually a war movie? Why or why not?
    3. Some people have said that Top Gun glorifies war, killing, and the like. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    War is always a possibility. This is why it is essential that a country's pilots and troops always be prepared for the worst, and train to be best they can be.

    The real wars in Top Gun are those between Maverick and his fellow pilots and Maverick and his past.

  • Competition

    Maverick and Iceman aren't just two top Naval aviators. They're two naval aviators both competing for the Top Gun trophy, and for bragging rights. They both think they're the best pilot in the Navy, and one could do worse than describe Top Gun as a game between Maverick and Iceman (in the air, on the volleyball court, in the classroom). While Iceman is pretty much always "in the lead," with Maverick a close second, and while Iceman ultimately wins the trophy, it is Maverick who saves the day. Maverick wins the battle that matters at the end of the film, and he wins the battle for the viewer's heart. Something about Iceman just doesn't connect (he's too "cold" for most us), and it is Maverick that we always end up rooting for.

    Questions About Competition

    1. Why isn't Maverick able to win the Top Gun trophy? Is he playing the game incorrectly? Is he better in real life than "on the court," so to speak?
    2. Is it fair that Maverick and Co. have to compete against guys like Viper and Jester, who have way more experience than they do?
    3. What's the point of the volleyball scene? What does it show us about the competition between Maverick and Iceman?
    4. Are the pilots not named Maverick, Goose, Iceman, and Slider even competitive? We never hear about them as being serious rivals for the trophy.

    Chew on This

    Competition is a great thing, even among guys that are on the same team. It encourages everybody to be the best they can be.

    People who are competitive are competitive at everything—Maverick and Iceman compete in the air, in the locker room, and just about everywhere else.

  • Memory and the Past

    The past is like a big, gigantic, massive weight on Maverick's shoulders. We gradually learn that Maverick has this hang-up about his father, a Navy pilot in Vietnam who supposedly disobeyed orders and shamed his family name (read: shamed Maverick). Maverick doesn't learn the real truth until much later, and for most of Top Gun he flies as if he's trying to prove he's not his father. He just seems angry about his past, and Goose calls him out on it, essentially telling him that it's starting to affect his flying. Speaking of Goose, his death becomes an additional weight on Maverick's shoulder, a part of the recent past that also affects Maverick's performance. In the end, Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, a.k.a. Maverick, must learn to put the past to rest, and move forward with his life and career.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Why do we only gradually learn about Maverick's past? Why doesn't the film tell us the whole story right away?
    2. Is Maverick a little too hung up on the past? Why or why not?
    3. How is Viper's relationship to the past (his experiences in Vietnam) different than Maverick's? In what ways is it similar?
    4. Does Viper expect Maverick to get over Goose's memory a little quickly? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The past can be one of the biggest burdens ever. Maverick, for example, can't seem to stop flying against his father's ghost, his own past.

    Maverick is unable to grow and become best pilot he can be until he knows exactly what happened in the past, what happened to his father.

  • Family

    Goose has a wife and a child. So does Cougar. Maverick has nobody, except Goose (whom he describes as his "only family"). In a lot of ways Top Gun is about what it's like to not have a family (which may explain why Maverick just doesn't care that much about some things like, ugh, rules), or about what it's like to have a disgraced family name (again, Maverick). The movie is also, though, about how different groups can become families. The pilots at Top Gun are pretty much one big family. They compete like brothers would, they fight like brothers would, but at the end of the day, as Viper reminds them, they're all on the same team.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why do you think Maverick doesn't have any family? What were the writers getting at?
    2. What is the significance or symbolism of Goose's family?
    3. Why don't we hear anything about the families of any of the other pilots?
    4. In what ways do the Top Gun pilots not act like a family?

    Chew on This

    Family isn't only about blood. Groups of people that are on the same team, that eat, sleep, and live together, and work together towards a common goal (like the pilots at Top Gun) can be just as strong of a family.

    Family determines who we are. Maverick for example, is a lot like the father he lost when he was still just a little boy.

  • Rules and Order

    Rules were meant to be broken. Okay, they weren't really made to be broken, but if you asked Maverick why rules were made, he would tell you as much. Seriously, all Maverick does is break rules. Stinger's summary of Maverick's infractions is alarming, as are the additional infractions we see him make throughout the film (flybys and what not). While Maverick breaks obvious rules (like minimum altitudes and things like that), he also breaks unofficial rules: he leaves his wingman on at least one occasion, and in general he's very good at respecting the fact that Goose doesn't want to keep getting in trouble because of Maverick. Maverick isn't just your typical rebel, however, and there are complicated reasons behind his rule breaking. He's always trying to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, and Top Gun is all about how he finds the balance.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. Why is Maverick such a rebel, such a maverick?
    2. Maverick, the rebel, ends up saving the day. Is he still a rebel at that point? Is the lesson there that it's good to be rebellious, then?
    3. Are guys like Iceman a little too interested in playing by the rules?
    4. Why does Goose still fly with Maverick, even though Maverick gets him in trouble all the time?

    Chew on This

    Even though Maverick saves the day, he doesn't do anybody any good while he's breaking rules at Top Gun.

    Maverick breaks rules, sure, but he's also able to think outside the box. Sometimes, bending the rules is the only way to push the envelope and take things to the next level.