‘Top Gun’ producer Jerry Bruckheimer reveals how he won over Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise

Top Gun” was the biggest box-office hit of 1986 and remains one of the most-loved movies of that decade. Its success catapulted Tom Cruise to superstardom, and he is still one of the most famous faces on the planet. But would either have happened if Cruise hadn’t changed his mind after initially turning down the lead role?

27 years after the movie first took audiences to the danger zone, “Top Gun” is coming back to theaters in IMAX 3D for a special six-day event starting February 8. To celebrate its return, we’ve got your first look at the exclusive trailer for the 3D version below. And I got to speak to producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the phone about the 3D conversion and his memories of filming “Top Gun.” He revealed just how he convinced Cruise to take on the career-defining role of Maverick after his early resistance.

Bruckheimer and Cruise
Bruckheimer and Cruise

“Tom was our first choice,” Bruckheimer told me. “I don’t think we ever went out to anybody else, and it took a wooing process to get him.” At the time, Cruise had just made the film “Legend” with director Ridley Scott, who’s the brother of “Top Gun” director Tony Scott. So they were able to pitch the movie to the burgeoning star, but he wouldn’t commit to the role.

To really sell Cruise on playing a Navy pilot, they had to give him a first-hand look at what they do. Bruckheimer recalled that they reached out to the Navy, and they got permission to get Cruise in the backseat for a trip with the Blue Angels, the elite aerobatic flight team. Bruckheimer said, “We sent him down to El Centro,” the Naval Air Facility in California that serves at the winter home for the Blue Angels, “and he jumped in the back of that jet and just had the ride of his life.”

Bruckheimer said, “At the time, he had shoulder-length hair, and [the Navy pilots] said, ‘We’re going to take this hippie for a real ride,’ and they just blasted him through the air and did rolls and did all kinds of crazy stuff with him.” After tearing through the skies at speeds approaching Mach 1, Cruise returned to Earth with a new perspective on the movie. Bruckheimer said, “He got on the ground and walked over to a phone booth – we didn’t have cell phones in those days. He calls me up, he says, ‘I’m doing it.’ [Laughs] That was it.”

Watch the exclusive trailer for 'Top Gun 3D':

I asked Bruckheimer if there was a particular day of filming “Top Gun” that stuck out in his memory nearly three decades later. He recounted a day where he and the crew were set up on a hillside filming fighter jets. The planes would pass by, and Tony Scott would give them direction over radio for the next take. Bruckheimer said, “They buzz over us, and Tony yells in the intercom, ‘Closer! Closer! Closer!’ They come back again. Tony says, ‘Closer! Closer! Closer!’ Well, they came so close they lifted us right off of our chairs, and knocked all the chairs over, that's how close they got.”

Bruckheimer also explained that while filming the aerial combat was an endeavor, cutting it together in a way that made sense was its own challenge. When I asked his reaction to the first cut of the film, he answered, “It was too long and we had a lot of work to do and to try to figure out how to recognize these guys from the planes. Tony and myself and Don [Simpson], my partner and our editors sat there for months making sure you can understand what they were saying and understand what they were doing.”

Bruckheimer also confirmed that they did a reshoot after the film wrapped to add to the love story between Cruise and Kelly McGillis: “We found that the audience really liked their chemistry, and we felt that we're missing one scene, and we went back and shot it.”

For the new 3D conversion, the film’s original negative was scanned, and the individual elements in each frame were isolated and adjusted in the three dimensional space. Bruckheimer said “Top Gun” was particularly suited for 3D because “it’s such a visual movie, and you have an artist like Tony Scott directing, and he’s one of the greatest visual artists ever to work in film.” Scott did personally supervise the conversion process before his death last August. Bruckheimer said the process “took us a while but it was really flawless,” and that technology “has improved so much in the last two to three years that you’d think we shot it in 3D.”

Fans of the original should also be happy to hear that Bruckheimer still has hopes for a “Top Gun” sequel. He said it’s something he has wanted to make happen since the movie came out 27 years ago, and “we haven’t given up yet.” He said the interest is definitely still there, “It's just figuring out how to do it, which I think we have a good handle on, and losing Tony slowed us down, but hopefully we can pick up speed again.”

Top Gun” will be in IMAX 3D theaters for a limited run starting on February 8, and then it will be available in a new 3D/2D Blu-ray set on February 19.