How the Original ‘Top Gun’ Producers Assembled Tom Cruise, Tony Scott

The original “Top Gun” is an investigation into the making of Hollywood movies from a certain era – an era captured in the pages of Variety as the film was born from mid 1983 until its triumphant release by Paramount Pictures three years later.

The film came together during the period when Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were at the height of their power as red-hot producers of culture-shattering films such as 1983’s “Flashdance” and 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop”. The film the couple made starred with countless screenwriters (more on that in the clips), director Tony Scott and veteran producer Bill Badalato propelled Tom Cruise to a new level of stardom, creating a legacy sturdy enough for Cruise, Bruckheimer and Paramount to jump back to almost 40 years later at the top of the box with the long-delayed movie screen sequel “Top Gun: Maverick”.

As evidenced by the steady pace of “Top Gun” news, Simpson and Bruckheimer had a lot of influence at Paramount and the industry at the time. They were even able to manage the rights to the soundtrack for the film – something they learned from the success of ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop’. Simpson Bruckheimer Prods. struck a deal with Columbia Records for the soundtrack that spent several weeks at No. 1 in the summer of 1986, yielding hits for Kenny Loggins (“Danger Zone”), Berlin (“Take My Breath Away”) and Harold Faltermeyer (“Top Gun Anthem’, ‘Memories’).

A journey through the Variety archive shows the first reference to the film in nascent form about two months after California magazine published the article that inspired the film. “Top Guns,” written by Ehud Yonay, told the story of a miscarriage by top young pilots at the Naval Air Station Miramar training facility near San Diego.

The project was listed as one of several under development in the August 3, 1983 edition of Daily Variation, which featured a page 1 story about Simpson and Bruckheimer signing a rich new three-year production pact with Paramount, eager to keep his dynamic duo on the Melrose lot. (In classic slate narrative fashion, the other early-stage projects mentioned are worth a read for obsessive 80s movie buffs.)

The “Top Gun” related clips shared here trace the nuts and bolts of putting together a movie, from Cruise and director Tony Scott’s landing to the hurdles in selecting the film’s female lead to the tragic death of ace pilot Art Scholl in 1985 while capturing aerial footage for the film.

A look back at the transaction history of “Top Gun” also adds telling details to the legend of the late Don Simpson. Varieties coverage from the articulate producer is a window into how the master showman operated each lever – he was on the phone with Variety‘s Army Archerd at least once a week — to lay the groundwork for a blockbuster that would stand the test of time.

Simpson had his demons leading to his death in January 1996 at the age of 52. But before stories of his personal behavior caught up with his professional achievements, he spent years as a film marketing and advertising manager. He knew what to do with a huge hit. And he had a lot of thoughts about what it takes to make a great movie.

As Simpson told Variety in August 1983 when he and Bruckheimer signed a fruitful deal with Paramount:

Interestingly, all 11 movies Simpson and Bruckheimer are now developing are original ideas rather than scripts based on novels or movie remakes. “One of the problems and reasons behind the failure of films is that they are not based on new ideas,” Simpson suggested. “We have a lot more benefits from working this way and I think our personal aptitude is more in that area.”

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