In the original Top Gun, which was released in 1986, Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (played, of course, by Tom Cruise) wears a leather G-1 Jacket — an item that has been an option for fighter pilots since 1940. Back in '40, though, it was called the M-422A. It wasn't the G-1 Jacket until 1947, when it was standardized across the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
What about the U.S. Air Force, you might ask? Well, they wear nylon bomber jackets — like this one from Alpha Industries.
However, the film's profound popularity forced the Air Force's hand. It was reinstated for service members in 1988. But this jacket's return wasn't the only byproduct of the original film; recruitment numbers also spiked by more than 500 percent, as David Robb wrote in his 2004 book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies. The Navy even stationed recruiting booths inside theaters in an attempt to capitalize on on folks' post-flick thrills.
Of course, the Navy also lent planes and aircraft carriers to the filmmakers, and made uniform references available to costume teams, too. But the Navy also dictated how it'd be portrayed. Scenes were cut and plot lines were altered the Navy's request, reports revealed, because the Navy was arguably the film's biggest backer. (Did you know there are offices in Los Angeles for each branch of the armed forces to negotiate their cooperation in movies wherein the military is portrayed or heavily featured?)
The same can be said of the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, which arrives in theaters on May 24th. But experts don't think it'll have the same effect on its audience.
"During a time of peace, a movie glamorizing war drove recruitment through the roof. Unfortunately, in a time of war, movies glamorizing war don't work as well. You can count the number of true war movies this year with one hand," Carl Forsling, a senior columnist for Task & Purpose and a retired Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot, wrote for Business Insider in 2020 — two years before the war in Ukraine dominated Americans' everyday life.
Forsling also argues today's military movies stray from the truth about service. Long gone are aerial pursuits and in-air combat. "Movies and pop culture shape society, and even the military, more than many admit. In the absence of real conflict, Top Gun shaped its own narrative. It defined conflict on Hollywood's terms. But after nearly two decades of conflict, even the dullest moviegoer knows that flying F/A-18s is more deliveryman than steely-eyed killer," he said.
So, what is Top Gun: Maverick selling this time around? More of the same, it seems. The Air Force commanded air time during the movie's previews. Its 60-second commercial, called Own the Sky, is equally as cinematic as the film that follows. It was shot using the same technology the movie was, glamorizing work that Forsling argues is rarely really all that pretty.
Although there will likely be less of a focus on recruitment this time around — you think that'd fly in 2022 — there is much more merch, because the production company, Paramount, and its partners know it'll sell. And the biggest release, I'd argue, is a five-piece collaboration with Alpha Industries.
"As a deeply-rooted military heritage brand," CEO of Alpha Industries, Mike Cirker, says, "Alpha Industries is thrilled to be partnering with Paramount to celebrate the release of Top Gun: Maverick. This collaboration serves to celebrate the historical significance of the franchise and our brand alike.”
But who is it for? Movie merch has a long, strange history of being obscure and over-the-top. However, when the movie has such strong ties to the military, its promotional products feel less benign than, say, superhero shirts.
Plus, if you're that big of a fan of the famous G-1 Jacket, why don't you get one without all of the Top Gun-branded patches? Buzz Rickson's sells one, and it's made of leather — but it's $2,100 dollars. I suppose it'll interest those that want to dress exactly like Maverick (or look like a promotional movie poster) — just as the Drive jacket let fans dress like Ryan Gosling.