Why Top Gun 3 Can’t Be A Tom Cruise Movie

Top Gun: Maverick might be Tom Cruise’s biggest hit ever, but the sequel’s ending means that Top Gun 3 can’t follow the beloved franchise hero again.

Although Top Gun: Maverick is the most successful Tom Cruise movie ever, there is no getting around the fact that Top Gun 3 can’t afford to be another vehicle for the star – if the sequel’s story is to succeed. After a 36-year wait between franchise installments, it is fair to say that expectations were high for the endlessly delayed Top Gun: Maverick. To the surprise of many critics and even some fans, the long-awaited sequel managed to outdo expectations, with Top Gun: Maverick earning over a billion dollars at the box office while also managing to wow critics.


Central to the success of Top Gun: Maverick was the movie’s star, Tom Cruise. Like the original Top Gun, the sequel was a star vehicle of the charismatic screen veteran, and Cruise’s performance was one of Top Gun: Maverick’s most highly praised elements, adding pathos and maturity to the original movie’s cocksure antihero. Unfortunately, the Top Gun franchise’s next outing can’t rely on the star so heavily.

Related: How Much Money Top Gun: Maverick Has Made (& Why)

Although Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick were both Cruise’s movies through and through, the closing scenes of the latter make it impossible for Top Gun 3 to follow this approach. Top Gun: Maverick gave Cruise’s character a well-earned happy ending, so for him to go through another character arc, Maverick would need to unlearn all of the life lessons that he internalized in the sequel. This would be too bleak a twist for the sequel to recover from and would ruin the franchise’s escapist tone. Top Gun 3 could make a mentor out of Cruise’s character, but Maverick can’t be the center of the series anymore since the character has finally earned his retirement and deserves a chance to hand his role on to the next generation.

How Top Gun: Maverick Recreated Top Gun’s Story

Top Gun and Maverick differences

Both Top Gun movies open on Cruise’s character at a low ebb before his big adventure, only to close on the franchise’s hero being celebrated by his colleagues and embracing his love interest, having learned vital life lessons through a dangerous mission. Both Top Gun movies focus on Maverick’s love life, his personal struggles, and his professional battles while sidelining everyone else around him. This made Top Gun: Maverick’s narrative arc surprisingly similar to that of Top Gun, as Maverick needed to learn the same lessons again decades after his initial stint in the titular flying school. Maverick pulling off his risky test run, despite Cyclone’s orders to the contrary, proved that the character still had the same rebellious streak that got him in trouble back in the original Top Gun. Likewise, his continuing (if warmer) rivalry with Iceman and the absence of Charlie from the sequel’s story proved he still had plenty of maturing left to do.

Why Top Gun: Maverick’s Ending Changes The Franchise

Top Gun vs Top Gun Maverick

While Top Gun: Maverick was able to recreate Top Gun’s story for the most part, the sequel’s ending makes another movie in the franchise starring Cruise’s feckless antihero impossible. Seeing Maverick escape certain death was thrilling, but the sequel’s story came with an expiry date. Undoing Charlie and Maverick’s romantic Top Gun ending was understandable, but Top Gun 3 breaking up Maverick and Penny would just be mean-spirited. Killing off Iceman was necessary, but Top Gun 3 now has no more legacy characters that the sequel can return to. Top Gun: Maverick made Miles Teller’s Rooster Cruise’s natural replacement, but this means that the character can’t continue to work alongside his younger student as he grows older. Instead, Top Gun 3 needs to let Maverick play something akin to Iceman’s Top Gun: Maverick role, which means he won’t be the next movie’s lead.

Why Top Gun 3 Can’t Be Tom Cruise’s Movie

Top gun maverick reviews are so positive

For Maverick to have a compelling arc in Top Gun 3, he would need to defy all the odds and succeed all over again. However, to have all the odds against him again, he would need to lose Penny’s support, Rooster’s respect, and everything else he gained in Top Gun: Maverick. This twist wouldn’t be worth whatever redemptive storyline the sequel would then stage and ruining Maverick’s happy ending would miss the point of the Top Gun series. The Top Gun movies are escapist underdog stories rather than realistic depictions of life in the Navy, meaning a version of Top Gun 3 that opens with Maverick having squandered everything he gained in Top Gun: Maverick would be way too depressing for this inherently silly series. Instead, Top Gun 3 should put Rooster, Bagman, Phoenix, or another younger recruit into Maverick’s shoes and show the viewer their journey while Cruise plays a supporting role.

Related: Top Gun: Maverick’s Dying Dream Theory Misses The Point Of The Franchise

Will Top Gun 3 Switching Stars Hurt Its Prospects?

Miles Teller Great Balls of Fire Top Gun Maverick

It is undeniable that taking Cruise out of the pilot’s seat will make Top Gun 3 a harder sell than Top Gun: Maverick. The recent Netflix sci-fi satire Spiderhead brought Top Gun: Maverick star Miles Teller and director Joseph Kosinski back together for a smart, fast-paced thriller, but without Cruise’s name appearing on the cast list, the movie made nowhere near as much impact as Top Gun: Maverick. However, the fact that Cruise can’t be the main character of Top Gun 3 doesn’t mean he can’t still play a major role in the movie’s story, and the star can still be a big part of Top Gun 3 provided the sequel doesn’t undo all of his character development to facilitate his role. More than Cruise’s presence, what made Top Gun: Maverick a success was the movie’s strong script, tight direction, and tense action, none of which require Cruise to be at the center of proceedings.

What Role Can Tom Cruise Play In Top Gun 3?

top gun 3 miles teller updates on potential sequel

While the Mission Impossible franchise keeps Cruise as its action hero, Top Gun 3 can see the star transition into more of a mentorship role. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t play a part in the all-important action scenes, but, ideally, the biggest heroic moments would go to the new stars of the series. Top Gun: Maverick already subtly set up this shift when Rooster and later Bagman both saved Maverick’s life during the movie’s final mission, with the title character’s two younger replacements proving that they had what it takes to be Top Gun 3’s Maverick/Iceman equivalents. Training those two competitive, arrogant hot heads to be more professional is a full-time job in and of itself, and one that would be a perfect role for Top Gun 3’s Maverick since the character already saw so much of himself and his late friend Iceman in the duo during Top Gun: Maverick.

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