‘Top Gun’ Ending, Explained: What Happens To Maverick At The End Of 1986 Film?


Iconic action drama film “Top Gun” remains relevant in popular culture for reasons not strictly cinematic—mostly Tom Cruise and his iconic aviator sunglasses and bomber jackets. With a much-awaited sequel just around the corner as “Top Gun Maverick” awaits release, it might be a good time to revisit the original film. With an average script and overall plot, the film shines mostly in a few scenes and acting performances and is, after all, an entertaining watch without much depth.

‘Top Gun’ Plot Summary

Young Pete Mitchell is a US Navy pilot posted aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, receiving training and practice. With his call sign “Maverick” now synonymous with the man, Pete flies out one day on scheduled practice in his F-14 fighter aircraft along with his Radar Intercept Officer and best friend, Goose, and his wingman, Cougar, in a similar aircraft. All of a sudden, they spot a MiG-28 aircraft that is not supposed to be in their airspace, getting closer without making any contact. Soon they realize that there are actually two MiG-28s that are hostile, and controlled by some enemy country. Maverick and Goose manage to drive off one of the enemy aircrafts by locking on missiles on it. Maverick also gets involved in unnecessary show-boasting in which he flies the plane upside down right above the enemy aircraft. All this while, the other plane almost shoots down Cougar till it decides otherwise and flies away, but Cougar is left shaken by the encounter, and he loses composure and control of his aircraft. As both the trainee F-14s are about to run out of fuel, landing back at their base is the next step, but Cougar is no longer in a state to follow orders as he nervously looks at a photograph of his wife and new-born baby stuck in his cockpit. Despite himself safely reaching the base carrier, Maverick notices Cougar’s condition and flies back up into the sky against his superior’s orders in order to help his wingman out. Flying beside Cougar’s plane, Maverick now provides support and inspiration to his friend, asking him to casually follow him back to the base. Cougar now gets back his calm and makes it back in one piece, admittedly only with Maverick’s help. As soon as their superior asks Cougar to explain the situation, the Navy pilot quits his job, returning his badge, stating that he was too scared by the incident and feared that he would never be able to see his wife again or their baby son, whom he had not yet met. Maverick and Goose are also called upon by the officer, who at first admonishes Maverick’s failure to follow orders, but then also praises the man’s quick decisions that saved his friend’s life. Finally, the officer reveals that Maverick and Goose would now be promoted to the Navy Fighter Weapons School in Miramar to receive special training reserved only for the best of the best fighter pilots, a training school that is more popularly known as “Top Gun.”

Major Spoilers Ahead

What Are Maverick’s Experiences At The Top Gun Flight School?

Perhaps the dream of every American fighter pilot, in reality as well, the Navy Fighters Weapon School is an elite school established by the US Navy in 1969 to teach the difficult but crucial skill of aerial combat, or “dogfighting” as it is more popularly known, to the best pilots in its reserve to ensure generations of top-class, reliable fighter pilots. Although initially startled by the relatively faster pace of mid-air action, Maverick and Goose have an impressive beginning at the school, as they manage to defeat their instructor, Jester, in the first training exercise. However, Maverick does so by breaking a major rule of the training program. The young and boastful pilot then celebrates his first victory by rapidly flying by the control tower, making it heavily shake and causing a momentary disruption. The two are immediately reprimanded by their senior officials for their actions, despite Jester personally telling him that he is impressed by his flying skills. Maverick learns of the calm and cool pilot in the program, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, who is considered to be the best pilot in the academy. The young man soon develops a rivalry with Iceman, as the two try their best to gather points through the numerous training exercises to get the highest points by the end of the course and top the class, which would earn them a special distinction and a permanent plaque of their name in the Miramar air base. Iceman and Maverick have a few run-ins with each other, in which Iceman calls him rash and foolish, calling out his reckless attitude that creates unwanted risky situations. Maverick, of course, remains unaffected by any of these comments, made by both Iceman and Jester, as his self-confidence is intact.

During his initial days at Miramar, Maverick tried to woo a woman named Charlotte Blackwood in a local bar one evening, but the woman remained wary of the young but charming pilot. On the first day of training, though, Maverick learns that Charlotte is actually an astrophysicist who works as a civilian instructor at Top Gun, and she starts to work closely with the new batch of pilots. Maverick still keeps trying to impress Charlie (Charlotte’s codename), but the woman claims that she stays away from dating students. However, she gradually gets charmed by the young man’s persuasions and also grows an interest in his skills when she learns that he has flown an F14 aircraft upside down, which she believes to be nearly impossible to do. In one instance, during a debriefing class, she dismisses Maverick’s actions from that day’s training as reckless and foolish, but tries to tell him in private that she is also very impressed with his skills and bravery. Maverick, though, does not want to listen to any of it as he seems hurt and is chased around by Charlie, who then finally admits that she has fallen in love with him. The two then start a romantic relationship that keeps budding throughout the rest of the film.

Crisis strikes one day during one of the last few training exercises, as two fighter jets flown by Maverick and Iceman, respectively, are set out to mock-fight against an A-4 aircraft. Despite Maverick having a chance to lock his missile target on the enemy cleanly, Iceman keeps stuck in front of him so that he can shoot down the plane and earn credits for it. When Maverick asks Iceman to move its position, the rival pilot asks to maintain the position for a few more seconds, but Maverick keeps growing impatient and flies very close to his wingman’s plane. Iceman does move out of his position in time, but Maverick and his plane get caught up in his “jet wash,” which is a trail of fast-moving gasses and particles released from a jet’s engine, which heavily affects any aircraft that gets caught in it. Maverick’s plane immediately loses control, and both its engines stop working, making the aircraft fall downwards towards the open ocean. Maverick and his radar-controlling friend Goose follow the procedure to force-eject themselves from the crashing aircraft, but Goose hits his head straight into the plane’s opened glass canopy and gets fatally injured by it. As the two make use of their parachutes to safely land amidst the ocean, Maverick finds his best friend has died, and he himself is terribly shaken by it. The following board of inquiry held by the Navy clears Maverick of any mistake or wrongdoing in the accident, but the pilot keeps blaming himself for the death of the closest person he had in the world.

Maverick is consoled and sympathized with by all of the batch, including Iceman, and also by Goose’s wife, but he can no longer fly with the guilt and tries to retire from the course. Charlie meets him at the Miramar airport, where she tries to talk him back to sense, and the man finally goes to meet with his superior official, codenamed Viper, to discuss his retirement plans. Viper now reveals to Maverick that he had served alongside his father, Duke Mitchell, in the Navy during the Vietnam War, in which Duke was killed after heroically saving three planes in his team even though he could have himself flown back to safety. Despite the man’s selfless, heroic actions, he was reported to have died because of his own faults, as the Navy found it too risky to report his actions, which were directly against official orders. This again instills confidence in Maverick, and he ultimately attends the graduation ceremony, in which he settles to be the second-best student after Iceman, who has won the first prize. But during the graduation party itself, news of an emergency reaches out to Miramar, and a select few newly graduated pilots, including Iceman and Maverick, are deployed to immediately tackle the situation. They now return to the Pacific Ocean and prepare for an operation to rescue a disabled American ship from hostile waters.

‘Top Gun’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Maverick At The End Of The Film?

Top Gun’s final crisis and its resolution is a bold reminder of the difference between academic and on-field expertise, as the newly graduated pilots set out on the rescue mission. Iceman and another colleague, Hollywood, are deployed first, while Maverick waits as a backup. Iceman does express his concerns over Maverick’s unfit state of mind, but the official shows belief in the terrifically skilled pilot. Flying over to the space of conflict, Iceman and Hollywood realize that there are not just two enemy MiGs as initially reported, but six, and the control tower immediately deploys Maverick. As Hollywood is shot down, Maverick experiences a similar sort of jet wash that he had gone through earlier during the accident that had killed Goose. Although his plane does not give up this time, Maverick himself is very close to giving up and retreating as he finds no confidence in himself. Spurred on by the instructions of his peers, he tightly grasps Goose’s dog tags, which he had kept with himself all this while, looking for inspiration. Realizing what Goose would have wanted him to do had he been by his side, Maverick once again gains control of the situation and then even refuses orders to abandon Iceman when the latter is heavily cornered. Saying that he would never leave his wingman behind, Maverick heroically shoots down three of the enemy planes and rescues Iceman, who himself shoots one down. As their safe return is celebrated by the crew on base, Iceman enthusiastically appreciates Maverick’s actions, and the two strike up the beginning of what seems to be a beautiful friendship. Taking leave from the celebrations, Maverick throws away Goose’s dog tags into the ocean, perhaps returning them to his friend who was buried in the ocean.

By now, Maverick has got back his own confidence as well as realized that he no longer needs any physical reminder of his friend to feel his presence and support by his side. As much as “Top Gun” appears to be an action thriller, its core is the gradual development of Maverick’s own self, from a brashly confident pilot to one who knows the downside of taking unnecessary risks. The man, by the end, has learned his lesson, albeit in a harsh way, but in the process also makes a new friend in Iceman (played by Val Kilmer with his usual panache) and also a lover. After his heroics in the rescue operation, Maverick is given the opportunity to choose his own posting wherever he wants, and the man chooses to be the next instructor at the Top Gun school in Miramar. In the end, Charlie returns to a bar in Miramar to surprise Maverick, and the two warmly reunite with each other.

See More: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Ending Explained – What Problem Did Rooster Have With Pete? Will There Be A Third Film?

“Top Gun” is a 1986 Drama Action film directed by Tony Scott.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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