Why Gen Z should watch ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Sahana Iyer
  • Sequel to the 1986 film has earned more than US$1.28 billion worldwide and features Tom Cruise reprising his role as the title character
  • While the actor is a Hollywood icon, he doesn’t attract Gen Z in the same way as Tom Holland or Timothee Chalamet – so what can the film offer young people?
Sahana Iyer |

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Tom Cruise stars in “Top Gun: Maverick,” the sequel to the 1986 original. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Top Gun: Maverick has dominated headlines ever since its May 2022 release. The film has earned more than US$1.28 billion worldwide and is the highest-grossing film so far this year.

Many of those who flocked to the cinema grew up with the original film: Paramount’s data from the opening weekend shows that 55 per cent of the audience was over the age of 35, while about 21 per cent were between the ages of 18 to 24.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a test pilot for the US Navy. While there’s no doubt that he’s a Hollywood icon, he has nowhere near the Gen Z charm of Tom Holland or Timothee Chalamet – so what’s the appeal for younger audiences?

At 15 years old, I fall squarely into Gen Z. The original Top Gun was not part of my childhood, considering I was born 21 years after its release. I came across the trailer for Maverick while watching YouTube and figured: “It’s a movie about jets, and the trailer promises an ‘adrenaline rush’. Why not give it a try?” I had also seen Cruise in a few recent Mission Impossible films so, with zero knowledge about the original Top Gun, I headed to the cinema with my 10-year-old brother to catch the sequel.

The filmmakers hit a sweet spot. They managed to produce a story new enough for those who didn’t watch the original, but which reflected enough of the first Top Gun to satisfy nostalgic fans. The exposition and flashbacks helped the audience understand the source of the emotional conflict between Maverick and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) – the son of Maverick’s deceased best friend Goose.

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My brother and I both liked the movie so much that we knew we had to watch it in the cinema again – and we did, two more times! But before we went back, I decided to watch the original film so I could learn the backstory of the characters. How did Rooster’s father die? How does Maverick know Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) – the mysterious man who brought him back to TOPGUN in the sequel?

It’s definitely worth it to watch the 1986 film because it explains more about Maverick. For example, the first five minutes of the sequel are nearly identical to the original. While I still enjoyed the scene without knowing this information, learning about it after kept me engaged with the movie.

Tom Cruise in the original “Top Gun”, released in 1986. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Other aspects of the original are replicated in the sequel: the relationship between Jake “Hangman” Serasin (Glen Powell) and Rooster, two students vying for the top spot in their mission, mirrors that of Iceman and Maverick in the original. Also, there is a funny scene in which Hangman and his teammates do not realise who Maverick is on their first day of lessons, much to their embarrassment, and this is very similar to Maverick not understanding who Charlotte (an instructor and later love interest) is in the 1986 film.

The sequel also includes some excellent tracks. Old hits from the original, like Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone and Jerry Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire, make a comeback, alongside new songs like OneRepublic’s I Ain’t Worried and Lady Gaga’s Hold My Hand. While some of these songs are over 30 years old, they still fit with the movie, resonating with audiences during both lighthearted scenes and more emotional moments.

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Top Gun: Maverick is a great movie, for both newcomers and fans of the original. Why should Gen Z watch it? Because it fills you with a sense of nostalgia for a time you didn’t live in – the sign of good filmmaking. You don’t need to have seen the 1986 film to understand the sequel, but it’s a good idea to watch it so you can see the parallels in Maverick.

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