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If you were to pick one movie that represents the eighties and everything we know, love, and hate about that decade, most people would think John Cusack, Molly Ringwald, or the late, great John Hughes would have to be involved. Some would assume the movie would center around a pack of precocious teenagers, their prom, or one of them taking a day off. It does not. However, the ultimate eighties flick does feature a pack of brats all its own, all the hallmarks of the Reagan era, and what are generally considered the finest aerial-combat scenes ever filmed. Yes, we're talking about Top Gun, starring the king of eighties hotshots, Mr. Tom Cruise himself. Check out this easy-to-follow list of the eight requisite memes, themes, and clichés Top Gun hits on to become the ultimate movie of the eighties.
8. Awesome Names
If you wanted your movie to hit it big in the eighties, you knew you had to have some catchy character names, and nobody beats Top Gun in this department. Iceman (Val Kilmer), Maverick (Tom Cruise), Merlin (Tim Robbins), Viper (Tom Skerritt): it's a veritable nickname factory. Fraternities nationwide probably saw a 300 percent increase in the number of pledges nicknamed Goose (Anthony Edwards) and Jester (Michael Ironside) following the movie's release. And the number of guys fashioning themselves after Maverick and Iceman is such that you shouldn't be that embarrassed if you did so yourself.
7. Awesome-r Catchphrases
The flick's oft-repeated catchphrases and one-liners are almost too many to count. Some of the best include when Stinger (James Tolkan) informs Maverick, "You ego is writing checks your body can't cash!" Maverick's anguished "Talk to me, Goose!" is a powerhouse of emotion. If you feel the need for me to discuss this point any further, then you should stop reading now.
6. Superstar Soundtrack
The Top Gun soundtrack is a two-pronged attack of eighties greatness: the main anthem is still a staple of inspirational montage. But to even qualify as an eighties movie you need a pop-tastic love song, and Berlin's No. 1 hit "Take My Breath Away" might have been featured at more weddings and homecoming dances in the late eighties than any other tune. But the only way to get to Miramar is to take the highway to the "Danger Zone." Kenny Loggins's music equals eighties. The math couldn't be simpler. And on the subject of basic cine math...
5. Russians Equal Bad Guys
It was the Cold War, after all. Hits like Red Dawn and Rocky IV blazed a trail of success that Top Gun was not about to veer off of. Even though the audience never meets face-to-face with the Soviet scoundrels, they and their highly maneuverable MiGs provide the perfect amount of unseen menace for adversaries Iceman and Maverick to finally realize that we can all get along (as long as you're capitalist).
4. A Good-looking Cast
Check! John Hughes gave us the Brat Pack. Top Gun gave us the Jet Pack, a collection of handsome and beautiful actors and actresses who, like the naval F-14s flown in the movie, were primed for takeoff. Anthony Edwards sports a bitching mustache and shows himself worthy of being any star's wingman. Meg Ryan and Kelly McGillis are hotter than an aircraft-carrier runway baking in the sun. Val Kilmer is a leading man in an adversary's flight suit. And of course there's the leading man who would prove to be an actual maverick later in life.
3. Tom Cruise
Cruise is a staple of eightes movies himself, and what would the decade have been without The Outsiders, Risky Business, All the Right Moves, Cocktail, and Top Gun, which features Cruise at his swaggering best? The charm, the looks, and the smile are all in overdrive. It's no accident that he became the biggest star in the world. Top Gun is the movie that really helped him take flight. (Okay, I'll throttle back on the aeronautics puns now.) Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (and the actor who plays him) is the eighties hero -- the leading man with boyish good looks who plays by his own rules and looks damn good in a leather jacket and aviator glasses. Even Ronald Reagan isn't that eighties.
2. The Handsome Blond Asshole
You know the character I'm talking about: the arrogant, abusive Aryan jerk. This guy is a staple of eighties movies and is most often played by William Zabka. (Don't even pretend you don't know whom I'm talking about.) Not to be outdone, Top Gun includes and improves upon the archetype by casting Juilliard grad Val Kilmer, who's perfect as Iceman, Maverick's pompous, usually shirtless foil. But beneath those perfect teeth and bleach-blond highlights you know there's a good guy. You're just going to have to put up with 90 to 100 minutes of grade-A arrogance to get to him.
1. Bromance-ing the Stone
Any eighties movie worth its weight in spandex has to fill a "bro-ing out" quotient, and there's so much bromance in Top Gun it's almost unseemly: Goose and Mav doing karaoke, Mav and Ice's unintentionally sexual confrontation in the locker room, the shirtless volleyball scene. Dare I say this movie about men riding on each others' tails and seeking out the right wingman borders on bro-mo-eroticism?
Top Gun goes all in by throwing in a group-karaoke sequence, some gratuitous slo-mo sports, and a silhouetted sex scene to finish off the eighties checklist. I'd offer my VHS copy of Top Gun to be buried in a time capsule to show future generations what life was like back then, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't watch it whenever I need to inspire myself to be the best of the best. What can I say? I love the eighties; therefore, I've got to love Maverick, Iceman, Goose, and company. I'm Top Gun's wingman, and I'm proud of it.
Nick Stevens, co-host of AMC's Action Pack (Wednesdays, at 8pm | 7C), tries to make funny about movies, pop culture, and sports as often as possible. He lists John McClane, Batman, and Tom Brady as the people with whom he'd most like to have beers. For more of his grown-up nonsense, visit his Tumblr page or follow him on Twitter.