How Much Of Top Gun 2 Is Real & How Much Is CGI

Tom Cruise’s need for speed returns in Top Gun: Maverick, and the movie features an incredible amount of real stunts and flying instead of fully Top Gun: Maverick CGI scenes. Over 30 years after he originally played Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in 1986’s Top Gun, the release of the sequel comes at a point in time where Cruise has reinvented his Hollywood persona. Once it finally came time to make Top Gun: Maverick, one of the biggest questions surrounding the film was just how far Cruise’s long-awaited sequel would go to make everything as real as possible. The original Top Gun featured great dogfights in the skies, and director Tony Scott captured much of the action in real life by using professional pilots.


The film easily could have tried to replicate the Top Gun dogfights by relying heavily on the advancements in visual effects over the last 36 years. However, the minimal Top Gun: Maverick CGI used to create its aerial scenes is unsurprising — with Tom Cruise leading the charge, Paramount went all-in on keeping up with the star and producer’s penchant for realistic action scenes. As the movie follows Maverick as he trains a group of young pilots — led by Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) and his rival Hangman (Glen Powell) — Top Gun 2 is filled with thrilling flight sequences that were accomplished mostly through practical effects. Here is what is known about which parts of Top Gun: Maverick are real and what was achieved with special effects.

Related: Does Top Gun: Maverick Have An After Credits Scene?

Does Tom Cruise Really Fly In Top Gun 2?

Tom Cruise as Pete Maverick Mitchell in Top Gun Maverick

Tom Cruise does fly a plane for real in Top Gun: Maverick. The actor got his pilot’s license in the years after Top Gun was released in 1986, so it was one of his mandates to make a sequel that he’d get to fly a real fighter jet in the sequel. While Maverick is often seen flying in a Boeing F/A 18F Super Hornet jet and the fictional Hypersonic “Darkstar” jet, Cruise was not in control of either aircraft. Tom Cruise flew backseat in these real planes with another pilot, experiencing incredible g-force and flying at high speeds, but he was not piloting them for the most part. Although Cruise is a licensed pilot, the limits of his skills, insurance, and military regulations meant that another Navy pilot needed to be in command of these planes. Otherwise, there’s not much Top Gun: Maverick CGI to speak of.

While Tom Cruise does really fly in several jets for Top Gun 2, he also was given the chance to pilot one for real. The sequence comes during Top Gun: Maverick‘s ending after Pete is reunited with Penny (Jennifer Connelly). He takes her for a flight in his rebuilt P-51 propeller plane, and this was the one instance where Tom Cruise was actually serving as the pilot. The P-51 Mustang used in Top Gun: Maverick is owned by Tom Cruise in real life, which allowed him to really fly it for the film’s conclusion.

Do Top Gun: Maverick’s Other Cast Members Really Fly?

Payback flying a jet in Top Gun Maverick

As for the rest of Top Gun: Maverick‘s cast members, they also really flew in the jets just like Cruise, but none of them flew the jets by themselves. All the cast member’s jets were piloted by trained Navy pilots for their aerial sequences. Even though flying in a plane as a passenger might sound a bit easy, it required significant training from the cast. Tom Cruise developed a three-month, intensive training program for Miles Teller’s Rooster and his co-stars that they had to go through prior to filming beginning. This included various tests and physical training meant to prepare them to be in a real F/A 18 Super Hornet for production. All the Top Gun: Maverick cast members who had to be in a jet for the movie participated in the grueling process, which ended with them being more than ready for the real experience.

Beyond the flight training, capturing Top Gun: Maverick‘s aerial sequences meant the cast members essentially became their own crew and cinematographer. A typical day on set when flying was involved saw the individual actors leave for an hour or two at a time and film their aerial scenes. However, director Joseph Kosinski couldn’t communicate with them during this time or see the footage that was being filmed inside Top Gun 2‘s fighter jets. So the crew of the sequel invented new camera rigs to go inside the cockpit with the actors, which required them to properly frame and light the shots. Their only aid during this time was the real pilots in the cockpit with them, but they were focused on flying the jets.

Related: Top Gun: Maverick Easter Eggs – Every Callback To The Original

How Much Of Top Gun: Maverick Is CGI?

Top gun maverick who is the villain

Putting the cast in real flying scenes doesn’t mean that everything in Top Gun: Maverick was done practically. The movie certainly thrives on the realism created by these believable sequences, but visual effects were used in other ways. One area that seems to be partially aided by Top Gun: Maverick CGI is the dogfights, as the missiles launching and bullets shooting at the planes are surely fake. Doing any of that practically would put the actors, real pilots, and crew in great danger. With that in mind, it also seems that the bombing of the underground uranium facility belonging to Top Gun: Maverick‘s villains was aided by CGI. There are surely other smaller examples of visual effects being used in Top Gun: Maverick, but it was all done to service the real aerial sequences happening throughout the rest of the film.

Why Top Gun 2 Uses Practical Stunts Rather Than CGI

Top Gun Maverick Tom Cruise as Maverick in flight

Beyond Tom Cruise’s thrill-seeking persona, Top Gun: Maverick uses practical stunts rather than Top Gun: Maverick CGI to give viewers a more believable experience. Everyone involved with the movie agreed that it would be far too noticeable if the actors were faking what it felt like to experience almost 10-gs of force, traveling at over 600 knots, and everything else that comes with actually being in a fighter jet. This wasn’t the easy route to take by any measure, as Top Gun 2 could’ve played it safe by placing the actors in front of green screens and inside fake cockpits to tackle its aerial sequences. But Tom Cruise’s history of real stunts meant this shortcut was incredibly unlikely. Doing the flying practically brings an even greater sense of danger to Top Gun: Maverick — on top of it just looking incredible — as audiences can clearly see what the actors endured to deliver these mesmerizing action scenes.

How The Top Gun: Maverick Stunts Were Filmed

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick Plane and Bike

Top Gun: Maverick‘s stunts were filmed through real U.S. Navy pilots taking actors on top-of-the-line fighter jets. They were followed by three different aircraft mounted with specialized cameras that can withstand the G-forces involved. This includes a helicopter, a specialized jet equipped with two different lens focal lengths for doubling the footage on one run, and a custom camera drone plane that can withstand up to 3 Gs, developed by Top Gun: Maverick aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa. While LaRosa dodged trees and other aircraft on the controls, it was aerial unit director of photography Michael FitzMaurice’s job to ensure that they had the shot. The Top Gun: Maverick cast, after training with Tom Cruise, became well-equipped at withstanding the same G-forces that threatened to break the crew’s highly-specialized gear. As director Joseph Kosinski said in interview (via The New York Times)You can’t fake the forces that are put on your body during combat… You can’t do it on a sound stage, you can’t do it on a blue screen. You can’t do it with visual effects.”

Top Gun: Maverick’s breathtaking stunts were made possible mainly by two factors: the extreme dedication of its actors and the extensive experience and expertise of the entire film crew. Indeed, Kosinki even reportedly spent around 15 months developing and installing cameras in the F-18s used in the movie, working with Navy officers who were huge fans of the original Top Gun. Considering the massive, record-breaking box office success of the sequel, the incredible dedication that even allowed the stunt-heavy movie to be captured in the first place, and how audiences have been clamoring for Top Gun 3, Top Gun: Maverick is definitely just the beginning of this promising franchise’s long-awaited comeback.

Related: How Much Top Gun: Maverick Must Make To Out-Earn The Original Movie

How Much Top Gun 2’s Real Stunts Cost

Maverick in the cockpit in Top Gun 2

The budget for Top Gun: Maverick was exceptionally high, and often using real stunts versus a Top Gun: Maverick CGI stunt ended up costing more money. The final budget for Top Gun: Maverick was $171 million, and thankfully the film’s box office made it the biggest movie of 2022, more than making up for any money lost. The exact amount spent on aerial stunts isn’t known, but according to a report by Bloomberg, the U.S. Navy charged production a whopping $11,374 per hour to access the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. Cruise flew none of these planes, as the Pentagon bars anyone outside of the U.S. Military from using their jets. However, he did fly plenty of other planes in the movie. Either way, Top Gun: Maverick had a massive budget, and while it wasn’t used towards CGI, plenty was definitely put toward the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets.

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