“Structurally, It’s A Sports Movie” Eric Warren Singer On ‘Top Gun: Maverick’


Audiences across the globe were blown away by a tale about a group of elite fighter weapons students each competing to become Top Gun in 1986. More than a quarter century later, Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has returned as a matured rebel. It was a long gestation period for the sequel because Tom Cruise insisted that the timing and story were just right. There was never going to be a Top Gun sequel just for the sake of it.

Tony Scott, who developed several versions of Top Gun: Maverick over the years, didn’t get traction from Tom Cruise, so they fell by the wayside. “This is Tom’s movie, so it’s all driven by him,” explained screenwriter Eric Warren Singer.

We spoke with screenwriter Eric (Only The Brave, The International) with whom he shares Top Gun: Maverick writing credits with Ehrin Kruger (who wrote several Transformers movies) and Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote several Mission Impossible movies).

Jim Cash and Jack Epps Junior created the original Top Gun characters. Screenwriters Peter Craig and Justin Marks who share story by credit wrote several earlier drafts of Top Gun: Maverick that weren’t ultimately used. Singer most closely collaborated on Maverick with director Joseph Kosinski (who also directed Only The Brave). They discussed ideas for Maverick while they were making it several years back. “This was the precursor to Top Gun: Maverick. There was a lot of narrative connective tissue between the two films.

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Eric Warren Singer. Photo by Max Eremine

Ehrin Kruger and Christopher McQuarrie, who also received co-writing credits on Maverick, gave their A games to the script to catapult the movie into blockbuster status. Chris McQuarrie is Tom Cruise’s go to writer and Kruger is best known for his work on Arlington Road and The Ring. So how did it all come together given that Tom Cruise is fiercely protective of his star power.

I believe in the universe,” declared Singer. “The stars really did align. They transcended the movie itself and made it something else.” The communal experience of watching a big action movie on the big screen was reignited after pandemic rules were finally relaxed. It delivered something beyond watching a movie in your living room. It plugged the audience into humanity and gave them something to discuss other than the state of the world.

Timing Top Gun: Maverick

The first Top Gun film was a pop culture icon.” Maverick wasn’t going to be any old sequel. “Maverick’s career related to Tom’s acting career. We took a more soulful, nuanced, and vulnerable approach to that character. Maverick went from the ‘need for speed’ to a character confronting his own obsolescence. It unraveled him from the world that is changing very rapidly.

Then idea of reaching a certain age and stage in your life and needing to change gears rather than searching for an even bigger need for speed resonated with both Joe Kosinski and Eric Warren Singer.

The world has changed markedly since the original Top Gun was made. “Reagan and Bush were in the White House during the eighties. There was an innocence in the world and it was less complicated compared to the world we live in today. We lived in simpler times back then. If you look at the last few years, we have experienced constant cataclysm.” Singer believes Maverick relived these same feelings of uncertainty which contributed to its success.

Eric Warren Singer didn’t watch the completed film until its opening weekend. “I finally saw it on an IMAX screen at a mom and pop theater in Atlanta. It was the best cinema experience I’ve had in a long time. It’s part of the fabric of my life.” He described the energy of sitting in a theater surrounded by strangers enjoying a shared experience. It felt like going to a rock concert. “The crowd went wild. It was more than the crowd enjoying a movie. Things felt normal again. People remembered what they had lost – each other. They were so emotional. You could feel the hope.

Singer wasn’t suggesting that Maverick resonated so well with audiences because it was any popcorn movie and people were desperate to relive that cinema experience. “Maverick was grounded and it was about people.

The Writing Process

For me the journey began with Joe Kosinski. We had this amazing collaboration on Only The Brave which continued into Top Gun. We spoke about what resonated with both of us in the first movie and what we wanted to carry into the next chapter.” Joe reportedly flew to London, UK to discuss their ideas with Jerry Bruckheimer with great success.

Singer wrote the first few drafts and laid down the movie “pretty much as you see it on screen now.” Eric Warren Singer conducted substantial research into the movie before he started writing. “I wanted to make a movie that naval aviators would watch and comment on the accuracy of the research.

Joe and Eric went to the Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada where the Top Gun school is based. “I worked with Captain J.J. Cummings who was a Tomcat [aircraft] pilot. He was my tour guide. It was a crash course.” I asked how the pilots felt about the original Top Gun, what issues they had, what would be important in the next chapter. “I was surrounded by these navy guys who became my consiglieres.”

Joe and Eric discussed Maverick’s character journey alongside their research. “Once I felt I was fluent enough in the basics of naval aviation, I started to design the mission with those guys. I thought about the most difficult mission I could plug Maverick and his team into and started writing. It was insane, challenging, but grounded.

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Lt. Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller)

Through these conversations, they discussed characters – Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller), Iceman (Val Kilmer), Cyclone (Jon Hamm) and Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly). “We were also always conscious of where Maverick was in his own life. We tried to inter-relate that to where we are in our [Eric and Joe] own lives.” Singer was also congnizant of each character’s journey being driven by Maverick’s journey. They couldn’t exist in a vacuum. “We had the spine the journey and the other relationships were the vertebrae.” Maverick is now a man who must kerb his reckless, speed-seeking behavior and settle down. “If he kept flying solo, he would end up dead or alone.” The character interactions were written to allow Maverick to ease into the new chapter of his life in a healthy and hopeful way. “We wanted to know that he’s be allright at the end of the movie.

Joe Kominski shepherded the various drafts which can prove challenging when there are multiple writers attached to the same project. “It’s hard to maintain a continuity within the script. The script can feel more like a mosaic than one cohesive voice,” added Singer.

Tom Cruise is well-known to performing many of his own stunts. Cruise is also an experienced aviator. There was a mandate to write as many practical stunts (as opposed to CGI) from the very beginning from Joe and Tom. Eric Warren Singer knew that Tom Cruise was going to read his script with a hyper-critical eye, so he kept that in mind when writing his action sequences.


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