February 2, 2024

Why is Top Gun So Gay?

Thirty years ago when Top Gun rolled into theaters, its makers had no idea that the movie would become a gay icon. But the blatant homoeroticism of its oiled-up beach volleyball scene and Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer wrestling in the air for Alpha male supremacy has long kept Top Gun at least tangentially linked to gay cinema. In a recent interview for the film's 30th anniversary, director Tony Scott addressed the movie's reputation for gayety. "I didn't do it on purpose," he told Vulture. But he admits that the sexual tension between his characters "speaks to something."

Scott believes that the movie is about the relationship between two men, not the sexuality of one or the other. And he thinks that's a valid reading of the film.

But while Top Gun certainly has its fair share of testosterone-fueled sex, there's much more to the story than flexing American fighter pilot jocks blowing up a bunch of Russians. It's a Trojan Horse, a hidden narrative about male vulnerability and repressed desires.

The film is about Maverick and Iceman's uneasy friendship, which encapsulates the sexual tension between men that roils beneath the surface of their everyday interactions. The way they one-up each other, smack talk each other, and even mock bite each other in the course of their rivalry is a potent mixture of sexual tension and brotherly affection.

When they finally embrace on the aircraft carrier, proclaiming that they can be each other's wingmen any time, it feels like an act of gay love as much as a declaration of war. That's why it's no wonder that the movie has gotten so many gay-friendly readings, from the infamous Quentin Tarantino speech about Top Gun's pro-gay subtext in 1994's Sleep With Me to the shirtless volleyball game that is canonically the gayest scene in all of moviedom.


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