“Top Gun” — The Library of Congress Keeps Receipts

Tom Cruises poses in an open jet cockpit, giving a thumbs-up sign, with an American flag in the background

Tom Cruise, the first time around, in a publicity still from “Top Gun.” Photo: Paramount Pictures.

“Top Gun: Maverick” took your breath away, did it?

The sequel to the 1986 blockbuster is, if anything, a bigger hit than the original. The film, in which Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, took in a Memorial Day weekend record of an estimated $156 million at the box office. Fighter jets, “Danger Zone” and popcorn. Good times.

Your friendly national library is making sure this cinematic love affair is preserved on several fronts, particularly with the first film. We were mildly surprised at just how many.

First, the Library’s National Film Registry’s class of 2015 added the original to the the Library’s list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically” important films worthy of national preservation. Second, it turns out the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center has the original 35mm movie film print. The real reels! Third, the Music Division has the commercial sheet music for the film’s songs, which might be expected, but also (unexpectedly) has the gold-record award given to Tom Whitlock for cowriting, among other hits on the soundtrack, “Take My Breath Away.”

A stack of steel cylinder film reel cannisters, with sequenced labels from "Top Gun."

The Library’s 35mm prints for “Top Gun” in the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. Staff photo.

When the film was added to the registry, the Library’s film staff noted its pop-culture indulgences in their official summary, but also that it “actually comprises a deft portrait of mid-1980s America, when politicians promised ‘Morning in America Again,’ and singers crooned ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ The U.S. Navy, for one, did not complain: Applications to naval aviation schools soared in part as a result of this relentless, pulsating film famed for its vertiginous fighter-plane sequences.”

They also noted that director “Christopher Nolan has highlighted ‘Top Gun’ for the clear influence of the film’s celebrated visual style on future filmmakers.”

Whitlock’s songwriting contribution, part of the Library’s collection from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, shouldn’t be overlooked. The song, which he wrote with the influential producer Giorgio Moroder, won both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

The movie, and the song, really did catch the nation’s imagination in the 1980s, and that’s the kind of thing the Library was meant to preserve.

Tom Whitlock’s framed gold record award for “Take My Breath Away,” the love song from “Top Gun.” Staff photo.

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“Return of the Jedi,” Mark Hamill and the 2021 National Film Registry

The National Film Registry’s 2021 class is the most diverse in the program’s 33-year history, including blockbusters such as “Return of the Jedi,” “Selena” and “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,” but also the ’70s midnight-movie favorite “Pink Flamingos” and a 1926 film featuring Black pilots in the daring new world of aviation, “The Flying Ace.” The Library interviewed a dozen key players about their role in inducted films, including Mark Hamill, Edward James Olmos, John Waters, and documentary filmmakers Cheryl Dunye and Sylvia Morales.