Top Gun: Maverick, the upcoming 36-years-later sequel to the Tom Cruise-starring fighter pilot favorite, is steeped in ’80s nostalgia: It opens to jock jammy sounds of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” has prominent callbacks to moments like the legendarily sweaty beach volleyball scene, and of course features Cruise’s Navy captain in the title role, in addition to a cameo from “Iceman” himself Val Kilmer, who’s battled throat cancer in recent years. One major subplot even revolves around the son of fallen soldier Goose (Anthony Edwards) and Carole (Meg Ryan), as played by Miles Teller.
You will not, however, find Maverick’s original instructor and love interest, Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, memorably portrayed by Kelly McGillis in 1986’s Top Gun. Nor will you see Ryan’s Carole, beyond some photos pinned to a wall.
Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in Top Gun, 1986. (Photo: Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection)
In 2019, McGillis offered a brutally candid explanation on why you wouldn’t see her in Maverick, which was originally planned for release that year before getting pushed back three years for additional aerial shoots and, mainly, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m old, and I’m fat, and I look age-appropriate for what my age is. And that is not what that whole scene is about,” McGillis told Entertainment Tonight. “To me, I’d much rather feel absolutely in my skin and who I am at my age as opposed to placing a value on all that other stuff.”
In a new interview with Insider’s Jason Guerrasio, Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinksi confirmed neither McGillis nor Ryan was asked back for the sequel.
“Those weren’t stories that we were throwing around,” Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) told Insider. “I didn’t want every storyline to always be looking backwards … It was important to introduce some new characters.”
The sequel finds Cruise’s Pete Mitchell, still a captain itching with a need for speed, called back to the Top Gun program to prepare a new group of young hotshot pilots (including Teller’s “Rooster,” Glenn Powell’s “Hangman,” Jay Ellis’s “Payback” and Monica Barbaro’s “Phoenix”) for a dangerous mission involving the detonation of an enemy’s uranium stockpile.
Tom Cruise with Meg Ryan and Anthony Edwards in Top Gun, 1986. (Photo: Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection)
Cruise’s Maverick does have a new love interest in the movie, and she’s arguably age-appropriate, especially for Hollywood’s oft-iffy standards. Jennifer Connelly, 51, plays Penny, a single mother and daughter of an admiral who shares a vague romantic history with Pete (Cruise is 59) and has since bought the watering hole the Top Gun pilots frequent (and occasionally break into song at while boozing). Cruise and Connolly even recreate Cruise and McGillis’s famous motorcycle-on-the-runway ride.
McGillis told ET in 2019 that she was “glad” for Connolly, even if she’s unsure if she’ll see Maverick.
Actress Kelly McGillis, seen here in 2014. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
“I guess it depends on what kind of reviews it gets,” she said at the time. “I’m not racing to the theater, and I’m not racing away from theater to see it. It’s not on my little list of things that I’d like to get done.” (While there’s currently an embargo on reviews for the film, early reactions from press have been extremely positive.)
McGillis, now 64, has acted sparsely over the past two decades, with recent credits only including the television movies An Uncommon Grace (2017) and Maternal Secrets (2018). She came out as a lesbian in 2009 and, as she told ET, took several years off from Hollywood to raise her two children, get sober and focus on her health after being diagnosed with the inherited Alpha-1 antitrypsin disorder, which raises one’s risk of lung and liver disease.
Ryan, the When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle star who has not publicly commented on Top Gun: Maverick, has seemingly stepped away from acting entirely. Her last film credit was the 2015 period drama Ithaca, which she also directed.
Top Gun: Maverick opens May 27.