Top Gun and Armageddon: Two Manly Movies
Top Gun and Armageddon were movies that had manly men doing manly things. These movies had women in them but it was the men who were doing the real work. While women can enjoy these movies they are, either by accident or design, geared towards showing men at their best. That is their best from a man’s point of view. It may be easy to find such movies from earlier eras but when Top Gun opened in theatres, in 1986, such films were unusual. They were even more unusual when Armageddon opened in 1998. This article will highlight why these movies are manly movies. This article does contain spoilers.
This 1986 movie opens on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. This is a scene any aviation buff, regardless of gender, would love. There is trouble brewing, an unidentified aircraft is flying towards the fleet. Two F-14 Tomcats are in the area the crews’ call signs are, Maverick (Tom Cruise) & Goose (Anthony Edwards), Cougar (John Stockwell) & Merlin (Tim Robbins). The teams initially think they’re going after a single aircraft but they are going head to head against two of the latest Soviet fighters. The Soviet pilots have red stars on their oxygen masks and breathe like Darth Vader.
Maverick quickly gets a missile lock one of the Soviet fighters. This Soviet fighter chickens out. The other MiG gets a missile lock on Cougar’s Tomcat. The rules of engagement forbid Maverick from firing unless the opposing aircraft fires first. Maverick flies his Tomcat, inverted, over the MiG. When the Soviet pilot (Victor Spadaro) looks up Maverick gives him the finger and Goose snaps the Soviet pilot’s picture. The Soviet pilot breaks off the attack. This would seem enough heroics for one day but not for Maverick.
The encounter left Cougar badly shaken and he is having trouble landing on the carrier. Despite Maverick being almost out of fuel he aborts his landing so he can coax Cougar down. Both aircraft land safely. His superior officer, Stinger (James Tolkan), dresses Maverick down for what he did. Stinger tells Maverick he was “incredibly brave” then goes on to tell Maverick he should have landed the plane he was flying. It is obvious to all had Maverick did the safe thing the U.S. tax payers would have at the least been out of an F-14 and its crew being pulled out of the water. There was a real probability of an F-14 crashing on the flight deck, probably killing the Tomcat crew and some of the ground crew, plus damage to the aircraft carrier. Stinger knows the only person to send to Top Gun is Maverick, with Goose in tow.
“Top Gun” is the nickname for the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. This school was formed to produce “hard core” specialists in air combat maneuvering so they can disseminate what they learned to their units.[i] Top Gun is based at NAS Miramar. Maverick arrives in style, riding on his motorcycle.
At the office’s club Maverick and Goose make a manly, crude, bet. Maverick picks out the woman to win the bet. Her call sign is “Charlie” (Kelly McGillis). This prompts the sing along scene, a staple for military movies, the song is “You lost that loving feeling.” He follows her into the woman’s room. In stead of her telling him something like, “Get out of here you creep before I have you court martialed.” She engages in some banter with him. She steps out of the woman’s room and tells Goose as she walks past him, “your friend was great.”
The next day the lead instructor, Viper (Tom Skerritt), introduces Charlie. She is a civilian contractor. In typical movies this is the big scene where the woman demonstrates the man’s testosterone, like his appendix, serves no useful purpose. She’s giving her lesson on the capability of the latest Soviet fighter, the same fighter Maverick and Goose encountered. When she mentions the MiG can’t do more than 1 negative g Maverick and Goose talk to each other. Maverick tells Charlie her information is dated. She tells him the Pentagon sees to it that she knows more than him. He points out that MiG can do 4 negative g’s since he was flying with a MiG when it did it. Hopefully none of her previous students would try to evade this type of MiG by doing a negative g maneuver.
Charlie invited Maverick to her place, so they can talk about the MiG. She resisted his advances for three whole days.
In class Charlie uses one of Maverick’s dogfights as a negative example. She explains how Maverick is doing everything wrong and at one point she asks him, “what were you thinking?” He tells her there’s no time to think up there. Maverick did everything wrong and the instructor by Charlie’s silence did everything right and Maverick scored the kill. Maverick’s manly actions speak louder than Charlie’s pompous words.
Maverick’s father was killed on a mission many years ago. Maverick doesn’t know any of the details of his father’s death because the incident is still classified. The rumors floating around the Navy are that Maverick’s father made some grievous mistakes on that deadly mission. Charlie doesn’t know any of the mission’s details so she is unable to help Maverick. Towards the end of the movie, when Maverick has to decide if he wants to graduate Top Gun or turn in his wings, Viper admits he was on the mission and his father was a hero. The only reason his father wasn’t recognized as a hero was because they were on the wrong side of a line on a map. Maverick decides to be a Top Gun graduate. Maverick and a couple of other graduates from his Top Gun class are immediately sent to Maverick’s aircraft carrier.
At sea a two-ship element of F-14s fly into an aerial ambush. The Soviets shot down one F-14, its crew ejected safely. The surviving F-14, piloted by Iceman (Val Kilmer), is on the defensive. Circumstances were that Maverick’s plane is the only possible help for Iceman. Iceman’s F-14 received some battle damage but is still combat capable. Maverick flies onto the scene and guns down three enemy fighters, and lets Iceman get a kill. The surviving Soviet planes flee the scene. Back on the carrier Maverick and Iceman have a manly repartee. Maverick gets the choice of assignment and chooses Top Gun. It gives him the opportunity to fly with the best, and to resume his romance with Charlie.
[i] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 Squadron/Signal Publication, Inc.
This 1998 movie is probably the best example of a manly movie, in modern times. The opening dialogue shows an asteroid striking the Earth. This strike wipes out the dinosaurs. The movie fast forwards to the present. NASA engineer Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thorton) is monitoring a space shuttle mission. It’s a normal day at the office for the NASA people. A meteor shower destroys the shuttle. Dan Truman forms a team to investigate what caused the catastrophe. Meanwhile U.S. air defense radar picks up numerous space-borne objects coming towards the Atlantic seaboard. This triggers an air defense scramble.
Karl (John Mahon), an amateur astronomer with his private observatory, is looking through his telescope. His wife, Dottie (Grace Zabriskie), comes in to tell him his dinner is cold. He tells her to get his NASA book. When Dottie tells Karl, she isn’t his slave he screams at her to get his book. Karl calls NASA and gives the coordinates to Dan. Karl tells Dan he wants to name the asteroid “Dottie” after his wife. Dottie’s scowl melts into a smile. In other movies it would be kiss and make up time. This being a manly movie Karl continues; “She’s a vicious life-sucking <expletive that rhymes with ‘witch’> from which there is no escape.” Dottie casually gives Karl “the finger”.
What Karl discovered was an asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth. When the asteroid hits, in 18 days, it will destroy all life on the planet. NASA has to figure out a plan to save the planet. A couple of the scientist have plans that don’t involve explosives. Dan tells them they need realistic plans. Air Force General Kimsey (Keith David) wants to send nuclear missiles to destroy it. Dr. Ronald Quincy (Jason Isaacs) tells him it’s a “terrible idea”. General Kimsey tries to smack him down by telling Dr. Quincy he wasn’t talking to him. Dan interjects by pointing out Dr. Quincy is the smartest person on the planet so General Kimsey would be wise to listen to Dr. Quincy. Fighting the asteroid with stand-off weapons, Air Force style, won’t work. They need to get close and personal, true manly style. They have to land on the asteroid, drill an 800-foot hole, drop a nuclear weapon down the hole, and detonate the weapon. They will need to consult the best deep core driller. They will need Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis).
Harry Stamper is on an oil rig in the Pacific Ocean. He is driving golf balls and using a Greenpeace ship as a target. Harry found his daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler), in A.J. Frost’s (Ben Affleck) bed. Harry gets a shot gun and chases A.J. around the oil rig. The back story is when Grace was a little girl Harry’s wife left him and Grace. While Grace and Harry are arguing about her choice of boyfriend Grace laments how she was learning about depth gages instead of playing with dolls.
The U.S. military whisks Harry and, by Harry’s insistence, Grace to NASA. Dan tells Harry and Grace the situation. Dan shows Harry a drill. NASA made the drill for a Mars mission. The drill was Harry’s design, NASA built the drill without his consent. Harry immediately noticed it was his design, poorly executed. Dr. Quincy tries to say something but Dan tells him to shut up. Dan knows superior intellect pales when compared to true manliness. Dan presents the astronauts who are going to fly the mission. Harry knows they have no chance of completing this mission. Harry tells Dan only oil drillers, “rough necks”, can drill this hole.
Dan approves and Harry and his daughter work out who should be on the mission. The FBI has to track these men down. They are all doing manly things; Rockhoud (Steve Buscemi) is trying to pick up a woman in a bar, Max (Ken Hudson Campbell) is getting a tattoo, Chick (Will Patton) is shooting dice at a casino, Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan) is riding a motorcycle, Oscar (Owen Wilson) is riding a horse, and A.J. is working at the oil company he just started.
The team agrees to fly the mission. The rough necks get physical and psychological exams. It’s the examination where a woman come out on top. Helga the Nurse (Ellen Cleghorne) calls Chick, he says, “Lady, I just came here to drill”. Helga retorts, as she holds up an anal probe, “So did I.” The rough necks all fail their exams but NASA cleared them for the flight. Tests, manly men don’t need no stinking tests.[i]
For the mission NASA is going to send two spacecraft and four pilots. NASA pilot Jennifer Watts (Jessica Steen) was the only woman set for the mission. During training she was explaining about the asteroid’s low gravity. Oscar whispers to Bear that Watts is “really hot”. This is the usual scene where the woman gets to show her superiority. She asks Bear what would happen if on the asteroid she would kick him in the crotch[ii] and he didn’t know how to work his space suit? He correctly answers he would float away. Rockhound asks, “when do we start training for that?”
The drills they were going to use were attached to vehicles called “armadillos”. Harry and his crew proceeded to fix the drills and, in the process, threw out a lot of things that served no apparent purpose. Naturally being manly-men they left the cannons on the armadillo. It is truly manly to think a cannon is necessary on a space mission to Mars or a lifeless asteroid. In typical manly fashion, despite having less than three weeks to plan and execute the most complicated space mission of all time, they found time to design and make mission patches and put cool handles on the armadillos’ joysticks.
Just before the flight Harry tells Dan his men need to have time away from the base. When Dan balks Harry turns to mission commander Colonel Willie Sharp (William Fichtner) and asks if he has a family. Sharp says he has two daughters. He mentions his daughters later in the movie but never says anything about their mother. So, Harry’s men are off the base. A.J. stays with Grace. Rockhound borrows $100,000 from a loan shark. Rouckhound and most of the other rough necks go to a strip club. They get into a brawl.
Chick goes to his ex-wife, Denise (Judith Hoag), she tells Chick’s son, Tommy (Dyllan Christopher), Chick is a salesman. She tells Chick; “You can’t come around like this. The court says you can’t. It confuses him.” Chick says he’s “sorry about everything”. He puts a toy space shuttle on the porch and asks she give it to his son. He emphasizes she doesn’t have to tell him who it’s from.
On the way to the launch pad there is the sing along scene. The song is “I’m leaving on a jet plane.” When the rough necks, in their space suits, are shown on live television Denise tells Tommy, Chick is his father. After lift of the spacecraft make link up with the Mir space station.
There is only one person on the space station, Russian cosmonaut Colonel Lev Andropov (Peter Stormare). He is wearing a t-shirt with USSR emblazoned on it.[iii] Andropov takes immediate charge and picks A.J. to watch a pressure gage. Andropov quickly gives A.J. instructions on what to do. A.J. seems to half understand what he is supposed to do. Since A.J. is a manly man he doesn’t ask Andropov to repeat the instructions. When the gage goes into the danger zone A.J. calls Andropov. Andropov is doing the manly thing; talking to other men about trivia unrelated to the job. Since he can’t get in touch with Andropov, A.J. uses his manly strength to pull down the handle. A.J. breaks the handle. Andropov and the two astronaut crews abandon the space station right before it blows up.
One spacecraft crashed, the other missed its landing zone by 28 miles and landed on an iron plate. This makes radio communication and drilling difficult. When the drill team made insufficient progress according to some chart made up by some unknown person or committee what does Colonel Sharp say? He doesn’t blame himself for landing in the wrong place and probably dooming the mission and the planet Earth. Colonel Sharp does the manly thing. Colonel Sharp blames Harry and the rough necks for not drilling through the iron plate he landed Harry and the rough necks on.
When General Kimsey learned of the slow drilling progress and the possible loss of communications he called in enlisted Air Force security police officers to take over the consoles the NASA technicians are using. General Kimsey and his men were going to remote detonate the nuclear weapon. While doing so would doom the planet it was the manly solution.
On the spacecraft Colonel Sharp and Harry are in a standoff. Chick is standing by. Colonel Sharp had a handgun and Harry had a tool. Jennifer Watts could have joined in or defused the situation. She was conspicuous by her absence. In this testosterone battle cold steel bests hot lead.
Harry tells NASA to stay out of the way. In a seesaw battle against luck the team reaches the prescribed depth but one must stay behind. Colonel Sharp and Jennifer Watts have to fly the spacecraft. The rest have to draw straws to see who will stay behind and detonate the nuclear weapon. With one man staying behind the spacecraft is preparing to takeoff. There is a malfunction so there is one more act of manliness to be performed.
NASA pilot Jennifer Watts is going to troubleshoot the problem. Colonel Andropov warns her a couple of times then shoves her out of the way and fixes the malfunction in a manly way. He hits the control panel with a wrench. The spacecraft comes to life. Women this manly skill is a result of millions of years of evolution, so please don’t try this yourself. Read the manual or call a professional. Should your husband attempt the Andropov method it would be a good idea to look for the telephone number of a repair service.
[i] The much-parodied line, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.” was said by the character Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) in the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
[ii] In the movie she used a different word.
[iii] Russia uses the Cyrillic alphabet. USSR in the Roman alphabet is CCCP in Cyrillic. Mir which means “world” or “peace” in the Cyrillic alphabet is Mир.
Movie Cliches Used in These and Other Movies
Things are stable until the protagonists show up
Shoot a hole through a wall to get your conveyance out
Hit it and it will work
Throw something important into a body of water
The Darkest Hour
The Longest Day
The Dark Knight Rises
World War Z
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Book of Eli
The Fifth Element
The Marathon Man
Movie Cliches Used in These and Other Movies
An aircraft has two crew members one will die
One good guy pulls a gun on another good guy
The sing along scene
Behind Enemy Lines
The McKenzie Break
The Devil's Brigade
Flight of the Intruder
A Wing and a Prayer
Flight of the Intruder
The Empire Strikes Back
A Bridge too Far
The Enemy Below
Saving Private Ryan
© 2018 Robert Sacchi