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Val Kilmer’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Scene Is the Emotional Heart of the Movie


It’s been over 30 years since Val Kilmer told Tom Cruise he could be his wingman, anytime, in 1986’s Top GunBut while Cruise is back in the pilot’s seat in Top Gun: Maverickwhich is now streaming on digital platforms like Amazon Prime, Vudu, and more—Iceman is stuck on the ground, due to Kilmer’s health issues. Still, the movie pays its respects to Iceman by featuring Kilmer in one, moving scene with Cruise.

If you watched Kilmer’s autobiographical 2021 documentary Val on Amazon’s Prime Video, you’ll know that the Iceman actor has a tube in his throat, thanks to the two tracheotomies he underwent while treating his throat cancer in 2015. While he’s come out on the other side of the battle successful, Kilmer has all but lost his speaking voice, a devastating blow for the 62-year-old actor. Rather than try to hide that fact, Top Gun: Maverick opted to incorporate Kilmer’s cancer into Iceman’s story.

Now an admiral and a commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, it’s established that Tom “Iceman” Kazansky is the one protecting his former rival from being permanently grounded. Maverick is still breaking the rules, but luckily for him, he has a guardian angel looking out for him. It’s on Iceman’s recommendation that Maverick is given a second chance—not to fly, but to train a batch of Top Gun recruits for a dangerous mission. When Maverick is struggling to get through to Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of his late friend Goose, he turns to Iceman for counsel.

Unfortunately, Iceman’s throat cancer has taken a turn for the worse. His wife tells Maverick it’s now painful for her husband to speak. Though Kilmer has almost no verbal dialogue—instead typing his responses out on a computer screen—the actor nevertheless manages to convey the deep emotional bond between these two men. He nods in sympathy when Maverick confesses that Rooster is still angry with him for Goose’s death, and waves away Maverick’s insistence that the younger man will never listen to him. Then, when Maverick begs Iceman to send him on the mission, rather than Rooster, he smiles a sad smile, before typing a refrain often repeated in the first film: “It’s time to let go.”

That brings Maverick to tears, as he confesses he’s afraid he’s about to lose Rooster forever. (It is, perhaps, Cruise’s finest moment of acting in the movie as well.) Iceman finally, in his raspy voice, speaks. He tells Maverick both the Navy and Rooster need Maverick, and that’s why he fought for him. The two men hug, and it’s exactly the emotional catharsis you want it to be, complete with a playful reference to their former rivalry, when Iceman asks, “Who’s the better pilot, you or me?”

“This is a nice moment,” Maverick quips in response. “Let’s not ruin it.”

Top Gun Maverick Iceman scene
Photo: Paramount / Vudu

It’s Kilmer’s only scene in the film, and—spoiler alert—likely to be his last scene in the franchise, should there ever be another Top Gun movie. A few scenes later, Maverick learns that Iceman has passed, meaning he no longer has his protector at the Navy. But it is, at least, a substantial scene that acts as the emotional heart of the movie. It’s a perfect cap on the relationship set up between these two men in the first Top Gun. After all, they may have been rivals in 1986, but it was Iceman who was Maverick’s savior in the end.

It was Kilmer’s idea to write his throat cancer into the movie, according to director Joseph Kosinski. “[Producer] Jerry [Bruckheimer] and I met with Val. He came over to Jerry’s office and we sat down with him and just told him of our desire to figure out a way to get Iceman into the film,” Kosinski said in an interview with Indiewire. “It was Val who came up with the idea that Iceman was sick too, so he could integrate into the story in a way that felt authentic and not something that we were trying to hide.”

Kilmer had been vocal on social media about his hopes to be cast in the Top Gun sequel, which had been in development for over a decade by the time he was officially cast. And though there had long been rumors that Kilmer and Cruise didn’t get along on the set of the first film, it was Cruise who fought to cast Kilmer in Maverick. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said in an interview with People, “[Cruise] said, ‘We have to have Val, we have to have him back.’ […] He was the driving force. We all wanted him, but Tom was really adamant that if he’s going to make another Top Gun, Val had to be in it.”

In his documentary, Val, Kilmer echoes that sentiment, saying, “It was fun to play up the conflict between our characters, but in reality, I’ve always thought of Tom as a friend, and we’ve always supported each other.”

The genuine connection Kilmer and Cruise have in Maverick proves that what Kilmer said is true. The love between these men—both the characters and the actors—feels undeniably authentic. That’s the mark of a true wingman.





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