“Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1980s military aviation flick, is a certified hit, with praise from critics and hundreds of millions already made at the box office.
As it was in the original, San Diego and other California military towns played a major role in the sequel. While the real-life Top Gun program eventually moved from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to an air base in Nevada, the Golden State is still home to some of the country’s best combat aviators.
It’s fitting, then, that the majority of “Maverick” was once again filmed in California, providing a more than $150-million boost to the state’s economy.
Read on for more on the blockbuster’s filming locations (spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the film yet):
Naval Air Station North Island
NAS North Island, in Coronado on the San Diego Bay, is home to some of the sequel’s most iconic scenes. The movie’s crew told the California Film Commission that they filmed on the beach there and shot scenes in various hangars, office buildings and streets on base.
The Hard Deck bar
A real-life watering hole frequented by officers on North Island, the World Famous I-Bar, inspired the “Maverick” crew to build their own pub on the base’s beach.
Just like bar scenes in the original film, the fictional Hard Deck serves as a place for the Top Gun hotshots to have an unknowing first encounter with their instructor. And Miles Teller’s “Rooster” channels his dad, “Goose,” with a rendition of “Great Balls of Fire” (the 1986 performance was filmed in a San Diego barbecue joint you can still visit, by the way).
Building the bar used in the film seemed like a pretty straightforward challenge for the crew — but they had a bit of bad luck with their chosen spot on the sand.
“We’ve got this whole beach, there’s miles of beach — choose your spot. So, we did, and it just so happened that the place we chose was a nesting area for a breed of endangered birds,” location manager Mike Fantasia told the film commission.
“So we had to go through the environmental assessment process … We change our schedule, we push the scenes to later on — we do all the work we had to do to make sure we’re out of the nesting areas.”
On aircraft carriers
The U.S. Navy was closely involved in the production of “Maverick,” allowing for tons of practical effects and genuine military equipment to appear in the film.
The Navy confirmed at press events that the two real-life aircraft carriers seen in the film were the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt, which both have their home port in San Diego.
Shoots took place while the massive carriers were docked for maintenance, Fantasia told the film commission. The crew had to squeeze in filming sessions between work while the carriers sat docked off the San Diego coast.
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Also in San Diego, the somber funeral for Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky was set amid the solemn beauty of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Reprising his role as a rival-turned-friend from the original movie, Val Kilmer’s performance incorporated his real-life health issues. His relationship with Cruise’s “Maverick” is one of the major emotional catalysts in the film.
The hilltop cemetery in Point Loma has stunning views of the sea, a fitting burial place for the many sailors and other service members honored there. Unlike most of the film’s other San Diego locations, Fort Rosecrans is open to the public seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Loved ones visit family members and others make the trip to walk the grounds and pay their respects in the rows of white marble headstones.
Some thrilling sequences in “Maverick” feature jets flying at “wave-top level” just above the ocean.
“That took us over Highway One, the beautiful coastline highway that you always see in California car commercials,” Fantasia told the film commission. “The state did a great job helping to get intermittent traffic closures on that highway during times that were not always the most advantageous for them. But they did it.
“Everybody knew it was Top Gun, so everybody knew what we were trying to do. They knew it was a love letter home to the Navy. Everybody wanted to help us out.”
Lemoore and China Lake
Not all the flight sequences were possible to film in San Diego, so the “Maverick” crew partnered with the Navy to also shoot at Naval Air Station Lemoore, which is located in Kings and Fresno counties, and at Naval Weapons Station China Lake, which is in the Ridgecrest area.
The bases allowed access for aerials over the desert, plus shoots in hangars and other sites on firm ground, according to the film commission.
And what about the original?
From Liberty Station to the Plunge pool and iconic “Top Gun House” in Oceanside, check out this guide to the San Diego film locations from the original “Top Gun” film. Unlike in Maverick, you can see most of these spots without a military ID.
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