The following post contains minor spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick — but most of them involve a theory that fans read into the movie. Can a fan theory be a spoiler?

Hollywood seems to have forgotten to release movies in August this year. Amidst a fairly sparse calendar of new films, Top Gun: Maverick — which opened way back in May — continues to stay near the top of the weekly box-office chart. Last weekend, it was the #4 movie in the country, grossing about $6 million. That brought its domestic gross to $683.4 million.

Some fans have been going back to see it again and again, and among those fans, a few have begun circulating an interesting theory about the film: That most of its events are in fact a dying dream or fantasy that takes place inside Maverick’s head. The theory goes something like this: The opening sequence, with Maverick (Tom Cruise) pushing an experimental “Darkstar” jet to hypersonic speed, is the only part of the film that “really” happens. The jet gets destroyed when Maverick pushes the plane past Mach 10 on the speedometer. At that point, the jet breaks apart, and Maverick has to parachute to safety.


At least that’s what it looks like. In this theory, Maverick does not survive the Darkstar crash. Instead, everything that follows is what he imagines as he is dying, or after he is already dead. There’s not necessarily any specific evidence that the rest of the movie, where Maverick returns to the TOPGUN flight school and becomes a teacher to a new generation of Navy pilots, that indicates it’s all a dream. But certainly Maverick’s plot involves an incredibly improbable series of events, including Maverick teaming up with the son of his late wingman Goose, and becoming part of a new mission to destroy an enemy nuclear facility, even though the Navy has been trying to ground him for years. It does feel a little like a fantasy — but then Hollywood excels at bringing fantasies to life.

Anyway, that’s the theory. And it’s one that Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski refuses to discount. In fact, in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said he actually likes reading the movie that way. Here was his response to a question about the theory:

Movies are meant to be interpreted in a variety of ways, and I love it when people read different meanings into it. So I love hearing that theory, and certainly, there’s a mythic kind of element to the story that I think lends itself to that sort of interpretation, based on who Maverick is and what he represents and the fact that he’s kind of going through this rite of passage at a different phase of his life. So I like that theory.

Tom Cruise as Maverick in front of his plane
Paramount Pictures

Kosinski didn’t say “Yes, that’s what we intended, you cracked the code!” But he also didn’t say “No, you’re full of crap, that’s not at all what we wanted you to read.” He went out of his way to indicate that he “will not throw cold water” on the idea that the movie could all be taking place in Maverick’s head, and called it “a really cool interpretation of the story.”

So go ahead; theorize away about Maverick’s death dream. But beware: If Maverick does all take place inside Tom Cruise’s head as he’s dying, that would mean we can’t get another Top Gun sequel. And after Top Gun: Maverick, don’t you want another one?!?

Top Gun Easter Eggs in Top Gun: Maverick

Did you catch these callbacks to the original Top Gun in the sequel?

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