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Sorry Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan is the real star of Top Gun

The 1980s movie Top Gun came out three years after Cruise’s breakout role in Risky Business, so his star was on the rise. His boyish good looks and charisma were on full display in Top Gun, where he played Maverick, a young, cocky aviator pilot. Maverick’s relationship with love interest Charlie (Kelly McGillis) is the main story line, so it is no wonder the poster features Tom Cruise front and center with his leading lady, Kelly McGillis, right behind him.

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But 20 years later, it is the characters of Goose and Carol, played by Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan, which still resonate with me. Cruise and McGillis may have had top billing and the most scenes, but the love story of Goose and Carol was the memorable romance.

Back when I first saw the movie, I may have been drawn to Maverick. Cruise was incredibly cute and his looks had mass appeal. Maverick was a bad boy, and in my teens and early 20s, bad boys that could be tamed were definitely a weakness. Not to mention that his smile would make me swoon. In contrast, Edwards plays Goose, the levelheaded sidekick to Cruise’s bold and brash Maverick. Goose values his career, is a loyal friend to Maverick and knows how to have a good time. He is also a family man and married to Carol (Ryan) with a young son. Edwards was not my type looks-wise, but the portrayal of Goose steals my heart in large part because of his chemistry with Ryan.

Ryan was a relative newcomer to the movies when she appeared in Top Gun, but four years later, Ryan would star in the ultimate rom-com When Harry Met Sally. But in Top Gun, she has only a few “blink and you could miss her” scenes, except for the fact that she is so gosh darn adorable in her short screen time, you cannot help but remember her.

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The moment that still sticks with me takes place in a bar. Maverick, Goose and their ladies are letting loose drinking and singing. Goose is at the piano and performs the song, “Great Balls of Fire” for the crowd. Ryan shouts out her famous line, “Hey Goose, you big stud … take me to bed or lose me forever!” Goose replies, “Show me the way home, honey.”

Wow! It is such a powerful, small moment between two people that adore each other. It reminds me how intense a connection can be between two people. Goose is singing in a crowd, but really it is just for his sweet Carol. Goose may not be as classically handsome or totally cool as Maverick, but for Carol, he is everything. The line is silly, light-hearted banter, but it conveys so much love between two people. Ryan’s manages to be both lusty and lovely at the same time.

That scene in the bar and then several scenes later when (spoiler alert for anyone that has been super busy and in 20 years has not yet seen the movie) Goose dies in a flying accident are what I still remember about the movie. It was so sad that Goose was killed off, especially because we know how much he was loved.

So sorry, Tom — but for me, Meg Ryan is the true star of Top Gun. Watch it again this weekend and see if you agree.

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