Top Gun: Maverick has been out for a few weeks now, and it’s clear that it’s easily this year’s first and biggest blockbuster. Yet in a film that was otherwise doggedly, meticulously, slavishly built around non-stop callbacks to its predecessor, there was one area in which Top Gun: Maverick notably fell short: sweat.
Top Gun is easily one of the sweatiest movies ever made. Every single character is basically bathed in sweat the entire time. In theory, all that sweat is narratively justified, considering most of the film is purported to be set “somewhere in the Indian Ocean” (against an adversary heavily implied to be the USSR though not stated outright), which I assume is a humid place. Even acknowledging that, there’s enough sweat in Top Gun that you can practically hear a PA putting in a claim for carpal tunnel from squeezing a spray bottle for 15 hours every day. The entire scene of Merlin washing out early in the film (subtext of the scene: flying planes is hard) is illustrated mainly through sweat. It’s basically an entire sweat-based storytelling system.
Between the screen makeup and the nonstop spritzing, I have to imagine that the set was covered in giant beige puddles by the end of the day. Whichever PAs weren’t crippled from the carpal tunnel probably had to remove them with giant squeegees at the end of every shooting day, fouling storm drains for miles downstream.
Here’s Goose, one scene later:
Even after the action moves to San Diego (a warm but not especially humid place) the characters stay pretty moist. Point is, it’s a very wet movie, and as Derek Zoolander taught us, moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.
Of course, Top Gun wasn’t the only wet movie of its era (though it may have been its wettest). In honor of Top Gun, I took some time out to remember some of Hollywood’s wettest movies.
A Time To Kill (1996)
“Incredibly young-looking attorney tries racially-motivated case in hot place” was a genre unto itself in the 90s, probably partly due to the popularity of John Grisham, a lawyer-turned-author who went to law school in Mississippi, where sweat is officially classified as a food group. One of the most popular exemplars of this phenomenon was undoubtedly A Time To Kill, starring a then-27-year-old Matthew McConaughey, then and now one of our sweatiest actors — nay, sweatiest public figures. He looks like he stinks, in a sexual (?) way.
The Client (1994)
Then there was The Client (another Grisham adaptation) whose plot hinged on a juvenile delinquent witnessing an incredibly sweaty man try to commit suicide via exhaust pipe. Hey, man, if you had to keep the car running anyway, maybe throw on the A/C? Just a thought.
Body Heat (1981)
When the movie has “heat” in the title and the first line of the synopsis is “in the midst of a searing Florida heat wave,” you can bet that movie is going to have some sweat. In fact, I think the entire idea behind this began with “Okay, so audiences love sweaty people, right?”
I’ll give you a nickel for every Body Heat review that doesn’t include the word “writhing.”
Do The Right Thing (1989)
One of the subthemes of Spike Lee’s breakout classic was “people get pissed at each other when it’s really hot” which is why it remains an enduring comment on Brooklyn life. If Spike Lee hadn’t made everyone sweaty he would’ve been fired for dereliction of duty.
Predator is set mostly in the Central American jungle and it’s about an alien hunter who stalks a team of commandos with his heat vision. So, again, the heat was sort of a theme. But it also revealed another important sweat factor: it really makes your arms pop. I hope the fact that it’s become a meme doesn’t take away from the magic of the original “manly handshake” scene. It’s really one of the finest closeups in all of cinema.
Alien 3 (1992)
David Fincher’s since-disavowed feature debut starred Sigourney Weaver as Ripley again, this time having crash-landed on an all-male penal colony (a penile colony, if you will). And if I know a thing or two about all-male prisons and I think I do, it’s that they’re always very sweaty and that everyone has a really nice body.
I still haven’t actually seen Flashdance all the way through (not enough all-male prison scenes), but one thing I do know about it is that it’s very sweaty. It’s a film about a steelworker who aspires to be a professional ballerina (you know, that old story) and was the first collaboration by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. The two would go on to produce, yep, Top Gun. Their penchant for producing sweat-drenched hits is why they two were known as “The Wet Bandits” around town.
Falling Down (1993)
Falling Down is a bit like a West Coast cousin to Do The Right Thing, in that a big part of the plot is based on the idea that people get fed up when it’s hot out. And it’s about a guy who walks across LA on a summer afternoon, so not surprisingly it was pretty sweaty. It was also directed by Joel Schumacher, who also directed The Client and A Time To Kill. He’s the closest we have to a sweaty movie specialist. I like to think that he got a lot of jobs when the producers sat around going, “Okay, who can handle a big sweat budget?”
I also love this scene, where Michael Douglas’s character is like “Look, I might be a violent reactionary, but I’m not a racist violent reactionary.”
Die Hard (1988)
At the time, it was revolutionary casting Bruce Willis as the lead in an action movie on account of he wasn’t super buff like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. But director John McTiernan correctly surmised that we would accept Willis as an action hero as long as he was super, super sweaty.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
I guess if I put Die Hard and Predator on here I have to put Rambo. The opening shots of the trailer really are just lingering shots of Stallone’s glistening torso. My only hesitation: is Rambo really a sweaty movie or is it more of a greasy one? Discuss.
I love that in the eighties you could make a whole movie about people going to exercise classes. How did we never get a Peloton movie? A Soul Cycle movie? I blame the cocaine shortage.
The Last Boy Scout
The Last King of Scotland
City Of God
Dog Day Afternoon
In The Heat Of The Night