Early on in Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 feature directorial debut, the soon-to-be auteur who also played a small role in the film as Mr. Brown, tells a group of his fellow criminals with equally colorful names about how Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is about a guy with a big dick. The scene received a lot of attention and turned QT into “that guy” who dives deep into the psychology of pop culture. Two years later, he doubled down on that reputation with a cameo in Rory Kelly’s indie dramedy Sleep With Me, in which he lays out the many reasons why Top Gun, with its many homoerotic undertones, is actually a gay film. As Tarantino’s character explains:
“It is a story about a man struggling with his own homosexuality. That is what Top Gun is about. You’ve got Maverick: He’s on the edge, man. He’s right on the f**king line, alright? And you’ve got Iceman and all his crew. They’re gay; they represent the gay man, alright? And they’re saying: ‘Go! Go the gay way, go the gay way.’ He could go both ways.”
As for Kelly McGillis, who plays the love interest of Tom Cruise’s Maverick? She represents heterosexuality, in Tarantino’s diatribe. “She’s saying, ‘No, no, no, no. Go the normal way. Play by the rules, go the normal way’ and they’re saying ‘No! Go the gay way. Be the gay way. Go for the gay way.’ That is what’s going on throughout that whole movie.”
That McGillis plays a Top Gun instructor—a woman in a man’s world—only further illustrates Tarantino’s point. His character claims that McGillis sees Maverick’s struggle and attempts to pull him back into heterosexuality by becoming more masculine. Ultimately, it’s Maverick and Iceman’s final interaction that convinces QT (and the character he is talking to, played by Todd Field) that Maverick is now Team Iceman, which you can watch above.
While the scene was clearly meant as comic filler, there are millions of people who would agree with at least parts of Tarantino’s argument—or simply point to the movie’s excessive sweating and oiled-up beach volleyball scene (a sport that was practically required to be shown in all ‘80s films).
Last year, when Top Gun celebrated its 35th anniversary, Vulture asked producer Jerry Bruckheimer about the film’s standing as an iconic moment in gay cinema. While he admitted that that wasn’t a conscious intention while making the movie, he embraces the legacy.
“When you make a movie, people can interpret it in any way they want and see something in it that the filmmakers had no idea they were tapping,” he said. “So we’re surprised every time we hear something talked about, or written about, the films that we make that have no real context for the filmmakers or what the filmmakers wanted to do. And yet there’s a relevance to them, because people believe it.”
When asked specifically about Tarantino’s monologue, Bruckheimer enthusiastically explained that it was a great thing for the movie—and that Tarantino and Top Gun director Tony Scott were great friends. “In fact, Quentin came in and helped Tony and myself on Crimson Tide,” Bruckheimer said. “He came in and wrote a couple of scenes for us. So there was a great camaraderie and respect between Quentin and Tony. Coming from Quentin, it’s always a compliment.”