Jerry Bruckheimer on career, how Tom Cruise saved ‘Top Gun’ sequel from premiering on streamer

Written by Anna Buss, produced by Joshua Farnham

Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise attend the photocall for the feature film “Top Gun: Maverick” at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2022 in Cannes, France. Photo by Bang Showbiz.

Jerry Bruckheimer has created some of the most iconic television shows including the “CSI” and “The Amazing Race” franchises. He has also produced highly profitable movie sequels, with titles like “Bad Boys,” “National Treasure,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and most recently, “Top Gun: Maverick.”

He has had an enviable production career in Hollywood for about five decades, starting in advertising in the 1970s. But his career took off in the early 1980s when he partnered with the late Don Simpson. They shared a desk at Paramount Studios and together they produced hit movies such as “Flashdance” (1983), “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984), and of course the original “Top Gun” (1986). 

While Simpson was the studio’s head of production, the “inside guy” who “was brilliant at reading meetings, people and storytelling,” Bruckheimer knew how to “physically produce a movie and find the best talent for it.”  

“I’m kind of quiet and shy and don't have that skill that he had,” Bruckheimer explains. “That's why it was such a great partnership. He could captivate a room, he could sell anybody on anything, and he was brilliant at it. I just went on, just put my nose to the grindstone and did the work.”

But Simpson struggled with a drug addiction that continued to escalate, the collaboration ended and they went their separate ways in the mid-1990s. Simpson died shortly after that from a drug-related heart failure. 

After Simpson’s death, Bruckheimer started to branch out to television productions and create bit-budget films. One such project was the action-adventure fantasy “Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl”  from 2003. At first, the idea of a Disney theme-park spin-off was received with skepticism, until Johnny Depp was brought in to play the eccentric pirate "Captain" Jack Sparrow.  

“When you take Johnny Depp, and you take him from a place where he's a real artist and a brilliant actor, [who] makes very art centric movies… and you put [him] in a very commercial movie, it sends a signal to the audience,” and that entices them to see it. 

Besides Depp’s talent, Bruckheimer also hired director Gore Verbinski for his cinematical vision, and writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie who used the Disney’s ride, took the pirate genre, added the supernatural and incorporated it all into the screenplay. “They had a wonderful wit.” 

As the producer, Bruckheimer’s job was “to put all the pieces in place that will make the team run and win, and ‘Pirates’ was a great example of the team that was put together and it won.”

Though “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” made just over $600 million at the box office worldwide, it became an international sensation. Bruckheimer oversaw its next three sequels, which either hit or closed in the $1-billion international box office mark.  

By 2012, he and Tom Cruise were gearing up to start production of “Top Gun: Maverick,” which took a staggering blow. They were scouting filming locations and interviewing pilots at the Top Gun school in Fallon, Nevada on the Friday of August 17, 2012. By Sunday, they learned director Tony Scott, who had filmed the original “Top Gun,” had died of suicide. 

“It was really a shock to all of us,” Bruckheimer says. 

The film production was then canceled. Cruise felt the sequel had to be perfect because it was the  character that rocketed him into superstardom, so he told Bruckheimer, it had to be “as good as, if not better than the first one.” 

Five years later, Cruise tapped “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinsky for the project. Then, Bruckheimer went to Paris with Kosinski and they pitched the story to Cruise who loved it, but requested that all the aerial and actors in the planes were for real this time. 

“On the first movie, we put [the actors] into planes and they all threw up, we couldn't use any of the footage,” he recalls. 

In order to make it work this time, they put into motion a plan to train the actors in various different aircrafts for three to four months to withstand the G-forces, sit in an F-18 and be able to act for the film. 

“They went through a lot to get this movie made in a way that [the] audience certainly has embraced it because it's real, and it feels real, because it is,” Bruckheimer explains.

“Top Gun: Maverick” was shot, and then the pandemic hit. Cruise wanted it to be released in theaters, which they tried in three separate dates, but it ended up being held for two years. 

“[Cruise] is somebody who's really dedicated to an audience, into the craft of filmmaking and the theatrical experience, and the movie was made for theaters. It's made to be a group experience, so he had to make sure that that's how it [was] released.”  

After shooting down Paramount’s hope to have “Top Gun: Maverick” released on the company’s nascent streaming service, the film finally premiered in theaters in May 2022, and it was the number one movie in the country on Memorial Day and on Labor Day.

“[Cruise] is a star that carries an enormous amount of weight because he brings people to the theaters and makes some money.” 

The film has grossed almost $1.5 billion in global box office. 

“It's a movie that brought an older audience back to the theaters, and showed them that you can really be entertained and make you feel better,” Bruckheimer says. “The reason that it became [a] big success is not all the action… it was really the emotion between these characters. Bringing Val Kilmer back and him creating that character using what is part of his own problem and making it part of the movie, which I thought was very bold and interesting.”

Top Gun: Maverick,” which is now streaming on Paramount+, has won 67 awards and has been nominated 198 times, including six Academy nods for film editing, original song, sound, visual effects, adapted screenplay and Picture of the Year, which is a first for Bruckheimer.

For his next project though, Bruckheimer just finished a movie called “Young Woman and the Sea,” with actress Daisy Ridley for Disney+. The film took seven years to make and was a “passion project” of Jeff Nathanson who was searching for a movie to watch with his two young daughters but couldn’t find anything. 

After reading a book about Trudy Ederle, who in 1926, was the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel, he was so inspired by her story that he auctioned the book himself then pitched it to Bruckheimer. They took the story to several studios, but Disney+ championed and ended up making it.   

They are now hoping to get the film to be released in theaters.

“It's so strong, and it certainly is something that should be seen in the theater because it's such an emotional story,” Bruckheimer says. “It turned out just terrific. Very excited [about] it.”




Kim Masters


Joshua Farnham