Will ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Boost Navy Recruitment? History probably says no
“Top Gun: Maverick” is a love letter to American naval aviation and comes as the Navy faces the toughest recruiting environment in a generation. Faced with a dwindling pool of potential sailors, the service may struggle to meet its fiscal year 2022 goal of bringing 40,000 enlisted sailors and 3,800 officers into sea service. But if history is any guide, the sequel to the naval aviation blockbuster might do little to attract new recruits.
When “Top Gun” hit theaters in 1986 and sold nearly 3 million copies on VHS a year later, the Navy hailed the film as a boon to its public image, which was recovering with the rest of the army after the end of the war. Vietnam War which divides the country.
“We love it,” Lt. Cmdr. Bill Clyde of Navy Recruiting Command in Washington, DC, said in a 1987 telephone interview with The head of the Lexington Herald.
“The Navy sees the film as very positive, and it’s been a plus for the Navy’s interest.”
Creating a positive image for service is why the Navy supports projects like “Top Gun” and its sequel with access to bases, ships and planes, Cmdr. David Benham, director of public affairs for Navy Recruiting Command, told USNI News in an email.
“We believe Top Gun: Maverick will certainly raise awareness and should contribute positively to individual decisions to serve in the Navy,” Benham said. “Through our Navy Information Office in Los Angeles, we will continue to support film and television projects and help Hollywood realistically and accurately portray life in the world’s finest Navy.”
Similar to the efforts made during the first film, the Navy uses the sequel as a chance to reach audiences.
“We are working with local theaters to seek out opportunities for recruiters to engage with individuals interested in learning more about naval service,” Benham said.
“In some areas, recruiters have been asked to set up a table to share recruiting materials and talk to interested candidates. We also use social media to distribute content, to include the ‘Patch-wearers’ episode of Faces of the Fleet, about real Top Gun instructors,” he added, referring to a YouTube channel from the Marine.
While excitement in the Navy is high for the sequel, the film’s effect on recruiting for the service will likely be small at best.
”[Top Gun] made for conversation throughout the Navy. But we haven’t seen any specific event causing a change in the recruiting outcome,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kim Stefansson said at the DC office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Patriot-News in 1989.
The influence of “Top Gun” on Navy recruitment could also have another explanation. In the late 1970s, the Navy stopped funding national recruiting, according to The Cincinnati Investigator.
But the moment “Top Gun” flew into theaters, the Maritime Service started funding advertising again. In 1984, the advertising budget was $13.1 million, which increased to $19.9 million the following year.
In 1986, the same year “Top Gun” hit theaters, the Navy invested $31 million in recruiting funding.
It was hard to say if the film was attracting new recruits. An article from The bone Angeles Times notes that some areas fared better than others in terms of interest in the film.
In Phoenix, Arizona, recruiters received more calls after the film’s release, according to the article. But in San Diego, home to one of the largest naval bases in the United States, it made no difference.
While Phoenix recruiters couldn’t tell if it was because of “Top Gun,” Lt. Cmdr. Laura Marlowe, then the officer in charge of recruiting for the naval officer program in Arizona and San Diego, told the Los Angeles Time that 90% of recruits had seen Top Gun.
The film had a limited effect on those considering joining the Navy, according to a 1993 recruiting survey.
According to the survey, 24% of recruits said TV shows and movies like “Top Gun” had a strong influence on them. However, the survey also noted that the most effective recruitment method was brochures.
While recruiting numbers from 1986 show the Navy’s “Live the Adventure” television campaign was more effective in enticing sailors to join the service than Kenny Loggins’ montages, the original hooked at least one future airman navy in 1986.
“I’ll tell you, it definitely had an effect on recruiting, if only on one guy, and that was me,” said captain Brian Ferguson, the suite’s technical adviser. The New York Post in a Friday story.
“I saw the movie, I thought it looked like the most exciting job in the world. And it is.”