When Ridgecrest citizens head to the theater next year to see “Top Gun: Maverick” they might spend more time looking at the background scenery than watching Tom Cruise fly through the air at amazing speeds.
The Ridgecrest area is expected to be featured prominently in the film, a sequel to the 1986 smash hit about cocky pilot, Maverick, played by Cruise, competing to be the top fighter at a Navy base in San Diego.
A production crew of around 300 people filmed scenes at familiar Ridgecrest locations last fall, as well as January and June of this year.
Filming centered at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Inyokern Airport, along with Cuddeback Dry Lake Bed and a stretch of road in south Ridgecrest where Cruise was seen riding a motorcycle during production, according to Elizabeth Nalagan, assistant to the film commissioner for the Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There was a lot of buzz in town,” Nalagan said. “A lot of the production crew was able to eat at our local restaurants, and do shopping at all of our local shops, especially Home Depot, which was able to reap quite a few benefits.”
While other movies have shot around Ridgecrest, she estimated up to 60 percent of "Top Gun: Maverick" would be based in or near Kern County.
A recent trailer for the film featured desert and mountain areas that looked very similar to the natural landscape around Ridgecrest.
Inyokern Airport General Manager Scott Seymour said he was bound by a nondisclosure agreement and could not confirm production of the film had taken place at the facility.
Much of the production remains unknown, including the plot of the movie. It was originally scheduled to be released in July 2019, but was delayed until June 26, 2020, according to the Hollywood news website Deadline.com.
The publication said the delay would allow film producers to touch up aspects of the flight sequences.
While shooting around Ridgecrest, the stars of the film stayed mostly outside the public eye, but production crews stayed in hotels and fielded questions from curious onlookers.
“Those people that were working here stayed here in the city, ate here in the city, it was a good benefit,” said Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden. “They’ve done a lot out there and it’s been exciting.”
For a community still recovering from two massive earthquakes at the outset of July, the upcoming movie could be exactly what the city needs.
“It gives a positive exposure to our area since we’ve had the earthquakes,” Nalagan said. “Because now we’re known for having the large earthquakes. And it would be nice to have this feature film, when it comes out, to help change the image of our city.”
While Top Gun may be the latest high-profile movie to shoot in and around Ridgecrest, the Inyokern Airport has been the site of many film productions in the past, especially car commercials, Seymour said.
He said the airport was used for filming for about 30 to 100 days each year, generating approximately $300,000 in revenue.
“It’s a great source of revenue for the airport and it brings a lot to the valley,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand how much income is generated by the production companies when they come into town.”