Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Top Gun: Maverick!
The rivalry between Top Gun pilots Maverick and Iceman is a well-worn formula, with the two constantly feuding over which is the better TOPGUN pilot. Even all these years later, the question is brought up again in Top Gun: Maverick as the pair reunites after 36 years. Now, it is finally time to declare which one of these Top Gun aerial aces comes out on top.
Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) are two of the best pilots to have ever gone through the TOPGUN Naval Fighter Weapons School. However, in the original Top Gun, the two are bitter rivals. The two constantly try to one-up each other, and even after Maverick and Iceman fight together at the end of the movie, they still jokingly debate which one is the better pilot. The two TOPGUN alumni are subsequently shown to have remained close friends throughout the years, once again bringing up their skill debate in Top Gun: Maverick.
Both Maverick and Iceman excel at all aspects of being a pilot, but each one of the pair shines in a few different ways. Maverick undoubtedly has exceptional talent in the air, pulling off stunts that would get a lesser pilot killed. Maverick can break the hard deck and fly at Mach 10 with ease. From his inverted maneuver in the MiG-28 to his impressive low flying in Maverick, Maverick holds a mastery of the air. Besides just his flying, Maverick is also excellent at dogfighting. Maverick is the only fighter pilot to take out three MiGs in 40 years, a feat he performs at the end of the original Top Gun. He takes out another two planes in Maverick, giving him an incredibly high kill count for a TOPGUN graduate. When it comes to raw flying prowess, Maverick has it in spades – but that isn’t enough to trump Iceman as a pilot.
Maverick’s ability to fly the best doesn’t necessarily make him the best pilot. Iceman has no problem keeping up with Maverick’s quick flying, and while his kill count isn’t as high, Iceman doesn’t rely on flashy tricks to show off his skill. Iceman is precisely the kind of soldier the Navy needs; a stone-cold machine that can reliably protect his team and carry out his mission. His cool as ice attitude and by-the-book flying, combined with his impressive aerial skills, makes him one of the best pilots the TOPGUN program has ever seen. On top of that, Iceman outranks Maverick in Top Gun: Maverick. While Maverick could be more than a Captain if he put his mind to it, his ego and passion for flying prevent him from doing so. Iceman, however, quickly moved up the ladder due to his discipline and commitment to his country. While Maverick is great in the air, Iceman is a far better soldier.
As a result, defining who the better TOPGUN pilot is depends on which angle the question is coming from. If being a great pilot only required good flying and dogfighting skills, Maverick would be the clear choice. However, being a good pilot also requires being a good soldier, and almost any military would want Iceman’s discipline and knowledge. Looking at Top Gun through that lens, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky is clearly a better pilot than the hotshot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.
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