After "Top Gun" vaulted the careers of everyone involved into the stratosphere, Maverick spent the next three decades cementing his role as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history. Iceman set off on a more complicated path.
"Top Gun" is now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and 4K Digital, so now seemed like a good time to investigate Iceman Val Kilmer's career.
Val Kilmer is a true outlier. One of the most handsome leading men of his generation, Kilmer was far more interested in being known as a serious actor. Aside from some ill-fated swipes at multiplex fame with movies like "Batman Forever" and "The Saint," he's mostly chosen to play the kind of challenging roles that must have driven his agents crazy.
Tom Cruise thought he was getting weird when he played motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey in "Magnolia," David Aames in "Vanilla Sky" or Les Grossman in "Tropic Thunder," but none of those performances would begin to register on the Kilmometer of Committed Acting.
Kilmer, who's battled throat cancer over the last few years, will appear as Iceman in the upcoming sequel "Top Gun: Maverick." Producer Jerry Bruckheimer finally confirmed the rumor this week in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, "No spoilers, but he's in the movie."
The actor has just released his memoir "I'm Your Huckleberry" (with a title based on a line from "Tombstone"), and it's loaded with "Top Gun" stories, including one about how he needed a dreamtime visit from Tom "Iceman" Kazansky's (imaginary) father to get a handle on the character. Tom's dad was chewing on ice (in the dream), and Val got the sense that Tom was never going to win his father's approval. Hence the patented Iceman rage.
Val also opened up to writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner for a revealing profile in The New York Times magazine. Celebrity articles are almost always tightly scripted and focused on the project at hand. This one was timed to his book and the original release date of "Top Gun: Maverick," but the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired both actor and journalist to open up in deeply surprising ways. No spoilers here, but this is not the story you'd expect.
Without Iceman, what's Maverick? Just some loudmouth flyboy who'd never have lived up to his potential. You've seen more Tom Cruise movies than you can remember. Now, it's time to check out some of Val Kilmer's best work.
1. "Top Gun" (1986)
Iceman proves that a by-the-book aviator can still be a badass, We're supposed to love Pete Mitchell for all his flaws and cheer his romantic moves, but Tom Kazansky is the Navy officer you respect. Seriously, who would you really want as your wingman?
As noted above, "Top Gun" is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
2. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005)
Even though it wasn't a big box office hit, this Los Angeles noir changed the course of the movie business. Writer Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon," "The Long Kiss Goodnight") made a roaring comeback with his first movie as writer director, and he took a chance on Robert Downey Jr. as his star at a time when no one would hire the kid. Black went on to write and direct "Iron Man 3," "The Nice Guys" and "The Predator" as Downey became the biggest actor in the Marvel universe.
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is a love letter to the 1990s made just half a decade after they ended. Downey is Harry Lockhart, a (sort of) actor cast as a detective in a new movie, and Kilmer is Gay Perry, a homosexual private investigator to the stars hired to show Lockhart the ropes.
Lockhart runs into his childhood crush Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), and then there's real crime and actual bad guys and Los Angeles is once again the world capital of dirtbags.
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is every bit as much an L.A. Christmas movie as "Die Hard." It's a wicked satire of detective movies, Hollywood glamor and the notoriously faulty memories of actor types. Kilmer gives the whole thing a heart. He's playing a caricature, and somehow that satirical performance becomes incredibly human without you noticing that it happened.
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
3. "Heat" (1995)
Of course, Michael Mann's modern-day film noir (set in Los Angeles, of course) would attract Val Kilmer like moth to flame. The movie is best-remembered for its scenes in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appear on screen together for the first time, but Kilmer's role as Chris Shiherlis, De Niro's No. 2 man in their robbery crew, is critical to the film's success.
Kilmer's married to Ashley Judd in the movie, and their problems give the story some real human drama to counteract Pacino and De Niro as they're making the shift into their late-career cartoon character acting styles.
"Heat" is available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
4. "Tombstone" (1993)
There were two movies about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral released six months apart in 1993-1994. The Kevin Costner-starring "Wyatt Earp," directed by "The Big Chill" helmsman Lawrence Kasdan, was supposed to be the big prestige version of the tale, but the lower-budget "Tombstone, released at Christmas 1993 and directed by George P. Cosmatos ("Cobra"!!!!) turned out to be the better movie and the bigger box office hit.
Kilmer plays a dissolute Doc Holliday, wracked by tuberculosis and deeply in love with his own flowery language (see the memoir title mentioned above). He's slowly dying throughout the movie, but his gunfighting skills never abandon Doc in moments of crisis.
Kurt Russell introduces his John Wayne imitation as he plays Wyatt Earp, pretty much the same one he's doing in Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" almost three decades later. Kilmer, Russell, Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton have amazing chemistry as the Earp crew, and an incredible cast of villains is played by Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church and John Corbett. Plus, you get Michael Rooker switching sides in the middle of the movie and Charlton Heston in one of his last great performances.
"Tombstone" is available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
5. "The Salton Sea" (2002)
What's the most terrifying of all modern Los Angeles noirs? That would be "The Salton Sea," in which Kilmer plays jazz saxophonist Tom Van Allen as he goes undercover as junkie Danny Parker to track down the drug dealers who killed his wife.
Tom goes full method as Danny and fully embraces the worst of early 21st century SoCal meth culture as he tries to solve the mystery (often while high). His main target is Pooh Bear (Vincent D'Onofrio), a drug kingpin who wears a prosthetic because he's lost his nose to drug abuse.
Pooh Bear also lives on a desert compound where he tries to solve the JFK assassination by shooting movies that recreate the events of Dealey Plaza using remote control cars and pigeons dressed as the president, first lady and their entourage. The sequence is far, far weirder than it sounds here.
D'Onofrio gives his most unhinged performance since "Full Metal Jacket" (in a career jam-packed with defiantly weird acting choices), but somehow Kilmer keeps everything centered as he's surrounded by some of the most surreal bad guys in movie history.
"The Salton Sea" is streaming for free (with ads) on Vudu. The movie has never been released on Blu-ray, but it's available on DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
6. "The Doors" (1991)
Actual Vietnam War veteran Oliver Stone chooses to celebrate a bunch of entitled hippies who were smoking drugs and chasing women the entire time our director was sweating his ass off in the jungle.
I guess Vietnam troops listened to The Doors on the radio? Still, it's hard to figure out whether Oliver thinks Jim Morrison is a pretentious moron or is just doing all the things young Mr. Stone would've been doing if he had the chance himself.
Val Kilmer is fearless in this movie, singing all the songs with the rest of the still-living Doors backing him up. Singing is something a certain Best Actor-winning guy didn't do a couple of years ago when he played Freddie Mercury. Val never, ever breaks character here and offers a clue as to whether he believes the notorious milkid Morrison is a dumb jock with poetic ambitions or the actual shaman his followers wanted him to be.
"The Doors" is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Kanopy and Crackle. It's also available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
7. "Wonderland" (2003)
You thought Val played dark back in 2002 in "The Salton Sea"? Welcome to 2003 and our man's performance as once-famous porn star John Holmes. In 1981, the real-life Holmes got involved in a convoluted plot with some drug buddies who robbed a gangster who is determined to punish them for their disrespect.
Kilmer has always been an actor who understands that ongoing fame is never guaranteed and how that uncertainty can make some folks crazy. That's almost certainly what attracted him to this role, because Holmes is a man who's a thousand times more troubled than anything you remember from "Boogie Nights."
"Wonderland" is streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi, Vudu and IMDbTV. It's also available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
8. "The Ghost and the Darkness" (1996)
Screenwriter William Goldman originally pitched this tale of two predator lions who terrorized a Kenyan bridge project in 1898 as "'Lawrence of Arabia' meets 'Jaws.'" Val Kilmer is the bridge engineer whose project goes awry, and Michael Douglas is the legendary big game hunter brought in to help kill the beasts.
This should be one of the actor's most straight-ahead dramatic roles, but he ends up fighting one of the big cats in hand-to-hand combat and battling nightmares about what might happen if his young family came to visit. All in all, "The Ghost and the Darkness" is pretty weird, and Val is still his usual extra-intense self.
"The Ghost and the Darkness" is streaming on STARZ. It's also available on DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
9. "Thunderheart" (1992)
If Sam Shepard and Val Kilmer playing FBI agents investigating an incident loosely based on the actual events at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, sounds like a can't-miss cop movie, "Thunderheart" is one of those overlooked movie gems that deserves a second look.
Of course, the movie's murder isn't just a murder, and there's a broader government conspiracy at work. Kilmer's character Ray Levoi is part-Sioux and confronts his own Native American heritage as the truth comes to light.
"Thunderheart" is available on DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
10. "Top Secret!" (1984)
Kilmer made his movie debut as Nick Rivers, the pop star caught up in a spy ring in this parody of Elvis Presley musicals and espionage thrillers. Directed by the trio of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker fresh off the success of "Airplane!," the movie sends Rivers to East Germany for a cultural festival.
The Stasi come off more like Nazis than communists, and Rivers gets caught up in a scheme for the East Germans to reunite Germany under their rule. The movie is unrelentingly silly, and the 25-year-old Kilmer is impossibly handsome. The only clue of how majestically weird his career was to become was the ease with which he handles all the ridiculousness in the movie. Val's in on the joke and not just another pretty face.
"Top Secret!" is available on DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
Bonus: "True Romance"
Kilmer reunited with "Top Gun" director Tony Scott for this out-of-control crime thriller written by Quentin Tarantino. Val's face is never onscreen, but he's the heart of the movie as the ghost of Elvis Presley who guides Clarence (Christian Slater) on his quest to make Alabama (Patricia Arquette) happy. "Clarence, I like you. Always have, always will."
"True Romance" is streaming for free (with ads) on IMDbTV. It's also available on Blu-ray and DVD. You can buy or rent a digital version from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, FandangoNOW and most other digital retailers.
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