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Maverick's military rank is a recurring theme during the movie.

Was this supposed to be satirical/funny or is it telling us something about the character?

How realistic is it even?

My understanding was that the Navy has an "up or out" rule, where at every evaluation cycle, you're either promoted or fired. So IRL he simply could not be a Captain at his age.

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  • AFAIK this can't be realistic. Each rank comes with it's tenure within which one has to get promoted to higher rank (which further increases the tenure) or retire. I haven't seen the movie so don't know if he was hired as contractor or was still in army with same rank.
    – Rahul
    May 30 at 17:52
  • Still in army, nut as a Captain instead of lieutenant, while Ice, for example, was an Almirant. May 31 at 8:37
  • @DiéfaniFavaretoPiovezan Note that in the US Army, the rank of Captain is just above Lieutenant. It is O-3. In the US Navy, the rank of Captain is much higher it is O-6, the equivalent of an Army Colonel. The naval equivalent of an Army Captain would be a Lieutenant.
    – ruffdove
    Jun 11 at 22:26
  • how many times can you be demoted without being kicked out?
    – mgh42
    Jun 20 at 6:00

1 Answer 1

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It is not realistic at all. "Up or Out."

Maverick should have been at least 27 during the events of the first film. In order to have the rank of lieutenant (Mav wore two bars in the first film, so Lt), he must have 9 years in the Navy and going ROTC would put the start of his career at 18. So 27 assumes he is the youngest possible age for a Naval Lieutenant in 1986.

According to Joseph Kosinski, the film's director, in an Equire Magazine interview, the events of the film Maverick are 36 years later and Maverick is in his late 50s:

I pitched him the opening sequence where we find Maverick 36 years later, because that’s what I think people were really struggling with, like, “What's this guy doing in his 50s in the Navy?

So Maverick is supposed to be in his late 50s and we can assume was then 22 or 23 in the first film; however, if his character was a realistic age in the first film (27) he would be 62 or 63 in the second film. Mandatory retirement age for a naval officer is 64, so Mav is okay on that front. The problem is the Navy's "Up or Out" system, under which, if you get passed over for promotion to the same rank twice, they discharge you from service. In 36 years, Maverick was promoted through the following ranks: from Lieutenant ==> Lieutenant Commander ==> Commander ==> Captain. So, just three promotions in 36 years, averaging one every 12 years. The problem is that Maverick would have had to have been passed over for promotion way more than twice for at least one of those ranks, which would have put him out of the Navy.

By my reckoning, Maverick would have had to have been a two or three star admiral (and no longer eligible to fly) in order to still be in the Navy at that point.

Mav's not the only one with a problematic rank.

Rooster was 3 or 4 during the events of the first film (we'll say 3 for the sake of argument). That would make him 39 or 40 years old at the time of the events of Maverick. In the film, he is only a Lieutenant... which means he too must have been passed over for promotion more than twice and would have been out of the Navy. Naval Officers are typically Lt. Commanders at a minimum by age 39, unless they joined the Navy much later in life. I guess that is possible, since he claims Maverick delayed his career by 4 years, but even with a 4-year delay he would have been more than a Lt at that age.

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  • Completely outside the realm of possibility. Total expected time in service is Lt = 9-11 years, Lt Cmdr = 15-17 years, and Capt = 21-23 years. Maverick was a Lt, and we can assume he had 9 years total service 27-9=18 years old. So 9 years in. this is 35 years later, so 9 + 35 = 44 years of service. A Captain is expected to have 21-23 total years of service and Mav now has 44! Uh uh. Someone subtracted instead of added and got 35-9 = only 26 years, which would be maybe OK.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 13 at 15:26
  • How do we know that the events of Top Gun: Maverick take place 35 years after Top Gun? Is that stated in the film? Is it only based on the actual release dates of both films? I note that the latter film was released three years after it was planned to be released.
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 18 at 10:38
  • Release dates are all we have to go on. No dialogue in the film gives specific dates or passage of time and the world events are too fictionalized to help. The movie's Wikipedia page states "Set 36 years after its predecessor..." I'll add that to the answer.
    – ruffdove
    Jun 18 at 14:08
  • Adding to my above response, even if we set the movie 15 years earlier (2007), it would still be unrealistic for Maverick to be a Captain. The Director suggested in an interview that Maverick was in his early 20s in the first film (not realistic for him to be a Lieutenant) and in his late 50s in the second (also not realistic for him to be a Captain), which suggests that the Director is assuming an approximately 36 year gap between the movies.
    – ruffdove
    Jun 24 at 14:51
  • Wikipedia doesn't give any source for that "36 years" figure.
    – Kyralessa
    yesterday

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