Matthew Modine Turned Down ‘Top Gun’ for ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Photo Credit: 1. Zayne / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB 2. Carlito / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: 1. Zayne / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB 2. Carlito / MovieStillsDB

Top Gun (1986) was among the most popular films of the 1980s, and it’s just one of the few box office hits Matthew Modine didn’t star in during the decade. One of his best-known roles was as Pvt. J.T. “Joker” Davis in 1987’s Full Metal Jacket. At the time it was offered to him, so, too, was the part of Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. He ultimately declined the latter for moral reasons, even though he knew it would become an all-time smash.

Matthew Modine turned down many leading roles

Matthew Modine as Pvt J.T. "Joker" Davis in 'Full Metal Jacket'
Full Metal Jacket, 1987. (Photo Credit: Zayne / MoviesStillsDB)

Matthew Modine was an up-and-coming star during the 1980s, and was offered the lead role in many films. Surprisingly, he turned down quite a few, including Charlie Sheen’s character in the 1987 drama, Wall Street, as well as Michael J. Fox‘s part in the 1985 sci-fi epic, Back to the Future.

However, there’s one role Modine turned down, which would have had a pretty big impact on his career: that of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun. The part was subsequently offered to other actors, and, in the end, was portrayed by Tom Cruise. The film went on to be a summer blockbuster, and the franchise continued by bringing Cruise back as Maverick some 36 years later.

Modine knew Top Gun was going to be a box office hit, but decided the role wasn’t for him. He turned it down to portray the role of Pvt. J.T. “Joker” Davis in Stanley Kubrick‘s 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket.

Matthew Modine couldn’t get behind Top Gun‘s message

Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in 'Top Gun'
Top Gun, 1986. (Photo Credit: Zamolxes / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

The reason Matthew Modine declined Top Gun was because the film didn’t line up with his anti-war politics. For him, it was a glorification of the US military during the Cold War, and served as a kind of recruitment tool for the US Navy and Air Force. He couldn’t accept the way the movie’s plot placed blame of the death of a US pilot on the Russians.

“It was the 1980s and Reagan was president,” Modine explained in an interview with Fox News. “And you, it seemed like … there were a lot of movies that were just pointing the finger at Russia and saying they were the bad guys. I think it’s too simplistic to do that.”

This wasn’t the only reason Modine declined to take the role. He felt Full Metal Jacket offered a deeper interpretation about the effects of war on those who participate in it. Top Gun is a film that focuses on personal growth at the expense of not showing a realistic view of international politics. Full Metal Jacket, on the other hand, shows the psychological damage the military can cause recruits – before and during a conflict.

“I wanted to tell the story about human behavior and what the war does to individuals, our youth and how the scars that people receive from combat are not always physical,” Modine said. “I thought it was a much more important story to me than telling the story about pointing the finger at the Russians and saying that they were the bad guy.”

Both movies were successful upon release, but their approaches in depicting military life are wildly different. It can be argued that both sensationalized what they were intending to portray.

No regrets choosing Full Metal Jacket

Adam Baldwin and Matthew Modine as Sgt. "Animal Mother" and Pvt. J.T. "Joker" Davis in 'Full Metal Jacket'
Full Metal Jacket, 1987. (Photo Credit: Carlito / MovieStillsDB)

During an interview with Salon, Matthew Modine was asked if, looking back, he regrets not taking the lead role in Top Gun. He responded, “Not at all. Not for one second.” He then went on to explain how, “Cruise said that he felt that Top Gun was a movie about individualism and personal strength. I just thought the movie was jingoistic.”

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Instead, Modine’s thankful for the time he spent filming Full Metal Jacket.

“I can’t compare working on Full Metal Jacket with any other experience that I’ve had,” he told Fox News. “I was in England for almost two years, working with Stanley Kubrick who is arguably one of the greatest filmmakers to ever get behind a motion picture camera. To learn from him, to receive a film education from him and just to listen to stories of his life and how he became a filmmaker – I just can’t compare that experience with any other film I’ve worked on.”

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!