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Top Gun: Maverick: Was Penny Benjamin in Top Gun 1?

Why Tom Cruise's Love Interest in "Top Gun: Maverick" Looks Different

TOP GUN: MAVERICK, (aka TOP GUN 2), Jennifer Connelly, 2022.  ph: Scott Garfield / Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Jennifer Connelly in "Top Gun: Maverick"

"Top Gun: Maverick" is packed with nostalgia and callbacks to the original 1986 movie, including some legacy characters and familiar scenes. One thing viewers who are streaming the movie ahead of the Oscars have noticed has changed, however, is who plays the love interest to Tom Cruise's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. The sequel — which was awarded best film by the National Board of Review — sees Maverick, now decades into his career, wooing a bar owner (and daughter of an admiral) named Penny Benjamin. Here's what to know about Maverick's love interest ahead of the 2023 Academy Awards, where "Top Gun: Maverick" is nominated in six categories, including best picture.

Is Penny Benjamin in the Original "Top Gun"?

Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly, is not physically in the first "Top Gun" movie, but she does exist in it, though only mentioned in passing. She is never actually seen on screen.

In one scene, Maverick's past exploits are said to include "a history of high-speed passes over five air-control towers and one admiral's daughter," and Maverick's BFF Goose mutters Penny's name under his breath — making her the "admiral's daughter" in question. That's later confirmed when Goose's wife, Carole, teases Maverick about his romantic history, telling her that Goose "told me all about the time you went ballistic with Penny Benjamin."

While she never appears in person in the first "Top Gun," Penny becomes a major character in the sequel. Now played by Connelly, Penny owns a bar that is the downtime destination of choice for the TOPGUN crew. She's less than thrilled when Maverick shows up again, and their dialogue definitely implies that they've had a bit of an on-and-off romance throughout the years between the two movies.

"It started the first time when they were quite young. And you get the sense that they sort of come together, they have this sort of fiery romance, and then it falls apart," Connelly described in an interview with FilmIsNow. "But then they keep coming back to each other."

Why Isn't Kelly McGillis's Charlie Blackwood in "Top Gun: Maverick"?

TOP GUN, from left: Kelly McGillis, Tom Cruise, 1986. ph:  Paramount / courtesy Everett Collection

Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"

In the first "Top Gun," Maverick's love interest is Charlie Blackwood, an astrophysicist who crosses paths with him at the TOPGUN academy. Other cast members from the original "Top Gun" returned for "Top Gun: Maverick," like Val Kilmer, so what's behind this love-interest switcheroo?

Kelly McGillis played Charlie in "Top Gun," but when the sequel came around, according to her, she wasn't even asked to be part of the movie.

"They did not [invite me back], and nor do I think they would ever," McGillis said back in 2019, when the first trailer for "Top Gun: Maverick" dropped and she was conspicuously absent. "I'm old and I'm fat and I look age-appropriate for what my age is, and that is not what that whole scene is about," she said. McGillis, who is 64 years old, is almost exactly five years older than 59-year-old Cruise; Connelly is 51. McGillis had nothing but positive things to say about Connelly joining the cast, however, saying she's "so glad [Connelly] got that opportunity."

In contrast, director Joseph Kosinski said that bringing back Charlie simply wasn't in line with the story they were looking to tell in the sequel. "I didn't want every storyline to always be looking backwards," Kosinski told Insider. "It was important to introduce some new characters." This meant excluding some characters from the original, including McGillis as Charlie and Meg Ryan as Carole Bradshaw.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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