Jerry Bruckheimer Shares Memories of Making Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and More

Photo: Paramount Picutres

On the occasion of the first-ever film festival dedicated to showcasing Jerry Bruckheimer’s juggernaut movies — 43 blockbusters that have grossed nearly $4.8 billion — the Über-producer is willing to act out of character.

“I’m not usually one to reflect too much on the past,” the 72-year-old admits to Vulture about “The Heat Is On: A Jerry Bruckheimer Film Festival” kicking off April 1, at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television in Los Angeles. “I’m always looking at the next movie. We just finished another Pirates sequel. We’re trying to get another Bad Boys made with Will Smith. And we have the Top Gun sequel with Tom Cruise. I love entertaining audiences and have so much more I want to do. So for me, when I watch or think about my old movies, I just end up saying, ‘I could have made this one better, I could have done that differently.’ That’s why I don’t usually watch them once they are out of the theater.”

Nevertheless, Bruckheimer carved out a few minutes in his day to share some memories on four movies that helped define his 40-year career.

American Gigolo, 1980
“This was the first picture I did at Paramount. It was really interesting because it was Paul Schrader’s script, and he’d submitted it to all the studios, but they were afraid of doing it. And this was after he’d written Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. Some time passed and Paramount had a change in management, so his agent sent it over there again and said, “No, no this is a brand-new script.” [Laughs] They loved it.

Once John Travolta committed to do the movie we started working on it, but sadly, John’s girlfriend passed away and he dropped out. Schrader and I met that weekend and decided we had to get someone else in there right away before the studio got cold on the project. Paramount had an option on Richard Gere, but they wanted to go to Christopher Reeve, who was one of the biggest stars in the world. He passed, so on our own, we convinced Richard to do the movie.

When we told the studio, ‘We got Richard Gere!’ they had a heart attack. He was not a big star. Also, the budget was around $10 or $11 million and they said, ‘We can’t do it at that cost; cut it down to four or five.’ Not having Travolta made it a little easier, and we condensed shooting and limited locations in L.A. to make them close together, and it came out on budget. It was an all-around nice success for everyone.”

Flashdance, 1983
“Demi Moore was in the mix to play the lead, but despite what some people have said, she wasn’t a finalist. We’d done a nationwide search, but we couldn’t find anyone [director] Adrian Lyne liked. At the end of one session, the casting woman said, ‘I have this girl coming in, I worked with her on anther movie. She was basically just an extra, but she’s really interesting.’

That girl was Jennifer Beals, who flew in from doing a semester abroad, I think, and stopped by the office around 8 p.m. They’d lost her luggage, so she was pretty haggard. We thought, ‘Eh, what’s the big deal here?’ And Adrian said, ‘That’s the girl.’ He got a makeup artist and photographed her, and she looked absolutely gorgeous. Adrian always had a great eye for women.

We did tests with three final candidates, and Paramount still couldn’t make a decision. So we had all the secretaries at the studio look at the tests and pick the girl they liked, and they chose Jennifer. She couldn’t do most of the dance scenes, but we were never worried. You always try to get someone who can act first and she could. Do big action stars do all their stunts? Of course they don’t.”

Top Gun, 1986
“We didn’t necessarily encounter resistance to making a pro-military movie. The most resistance we got was that so-called ‘aviation’ movies hadn’t been doing well. That reticence was that there is no interest in flying movies. But that’s why we kept pushing to make it. We liked to do things that fans hadn’t seen for a long time. That’s actually why we made Pirates of the Caribbean. You hadn’t seen a good pirate movie in a very long time!

We didn’t look at any other actors to play the lead. It was always Tom Cruise. He was the one we wanted, and we chased him. He delayed it and delayed it. I even arranged for the Blue Angels to fly over where he was staying to get him to say yes. And also we only ever wanted Tony Scott to direct. He was absolutely first and foremost a visual artist. And fearless. He, Don, and I went on rafting trip once on the Colorado River. We were sitting around the campfire and look up and see Tony climbing up a rock wall with bare hands. He was a machine.”

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984
“I can still barely believe that this was the top grossing movie of 1984. And it was an R-rated comedy, too. This was way before Judd Apatow movies. Mickey Rourke was initially considered for the part. Then Sylvester Stallone. When we turned the script into Paramount, they said, ‘We have a pay and play deal with Stallone.’ So Stallone rewrote it, it got very expensive, and they didn’t want to spend the money. We said, ‘Have him cut the budget,’ they said, ‘He won’t.’

We’d always wanted to go to Eddie Murphy so we got him, and Paramount gave Stallone’s rewrite back to him and he turned that into a movie called Cobra. Eddie had left Saturday Night Live by then and he’d just done Trading Places. He was on his way to becoming a huge star. And we made the movie we wanted to make.

This was also my third film with my [late] producing partner Don Simpson. We had very similar taste, yet we were totally different. I’m a Jewish kid from Detroit, he was a Christian from Alaska. Totally different upbringings. Also, he’d worked at Paramount for quite a while at that point, as head of production. He would develop 125 movies a year and make 20. He had a great sense of story and how to develop it; which writers work, which were frauds. I’d been making one movie after the next. I knew how to produce. He had no knowledge of that process, he sat behind a desk all day, so I taught him. And he educated me on how to deal with Hollywood politics. Don was my best friend. He left us too soon. But he will always be young and I know he’s watching everything we do.”

Jerry Bruckheimer on Top Gun, Flashdance, More