Behind-the-Scenes Action Photos of Tom Cruise Filming Top Gun: Maverick (aka Top Gun 2)

Tom Cruise running through the snow while filming Top Gun: Maverick

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One unique aspect of Tahoe’s local history is that Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains have provided the backdrop or centerpiece for countless Hollywood movies. In fact, during December of 2018, mega-star Tom Cruise was filming a pivotal winter action scene for Top Gun: Maverick aka Top Gun 2 in Washoe Meadows State Park. This relatively small state park is located in South Lake Tahoe, and happens to be in my (figurative) backyard. And, other than the production crew, I believe I’m the only person on the planet to have witnessed and captured images of Tom Cruise filming this brief but exciting winter action sequence.

Top Gun: Maverick is set to premiere in June of 2020.

This movie is the long-awaited sequel to the original hit action film Top Gun (1986), which essentially rocketed Tom Cruise into stardom.

The first official trailer for Top Gun: Maverick was released in July of 2019.

Mount Tallac with helicopter flying in the sky
Mount Tallac is featured prominently in the background as the Top Gun: Maverick production helicopter flies circles around Washoe Meadows State Park on December 10, 2018. © Jared Manninen

In December of 2018, Tom Cruise and the movie’s production crew filmed at two locations in South Lake Tahoe.

One location was the Lake Tahoe airport and the other was in Washoe Meadows State Park.

The bulk of the photos I present in this article were taken at the state park on the morning of December 11, 2018.

Tom Cruise talking with Top Gun: Maverick production crew members
Tom Cruise speaking with members of the Top Gun: Maverick production crew before filming three different versions of himself getting up (after having landed with a parachute) and running toward the forest. © Jared Manninen

I’ve previously published articles about hiking Washoe Meadows State Park, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Washoe Meadows State Park. So, you can actually visit the exact same location of this scene from Top Gun: Maverick. See either of those articles for a map illustrating where this scene took place.

The production helicopter from Top Gun: Maverick flying overhead. I had to take cover in the trees to avoid being spotted. © Jared ManninenThe production helicopter from Top Gun: Maverick flying overhead. © Jared Manninen

Please note that all of the images I photographed of Tom Cruise filming this scene for Top Gun: Maverick were done on public land. And, I did not impede, distract, or otherwise interfere with the filming of this scene.

Also note that all of the images published in this article are Copyright © 2018 Jared Manninen. You may not use, share, or copy any of these images without my consent (Jared Manninen), and then only after I receive full payment from you.

Tom Cruise taking a moment between scenes on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise taking a moment between scenes on the set of Top Gun: Maverick. One of the members of the production crew holds his iconic flight helmet. © Jared Manninen

Top Gun: Maverick Comes to Tahoe

According to flyers posted by the production company at homes located near Washoe Meadows State Park, filming was scheduled to take place in the park on Friday (12/7) and Monday (12/10).

Then, the production crew would spend Tuesday (12/11) and Wednesday (12/12) cleaning up and restoring the site.

Lake Tahoe filming notification for Top Gun: Maverick
This lime green photocopied filming notification for Top Gun: Maverick was hand-posted at each home neighboring Washoe Meadows State Park. As you can see, there’s no mention of Top Gun: Maverick and, instead, the notification features the bogus title of “Orpheum.” © Jared Manninen

The reality, however, was that they actually had to return on Tuesday to finish filming. The weather conditions were too different between the Friday and Monday shoots.

The skies were dreary and overcast the previous Thursday (12/6) when the production crew began preparing the site. Those cloudy skies persisted until midday Friday.

Crew members prepare a filming location in the snowy meadow for a winter scene in Top Gun: Maverick
By December 6, 2018, the production company for Top Gun: Maverick had already begun to start preparing for the scene featured in this article. Note that the tree directly behind the crew member (right side of photo) is covered with artificial snow. It’s a fallen tree and the prominent “branches” are actually it roots sticking up in the air. It’s obvious to me that the snow is artificial, but this is confirmed by the fact that none of the trees directly behind the staged one are covered in snow. © Jared Manninen

The weather cleared up Friday afternoon, and when they returned on Monday to continue filming the winter scene for Top Gun: Maverick, the lighting and landscape had completely changed. Now the skies were mostly clear and blue.

I spoke with a crew member on Monday (12/10). She confirmed that the conditions were so different that they were forced to film a third day in order to create plausible continuity between scenes.

A small road in the middle of Washoe Meadows State Park where the production crew setup shop when filming Top Gun: Maverick in December (2018). Freel Peak is seen in the distance (right of center). This image was taken on the afternoon of Monday, December 10, 2018. © Jared ManninenA small road in the middle of Washoe Meadows State Park where the production crew setup shop when filming Top Gun: Maverick in December (2018). Mount Tallac is seen in the distance on the far right. Yellow signs were posted along the road explaining that the meadow was temporarily closed and to stay on the road. This image was taken on the afternoon of Monday, December 10, 2018. © Jared Manninen

For me, this altered filming schedule was fortuitous because I completely missed Friday’s shoot due to my job. And, I didn’t make it down to the state park the following Monday until later in the day.

Had the production company not come back to film on Tuesday, I would’ve never seen Tom Cruise nor captured these images of him filming this exciting winter scene for Top Gun: Maverick.

Production crew and equipment on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
The production crew for Top Gun: Maverick staged on the small road in the middle of Washoe Meadows State Park (featured above). Tom Cruise is in the snow at the very far left (second person from left). © Jared Manninen

Maverick is Grounded in Top Gun: Maverick (speculation on a winter action scene)

If I were a professional paparazzi or celebrity gossip reporter, I might insert a SPOILER alert here. However, I’m a nobody without any connection to the production of Top Gun: Maverick. So, take my interpretation of the following featured Top Gun: Maverick winter scene with a grain of salt.

Tom Cruise looks toward the sun as he waits between scenes while filming Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise preparing for his scene of getting up from the ground and running through the snow while filming Top Gun: Maverick. © Jared Manninen

The scene I captured on December 11, 2018, shows Tom Cruise getting up from the snow-covered ground and running in the direction of the forest.

Although this scene is brief, I believe it has the potential to be a pivotal scene for the movie.

Click this paragraph for a GIF I created of Maverick getting up from the snow and running for his life after having to eject from his jet. I admit the quality of this GIF is a bit rough, but the sequence was created out of 50 photos I shot. I also happened to be laying on a sheet of ice in 25 degree (F) weather at the time and without a tripod. This was the third and final take of the scene of Tom Cruise running through the snow. It was also the most dynamic of the three attempts and I hope it’s the one that makes the final cut of the movie. © Jared Manninen

At its most basic level, Top Gun is about a gifted pilot (Maverick) who has the ability to fly and maneuver his jet in extraordinary ways. He’s a total risk taker, and that demeanor and willingness to push the envelope is mirrored in his personal life.

Metaphors aside, Top Gun is ultimately an exciting movie about a fighter pilot flying jets.

But here we have that exceptional pilot grounded, literally. For reasons unknown, Maverick had to eject from his jet.

Tom Cruise takes a knee to release himself from his parachute harness while filming Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise, as Maverick, hurriedly tries to free himself from his parachute harness in an effort to evade capture and/or death from his pursuers. © Jared Manninen

I believe he’s running from an enemy who shot down his jet.

Whether that enemy consisted of another fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile strike (or both), I couldn’t say. But it definitely looks like he was attacked while flying versus experiencing a mechanical failure with his jet (causing him to eject).

Tom Cruise on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise walks back to his starting point after having sprinted away in the snow. © Jared Manninen

My assumption is based on his reaction upon getting up. At first he appears slightly disoriented, but when he gains his bearings he stands up and tries to immediately run away. Although, his parachute harness prevents him from getting far. So he takes a knee and releases himself from the harness.

Then he sprints across the snow as if he were running for his life.

Tom Cruise being attended to by a member of the Top Gun: Maverick production team
As Tom Cruise walks back to his starting point, a member of the production crew dusts off the snow from his gear with a brush. © Jared Manninen

Throughout the scene, he looks to be under duress. Therefore, I believe there’s either a follow-up strike by a pursuing jet fighter or a ground component (perhaps on snowmobiles?) in hot pursuit of him. I lean toward the latter based on the local casting call for extras (mentioned below).

The direction from which he’s running is an open meadow and the sun is overhead and to his back. He’s also dealing with at least knee-high snow. So he’s totally exposed and open to a follow-up attack by his pursuers.

For all intents and purposes, Maverick is dead in the water (snow!). That is, unless he can reach the forest and find some cover.

Tom Cruise, wearing his flight helmet, and taking a moment to reset between filming scenes for Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise in-between takes while filming Top Gun: Maverick in South Lake Tahoe. © Jared Manninen

Casting Call for Extras for Top Gun: Maverick

Talking with friends around South Lake Tahoe, I heard there had been a casting call for local men willing to be extras in Top Gun: Maverick. I heard that the prerequisites for applying to be an extra were:

  • Former military or law enforcement
  • Familiarity with hand-to-hand combat training
  • Capable of running through the snow without getting winded easily
  • You had to be clean-shaven
Tom Cruise looks toward the sun as he waits between scenes while filming Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise getting prepared to film his scene running through the snow on the set of Top Gun: Maverick in South Lake Tahoe on December 11, 2018. © Jared Manninen

I heard about this casting call well after the fact. However, the beard thing would’ve eliminated me from the pool outright.

Although, I would’ve considered shaving if it would’ve meant going mano a mano with the Maverick himself.

Production team member dressed in white on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
Unidentified crew member on the set of Top Gun: Maverick. Either this person is a member of the production team and dressed in white so as not to draw attention to himself while performing a technical duty. Or, he’s an enemy combatant waiting for his chance to take on Maverick. Perhaps this is a Tahoe local fulfilling an extra’s role. © Jared Manninen

I did find the clean-shaving criteria (if it was actually true) to be humorous. South Tahoe is a mountain town and we were in winter (i.e. good luck finding a dude that’s clean shaven in December at Lake Tahoe!).

Tom Cruise smiling while filming Top Gun: Maverick
Exhaust from one of the ATVs driving by casts a haze over this image. However, Tom Cruise’s quintessential smile is not diminished while filming Top Gun: Maverick. If I recall correctly, Tom Cruise had finished filming his running scene at this point. © Jared Manninen

Alternate Tahoe-related Filming Location for Top Gun: Maverick that Never Happened

Another story I heard after the fact was that instead of filming the winter scene at Washoe Meadows State Park, a location scouting crew for Top Gun: Maverick had originally visited Tahoe Donner. Specifically, the group was looking to film in the Euer Valley in Tahoe Donner Association, near Truckee, CA.

Why is this interesting (at least to me)? Because I work at Tahoe Donner Cross Country in the winter. And, one of my friends and former co-workers was the person who drove the scouting team around the property.

Tom Cruise, as Maverick, puts on his flight helmet to prepare for his scene of recovering from having ejected from his jet. © Jared ManninenTom Cruise, as Maverick, puts on his flight helmet to prepare for his scene of recovering from having ejected from his jet. © Jared ManninenTom Cruise, as Maverick, puts on his flight helmet to prepare for his scene of recovering from having ejected from his jet. © Jared ManninenTom Cruise, as Maverick, puts on his flight helmet to prepare for his scene of recovering from having ejected from his jet. © Jared Manninen

Access to the Euer Valley is along a narrow dirt road. Since filming was going to occur in December, the whole situation had the potential to turn into a shit sandwich. Basically, if they had staged all their gear down there and then been hit with an epic snowstorm while filming, there would’ve been the chance that the equipment would’ve had to remain there until the spring. Just think the Donner Party.

So, my friend asked about airlifting the gear in and out of the valley via helicopter. They agreed it was possible. But once they started mentioning the low flying jets they’d be sending over the property, the deal was basically off.

Interestingly, jets never flew low over anywhere near Tahoe anyway. So, it seems they could’ve filmed at Tahoe Donner after all. That would’ve been funny since their first day of filming in South Tahoe was the start of my work weekend at Tahoe Donner Cross Country. I may have seen some of the filming on Friday after all!

Tom Cruise filming Top Gun: Maverick and wearing sunglasses
I swear it looks like Tom Cruise is giving somebody the finger. © Jared Manninen

Last Piece of Gossip about Top Gun: Maverick being Filmed at Lake Tahoe

Another anecdote about the filming of Top Gun: Maverick at Lake Tahoe deals is about the scenes filmed at the Lake Tahoe airport. I’m an opportunist not a paparazzi. So, since Washoe Meadows State Park is just a street away from my home, that was convenient for me to visit.

Tom Cruise staring back at the camera while filming Top Gun: Maverick
There’s no way Tom Cruise could’ve seen me photographing him while filming Top Gun: Maverick. I was approximately 350 meters away, hidden within some trees, and the sun was above and behind me. But there he is staring directly at me. The only reason I don’t believe he actually saw me is because he continued on with his business without notifying anyone of my presence. He couldn’t easily said something after this because this was at the end of the final take for this particular scene. © Jared Manninen

On the other hand, I had no interest in trying to get pictures of Tom Cruise at the airport location.

Besides, I heard from locals who have business at the airport (South Lake Tahoe’s City Council operates out of the airport) that signs were posted at the airport discouraging taking pictures or video during the days the production crew was onsite.

Tom Cruise takes a break between scenes on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise standing among the production crew. I found it interesting how little he spoke with others while filming his scenes. © Jared Manninen

Along those lines, the rumor was that if you were caught snapping photos during that time, your recording device (whether that be a phone or camera) was confiscated immediately. But then the production company would write you a check for $10,000 (?) to compensate you for your loss.

This sounds like bullshit to me but if it was true, it would’ve been a nice payout!

Tom Cruise taking a moment between scenes on the set of Top Gun: Maverick
Seeing Tom Cruise from behind as he waits for the production crew to reset the location in which they’re filming him running through the snow. © Jared Manninen

Lastly, if you’re ever driving through the town of Lone Pine (US 395 just east of Mount Whitney), I highly recommend visiting the Lone Pine Film Museum. The museum was founded in 2006. It has information and movie memorabilia dating back to the first movies filmed in the Southern Sierra (circa 1920). I highly recommend visiting the museum.

OK, the photos I took aren’t the best. I was 350 meters away and I only have a 300mm lens. However, they’re mine. So enjoy looking at my photos of Tom Cruise as he’s filming this winter action scene for Top Gun: Maverick, but don’t steal my shit. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free.