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Gene Hackman and Top Gun secretly inspired a modern sci-fi classic

If you combine Gene Hackman with Tom Cruise, it turns out that the impressive result is one of the best science fiction movies of the 21st century so far.

Gene Hackman and Top Gun inspired a sci-fi classic

Any actor with as storied a career as Gene Hackman will have inspired countless movies and performances. But you perhaps don’t connect the great man with sci-fi. Even his famed role as Lex Luthor in the Superman movies focused far more on the earthbound side of the story than the bit about flying around wearing a cape.

But it turns out that Gene Hackman had a big role to play in making one of the best science fiction movies of the last 20 years come to fruition. It was Hackman, along with one of the best action movies ever in Top Gun, that inspired Guillermo del Toro to make the fantastic Pacific Rim.

“The two models for Pacific Rim, the two models for the screenplay, are Hoosiers with Gene Hackman and Top Gun,” Del Toro told Collider at a 10th anniversary screening of the 2013 movie about the giant robots built by humans to fight monstrous kaiju emerging from the oceans.

The Hackman connection specifically focuses on the 1986 sports drama Hoosiers, in which one of the best actors of all time played high school basketball coach Norman Dale. It’s forgotten in round-ups of the best ’80s movies, but it received laudatory critical reviews at the time of its release.

Meanwhile, the Top Gun connection with Pacific Rim ran so deep that it almost joined the ranks of the best Tom Cruise movies. Specifically, Cruise got close to playing the badass military leader Stacker Pentecost – owner of the best name in cinema history.

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Del Toro added: “The part that Idris Elba plays, Tom Cruise was gonna do it, and I even had a karaoke. The deal couldn’t be made. He wanted to do it. We were developing stuff, and he couldn’t do it. I thought: ‘You know what? Let’s go with Idris Elba then. He’s a god’. Obviously, I had to rewrite it for that, but I thought it was gonna be an interesting analog to do that. It would have been a lot of fun.”

In some ways, this is very sad. We could have had Tom Cruise in Pacific Rim doing karaoke and ordering soldiers into battle at the helm of skyscraper-sized robots. But instead of making Pacific Rim, Cruise went off and made the exceptional time-loop tale Edge of Tomorrow, which still stands today as one of his best movies.

And also, Idris Elba completely knocked the role out of the park. In particular, he tucked into the climactic “canceling the apocalypse” monologue with scenery-chewing relish. It’s hard to imagine Cruise bringing quite the same gravitas to that joyous moment.

For more on Hackman, find out which car chase Hackman says is even better than The French Connection and learn why Morgan Freeman is furious at Gene Hackman. And if you’re as much of a Del Toro fan as us, find out why we think Pacific Rim is still the movie Transformers wishes it could be.