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Does Val Kilmer talk in Top Gun: Maverick?

Val Kilmer in uniform in Top Gun: Maverick
Val Kilmer as Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun: Maverick featured incredible stunts and an exciting new cast of characters alongside Tom Cruise’s hotshot pilot Maverick, but there was one scene, in particular, that got many moviegoers choked up — the reunion between the original Top Gun characters, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer).

In addition to the reunion scene between the iconic duo coming at a key point in the movie, considering the well-documented medical issues that Kilmer has had in recent years (throat cancer and a tracheotomy) it was great to see Kilmer back on the big screen, in what is one of his most recognized roles.

If you’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick and were wondering about how the team made that scene between Cruise and Kilmer happen, we dig into it all below. 

*SPOILERS* ahead if you have not yet seen the movie (why??) — and here’s how to watch Top Gun: Maverick if you still haven't.

What is Val Kilmer’s medical history?

Val Kilmer documentary

Val Kilmer in Val documentary (Image credit: A24)

Val Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. Though he has emerged from his battle with the disease, as part of his treatment he underwent a tracheotomy that has severely impacted his ability to speak. In the 2021 documentary Val, which chronicled his life, career and his illness, we saw Kilmer speaking using a voice box.

While this has impacted some of Kilmer’s acting roles (most notably, he was redubbed in the 2017 movie The Snowman (opens in new tab)), he has continued to work, albeit in mostly smaller movies. Top Gun: Maverick marked the first time, in a long time, that many movie fans saw Kilmer on the big screen, particularly post-cancer. 

What is Val Kilmer’s scene in Top Gun: Maverick

Early on in Top Gun: Maverick it is made abundantly clear by Jon Hamm’s Cyclone that Cruise’s Maverick has been brought back as an instructor at the TOP GUN fighter school solely at the request of Val Kilmer’s Iceman, who is now Admiral of the Pacific Fleet of the US Navy. 

We see a picture of Kilmer in the halls of the military base, but for the early part of the movie, the only communication that Iceman has with Maverick is through text. That is until Iceman texts Maverick asking to meet him following a particularly tough day of training.

Maverick goes to Iceman’s home where he is greeted by Iceman’s wife, who reveals that an illness Iceman had previously suffered from (it is never specifically mentioned, but we suspect it's supposed to be that ever-present disease, cancer) is back. Maverick goes to talk with his friend and former rival and the two share a heart-to-heart about Rooster, how Maverick needs to learn to let go but also how the Navy still needs pilots like him. 

The scene ends with a wonderful moment as Iceman asks Maverick who the better pilot is, to which Maverick smiles and wryly replies, "Let’s not ruin the moment."

How did Val Kilmer talk in Top Gun: Maverick?

Whatever illness Admiral Tom Kazansky (aka Iceman) suffers from in Top Gun: Maverick, it does not allow him to easily speak. This cleverly aligns with Kilmer’s medical issues. The solution for much of the scene is for Iceman to type his questions and thoughts to Maverick on a computer. It actually works really well, allowing the audience to see Cruise really internalize these tough questions as he reads them before responding.

However, Iceman actually does speak his final few lines to Maverick — which Kilmer did using his real voice.

Both Kilmer and director Joseph Kosinski have spoken about how emotional it was to shoot that reunion scene. Kilmer shared that the scene changed quite a bit as they tried to figure out how Iceman should be expressing himself with Maverick, before ultimately deciding to use his real voice. Kosinski said it was an emotional day on set for everyone and that Kilmer’s real voice allow those lines to "carry more weight." Kilmer agreed it was the right call for the scene.

What happens to Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick?

The cast of Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Jerry Bruckheimer Films)

After the meeting with Iceman Maverick begins to make progress with the pilots he's training, using Iceman's wise words as a guide. Sadly, all too he gets a call to say that Iceman has died. A military funeral takes place with full honors — a 21 gun salute and a fly-over. Maverick puts the Navy insignia on his coffin, saying goodbye to his old foe and best supporter.

More Top Gun: Maverick

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.