Who is Penny in Top Gun: Maverick?

Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick
Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick (Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Jerry Bruckheimer Films)

Top Gun: Maverick brings back Tom Cruise’s iconic character Maverick for what has proven to be one of the biggest movies of 2022, loved by both critics and audiences. While it’s great to see Cruise put the aviators back on as Maverick, what helps make Top Gun: Maverick soar is the new characters in the Top Gun: Maverick cast, not least of which is the new love interest, Penny Benjamin.

Top Gun: Maverick takes place 30 years after the original Top Gun and sees Maverick return to the TOP GUN fighter school to teach a group of young pilots to take on an incredibly dangerous mission. While we get to meet new faces like Miles Teller’s Rooster, Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, Glenn Powell’s Hangman and Jon Hamm’s Cyclone, we also get a special appearance from Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the movie. But Penny Benjamin, played by Jennifer Connelly, stands out just as much as the ace pilots (maybe more).

So who is Penny in Top Gun: Maverick, let’s take a look.

Who is Penny in Top Gun: Maverick?

Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick

Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick (Image credit: PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS)

Penny Benjamin is introduced in Top Gun: Maverick as the owner and bartender at the bar popular with Top Gun and other military personnel. It is clear that she and Maverick have known each other for a long time. She is also a single mom to a teenage daughter, Amelia (Lyliana Wray).

Penny becomes a confidant to Maverick, as well as his love interest. She is able to be honest with him about his connection with Rooster — who is the son of Maverick’s old co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards) — while also teaching the hotshot pilot a thing or two about adrenaline-fueled water sports. (We're talking about sailing, Maverick is in the Navy after all). This all builds to the two of them rekindling their past relationship.

Who plays Penny in Top Gun: Maverick?

The actress who plays Penny is Jennifer Connelly. Connelly is an Oscar-winning actress (Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind) who has been working in Hollywood since she was a teenager. Her first credited role was in Sergio Leone’s crime epic Once Upon a Time in America as the young Deborah. She would famously go on to star in a broad range of movies: gothic fantasy Labyrinth, The Rocketeer, Daren Aronovsky's bleak drama Requiem for a Dream and Blood Diamond with Leonardo di Caprio, as well as recently starring in the TV series Snowpiercer.

Connelly was two upcoming projects listed on IMDb: the upcoming Apple TV Plus series Dark Matter alongside Joel Edgerton and the dark comedy movie Bad Behaviour from Alice Englert and co-starring Ben Whishaw.

What is Penny and Maverick's history?

It's made clear early on in Top Gun: Maverick that Penny and Maverick have a history together. Though this is the first time that we're seeing Penny Benjamin in the flesh, that history is referenced in the original Top Gun film (1986).

In the early part of Top Gun when a commanding officer is chewing out Maverick and Goose, he scolds Maverick for his history of high-speed passes — not just of air control towers but of "one admiral's daughter." This causes Goose to lean over to Maverick and whisper the name "Penny Benjamin" into his ear. She's brought up again by Goose's wife (Meg Ryan), who said Goose told her about "the time you went ballistic with Penny Benjamin."

Penny and Maverick appear to have an on-again-off-again relationship. When they meet again, in Top Gun: Maverick, despite their instant connection Penny firmly says they're not going down that path again. When they inevitably do, Amelia sternly tells Maverick not to break her mother's heart again.

What happened to Kelly McGillis' Charlie from Top Gun?

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun (Image credit: Paramount Pictures / PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

With Penny now serving as Maverick's love interest, many Top Gun fans may have been asking what happened to Maverick's relationship with Charlie, played in the first movie by Kelly McGillis.

As Top Gun fans remember, Charlie was a civilian liaison with the TOP GUN Fighter School who became romantically involved with Maverick. After Goose dies and Maverick is tasked with going on his mission, he and Charlie have a falling out. But, after saving the day (of course), Maverick decides to take an instructor position at TOP GUN. Charlie comes back and the two of them appear to restart their relationship.

Ultimately, McGillis was not brought back for the sequel and her character was not even mentioned. Based on what we know about Maverick, as a character, it shouldn't be too surprising that a second go-around with Charlie ultimately fizzled out.

Regarding McGillis specifically, she followed up Top Gun with a solidly busy 80s and 90s, including roles in movies like Made in Heaven, The Accused and The Babe, before things slowed down in the 2000s. She's continued to work now and again, with some of her most recent roles in TV movies An Uncommon Grace and Maternal Secrets and a guest spot on the series Dirty John.

What happens between Penny and Maverick?

Jennifer Connelly and Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

Jennifer Connelly and Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick (Image credit: PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS)

FYI, we're going to go into some SPOILERS to the ending of Top Gun: Maverick.

Maverick is fired from his position as instructor by Cyclone (Jon Hamm), who adjusts the parameters for the mission because he believes Maverick's plan was not possible. Maverick sets out to prove him wrong. Flying unauthorized, Maverick completes the trial course they have been using in the target time — showing that it's difficult but not impossible. The risk pays off. Cyclone brings him back to the program. This time to serve as team leader and fly the mission with his hand-picked pilots.

However, this means that Maverick once again has to leave Penny. He dresses in his full-service dress white uniform to go and tell her. She looks upset but doesn't protest.

Though Maverick and Rooster get into some extra trouble, the mission proves to be a success and everyone returns a hero. In the final moments, Maverick is working on his antique plane when he sees that Penny has shown up — in a swanky 1973 Porsche 911 S, making her out as the true top dog in the relationship. The two embrace and then go flying together.

More on Top Gun: Maverick

Michael Balderston

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. Follow on Letterboxd.