‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Made a Man Eat His Own Shoe, as Well as His Words

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Made a Man Eat His Own Shoe, as Well as His Words

Published May 26, 2022
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By Savannah Walsh

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It’s not often one interviews a person hours after they’ve ingested footwear. Then again, not many people make a wager like Matt Patches. More than a decade ago—on October 26, 2010, at 7:42 p.m., to be exact—the Polygon deputy entertainment editor and podcast host tweeted, “If Top Gun 2 happens, I will eat a shoe.” As Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick blasts into theaters this weekend, Patches has been forced to make good on his promise.  

Shortly after completing the deed, he’s triumphant, if tired. “I’ve gone to great heights. I’ve flown the jet, I’ve landed the jet, I’ve come back. I’ve gone full Maverick,” Patches tells me. “I had a very bad tummy ache that I have survived. I did not go into insulin shock like Charlie Chaplin, thank God.” (Legend has it that Chaplin, who ate a licorice shoe in 1925’s The Gold Rush, had to get his stomach pumped after more than 60 takes of biting into the candied accessory.)

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This was a frivolous bet, Patches tells me, made before his marriage and two kids—one of whom was born just six weeks ago. We’ve lived through three presidencies since then, and Twitter has morphed into an entirely different beast. “Twitter was a bit more of just a public square” in 2010, Patches says. “I would’ve felt like I could just tweet, ‘Eh, I don’t think Top Gun 2 will ever happen, I’d eat a shoe,’ because I’m clowning around with what I think is a small audience of like-minded people.” And now? “I couldn’t imagine even putting that out today, just because I don’t know how it would be interpreted or who would come after me.”

Fresh off his feast, Patches reflects on the tweet that started it all, how one should never underestimate Tom Cruise, and why he’s—somehow—willing to risk everything all over again.

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Vanity Fair: Why were you so convinced that a Top Gun sequel wouldn’t happen?

Matt Patches: I just felt we weren’t mining IP as much back then. It’s hard to imagine a time before The Avengers, but in 2010, we didn’t realize what that machine would even become. What’s most interesting about the tweet is the news that prompted it was Tom Cruise and Tony Scott, the director of Top Gun, were gonna get together with Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the original movie. Growing up reading industry news in the 2000s and in the 2010s, there was a certain type of story that felt like it was designed for the trades just to test the waters. Like, let’s start talking about these long-gestating projects that would never, ever happen.

It seemed impossible, but why would I doubt Tom Cruise? This was the biggest mistake, because Tom Cruise became more committed to doing stunts. I would totally underestimate him, because the incarnation of him where it’s like, “I’m gonna attach myself to a plane and fly in the sky”—that didn’t exist yet. I made a grave error. 

I would’ve guessed, without looking, that I tweeted Top Gun 2 would never happen after Tony Scott passed away in 2012. I just did not see that project moving forward. Again—very, very wrong. 

Luckily, a lot of tweets fade away after a decade-plus. Why do you think this one has stood the test of time and got so many people invested?

What’s the reverse of Babe Ruth pointing to the rafters before his home run? Whatever the opposite of that is what this tweet was. And anytime there was [Top Gun 2] news, this tweet would come back into the memories of people who caught it, and they would propagate. Something about this tweet captured a certain slice of movie-loving people.

I deleted my tweet, like a good journalist, years ago. And that has not stopped the tweet from reappearing. The right people took screen caps and passed them around, which is hilarious. It grounded people in a weird way. The pandemic happened, and that movie was on the calendar for 2020. And it just vanished. There were big questions about what would happen, and some people could find levity in that moment by saying, “What would happen to the shoe eating?” It’s like light at the end of the tunnel in a very weird, internet shitpost way. It was for me too. 

At what point did you come to terms with the fact that Top Gun 2 was happening, and thus your shoe eating would too?

2018 or late 2017, when they started shooting the movie and Tom Cruise put a picture of him and Jerry Bruckheimer on set like, “The team’s back,” or, “Here’s the Top Gun: Maverick logo. We’re on set shooting the first scene.” It’s this feeling of cosmic dread. They’re just going off and making a movie. And for me, I’m gonna have to do something very dumb.

Paramount sent you a cake shaped like a shoe in advance of the movie’s release this week. What was it like to hear from the studio? Should we be expecting a call from Tom Cruise?

I tried to get Tom Cruise in on this. The public strategy for this movie is completely out of whack because of all the delays. Tom is flying all around the world shooting Mission: Impossible movies while jumping out of airplanes to promote Top Gun: Maverick. So don’t get me wrong: I wanted to be scolded by Tom Cruise for doubting Tom Cruise. 

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But the Paramount thing was very funny. The impression I get is Paramount is a studio that is trying to figure out its next move when it doesn’t have Star Wars and Marvel movies under its banner, doesn’t have Jurassic Park, doesn’t have the DC comic book heroes like Warner Bros. Like, what is Paramount? And I don’t think that anything could be more of a victory lap than Top Gun: Maverick apparently being very good. I think they’re trying to have as much fun as humanly possible in making that victory lap, which means owning me online. 

So you’ve eaten their shoe cake as well as the actual shoe?

I will be eating the shoe cake—not in its entirety, because I would truly have some sort of like diabetic shock, right? The way that I have figured out how to eat [an actual] shoe also involves eating massive amounts of sugar unfortunately. I looked back to the masters of shoe eating when I really started getting introspective, and trying to figure out how I could do this in a way that would both honor the bad tweet and make sure my wife didn’t kill me because I would already be dead from eating a shoe. 

I went back to Werner Herzog, [who] did this amazing stunt documented by the great Les Blank back in 1980 called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. He brazes his boot. He had a professional chef—that’s a big difference too. Werner Herzog wanted Errol Morris to get distribution for his documentary, Gates of Heaven. He said he would eat a shoe if Errol Morris finally made his first feature film. Errol Morris is one of the great documentarians now, thanks to Werner Herzog promising to eat a shoe. I am skeptical [about] how much of the shoe Werner Herzog truly eats. I shouldn’t doubt Herzog, because he will throw himself into hell to discover what’s at the bottom. 

But I’m not a German man. I have children too. So I was not gonna go full German Herzog with this. I’m not a cook; I’m not a cobbler. But I am now a fruit cobbler, because I made a shoe out of fruit leather. I made a cast of my foot, and actually made a shoe and wore it around. 

Werner Herzog has a great quote at the end of Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe: “To eat a shoe is a foolish signal, but it was worthwhile. And once in a while I think we should be foolish enough to do things like that.” And I was struck by that. There is higher meaning to eating a shoe. Being dumb online is as important as all of the serious things that have ever happened online. So I’m fully committed to the bit. I do not feel owned. I feel happy that something so stupid has stuck around for so very long, especially in internet years. 

Are you ready to put your next movie-related wager into the world?

Here’s a terrible thing to say: I can’t imagine they’ll make Top Gun 3.

Oh, no. 

And I don’t feel like they will. I shouldn’t doubt it, but I’m kind of skeptical. I don’t know if [the sequel] will do well. It certainly is getting rave reviews. Everyone thinks it might be even better than the original movie, which is pivotal dad cinema, beloved by so many. Yet people think this movie’s better. So, by all accounts in modern Hollywood, if it does well financially around the world, it will get a sequel. [Note: Patches has yet to watch the sequel himself. “I needed to get through my own Maverick moment taking to the skies before I actually engaged with the movie.”]

And yet, I don’t know—I didn’t think Tom Cruise would make Top Gun 2. He doesn’t like doing a lot of sequels. Mission: Impossible is his franchise. I just wonder how many jets you can fly. It’s not like Mission: Impossible, where there’s so many different scenarios you can concoct here. He’d have to wait 20 more years. I have doubts. I will eat—oh no, I will not say this.

You’re going to stop just short of putting it out there?

Yeah. Top Gun 3 won’t happen, but don’t look at me to eat another shoe.

This interview has been edited and condensed.