Audiences were given a special treat in 2022 in the form of Top Gun: Maverick, the blockbuster sequel to late director Tony Scott’s classic 1986 feature. Top Gun is one of the films that catapulted Tom Cruise’s superstardom as a leading man. Similar to the first movie, the sequel brings back Cruise’s signature role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the arrogant but tough and skilled US Navy pilot who can take on any dogfight in the air.
Top Gun: Maverick also has a top-notch cast that brings back the great Val Kilmer as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, as well as plenty of new characters including Miles Teller as Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Jon Hamm as Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, and Glen Powell as Jake “Hangman” Seresin. Penelope “Penny” Benjamin is another key character who happens to be Maverick’s former love interest.
Who Played Penny in Top Gun: Maverick?
In Top Gun: Maverick, Penny is portrayed by Jennifer Connelly, an actress who has taken on various film roles, including her Oscar-winning turn as Alicia Nash (the wife of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.) in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. She also delivered powerfully emotional performances in movies like Ang Lee’s Hulk, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio, and Noah (her second feature with Russell Crowe).
As Penny in the Top Gun sequel, Connelly is charming, caring, and has a little sense of humor. Penny is a single mother with a daughter, Amelia, and owns a bar near Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island. Penny’s bar resembles the bar in the first film since many of the customers are members of the U.S. Navy who enjoy hanging out together by ordering a lot of drinks, playing pool, and cranking up music from the jukebox (or singing along and playing the piano).
How Do Penny and Maverick Know Each Other?
Penny Benjamin used to be Maverick’s girlfriend, long before Maverick fell in love with Top Gun instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (portrayed by Kelly McGillis in the original Top Gun movie). When Maverick first sees Penny at her bar during his return to Top Gun school as an instructor, they both reestablish their chemistry by casually flirting with each other and briefly talking about the past.
There are some comical moments, especially when Penny tells Maverick that he’s required to buy a free round of drinks for all the customers for having his cell phone at the bar table. She also tells Maverick to not give her a certain look, signifying that she won’t be enticed by Maverick’s charms to get her to sleep with him. Penny is not the same person she was years ago when she was in love with Maverick, and cannot afford to be reckless or be thrust back into a relationship that is short-term or won’t work at all, especially with her daughter Amelia as her top priority.
Was Penny In Top Gun?
Penny Benjamin was not in Top Gun, but her name is mentioned a couple of times in the film. After an intense opening aerial dogfight sequence, Maverick and his best friend (radar intercept officer Nick “Goose” Bradshaw) are ordered into the office of their leader, Commander Tom “Stinger” Jardian. Stinger directs his attention to Maverick, mentioning how he is a great pilot but also a reckless one who’s gotten himself into trouble, including the time he was caught sleeping with an admiral’s daughter (referring to Penny). During the same scene, Goose whispers Penny Benjamin’s name to Maverick.
In another scene, Maverick and Charlie are hanging out at a bar with Goose, his wife Carole (one of Meg Ryan’s earliest roles), and Bradley (who becomes Rooster in the sequel). Carole knows about Maverick’s previous relationship with Penny after admitting that Goose told her about it (along with every woman who’s been in Maverick’s life). Carole also tells Charlie that Maverick is the one who’s popular with the ladies. The mention of Penny Benjamin in the first film signifies Maverick’s romantic side, even though he is a man who’s primarily about the mission and being the best pilot he can be.
The Pros and Cons of Penny’s Characterization
While the mention of Penny Benjamin in Top Gun is a perfect setup for the character’s initial appearance in the sequel, she lacks some depth and is mostly depicted as Maverick’s rekindled love interest. There’s also not much background on her father, who was an admiral. Perhaps if there’s another Top Gun sequel (or a prequel), more of Penny’s characterization and her history with Maverick can be explored further. There can also be more backstory surrounding Penny’s father, his time as an admiral, and his encounters with Maverick.
Nonetheless, Jennifer Connelly gives it her all as Penny in terms of expressing her compassion towards Maverick and understanding the challenging road he’s endured as a pilot. It would have been interesting if Kelly McGillis returned as Charlie in the sequel, and how her relationship with Maverick would’ve continued considering how strong their chemistry was in the first movie (or if Charlie and Penny met and created a love triangle for Maverick). Penny resembles many qualities of Charlie because of her elegance, kindness, and likability.
Charlie’s absence in the sequel may be due to her age and/or the fact that her character was offered another job in Washington towards the end of the first film, but Penny is a respectable female protagonist because of her connection with Maverick, her successful business as a bar owner to bring together members of the U.S. Navy, and her responsibility as a mother to her daughter.