Over at War is Boring, a post by Robert Beckhusen on the more dramatic appearances of the F-35 fighter has made in Hollywood films--which have not been much more flattering than the real history of the plane's notoriously troubled development program.
The most interesting part of the post, however, has to do with a film that has not moved out of development hell in three decades, Top Gun 2. Apparently recent plans for that film had Tom Cruise returning as an F-35 test pilot before the project was put on hiatus by the suicide of director Tony Scott--while also being troubled by "uncertainty about the F-35's role in a military increasingly focused on unmanned aircraft." This made the film's planners consider the possibility of having Maverick remotely pilot an aircraft instead, then discard the idea, perhaps because the image of a person sitting in a trailer hundreds or thousands of miles from the combat is less dramatic than one in the cockpit of an aircraft taking direct fire. And in any case, the manned aircraft still has some years ahead of it, especially in the fighter role (where drones are still not serious players).1
Still, the scarcity of plausible scenarios where the United States might take on another country with an air force credible enough to engage its planes in a serious battle, and the increasingly remote nature of the more high-tech forms of combat, are making the techno-thriller harder to pull off--and at least where the big screen was concerned, this was already tough enough back when the original was made. That movie, after all, offered only a very thinly sketched scenario involving an unnamed country as a pretext for the climactic air battle. Unsurprisingly, F-35s--and other American fighters--have been far more prone to go into action against quite different sorts of threats, as in The Avengers and Man of Steel, and this seems likely to remain the case.
There has been no word, however, on whether those behind the Top Gun 2 project have seriously considered sending the movie's pilots up against an alien invasion, the way that a plot line involving an alien was apparently considered for the next sequels to that other giant of military-themed '80s action, Rambo--not that I see that movie getting made any time soon.
1. Combat drones have been much more prominent in the reconnaissance/surveillance and air-to-ground roles (as with the MQ-9 Reaper, or the X-47 now in development), rather than the more complex functioning of taking on other aircraft.