Instead, Kawasaki landed a role in one of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood history.
Top Gun has given us some of the most iconic Hollywood moments of the last half-century, but one of those scenes could've been entirely different. That's because the scene in which Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell (Tom Cruise) races his motorbike against a fighter jet to the sound of Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone was supposed to feature a Honda motorcycle instead of the Kawasaki GPZ900R.
As it turns out, Honda declined the appearance in the iconic film, and the reason has to do with the brand's obsession with Safety. It was this same level of obsession that helped the brand overcome the stigma against Japanese products and live the American Dream with its road car division.
At the recent opening of the American Honda Collection Hall, chronicling the brand's history in the US with everything from bikes to the humble Honda Civic and Acura NSX, Honda representatives regaled us with the story of how Honda missed out on a starring role in the film, all of its own volition.
The story goes that Honda was asked initially to supply the motorbike for Tom Cruise to ride in Top Gun in return for the sweet product placement the film would provide. Honda listened to the pitch and initially seemed keen but put the brakes on the entire thing when it was revealed that Cruise wouldn't be wearing a helmet in the hero scene.
At the time, California didn't have helmet laws for motorbikes, meaning the scene was perfectly legal, but legal wasn't good enough for Honda. Honda valued safety over legality.
If you're a fan of bikes, you might have noticed that every Honda motorcycle image with a person in the frame - either riding the bike or standing next to it - has a helmet involved. Honda insists that official photos and videos feature safety equipment; if someone is riding a bike, they're wearing a helmet, and if the bike is static, there's safety equipment in the frame.
Because the studio was unwilling to compromise the aesthetics of the hero scene, Honda declined the placement, and Kawasaki got to put its GPZ900R in one of the most iconic movie scenes and subsequently feature the Kawasaki H2 in Top Gun: Maverick.
Yet, it's still Honda that dominates the motorcycle industry.