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'Slider, you stink': Why Tom Cruise's pungent 'Top Gun' smackdown still ranks at 35

Tom Cruise was dangerous in the skies as ace pilot Maverick in "Top Gun," and he was lethal with the smackdown in the action classic that turned 35 on May 16.

Nowhere is Maverick's cut-down acumen more on target than in the missile fired at rival radar intercept officer Slider (Rick Rossovich): "Slider, you stink." – a verbal direct hit from which Rossovich, 63, is still reeling.

"Yeah, Tom really dropped that on me," Rossovich says. "I still get people throwing that line back at me. That was pretty great."

On paper, it doesn't make sense that this corny cut down works. But Cruise literally leans into the line, and Rossovich, with the alpha dog sniff, waits a beat, and just owns it. 

"It's always the delivery," says "Top Gun" producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "Really good actors can make any kind of line sound great."

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Erik Davis, managing editor of movie ticket site, says Cruise pushes the classic schoolyard taunt to a higher level.

"He adds that physicality; that's why it still resonates," Davis says. "Cruise pulled it off."

Rossovich has a funny tale about that scene, which was added midfilming to enhance the "Top Gun" tension between Maverick and rival pilot team Iceman (Val Kilmer) and Slider.

When it was time to shoot the new scene, Rossovich had taken time off from the San Diego set. Director Tony Scott was compelled to track him down at a Los Angeles restaurant – not an easy task in 1985.

"I'm at this restaurant and they brought the phone to my table, which was something that never happened to me before or since," Rossovich says. "I don't know how, but it was Tony Scott on the other end saying, 'You should get back down here, I have a scene for you tomorrow.'"

He hightailed it back to set to gladly take his Cruise smackdown: "I was happy for another scene."

Rossovich didn't even know he had a bead of sweat on his forehead during filming.

"I was a little sweaty in the scene, so it's even more effective," Rossovich says, adding that the line's odor genesis was entirely fictional. "I have used this women’s deodorant my whole life. I was wearing Dove Powder Fresh. So I had no macho stink at all."

But he's happy to own his part in the moment that plays in "Top Gun" smackdown infamy.

"If that scene doesn't work, then you see it over and over the rest of your life," he says. "I have a few of those in my career for sure that I wish I could do again."

"Top Gun" has been revamped with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound for an immersive jet action (and verbal sparring) experience in time for this theatrical rerelease. 

"We amped it up," Bruckheimer. says "Tony Scott had a great ear, so we had a great sound mix to embellish. There's even more clarity and excitement."

The producer suggests viewers who re-watch the film pay attention to specific memorable lines that will resonate with Cruise's return in "Top Gun: Maverick." Cruise's return to the cockpit will see a Nov. 19 release after multiple pandemic-caused delays.

"Listen very carefully. There's going to be some line repeats in ('Maverick')," Bruckheimer says. "So if you're knowledgeable about the first one, you'll pick right up on these."