New York CNN Business  — 

Top Gun: Maverick” hits theaters this weekend, marking the return of one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s and 1990s.

We’re not talking about Tom Cruise.

Val Kilmer returns to the screen to reprise his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 blockbuster. Although Cruise is the marquee star of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Kilmer has a notable role, but some younger moviegoers may not realize just how big of a star he once was.

Kilmer’s films have made a huge amount of money over his long career — nearly $2 billion at the global box office, according to Comscore (SCOR). (Cruise has racked up more than $10 billion at the worldwide box office.) Kilmer, like Cruise, became a major star in “Top Gun,” playing “Iceman,” the cocky but cool rival to Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.

After that iconic role, Kilmer starred in a long streak of successful genre-spanning movies: Superhero films like 1995’s “Batman Forever” in which he played the Dark Knight, and memorable turns in Westerns as Doc Holliday in 1993’s “Tombstone,” biopics as Jim Morrison in 1991’s “The Doors” and in crime films as a bank robber in Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, “Heat.”

But “Top Gun: Maverick” is a likely swan song for Kilmer, who underwent a tracheotomy that has completely altered his voice. Kilmer revealed he had throat cancer in 2017, and has largely stepped away from acting.

Kilmer’s off-screen health issues are woven into the story of “Top Gun: Maverick,” giving the sequel a real life emotional layer. If the new film is indeed Kilmer’s last role, it will conclude one of the most interesting — and bankable — careers in Hollywood history.

Last year, Kilmer was featured in “Val,” an intimate documentary that dealt with his health issues and explored his career. The documentary shares interactions he had videotaped with his family and on film sets for years.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporters’ chief film critic, wrote in his review that “Top Gun: Maverick’s” most “moving element comes during the brief screen time of Kilmer’s Iceman, whose health issues reflect those suffered by the actor in real life, generating resonant pathos.”

“There’s reciprocal warmth, even love, in a scene between Iceman and Maverick that acknowledges the characters’ hard-won bond as well as the rivalry that preceded it, with gentle humor,” Rooney wrote.