Why the Iconic ‘Top Gun’ Beach Volleyball Scene Almost Got Director Tony Scott Fired

Top Gun has many iconic moments that fans remember fondly. One of these moments is the volleyball game featuring a shirtless Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise. It became a highlight for many fans of Top Gun, but Paramount was not happy about this scene before the movie came out. Director Tony Scott almost got fired over the Top Gun beach volleyball scene.

The ‘Top Gun’ beach volleyball scene is a memorable moment for many fans

Tom Cruise appears as Maverick in Tony Scott's Top Gun, which includes the iconic beach volleyball scene
Tom Cruise as Maverick | CBS via Getty Images

In Top Gun, the pilots take a break from their flying to participate in a beach volleyball competition. In the scene, all the pilots are shirtless and rocking shiny, muscular bodies. Both Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer are involved in this sequence as the two face off and build their rivalry. 

The beach volleyball scene also featured the Kenny Loggins song, “Playing With the Boys,” which only adds to the cheesy nature of the sequence. It’s straight out of the 1980s and gave audiences at the time plenty of joy, even if the scene has little to do with the actual plot. 

Director Tony Scott almost got fired over the volleyball scene

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Top Gun editors Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber talked about their experience with the original film. The two began speaking about the soundtrack and how certain songs were chosen for the movie. 

When discussing “Playing With the Boys,” Lebenzon and Weber mentioned how the scene was supposed to be a lot shorter, but Scott took up a whole day to film it. In the script, the scene was only “a paragraph long.”

“The volleyball scene. ‘Playing With the Boys,’” Lebenzon said. “That scene was scripted as a real game. Remember they kept score and everything, and Tony shot it like a commercial and they were angry.”

“The studio was so pissed off,” Weber added. “The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, ‘I’m gonna fire him,’ meaning Tony, because he spent a whole day shooting this scene. And then of course it turns out it’s one of the most famous scenes in the movie.”

“We didn’t expect it,” Lebenzon continued. “And it was interesting to edit. I had never done a commercial before or a music video. And that was Tony’s forte.” 

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ pays homage to the beach volleyball scene

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The late director ended up knowing more than the studio as this scene became iconic. In Top Gun: Maverick, the beach volleyball scene is brought back, but with a twist. Now, the pilots are playing beach football and the sequence has more of a tie to the narrative. 

Speaking with the press at CinemaCon 2022 (shared via Cinemablend), director Joseph Kosinski said they wanted to include something similar to the volleyball scene, but they wanted to make it different. 

“We didn’t want to be the cover band version of Top Gun,” Kosinski said. “So our talented screenwriters figured out a way that that scene actually has a story to it. You’ll see it has a very specific point that Maverick is making that scene happen. But the scene itself, I almost feel like Glen’s almost better to talk it out because for the actors this was the Super Bowl of, you know, shirtless scenes. The amount of hard work you had to put in ahead of time, and when the day came, you know just as an aside, I originally conceived it as shirts vs. skins, so when we got to the beach that day I was kind of dividing it up, and very quickly found out that no one (was) looking to keep their shirt on. They were like, ‘No way, I worked too hard.’”

Top Gun: Maverick is now in theaters. 

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