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

by Suzanne Halliburton

Oh, that Top Gun volleyball scene. It certainly stands the pop culture test of 36 years, doesn’t it? Consider that the sequel couldn’t copy it scene for scene for several reasons.

The main reason being is that Paramount very nearly fired Top Gun director Tony Scott for the iconic scene. Why? The match, which pitted Top Gun pilots on the beach on opposite sides of the net, wasn’t supposed to be more than a blip. It was a paragraph in the script. Yet Scott used a whole day on what had been considered an insignificant scene.

The original Top Gun premiered in 1986. And years later, what do you remember about it?

Tom Cruise’s Maverick buzzing the tower. Maverick riding his motorcycle. Anthony Edwards as Goose doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation and pounding the ivories to Great Balls of Fire. Wife Carole (Meg Ryan) telling him “Hey Goose, you big stud! Take me to bed or lose me forever.” (Sad face, Goose’s death).

Maverick shooting down a MiG and hugging Iceman, his frenemy. Danger Zone. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling on a jukebox. Take My Breath Away for a love scene.

And volleyball scene. We’ll gladly refresh your memory.


Scott Described Top Gun Volleyball Match as ‘Soft Porn’

So that was Maverick and Goose teaming up against Iceman (Val Kilmer) and Slider (Rick Rossovich). Kenny Loggins’ Playing with the Boys is the soundtrack. Maverick’s next move is to go on a date with Charlie, portrayed by Kelly McGillis.

There was a Scott interview included as an extra in the Top Gun 30th anniversary DVD. He said: “I didn’t have a vision of what I was doing other than just doing soft porn,” Scott said.

So no wonder The Hollywood Reporter’s “Behind the Scenes” podcast recently focused on that bit of Top Gun trivia. Scott died almost 10 years ago. But people who worked on Top Gun are still around to talk about how they made the film.

“That scene was scripted as a real game,” Top Gun editor Chris Lebenzon said on the podcast. “They kept score and everything — and Tony shot it like a commercial. And they (studio bosses) were angry.”

Billy Weber, another editor on the movie, recalled the same reaction: “The studio was so pissed off. The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, ‘I’m gonna fire him’ … because he spent a whole day shooting this scene.”

But as we said, time has been kind to the volleyball scene. “And then of course it turns out it’s one of the most famous scenes in a movie,” Weber says.

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

Lebenzon and Weber received an Academy Award nomination for their editing work on Top Gun. And Take My Breath Away won the Oscar for Best Song. Just like in 2022, the 1986 original delighted moviegoers, grossing $356 million, with only a $15 million budget.

Top Gun: Maverick gave a nod to the volleyball scene. * Mild Spoiler Alert * The movie had the pilots playing tag football on the beach. It definitely entertained between the shots of an F-18.