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How Top Gun's Famous Volleyball Scene Almost Got The Director Fired

Before "Top Gun" soared to the top of the box office in 1986, director Tony Scott was best known for directing the cult vampire film "The Hunger," starring David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. While Scott went on to become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood by helming such hits as "Beverly Hills Cop 2" and "Days of Thunder," it was "Top Gun" that propelled him to A-list status in the late 1980s. And, although he eventually reached prominent director status through his creative efforts, his execution of one of the Tom Cruise breakout feature's most iconic scenes almost got him fired, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In a well-known, nearly two-minute scene, sweat-glistened pilots Maverick (Cruise), Goose (Anthony Edwards), Iceman (Val Kilmer), and Slider (Rick Rossovich) play a game of volleyball while the Kenny Loggins song "Playing With The Boys" blasts in the background. On the movie's 30th anniversary Blu-ray/DVD, Scott joked about the scene, "I didn't have a vision of what I was doing other than just doing soft porn" (per The Wrap). 

On the June 3 episode of The Hollywood Reporter's "Behind the Screen" podcast, Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber, who were nominated for Oscars for their editing on "Top Gun," revealed that at least one Paramount Studios executive was irate upon discovering Scott spent an entire day filming the volleyball scene, which only consisted of a paragraph in the script. Here's what happened next.

The Top Gun volleyball scene was risky business for Tony Scott

According to editor Chris Lebenzon, the "Top Gun" volleyball scene may have looked like a relaxed, fun time, but it didn't go over so well with Paramount. "That scene was scripted as a real game," Lebenzon recalled, continuing, "They kept score and everything — and Tony shot it like a commercial, and they were angry."

"Top Gun" editor Billy Weber further revealed director Tony Scott almost lost his job after filming the volleyball scene that has now become so iconic that it was reimagined for the 2022 sequel "Top Gun: Maverick." Per Weber, "The studio was so p***ed off. The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, 'I'm gonna fire him' ... because he spent a whole day shooting this scene." He concluded, "And then, of course, it turns out it's one of the most famous scenes in a movie."

To pay tribute to the fan-favorite scene, "Top Gun: Maverick" sees Maverick arrange a game of "dogfight football" for the hot-headed graduates from the Top Gun academy he's been tasked with preparing for a dangerous mission. Fans got a sneak peek of the sequence in the earliest trailers for the sequel back, with Paramount clearly having changed their tune in the last 30-plus years on the inclusion of tantalizing sports sequences in their action movies.

If fan reactions are anything to go by, the sequel will be as beloved as the original. The movie raked in more than $400 million worldwide in its first week of release (per Box Office Mojo), and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. On the Reddit thread for reviews of the sequel, one person wrote, "It's beyond impressive. Legitimately one of the best action movies I've ever seen. The third act is incredible."

The volleyball scene had more meaning than you probably realize

For many, the volleyball scene in the original "Top Gun" is simply meant to function as a bit of eye candy for viewers. For a few glorious seconds, audiences get a chance to see some of the hottest actors from the 1980s in peak form play around for a little bit. But according to star Tom Cruise, it's actually more meaningful than that. 

Back in 1986, Cruise sat down for an interview with The Los Angeles Times, where he spoke at length about "Top Gun," including delving into that scene. He talks about how important it is to the overall story more so than simply offering fun vibes, going on to say, "First of all, it shows that to fighter pilots physical prowess is very important. Plus, the scene shows the constant competition between these guys — how they compete on every level."

With tongue firmly in cheek, plenty of people seem to agree that the scene is incredibly important to the film, with one user on YouTube writing, "Without this scene, the plot wouldn't even make any sense." That additional meaning seems to have been lost on some, as most are in agreement that the scene's simply cool and doesn't even need an underlying layer. In the landscape that is cinema, sometimes that's all you need — coolness.