‘Top Gun’ 30th Anniversary: Anatomy of the Iconic (and Homoerotic) Volleyball Scene

Look inside the famous shirtless ‘n’ sweaty sequence with Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer 30 years later

top gun volleyball scene

In the thirty years since “Top Gun” was released, its sporty, bro-mantic volleyball scene has been parodied and oft-mocked for its not-so-subdued sexuality, set to the tune of Kenny Loggins’ “Playing With the Boys.”

Director Tony Scott knew full well that women and men alike would likely be titilated by the sight of shirtless actors Tom Cruise (Maverick), Anthony Edwards (Goose), Val Kilmer (Iceman) and Rick Rossovich (Slider) — and eagerly put the film’s pretty-boy pilots on fully oiled display.

“I didn’t have a vision of what I was doing other than just doing soft porn,” Scott recalled with a laugh in an interview featured in the film’s 30th anniversary Blu-ray/DVD.

Yes, the scene was homoerotic by design, arguably the best expression of Scott’s onscreen interpretation of Bruce Weber’s photography. Speaking of which, if you’d like to see a gallery of shots from the volleyball scene, we’ve got you covered — just click here to experience a pile of sexy stills.

Now famous for his provocative fashion and celebrity photography, Weber’s first book served as inspiration for the look of the Navy pilots depicted in “Top Gun.”

“Handsome, young, virile bodies in the military, and guys in the sand, and the sweat,” Rossovich recalled in an interview on the new Blu-ray.

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The volleyball scene was the one that Scott, who died in 2012, said he struggled with the most. And Paramount executives were nervous about it, too, frightened that Scott may have been taking too much inspiration from Weber — whose artistic photos of nude and scantily clad men were most popular within the gay community at the time.

In the scene, Maverick and Goose play volleyball against Mav’s ultimate adversary, Iceman, and his co-pilot Slider. Aside from that beat, there’s not much more story told during the sweaty sequence except for the buildup of Maverick’s impending hot date with Charlie (Kelly McGillis).

He keeps checking his watch between plays to ensure he gets to Charlie’s house at 5 p.m. — “sharp” as she instructs, in a previous scene. Eventually, he’s late for his first date with the flight instructor, so all that watch-checking somehow didn’t work to his advantage. (Incidentally, there is at least one shot in the scene that’s a clearcut filmmaking gaffe: When Maverick high-fives Goose between plays, his watch is missing!)

In order to make up for what little story is told, the sequence relies heavily on action, music video-style editing, and close-ups.

“I always suspected Tom Cruise might have cooked my volleyball close-ups,” Kilmer lightheartedly recalled in another DVD interview. “If you notice, I don’t have any.” Cooked means the frames were either over or underdeveloped. “I think Tom went in there, a little payola [to get them excised] because I looked good.”

Aside from knowing he needed to flaunt some young, attractive bodies in front of moviegoers, Scott was completely flummoxed. “I knew I had to show off all the guys, but I didn’t have a point of view… so I just shot the shit out of it,” he recalled. “I got the guys to get all their gear off and their pants and sprayed them in baby oil,” he said.

Capturing the fighter jet ariels required painstaking levels of effort by filmmakers — from winning approval from skeptical U.S. Navy leaders to mounting cameras to the planes. By comparison, the setup for the volleyball scene was laughably simple. The production brought in a dump truck of sand, put up a net and filmed it in a matter of hours.

“Tony got the sun just right where he wanted it, and it was just diving into the dirt, into the sand, and having a ball and digging it out,” recalled Rossovich.

When it came to those expert spikes, real volleyball players, oiled up and styled to look like the actors, were used as stand-ins.

Rossovich added some extra acting prowess to the sporty sequence, showing a closeness with Iceman (Kilmer) by putting him in a friendly headlock and performing muscleman poses — which all made the final cut. “I don’t really take care of myself the way I used to,” a visibly aged Rossovich said with a laugh. “But I always have that.”

“Top Gun: 30th Anniversary Steelbook (Limited Edition)” is out now, ahead of the film’s 30th anniversary on May 16.