In the 30-plus 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.”
In the famous scene, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) play volleyball against Mav’s ultimate adversary, Iceman (Val Kilmer), and his co-pilot Slider (Rick Rossovich). 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).
Director Tony Scott knew full well that women and men alike would likely be titilated by the sight of the shirtless actors and eagerly put the film’s pretty-boy pilots on fully oiled display.
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 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.
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.
Now famous for his provocative fashion and celebrity photography, Bruce Weber’s first book “Looking Good: A Guide for Men” served as inspiration for the look of the Navy pilots depicted in “Top Gun.”
“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.”
Compared to the fighter jet aerials, 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.
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.”