An iconic Top Gun scene landed the director in hot water, here's why

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
(Image credit: Sky)

The original Top Gun movie is full of iconic moments: highly trained pilots maneuvering their fighter jets gracefully through the air, singing karaoke in a dive bar, Tom Cruise riding his motorcycle along the tarmac and volleyball. Yeah, volleyball. Believe it or not, one of the most talked about and memorable scenes from the movie almost cost director Tony Scott his job.

Oscar-nominated editors Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber worked on the original film and in a recent episode of THR’s Behind the Screen podcast they reflect on how the volleyball scene enraged Paramount executives.

"The studio was so pissed off," Weber said. "The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, 'I'm gonna fire him' … because he spent a whole day shooting this scene."

The "him" in question is legendary filmmaker Scott and the ire came about because the equally legendary volleyball scene was only written as a paragraph in the script. Spending an entire day on a scene that seemingly had so little significance in the larger plot of the movie was unheard of at the time. Even now, the cost of one day of filming would generally prohibit that kind of time and energy to shoot a volleyball game... unless it's for a Tom Cruise movie.

Scott's vision for the scene was to shoot it like a commercial. "That scene was scripted as a real game," Lebenzon, who also worked on Top Gun: Maverick, noted. "They kept score and everything."

"And then of course it turns out it's one of the most famous scenes in the movie," Weber added.

Before the movie's release, Cruise was a rising star but he hadn’t quite reached the superstardom he's known for. Scott had yet to direct a massive hit; he'd go on to direct box office blockbusters like True Romance, Crimson Tide and Spy Game. Top Gun, of course, is the film credited with putting them both on the map. These days, Cruise's star power alone gives him the latitude to do whatever he likes on a film set. Not only is he one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, but studios trust his judgement. 

Looking back, Paramount's anger was reasonable enough in that moment, but we can all agree that Scott's vision was spot on. Thankfully, Scott held his ground and created a masterpiece set to the catchy tune of Kenny Loggins' "Playing with the Boys."

Top Gun would not have been the same without the volleyball scene, even if it had absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It's why there's a beach football scene in Top Gun: Maverick and we're not complaining. 

Sarabeth Pollock
Editorial Content Producer


Sarabeth joined the What to Watch team in May 2022. An avid TV and movie fan, her perennial favorites are The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, true crime documentaries on Netflix and anything from Passionflix. You’ve Got Mail, Ocean's Eleven and Signs are movies that she can watch all day long. She's also a huge baseball fan, and hockey is a new favorite.  

When she's not working, Sarabeth hosts the My Nights Are Booked Podcast and a blog dedicated to books and interviews with authors and actors. She also published her first novel, Once Upon an Interview, in 2022.