Everyone’s going to see Top Gun: Maverick, but they’re also watching another movie at home: the original Top Gun. The highest grosser of 1986 made Tom Cruise, already popular from Risky Business, into the megastar he’s been ever since (minus a brief stint in the mid-aughts when people thought he was a weirdo). It’s also a much, much stranger film than its belated sequel: jingoistic, overly Reaganistic, and, as Quentin Tarantino once detailed in the mid-’90s indie Sleep with Me, pretty damn homoerotic.
Perhaps the most homoerotic part of the movie (apart from Val Kilmer’s Iceman telling Cruise’s Maverick he can “be my wingman anytime”) is a wildly over-the-top montage in which our ripped flyboys take a break from flying and learning to play volleyball. On the film’s commentary track, director Tony Scott admitted he was forced to shoot the scene by the studio, who wanted to make the film more like a sports movie than a war picture. So he gave them what they wanted: He says he “slicked the boys up with baby oil” and “shot it like a softcore porno.” The song playing is Kenny Loggins’ “Playing with the Boys.”
Well, that’s not exactly what studio execs wanted. On THR‘s podcast Behind the Screen, the original film’s editors described what they were actually looking for. “That scene was scripted as a real game,” said Chris Lebenzon. “They kept score and everything — and Tony shot it like a commercial, and they were angry.”
“The studio was so pissed off,” fellow editor Billy Weber added. “The head of production, Charlie McGuire, he said, ‘I’m gonna fire him’ … because he spent a whole day shooting this scene.”
The new Top Gun has a similar scene, but this time it’s football on the beach, and even with almost everyone shirtless and glistening, it’s not remotely as homoerotic. Indeed, contrast it with the one from the original, which you can watch below: