In an interview with the Los Angeles Times during the film’s 1986 release, Cruise was adamant that the brawny volleyball game was not just about exploiting handsome male bodies: “I don’t take my shirt off to sell tickets. The way I look at it is, let a good movie bring the audience in.” He points out that none of the “Top Gun” posters, commercials, or publicity skills capitalizes on his shirtless sex appeal. So when he does show off his muscular frame in the film, it is done with purpose.
Cruise insists that above all, “Top Gun” is “a movie about characters and the human element — not a war picture. This movie is about competition, not killing,” and the volleyball sequence is part of that competitive spirit. He defends the scene as an integral part of the narrative, not just a macho music video:
“That scene happens to be very important. 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.”
It also captures Maverick’s friendship with Goose, his rivalry with Iceman, and his budding romance with Charlie. Torn between his duties and his heart, Maverick constantly checks his watch throughout the game because he wants to leave for his date with her.
Before the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick,” audiences wondered if there would be any reference to the famed volleyball scene and what kind of tone it would have.