Why Top Gun’s Sex Scene Is So Bad

Even fans who love Top Gun cringe at its embarrassing love scene, but there is a behind-the-scenes explanation for how the sequence ended up so bad.

As great as Top Gun is, the cult classic’s lone love scene is an awkward mess that seems to have been pulled out of another, lesser movie—and there is good reason for that. Released in 1986, Top Gun was a massive success that catapulted star Tom Cruise to superstardom. The movie may not have won universal critical acclaim, but Top Gun was soon regarded as an action classic thanks to its propulsive story and breathtaking visuals.

Top Gun director Tony Scott ensured that the story of Maverick, a reckless test pilot with a “need for speed,” looked beautiful and moved fast enough for viewers to never question its unrealistic elements. Top Gun may have changed a lot of details about the real-life Navy, but the movie was nonetheless a hit with audiences. However, there was one scene that soon became infamous for how awkward and out-of-place it was, and ironically, it is one added thanks to the intervention of test audiences.

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Related: Why Top Gun Invented Pilot Rankings And Trophies

Top Gun’s lone sex scene is infamously awkward, leading many viewers to wonder over the years just how the movie’s lovemaking sequence ended up so bizarrely shot and lit. A black-and-blue series of silhouetted shots see the heroic, yet troublesome, Maverick and Charlie doing the deed in a bizarrely stylized fashion, but there is a behind-the-scenes secret that explains the scene’s strangeness. The scene was hastily added in reshoots long after the movie wrapped at the behest of test audiences. As a result, the easiest way of hiding both star’s obvious changes in appearances (owing to other roles Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise were by that stage shooting) was the infamously over-the-top blue-hued lighting that Scott relies on in the scene.

The effect is off-putting, to say the least, and the scene regularly ranks alongside Showgirls’ more intentionally campy pool-set romp as one of Hollywood’s most embarrassing sex scenes. Ironically, director Tony Scott accidentally played into Tarantino’s famous theory about Top Gun when he portrayed Maverick and company in a much more flattering light during another scene from the film. As explained in WBUR’s Top Gun retrospective, Scott was unsure how to make the volleyball sequence visually interesting and appealing for viewers, resulting in the action cinema veteran opting to “slick the boys up with baby oil,” a too-effective tactic that resulted in many fans calling this sequence a sexier scene than the movie’s actual sex scene.

In fairness to Scott, the love scene is at least memorably weird and, given the circumstances (shooting a full five months after the film wrapped with a pair of cast members who no longer resembled their respective characters), the result is not unimpressive. However, Top Gun’s lone love scene remains a testament to how misguided following the demands of test audiences can be, and Charlie’s absence from the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick further proves that the original movie never needed a romantic subplot in the first place. Top Gun is simply about one man, Maverick, and his love of flying as well as his hate of authority—despite what one softly-lit, Berlin-soundtracked scene may try to imply.

More: Why There Will Never Be A Top Gun For The Army

  • Top Gun: Maverick/Top Gun 2 (2021)Release date: Nov 19, 2021

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