The Montage. Everyone’s favorite passage of time scored by synthesizers, started as a filmmaking technique cutting between different angles as opposed to just changing scenes completely. “Montage” has since come to signify a series of shots, usually accompanied by an inspirational and rather cheesy soundtrack cue, charting the progress of an underdog as they try to become more awesome at something.
Montages come in all shapes and sizes, of course; but there are a few specific types that we’ve become accustomed to due to years of exposure…the good old “training” montage remains a favorite of sorts, presenting a transformation from Average Joe into a physical specimen ready to take on any obstacle in a matter of minutes. Although, the actual start of a physically transformative endeavor may resemble something along these lines…
Though we look back on most of cinema’s retro-inclined montages like a lucid dream, we all have to admit they’re our favorite guilty pleasure. Most of the montages I’ve included on this list have dated horribly, and a bunch of them may be bordering on the absurd or bizarrely over the top, but what we absolutely cannot deny is all of them ignite a strange, transcendent fire deep inside each and every one of us. So, in no particular order I give you the top 10 awesome movie montages. Except the first one. The first one will always be #1.
1. Team America World Police
If you are unfamiliar with the term or concept of a mother fucking montage, then Team America is the perfect jumping off point. No movie captures the ludicrous nature or informative nature of a montage better than the fever dream that is Team America. In one action-packed minute, the satire covers every go-to trope, trick, and cliché, giving us a surprisingly in-depth and brilliantly acute parody of everything that a montage has come to symbolize. The little touches – lyrics such as “Always fade out in a montage/If you fade out, it seems like more time has passed in a montage” and “Show lots of things happening at once/Remind everyone of what’s going on” – seem like obvious observations, but paired with the rhythm and visuals, “Montage” emerges as one of the best song parodies ever written. It’s a minor masterpiece.
2. Rocky III
Sure, I could make an entire list just of Rocky movies, but if forced to pick two, I’m sticking with the vintage training montage decade—the ‘80s. It’s a given that any scene set to ‘Gonna Fly Now’ will be thoroughly enjoyable and writer/director/star…Oscar Nominee? Sylvester Stallone knew better than to tinker with greatness. The music may be the same, but everything else is different; old foe Apollo Creed is now helping Rocky train, the ‘Rocky Steps’ have been replaced with a beach and the cheering children have been swapped for homoerotic slow-mo shots of Rocky and Apollo’s bulging thighs. There’s way more (b)romance in this montage than the industry average, so it’s a straight pick between the slow-mo close-up of the rippling Creed and Balboa thighs during the beach sprint or the man-hug the pair unleash on each other at the end. If Greco-Roman antics aren’t your thing and knee-socks and crop tops feel all weird and ’80s on guys, remember that these two were beating lumps out of each other only a movie ago.
Clocking in at almost six minutes, the training montage in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport may run long, but that’s because training for the Kumite is no joke. This maelstrom of kicks, punches, and cheesy one-liners was a breakout hit for Jean Claude van Damme, so it’s no surprise that it features a legendary training montage. It’s a defining ‘80s montage: a little emoting, some soft synths and we’re away. We do love the bit where Van Damme reminds us that he’s got room from improvement by throwing himself off the ten-foot platform for no obvious reason, but it’s hard to see past the blindfolded dinner service. It’s basically Masterchef produced by Yoda. Why are they doing this? Who knows? At least if evil nemesis Bolo comes at him with a selection of hors d’oeuvre, he’ll know what to do.
4. Back to School
Who says training has to be sport specific? We are all about TOTAL Human Optimization here at Onnit and what’s more optimizing than priming the mind for college exams? After all, the Onnit Academy is a platform for education. Rodney Dangerfield going back to college and cramming for a test in one night…what is more THO than that?! Back To School showcases one of the most famous rules associated with pretty much every montage made in the ’80s: if you show us somebody doing something over and over again, movie-goers will accept that they are now awesome at whatever skill it is they’re honing. In this movie we get Dangerfield studying in all kinds of weird places, like at night, in the dark, when the library’s closed, and oh my, he’s using a lighter to see. Now that’s dedication. Sounds like Rodney could use some Alpha Brain!
Footloose is set in an alternate universe where dancing can be banned, because that makes way for a movie about plucky young teens who will do anything to ensure that they’re not following such a dumb rule, man. Kevin Bacon is sent to bring rock ‘n’ roll to a small Bible Belt town and the first call of action is to teach Chris Penn some rhythm with the help of the ’80s anthem ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’. An intoxicating combination of awkwardness and hilarity, not even the tough-guy masquerade of Reservoir Dogs could erase Penn’s square-dancing from memory. And yes…Dancing and Total Human Optimization go hand in hand. Just ask twitch. I think he scored a 100 on this dance.
6. Karate Kid
Wisdom, patience and self-discipline are the things Mr. Miyagi appears to be teaching a young student, but everyone knows that one of cinema’s ultimate training montages is actually a cunning ruse to get Macchio to do all the household jobs that Mr Miyagi’s too lazy to do for himself. Danny learns the self-discipline and restraint needed to become a true karate champion and generally smash the Cobra Kai’s collective face in; and Mr Miyagi gets his fence painted. Also, those DIY skills were bound to come in handy when Macchio’s acting career ended after this franchise. It’s a win-win.
7. The Incredibles
Who says montages are reserved for the world of live action? I never saw Sly train with trains. All Rambo did was run up a small flight of stairs leading towards a museum, a feat most of the elderly population can accomplish. After 15 years in retirement, Mr. Incredible finds that not even superheroes are immune to the middle-age spread where training with trains becomes more of a chore. Since slipping on the suit isn’t as easy as it used to be and getting stuck in large tubes is a drag, Mr. Incredible decides to battle his weight gain head on in a series of train training sequences unique to a man with super-strength. Subtler than most montages, the sequence culminates with a stunning shot of the big fella training with…you guessed it…a train.
8. Batman Begins
When you hear the words, “training montage”, you immediately associate buff 80’s dudes with cheesedick music. Although montages have fallen off the wayside in the new millennium, they still can be treated with maturity and gravitas! Here Patrick Bateman and sinister martial-arts expert Qui-Gon do awesome sword battle on an ice-crusted lake, in between zen lessons and some campfire bonding. It’s top stuff, elegantly accelerating the story further than a montage usually would, without sacrificing Bruce’s believable evolution from angry billionaire to The Dark Knight Rises. Sometimes when you’re trying to get good at stuff, your ass is going to get handed to you along the way. But who better to do the handing than Qui-Gon, mentor to the greats? After all, he did start that asshole Anakin on his way to becoming Vader…and if he is good enough for Darth, he is good enough for the bat…Right Chad?
9. Rocky IV
If you’re surprised to see another Rocky movie on this list, then you clearly don’t know your montages. While the first film established the recipe, the fourth installment perfected it, pitting the old school methods of the Italian Stallion against 261 pounds of rage-fueled, Soviet-financed muscle: head to head, workout for workout. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Stairway to Heaven and Ocarina of Time are all masterpieces of their medium but none of them perfected their craft like the montage from Rocky IV. Not only does it epitomize everything that was great about 80’s action movies, including larger-than-life physiques and a synth-heavy soundtrack, it established the Italian Stallion as a Cold Warrior who fought for the values of democracy against a steroidal Soviet automaton. With the fate of the Cold War hanging in the balance, a few press-ups aren’t too much of a hardship, but Balboa takes it a step further, chopping down trees, rescuing carts from snow-drifts and carrying logs like the messiah of all that is starry and spangled. What’s Drago doing during this montage? Steroids. What a chump. If you don’t cheer during this, you’re a communist.
10. Training Montage Montage
What would a montage list be without a montage of montages? It’d be utterly pointless. If you can accomplish an entire night’s worth of studying or weeks of training in 3 minutes, then this montage crushes years of training in a single digestible glass full of raw eggs. Tip your head back, swallow it, and feel like you’ve gained 10 pounds of muscle. Before you watched this video, people may have asked you, “Bro, do you even lift?” But now that you’ve seen the epitome of epicness you can show them the way to the beach.