Let’s get down to business! Few tropes of storytelling can be quite as energetic, adrenaline-pumping, and nail-bitingly entertaining as the training montage. The underdog hero or the naïve novice has to get down and dirty, perfecting their craft with blood, sweat, tears, and incredibly catchy music to tie it all together.
Not every hero gears up for a fight to save the world, but the best training montages show the struggle, the trial and error, and the conviction of these characters to stick with it to the end.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
One of the better X-Men films among a litany of its timeline-shattering sequels and predecessors, X-Men: First Class would not be complete without its training montage. The film departs from the “First Class” members of the comics and has many familiar faces of Fox’s first trilogy absent from the lineup. This gives audiences plenty of reason, and time, to get acquainted with the lesser-known mutants.
The montage maintains momentum with split-screen between each of the characters honing their abilities between nuggets of sage advice and plenty of witty banter. At the heart of the montage are Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik’s (Michael Fassbender) poignant “Rage and Serenity” scene.
The Incredibles (2004)
Pixar’s beloved super family film features a short but sweet training montage where Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), after years of retirement from superhero work in a suffocating job, returns to the limelight with a new suit and a new benefactor to relive his glory days. The montage breathes life back into a character shown to live monotonous days with little color or excitement in Pixar’s beautiful animation.
The scene, set to Michael Giacchino’s brassy jazz score, splits time between Bob’s super workouts bench-pressing trains, a much livelier and happier time with his wife and kids, and the crawl toward a smaller waist size, with some jokes for the parents in the audience.
Disney’s animated Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” sequence pulls double time as a brilliant sing-along and a training montage. As the ill-fit and unprepared soldiers of Ancient China rush to become a fighting force capable of taking on the invading Huns, the track narrates what it takes to beat their adversary set to stunning animation.
In the center of it all is the arrow stuck in the post that Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) and her fellow soldiers have been tasked with retrieving – shown to be highly elusive to all that attempt it. Instead of packing up and going home, Mulan takes to the challenge and by the end of the montage, has risen in the ranks, retrieved the arrow, and finally earned the respect she deserves.
Rocky IV (1985)
No list of training montages is complete without Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise. Each film presents its own montage filled with that 80s musical flare, but Rocky IV’s montage pits the titular boxer against Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) shot-for-shot, an excellent preview of what’s at stake, what makes them perfect nemeses, and what’s to come.
Drago practices surrounded by a team of coaches, state-of-the-art exercise machines, and expensive health monitors, while Balboa toughs it out in the snow, making a gym of his environment with a team of experts nowhere to be seen, only some solid friends. In a franchise known for its montages, Rocky IV is the trope at its best.
Batman Begins (2005)
Small in spectacle but rich with the lore of the Batman character and themes of the movie, the training montage of Batman Begins seeks to take Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) anger over the death of his parents and make it useful, to give him “the will to act”. Liam Neeson’s portrayal of the classic Batman villain Ra’s Al-Ghul is less a cartoonish cultist and a more dynamic, tragic hero that believes in absolute justice and vengeance above all else, and attempts to pass this mindset onto a still-mourning Bruce.
The montage ends with Batman still having much to learn, instead of immediately becoming the familiar Dark Knight of the trilogy, something many other Batman films tend to skip.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
This sci-fi war movie’s time loop gimmick sets its training montage apart from many others. Cage (Tom Cruise) happens upon an ability to reset time with his death used by the alien antagonists of the film. Before him Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski possessed the power, who then must train Cage to survive long enough to escape the carnage to come.
The montage uses its gimmick to the fullest, with snap cuts between Rita shooting Cage, his many failed attempts to beat the simulations, and one angry soldier’s penchant for calling him a maggot. It walks the line between intense training and brutal humor and like Edge of Tomorrow as a film, is endlessly rewatchable.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
If the Rocky franchise captures the grueling demand of blood, sweat, and tears, Dirty Dancing captures the frustrating tedium of learning a new sport. Jennifer Grey’s Baby attempts to learn the basics of a box step from an impatient Patrick Swayze’s Johnny in a training montage full of repetition, repetition, repetition that sees her throwing up her hands more than once.
The duo’s spats with each other throughout the montage and the rest of the film as Baby learns more complex steps, only serve to make the final dance number of the film when Johnny successfully catches her that much more satisfying.
Cool Runnings (1993)
Cheesy? Yes. A perfect balance of comedy and charm? Also yes. Cool Runnings focuses on four members of a last-minute Jamaican bobsled team who only come together after failing to qualify for track and field, to compete in the Olympics – by any means necessary.
This results in the team’s crash course into bobsledding when they’ve never so much as seen snow before. The team is trained by a disgraced bobsled coach, played by John Candy, who takes on the challenge of making the team ready to compete with Candy’s trademark comedic style.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Many kung fu films feature a breadth of cinematic fight scenes and training montages. DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda was a surprise hit considering its ridiculous premise on paper, and much of that success comes from the animation. Specifically, the training montage is set to the incredible Hans Zimmer score that blends 2D and 3D animation and electric choreography.
The montage also stands out for Master Shifu’s (Dustin Hoffman) unconventional training to better reach his unorthodox student, PO (Jack Black). It features a chopsticks battle over dumplings and a shell game that both cleverly foreshadow the climax of the film and some of its finest music.
Team America: World Police (2004)
Set to the song “Montage,” Team America’s satire is hilariously self-aware, written by the creators behind South Park. The song states that one such movie trope, the training montage, is exactly what the characters need to prepare to face off against the combined might of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, and the Film Actor’s Guild.
The montage is about as cliché as it gets, poking fun at other famous films like Rocky and the nature of the montage itself. It makes full use of its marionette actors, showing characters shooting miniature machine guns, running on prop treadmills, and practicing noodle-limbed martial arts.Next: 10 Classic Movie Trends That Need A Comeback
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