With Hollywood spurting out a never-ending stream of action films, every once in a while we are graced with one we deem truly iconic. But even the most unique of action films (or sports films) occasionally falls back on the action film starter pack, which outlines none other than the classic training montage scene, often a necessity in showing the growth of a character.
It’s almost sacrilege not to have a good training montage in an action film, complete with the perfect soundtrack, killer workouts and a real underdog mentality. The more these qualities are played on, the better. Everybody likes a good underdog story, and there’s no better way to transition from weakness to strength than through a montage.
With Creed opening this week to good reviews and a lot of anticipation, you can bet that it’ll follow its fore-bearer, Rocky, in providing the audience with an excellent training montage.
But in case you’re staying home this weekend, here are a few films that got it just right. Here are the 10 Best Training Montages in Movies.
Batman Begins (2005)
The first installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight himself, doesn’t waste any time getting into the story, as young Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis) watches his parents die in a mugging, resulting in one of the best superhero stories ever told. But of course, there is no Batman without a beautifully choreographed training montage.
The Batman Begins montage involves Bale and action film superstar Liam Neeson as Ducard (the Leader of the League of Shadows). The scene revolves around Bruce’s guilt over his parent’s death, more specifically focusing on overcoming fear. As Ducard says, “to conquer fear, you must become fear.” Featured in a wintery, mountainous landscape, Ducard teaches Bruce the importance of invisibility and agility as well as the use of theatricality and deception (with some slight foreshadowing as well). The entire scene plays out on screen in about four minutes, but it brings Bruce’s character to where we need him to be, and leaves him with “the will to act.”
Martial arts films typically bring us some of the best training montages, and Bloodsport is no exception. The story follows American martial artist and military man, Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who quits the army to join the ultimate martial arts tournament in Hong Kong, called Kumite, despite his superior officers warnings, as Kumite can result in serious injury, even death. The film is also partly based on the unconfirmed (and probably untrue) claims made by real-life martial artist, Frank Dux.
The training montage features Dux and Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) training for the Kumite, where Dux must learn several disciplines before he’s even deemed worthy, especially because he is American, not Japanese. And yes, the acting is often weak, especially in this sequence, but the appreciation for martial arts is present, something demonstrated not only in the choreography itself, but also in the background music, Paul Hertzog’s “Father and Son.”
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
2014’s sci-fi extravaganza not only stars A-listers Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, but it also completely exhausts the concept of rebirth. But what more would you expect from a film whose tagline is “Live. Die. Repeat.”? The story follows Major William Cage (Cruise) as he finds himself in the midst of a battle against an unbeatable alien force, despite having no combat experience at all. And though he dies seconds later, he finds himself trapped in a time-loop, forcing him to relive this battle over and over until he gets it right.
In this science fiction, Groundhog Day-esque film, there’s a little more wiggle room in the training sequence, as a film this extraordinary shouldn’t necessarily resort to the norm. And it doesn’t. Blunt (Rita Vrataski) is a lean, mean fighting-machine tasked with training Cage over and over, killing him multiple times in the process. There’s a reason the scene is referred to as “Again! Again!” And gender norms can step aside; this film just broke the action genre wide open.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The fifth installment (chronologically) of the Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back brings along with it yet another of the greatest and most iconic training montages of all time. With the rebel alliance overpowered by the Empire, Luke (Mark Hamill) seeks out Jedi training from the Jedi master himself, Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), in hopes of defeating Darth Vader (David Prowse).
Becoming a Jedi is no easy feat, and that’s proven over the course of the training scene. Luke undergoes a series of strength and agility tests, with Yoda coaching from his back. But the most important training here comes in the form of wisdom and patience, as Yoda must teach Luke to use the force “for knowledge and defense” and never for attack, and most importantly to let go of his anger. The mysterious, swampy background is complementary to the scene, demonstrating the confused nature of Luke’s journey, as well as the mystery behind Darth Vader, especially in the battle between he and Luke in which Luke sees his own face behind the mask.
G.I. Jane (1997)
Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore) has something to prove, not just to herself or to the men in the US Navy, but to a world of females, ready for equal opportunity. When pressure increased for full gender integration into the Navy, O’Neill is entered as a test case, female trainee in the Navy SEAL selection program, who is expected to fail. Despite the sixty percent dropout rate for men, O’Neill doesn’t plan on following the numbers, and she’s determined to prove everyone wrong.
And there’s no better way to demonstrate this than through several training scenes in which she overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds and keeps up with the best of the men in the program. But the scene that audience members are still talking about today is O’Neill’s solo training montage, complete with hanging sit-ups, pull-ups and one-armed pushups. It’s empowering, to say the least, and it boldly displays her dedication and determination in a clip as short as two minutes.
In yet another film starring a female lead with something to prove, it only makes sense that it, too would have a killer training montage. And though it’s not nearly as strong of a commentary, mostly due to the animated nature of the film, it’s still iconic. Mulan is the story of a namesake protagonist (voice by Ming-Na Wen) that secretly takes her crippled father’s place in an all-male army to defeat the Huns, disguised as a male.
As you can probably imagine, the training montage is musical, but bold. And coming from a long line of damsel in distress stories, it’s a refreshing one. With one of Disney’s greatest hits, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” backing the entire scene, it’s easy to fall in love with it. Beginning with Mulan’s ostracism from the group, she gradually progresses with the scene, becoming stronger and stronger until in the end, her determination to prove her worth not only leaves her on top, both figuratively and literally, but inspires the other men in the army as well.
Even those that haven’t seen the film recognize its training montage anywhere. The underdog story of all underdog stories, Rocky shows what it truly means to beat the odds with hard work and determination. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a struggling, small-time boxer just waiting for a chance to prove himself. When Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a heavyweight championship boxer, rolls into town looking for an easy exhibition match, but broadcasting the chance for a “nobody” to become a “somebody,” Rocky begins intensive training, determined to win.
The training montage is just as big of a hit as the film is, featuring Rocky himself as he progressively becomes even faster, stronger and more confident. Riddled with one-handed, clapping pushups, full-speed runs and meat tenderizing boxing, this montage has it all. And with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” backing the entire scene, you can’t help but want to throw your fists in the air right along with Rocky.
Team America: World Police (2004)
Though it’s a satire on the high-budget action films spun out by Hollywood, the film’s training montage succumbs to almost all of the clichés, and elevates them to a level that ultimately earns it the title as one of the best. The film, consisting of Thunderbirds-esque puppets for characters and made by the creators of South Park, follows Broadway star Gary Johnston (voice of Trey Parker) as he is recruited by a counter-terrorism organization, Team America, and trained to defeat terrorists.
And as expected, the training montage is one of the most satirical, self-aware elements of the film, as the entire montage, and its implications, is described through song, alluding to Rocky as well as other, more obvious elements present in nearly every training montage in an action film, such as fading out at the end to show time passing, or revealing a progression of strength through a series of the same workouts. Though it’s mostly meant to be funny and satirical, it’s still one of the best.
The Incredibles (2004)
In an animated superhero movie where a once world-renowned, now middle-aged hero is asked to come out of retirement, you can imagine there’ll be some sort of training montage, and you can bet it’ll be good. As Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) trains to once again become a crime-fighting hero, he finds that parenthood and crime-fighting don’t always mix.
While the film stays true to many of the clichés associated with training montages, because of the animated nature of the film, there’s also room for a little embellishment. The montage is a good mix of real-life and superhero, as Mr. Incredible lifts furniture so his wife can vacuum, but in a juxtaposing sequence is weight-lifting train cars. It’s quirky, funny and cute, but also demonstrates the character’s growth.
The Karate Kid (1984)
And of course, there’s Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and one of the most quoted, most recognized training montages ever. When the bullied Daniel finally has enough, Miyagi teaches him the art of karate, but hopes to teach him that fighting isn’t the answer, much to Daniel’s confusion. The wise master and his young protégé don’t see eye to eye at first, but when they do, Daniel has become a karate master.
The training montage is much different than the others on this list, as it includes far more dialogue and obscure assignments, seemingly unrelated to karate. But as Daniel becomes frustrated with Miyagi, annoyed that all he’s learned is a few more household chores, he learns that Miyagi is much wiser than he gave him credit for, and teaching him karate isn’t in the fighting, but in the attitude. In the heart. And who doesn’t know what “Wax on. Wax off” means now, right?
Did your favorite montage get snubbed? Let us know in the comments below!