The Most Awesome Training Montages In Cinema History

Empire dons its headband and runs up some steps

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Renowned writer and all-round brainiac Malcolm Gladwell argues that mastery of any field takes 10,000 hours of solid graft. Without a serious commitment of time and energy even basic competence is impossible, let alone Dodgeball championships, bobsled gold medals or the chance to knock seven bells out of oversized Russkies with flat tops. But Hollywood has the ultimate Gladwell-defying shortcut. Malcolm, we give you the montage. In a mere minute or two of running up steps, punching coconuts and tying yourself to trees, great things can happen. Here’s a few of our favourite examples. Prepare to punch the air.

Trainer: Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao)

Trainee: Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme)

Training for***? The Kumite, Hong Kong's mixed martial arts competition

***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 (Chong Li) comes at him with a selection of hors d’oeuvre, he’ll know what to do.

Trainee: Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney)

Training for? Karate championships in Seattle***

***If you thought sit-ups were hard, you haven’t tried the upside-down ab crunch and plank headbutt, a move executed perfectly here by Jason Stillwell (McKinney) as he preps to take on a pre-famous, bad-ass Jean-Claude Van Damme. Stillwell throws everything at it, presumably because out there somewhere Van Damme will be midway through a training montage of his own. Kevin Chalfant synth-rock score? Check. Headband? Check. Punchbags? Check. Scented candles? Check. Haaaang on… scented candles? Really?

Trainee: Gizmo (Howie Mandel)***

Training for?*** Saving his adopted family from rampaging gremlins

Hands down the cutest training-stroke-tooling-up montage in movie history, but not necessarily the most effective. Highlights include Gizmo coming off second best to a speedbag (head to the 3:52 mark) and a talc-free powerlifting session that wouldn’t prepare him for a trip to the shops, let alone a close encounter with gremlin spawn-beast critter. The punchy little mogwai takes a leaf out of Rambo’s ass-kicking handbook with a natty red headband and improvised bow and arrow made with bits of loose stationary. We’d love to have seen a Mogwai-sized powerlifter too, but you can’t have it all.

Trainer: Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio)

Trainee: Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita)

Training for? The All-Valley Karate Tournament

Deep down everyone knows that one of cinema’s ultimate training montages is actually a cunning ruse to get Danny LaRusso (Macchio) to do all the household jobs that Mr Miyagi’s too zen to do for himself, but it cuts both ways. Danny learns the self-discipline and restraint needed to become a true karate champion and generally smash the Cobra Kai’s collective face in; Mr Miyagi (Morita) gets his fence painted. Also, those DIY skills are bound to come in handy when Danny settles down and has karate kids of his own. It's a win-win.

Trainer: Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita)

Trainee: Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio)

Training for? The All-Valley Karate Tournament

Skip a sequel and Ralph Macchio is starting to put the ‘age’ into ‘montage’ by the Karate Kid’s third outing. He’s 28 years old and fast approaching karate middle age. Luckily, Pat Morita lets him off the porch-sanding and car-waxing in favour of a gentle stroll to the cliffs at Devil’s Cauldron, involving some light kata work and a few budget-stretching helicopter shots. The franchise was losing a little punch by this point, a fact reflected by this less-than-thrilling montage. Danny doesn’t even get a box to balance on. Full marks for scenery, though.

Trainer: Mr. Han (Jackie Chan)

Trainee: Dre Parker (Jaden Smith)

Training for? Chinese kung fu tournament

Learning movie martial arts isn’t easy – those daggers aren’t gonna fly themselves – so it helps to have the mighty Jackie Chan as your sensei. Jaden Smith brings all the toughness and genetic skills you’d expect from the son of a man who’s spent most of his career fighting aliens, darkseekers and rogue CIA agents. Sure enough, in the space of a minute he basically turns into a wushu master, plucking tennis balls out of the air like a cross between Rafa Nadal and the Last Airbender. Best bit? Being made to run up and down the Great Wall of China. Twice.

Trainer: A wise abbot (Tung-kua Ai)

Trainee: San Te (Gordon Liu)

Training for? Revenge against the evil Manchu government

One of the most awesome montages in movie history, and definitely one of the longest. But then Gordon Liu – who provides more montage mayhem as Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Vol. 2– does have to get through three dozen chambers to graduate as a badass Shaolin monk, and managing it in six minutes is pretty impressive. Best bit? Hard to pick one but we’re saying that if the Church of England had a sword chamber, we’d go a lot more often.

Trainer: Spottswoode (Daran Norris)

Trainees: Team America

Training for? To foil Kim Jong Il’s terrorist plot

The best puppet-based montage send-up in the history of the world. It’s even got a special montage song called ‘Montage’. Trey Parker and Matt Stone deconstruct the whole narrative conceit and pieces it together again out of bits of comedic awesomeness. It’s hard to argue with lyrics like, “When every shot you show a little improvement/ Just show it all or it will take too long/ That’s called a montage…”.

Trainer: Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith)

Trainee: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)

Training for? A shot at the Heavyweight title against Apollo Creed

Is the bit where Rock does a little twirl running through Philly’s back streets? Or when he makes chumps of all those cow carcasses? Nope. It can only be the arms-to-the-heavens moment at the top of Philadelphia’s Museum of Modern Art to the spiritual uplift of Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’. It’s the greatest moment in the greatest of all sports montages.

Trainer: Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith)

Trainee: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)***

Training for?*** A rematch against Apollo Creed

Champions don’t change a winning formula, so the Italian Stallone brings back classic montage favourites – the grey tracksuit, the sprint, the gallery steps - but he adds a few kids to the mix for extra inspiration. Okay, so the Pied Piper of pugilism didn’t technically win first time out (Creed did him on points) but he’s not going to make the same mistake twice. The whole of a handily traffic-free Philly is out to will him on when the music starts. A solid follow-up.

Trainer: Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers)

Trainee: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)

Training for? A title fight with James ‘Clubber’ Lang (Mr. T)

There’s 59% 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. We can forgive a little bromancing.

Trainer: Tony "Duke" Evers (Tony Burton)

Trainee: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)

***Training for? ***A title fight with communist hard man, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren)

A change of scenery offers up some new montage favourites as Rock heads east to tear the Soviets a new one. 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.

Trainer: Li Shang (B.D. Wong)

Trainee: Fa Mulan (Ming-Na)

Training for? To defeat the evil Huns. No, not *those *evil Huns

Disney weigh in with a solid training montage in which Mulan and her friends go from hapless duffers to fearless warriors in just over two minutes. It’s stirring stuff. Comedy sidekicks, Mushu the dragon and Cri-Kee the cricket, help fill the Mr. Miyage gap, as corner-critters ready with a bucket and towel when all the running, jumping and stick fighting gets a bit much for our hardcore heroine. Bless.

Trainer: Irv Blitzer (John Candy)

Trainees: The Jamaican bobsled team

Training for? The 1988 Winter Olympics

It’s more Jamaican’t than Jamaican in a comedy training montage that sends the island’s wannabe Olympians down the same hill and into a series of spectacular pratfalls. The bobsledders seem to be clad in Bruce Spence’s Mad Max cast-offs, which doesn’t add to the sense that they’re only a montage away from Olympic glory. Sure enough, there’s still room from improvement.

Trainer: Gny. Sgt. Hartman (Lee Ermey)

Trainee: Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio)

Training for? The Vietnam War

At once funny and tragic, this montage isn’t for the faint of heart. Real-life drill instructor Lee Ermey basically spends three minutes shouting abuse at Vincent D’Onofrio’s flailing Marine recruit. But what abuse. “If God wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now”, yells Hartman as Private Pyle attempts to haul himself over an obstacle. Knowing how things end up between them tinges the laughter but Stanley Kubrick proves he can pull off a training montage with the best of ‘em.

Trainer: Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson)

Trainee: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)

Training for? To avenge his parents’ murder and free Gotham from crime. Possibly

Sometimes when you’re trying to get good at stuff, your arse is going to get handed to you along the way. But who better to do the handing than Liam Neeson, mentor to the greats? Here Bruce Wayne (Bale) and sinister martial-arts svengali Ducard (Neeson) 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 Dark Knight. Also, did we mention the awesome sword battle?

Trainee: Mr Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson)

Training for? To defeat evil fanboy Syndrome

Mr Incredible – aka Bob Parr – is getting a little wobbly in the tummy department, what with the desk job and middle-age spread, but there’s a villain to defeat and a saddle to climb back into. Smell a montage? Heck, yes. To the train yard!

Trainer: Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery)

Trainee: Russell Nash (Christopher Lambert)|

Training for? Immortality

It’s Highlander, ergo it’s all amazing (even if the Egyptian guy sounds Scottish and the Scottish guy sounds like Inspector Clouseau) but the pair bring all their Connery and Lambert-y magic to a languid montage that’s doubles up as an amazing ad for the Scottish Tourist Board. There’s even that montage staple: the slightly camp beach sprint. All in all the perfect prep for immortality, although we'd love to know how they got down from that giant rock.

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Trainer: Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz)

Trainee: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)

Training for? Defeating the Galactic Empire

Classic training montage, this is. Skywalker unlearns what he has learned, balances Yoda on his foot, lifts an X-wing out of a swamp and even manages to impress R2-D2 along the way. Yoda gets to say things like, “Do… or do not. There is no try”. Vader, meanwhile, quakes in his black boots and we all get to go home a little wiser.

Trainer: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy)

Trainees: Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Havok (Lucas Till)

Training for? A showdown with Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon)

A recent addition to the training montage canon so the synths, power-riffs and Lycra give way to big strings and natty cardies over at Westchester Mansion. Only two of the X-trainees get montage minutes here – Beast gets to show his stuff later - and unlike many montages, it’s not about developing new skills so much as refining their mutant gifts. There’s a nice homage to Q and his Bond weapons lab when Havok torches a shop dummy with his cosmic plasma weapon, although it’s a “Pay attention 007!” short of perfection.

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