20 Montages That Might Be The Best Part Of The Movie

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures; Illustrated Mallory Heyer.
Inspiring, evocative, romantic, convenient, and absolutely cheesetastic: The movie montage must have once seemed like a brilliant innovation in film. Want to show a process that would take days, months, years in real time? Cut a bunch of scenes together and set it to just the right music, and viewers won't notice that you're taking a shortcut! Friendships and love connections cement in a minute. Losers become champions. Dorks become smooth dancers. Prostitutes obtain complete upper-crust wardrobes.

Like with any easy technique, though, the montage quickly became an overused trope in the '80s, when every character had to "Push It To the Limit" and get higher, stronger, richer. By the early '00s, it was the stuff of satire in Wet Hot American Summer and Team America: World Police

Today, it's starting to look like the montage has come full circle, with directors using it sparingly, so we don't always realize that's what we're watching. Fairy tales and comic book movies in particular still need that fast-forward button to advance their stories for short attention spans. 

Here, we take a nostalgic look at some of the most awesome montages of the '80s from the likes of Rocky and Footloose, the transformative scenes of our favorite '90s gems, the loving spoofs of later films, and the newest, subtle versions that may have brought the form back in style.
1 of 21
Rocky III

This epic training montage has something for everyone: inspirational displays of athletic prowess, Sylvester Stallone's shoulders, Carl Weathers' thighs, the long-lost male crop-top and short-shorts look, and the probably unintentional homoeroticism of Apollo and Rocky's slow-motion embrace in the ocean. We'll even forgive it for using the exact same theme song, Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now," as the first Rocky.
2 of 21

This theme song, Paul Engemann's "Scarface (Push It to the Limit)," makes us feel like we should be in spin class. It also totally fails to match the scenes unfolding before us, of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) and his men bringing bigger and bigger bags of cash to the bank while he marries Michelle Pfieffer, his sister flirts with his BFF, and they all admire a tiger. Sometimes, you just need to honor ridiculousness like this.
3 of 21

Kevin Bacon makes a case for himself as the world's most effective dance teacher when he trains farm boy Chris Penn to master the forbidden art through pastures, fields, and school hallways. The bromance between these two is as infectious as Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy," making us almost wish we could see this process unfold in real time rather than just the length of the song. We bet Kevin would be up for it if we asked really nicely...
4 of 21
Karate Kid

Have you ever tried to sit through an actual amateur sport competition of any kind? Unless you're one of the competitors, it's deadly boring. That's why this is the absolute best use of the montage technique. Speaking of which, "You're the Best," by Joe Esposito, is basically the stick by which all other '80s montage songs are measured.
5 of 21
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Someone has to look into whether museum attendance went up at the Chicago Institute of Art after this peaceful interlude, in which Ferris, Sloan, and Cameron ponder paintings and sculptures to the sounds of the Dream Academy covering the Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." It at least must have inspired some film geeks to play hooky in a much more edifying manner than ducking into the mall.
6 of 21
Dirty Dancing

Like Footloose before it, this movie demonstrates that anyone can become a professional-level dancer if they have the right teacher and picturesque setting. And, oh, what a teacher Patrick Swayze's Johnny was. Jennifer Grey's Baby wasn't the only one getting ticklish as he stroked her arm.
7 of 21
Pretty Woman

Again, some of us wouldn't mind sitting through Julia Roberts spending an "obscene" amount of money in real time, but we'll settle for the edited version, set to the Roy Orbison tune that gave the movie its title. If ever you need a refresher on the most posh fashions of 1989, here you go.
8 of 21

Long before there was the likes of What Not to Wear, there was Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone), who so very helpfully strip poor Tai (Brittany Murphy) of her personal style to make her a miniature version of themselves. Not that we didn't want to take notes and remake ourselves that way, too.
9 of 21
The Lion King

The montage is an easy shortcut for any movie that wants to include a love story without boring kids. Also, watching two animals giving each other seductive looks is weird if you think too hard about it. Stop thinking and instead enjoy Simba and Nala "feeling the love" all over the jungle.
10 of 21
Legally Blonde

The movie montage was pretty passe by the time Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) was applying to Harvard. How clever, then, that the many hours of her studying for the LSATs could be clipped for her application video.
11 of 21
Wet Hot American Summer, "Higher and Higher"

This 2001 cult classic marks the moment when montages became hilarious to spoof. So hilarious, in fact, that there are two in this movie. First, is a training montage in the vein of Rocky (complete with a short-shorts race), as the weird camp cook played by Christopher Meloni gets camp counselor Coop (Michael Showalter) in shape to win the girl of his dreams.
12 of 21
Wet Hot American Summer, "Trip Into Town"

When Janeane Garofalo takes the counselors into town, they all spiral down from smoking cigarettes and drinking beer to shooting up in a drug den...in the space of an hour.
13 of 21
Team America: World Police

If you've ever seen Trey Parker and Matt Stone's marionette homage to all action movies, you've been reading this entire article to the tune of "Montage." Sample lyrics: "Show a lot of things happening at once/ Remind everyone of what's going on (what's going on?)/ And with every shot you show a little improvement/ To show it all would take too long/ That's called a montage (montage)." Fade out.
14 of 21
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

"Take me to Pleasure Town!" Veronica Corningstone demands, and instead of a creepy '70s porn scene, we get their animated metaphorical orgasm of rainbows and unicorns.
15 of 21
Marie Antoinette

We checked, you cannot actually gain weight by just watching Kirsten Dunst's Marie Antoinette eat a million pastries while she tries on enormous hats. This will only happen if you try to copy her, and, well, we all know how that shopping spree ends.
16 of 21
Batman Begins

A solid, traditional, not-at-all tongue-in-cheek training scene, accompanied by a gradually soaring score and Liam Neeson's master speech about having "the will to act" is saved from silliness by the beauty of Christian Bale's face and his stark, frozen surroundings. Daring move, Christopher Nolan.
17 of 21

If all you remember about Up is the talking dogs, you might want to keep things that way. The opening montage, showing Carl and Ellie's life together before her eventual death, is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in a kids' movie since they shot Bambi's mother.
18 of 21
Crazy, Stupid, Love

It's no Pretty Woman or Clueless, but there is a certain beauty to watching the male version of the makeover/shopping montage. Especially with Ryan Gosling in the wise mentor role to Steve Carell's goofy protégé. We would like to hire Gos to fix up our dads next.
19 of 21
This Is The End

Proof that the montage is making a comeback: Seth Rogen, James Franco, and company don't even make fun of themselves for taking all their drugs in montage format to "Gangnam Style" before the apocalypse. They reserve their self-mockery for the Pineapple Express sequel that follows.
20 of 21

Are you done crying after the Up opener? Oops, here's "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" to wreck you again. Watching fearful Elsa reject Anna as they grow up and are orphaned is never not going to make us cry. And, with this, a new generation of montage-loving movie fans has been born.
21 of 21
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of entertainment news, celebrity updates, and cat videos on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Movies


R29 Original Series