The sports and fitness movie montage serves two purposes—it allows the filmmaker to take a large span of time and condense it over a few scenes, and it also gets the audience more involved in the character’s inspirational progression through a whirlwind of training scenarios. If Rocky Balboa needs to train for a big fight against Clubber Lang, all it takes is a series of quick scenes showing Rocky’s progression in and out of the ring before he faces off against his bigger, badder opponent. Though movie montages showing the underdog(s) training their butts off in preparation for the final showdown are meant to be inspirational, they actually come across as some of the dopiest moments in the film. From being a chump to becoming a champion, we thought it would be fun to countdown 11 of the most inspirational, and cheesiest, movie fitness montages.
Asthmatic Barry Grabrewski (Jonathan Brandis) daydreams of being Chuck Norris’ sidekick, helping him fight bad guys and take down the enemy. Unfortunately, Barry’s escape from reality can’t stop the real bully in his life, and only the teachings of an old Chinese man called Mr. Lee (Mako) can turn Barry from a wimp into a wonder. Lee trains Barry by having him practice katas, break boards, run with weights, do pull-ups in a soup kitchen, push-ups over a water fountain, play with nunchucks and everything else that violates most child-labor laws. All to the terrible sounds of leftover ’80s tunes.
#10 Over the Top
Nothing tightens the bond between father and son more than arm wrestling, and this Sylvester Stallone cheese-fest tried to prove that, when Lincoln Hawk (Sly Stallone) attempts to gain the love of his son through the magic of truck driving, push-ups and cable pulldowns. The hardworking dad and his spoiled rich brat son find common ground in this emotionally gripping montage as Kenny Loggins’ “Meet Me Half Way” blasts over the touching scene. Did anyone order extra cheese? You bet.
#9 The Perfect Weapon
Jeff (Jeff Speakman) is just your average Joe construction worker who also happens to be a Kenpo martial arts master that can hit you 600 ways till Sunday in the blink of an eye. Jeff gets involved in a Korean mafia war and the only way to make things right is by breaking everyone’s bones. Through a series of flashbacks, we see a young, angry Jeff being taught the valuable lessons of Kenpo. The Perfect Weapon has a few montage scenes, one them showing Jeff destroying a couch as he gets ready to confront the mob boss. Whatever you do, don’t let this perfect weapon house-sit for you.
#8 Double Team
We’re not exactly sure what Jean-Claude Van Damme was hoping to accomplish in this training montage, but it showcases how one man can use just about anything to get in shape before taking on an international terrorist. Van Damme climbs on doorways, holds his breath underwater, tears apart a mattress to make a pulley system and has zero respect for the bathtub. If Van Damme is staying at your place, it might be a good idea to wipe down the walls at least once a day.
#7 Never Back Down
Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) has to try and put an end to mixed martial arts badass Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet) before he hurts his friends. And the only way to do it is by putting himself through an excruciating training montage. Under the strict tutelage of instructor Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), Jake must train by using kettlebells, boxing gloves, cinder blocks, a ladder, a tire, raw eggs, his little brother and we think the kitchen sink is actually in there as well. Proof that if you’re determined, you can use anything as a training tool.
#6 The Karate Kid
While most think of the montage from the 1984 original The Karate Kid as an instant pick, the 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith manages to outdo it. While training for the upcoming tournament, Mr. Han must teach the young Dre Parker “real” kung-fu by putting him through a hip-hop backed training montage filled with tennis balls, dirty laundry, the Great Wall of China and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.
(1989) When it comes to cheesy fitness montages, nobody could top Jean-Claude Van Damme. The only way Kurt Sloane could avenge the paralyzing beatdown of his brother at the hands of kickboxing champion Tong Po (Michel Qissi) is by training under Muay Thai master Xian Chow (Dennis Chan). Chow’s training is brutal and unforgiving. Van Damme puts his legs to work, kicking a tree in half, practicing katas both above ground and underwater and using a pulley system (what is it with Van Damme and pulleys?) to maximize his flexibility. If the roundhouse kick to the face doesn’t knock you out, the stink of cheese certainly will.
#4 The Best of the Best
The Best of the Best has a great fitness montage because it features not one, not two, but five guys on the same American team training to fight the Korean team in a Taekwondo tournament. Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee, Chris Penn, John Dye and David Agresta hit the weights, do pull-ups, kick the bag, do sit-ups off each other’s backs and more. But wait! As an added montage bonus, we also get to see the Korean team train by doing knuckle push-ups, running in the snow and chopping trees with their hands. All to the cheesy sounds of a song that explains the movie’s title.
#3 No Retreat, No Surrender
One of the weirdest fitness training montages in this list, Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) is trained by the ghost of Bruce Lee to become a top martial artist. Stillwell must eventually face the evil Russian Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, of course) to try to win back the respect of his family and friends. Stillwell’s training includes sit-ups in a playground, using those old steel bands that can cut your head off if they slip out of your hand, outrunning his friend on a bike and beat-up hanging sand bags. If the song doesn’t inspire you to never surrender, his cheesy red headband definitely will.
Arguably one of the greatest, and cheesiest, martial arts movies of all time, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s debut leading role pulls no montage punches. Frank Dux (Van Damme) is trained in the art of Ninjitsu by Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) and soon enters the Kumite tournament in Hong Kong to face the deadly defending champion Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). Van Damme’s montage puts him through the proverbial ringer as he is thrown, beaten, thrown some more, beaten some more, serves tea blindfolded and uses a pulley system to…well, you know the rest. Follow any one of Van Damme’s movie montages and you’ll be fully prepared to cheesekick the bad guys right into next week.
#1 Rocky IV
Hands down the greatest movie fitness montage of all time is Rocky IV. Sylvester Stallone has had three previous Rocky films to get the perfect movie montage down and he hits this one out of the ballpark. Rocky (Stallone) trains in Russia to avenge the death of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) at the hands of Russian boxing sensation Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), and it’s pure montage gold. Rocky goes old-school, chopping blocks of wood, using a pulley system to lift giant rocks, pressing his friends in a wheelbarrow, and runs up the side of a mountain. While his opponent uses the latest in technology to punch, run and lift his way into beating Rocky’s face in. All to the sweet, cheesy sounds of the now classic “Hearts on Fire.” Congratulations, Rocky IV, for providing the greatest, and cheesiest, of the fitness movie montages.