The movie montage is an art, albeit a lost one. It's a way for a movie to constrict time into a mere few minutes to give us the illusion a lot is happening and going on. With this comes a memorable song to get us through it, drop-ins of dialogue and audio cues and quick scene after scene until we get to a third act. It gets you to fall into the film and cheer your hero (or even villain)on. It's there to get you, as they say, "pumped up" just as the person or persons we are watching are getting "pumped up."
You'll notice a lot of these films are from the 1980s. That's because the montage and the 1980s go together like....well, cocaine and the 1980s.
25: Team America
Song: "You Need a Montage" by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Let's start it off right. If you're going to discuss great montage sequences, you have to have the one that reminded us, in it's own self-aware comedic way, about the montage sequence to begin with. Not sure why this clip is in Spanish but the music is not. Hit play around the 15 sec start and you'll start to see what a montage is really all about as Gary gets ready for the final battle to save the rest of Team America. Remember, there is no "i" in "Team America."
24: Dawn of the Dead
Scene: Cleaning up the mall.
Song: Generic circus music.
After fortifying defenses, stocking up on weapons, the mall becomes cleared of zombies thanks to bullets and machetes. The bodies are put away and now the place is free-to-roam and you can take anything your heart desires. Who hasn't thought of that at some point? What the characters in the original Dawn of the Dead do is pretty much what any person would do in a situation as seen in this clip showing the enjoyment they have. Too bad Savini and his biker gang has to ruin it all. Bastard.
Scene: Nicky's Story
Song: "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" by the Rolling Stones.
One man who loves the montage sequence, but hides it very well, is filmmaker Martin Scorsese. In this sequence of events during his film Casino, we are told the rise of Nicky, played by Joe Pesci. It moves briskly and quickly from story to story with the Rolling Stones, another Scorsese trademark, playing in the background and voiced over by DeNiro and Pesci.
22: National Lampoon's European Vacation
Song: "New Looks" by Dr. John.
I'm thinking there's a lot of shopping montages I'm forgetting, but this one always came to mind. The Griswalds are in Italy. I can't fully recall where exactly, but they are off to get away from the minutia that is, well, the Griswald vacation and the foursome heads off to try out the latest in European fashion. Some work, most don't, and it's a lot of fun on how they spent their afternoon.
21: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Scene: Training the Merry Men.
Song: Instrumental by Michael Kamen.
"Then by God, we take it back" says Kevin Costner in his pitch-perfect English accent. Say what you want about the movie, but the training sequence is really one of the best. Here we see Robin, Azeem, Little John and a few others train the rag-tag group that would eventually become Robin's band of men (they aren't really "Merry" but they are sometimes goofy) working with what the forest gives them.The iconic arrow-split caps it all off, perfect way to do it. The magic begins around the 1:23 mark.
20: Forrest Gump
Scene: Americana running.
Song: "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger. "Running on Empty" by Jackson Browne. "It Keeps you Runnin" by The Doobie Brothers. "On the Road Again"... a montage of songs also here.
One day, for no particular reason, Forrest Gump decided to run. This montage sequence shows Forrest Gump getting up one day and running criss-cross, banck and forth across America that was, my his estimation, for three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours. Now if that doesn't call for a montage sequence, I don't know what does. It practically writes itself.
19: Rocky III
Scene: Fight training (and totally straight celebrating in the ocean)
Song: "Gonna Fly Now" by Bill Conti.
Switching his style to focus on speed rather than just brutal power, Rocky is trained by his former rival Apollo Creed. It's out of the streets of Philadelphia and into the sunny world of Los Angeles. It's fast, frantic, and we see Rocky learn to finally keep up so he's ready to dismantle champion Clubber Lang in the ring. Rocky III gets a slight deduction on this list, however, due to the reuse of the original film's montage music and the, let's just call it "celebration," in the water with Stallone and Billy Dee at the end. Just seems a little odd.
18: Teen Wolf
Scene: The Final Game
Song: "Win in the End" by Mark Safan.
A sports movie where everyone comes together after some difficulties and learns an important lesson in the end? Why I never heard of such a thing. Teen Wolf has our lead, played by Michael J. Fox, shun his wolfman alter ego and learn to play with the rest of his team, together like it always should have been, in the final game between...the dragons? Really? Well...Go Beavers!
17: Look Who's Talking
Scene: Little Mikey growing up.
Song: "When I Grow Up (to be a man)" by The Beach Boys.
Sometimes you can make a montage sequence out of adorable cuteness.There' no better example than this short one from Look Who's Talking, also known as the comedy trilogy nobody fully remembers other than it had John Travolta before Pulp Fiction and the voice of Bruce Willis after Die Hard.
16: Over the Top
Scene: The Championships
Song: "Winner Takes it All" by Kenny Loggins (yes, that Kenny Loggins)
Had this movie been better, I would have put it higher because the montage sequence itself is absolutely thrilling and fantastic. It just runs roughshot through match after match with lots of strong burly men grunting, sweating and moaning as they tightly grab each other and push and pull...wait a minute.
Scene: Training to be immortal.
Song: Instrumental main theme by Michael Ramen.
There are a lot of montages that are about training, that's really the whole idea of it because you don't want to just show all the training realistically and in real time, you just want to show that they trained. In the case of Highlander, it does is a tad better than most thanks to some beautiful music and sweeping vistas of Scotland and it explains everything about being immortal clearly. Plus it gets bonus points for having Sean Connery call Christopher Lambert a "pendejo."
14: Rambo II
Scene: Rambo's circus of death.
Song: Instrumental/ambient by Jerry Goldsmith.
It's hard to tell if this is an actual montage or one continuous scene, but Rambo basically picks apart soldier after soldier in this rather long series of death scenes from our favorite shirtless jungle-trotter. I'm going with it being a montage, because one second he's in a tree, the next under the ground, then he's just shooting people with arrows.
Scene: Warehouse dance routine.
Song: "Never" by Moving Pictures.
I have to say, there's nothing like dancing all night to the crack of dawn in an abandoned warehouse while listening to 1980s pop. This famous scene from Footloose can seem like a music video at times, especially with the insane dancing by Kevin Bacon in obvious shot set-ups like it's right out of an old Michael Jackson video.
Scene: Cleaning house.
Song: "Layla" by Eric Clapton.
The second Scorsese montage on this list and the defining one of his career. After 'screwin the pooch' as they say, lots of mob guys end up getting whacked and we see the outcome. Some are found in cars, others in dumpsters and freezers all to the melodic final piece of Eric Clapton's "Layla" and great voiceover narration from Ray Liotta. Scorsese likes to use the montage as a 'recap' of sorts and tell us quicky events that happened off-screen. We see the aftermath here in the series of corpses.
11: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Scene: A day at the art museum.
Song: "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental)" by the Smiths.
There's something strangely charming, innocent and even moving about this rather brief montage sequence. Skipping school with his girlfriend and best friend, Ferris stops into the art museum in Chicago and spends some time looking at the various pieces of art. What's interesting is we don't see Ferris and friends very much, mainly just art piece after art piece and assume these are what he's looking at. It's a small piece of tranquility on Ferris's otherwise crazy day.
Scene: Project Mayhem.
Song: "Homework" by The Dust Brothers.
In David Fincher's masterful adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's "fuck you, world" novel we get to relish in the anarchy caused by one Mr. Tyler Durden and Mr. Durden's homework assignment he gives out to his members. The men then go out and wreck havoc across the city from small things such as repainting billboards to larger things such as blowing up stores. It ends with Tyler putting up newspaper clippings showing...the one that says "Police seize excrement catapult" caught my eye. Out of all the montages, this one is the most visually compelling and moves perfectly with the Dust Brothers' soundtrack.
9: Dirty Dancing
Scene: Dance training.
Song: "Hungry Eyes" by Eric Carmen.
When putting this list together, I often looked around online and across message boards to see what montages others might have liked or perhaps some I may have forgotten about. Well...this was one I forgot about (or blocked out, not entirely sure). Sadly, as much as I would love to say it's horrible, it's actually a pretty good montage sequence after viewing again. So enjoy your young studly Patrick Swayze in spandex, ladies.
Scene: Spring training/making the team.
Song: "Rudy Theme" by Jerry Goldsmith.
Rudy is simply one of the greatest sports movies to be made. Strangely, there's actuallly not a lot of sports happening in it. It's not about the big game at the end or good guys versus another team as so many are, it's about the little guy who never gave up. This montage shows his trying out for Notre Dame. It's inspirational, the entire movie had been building to this one chance for him, and the montage moves us emotionally...something montages really dont do as they're often used to quickly move through events. Easily one of the best.
7: Rocky IV
Scene: Fight training.
Song: "Hearts on Fire" by John Cafferty.
Arguably the cheesiest out of all the Rocky montages, Rocky IV's depiction of burly Sylvester Stallone in the mountains training with axes, trees and boulders is legendary. these shots are innercut with the more advanced training by his opponent, Ivan Drago, who is enjoys hitting certain numbers, lots of computers and the popular training pastime called steroids. It's about basics versus advancement on top of the Americans versus those commies knowns as Russians as only the 1980s can depict. It couldn't be more obvious or more fun and fitting.
5: The Naked Gun
Scene: The date.
Song: "I'm Into Something Good" by Herman's Hermits
When I think of a first date, I can only hope to live up to Frank (Leslie Neilson) and the date he goes on in The Naked Gun. It's take on the rather boring date scenes that populate a lot of romantic comedies, but this classic parody one-ups all of them by setting up similar scenarios...then going that one step further into being ridiculous. Classic movie, classic montage and perfect use of music.
Scene: The rise to power.
Song: "Push it to the Limit" by Paul Engemann
Commonly referred to as the "Rise to power" montage, we see Tony Montana go from street hustler to kingpin. Money, women, drugs, bodies...it's all here (even a wedding). It's hedonistic and self-indulgent and we wouldn't have it any other way in this classic gangster flick. The song is perfect and relishes itself in the crazy drug-fueled world of the 1980s.
Scene: Media montage.
Song: "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr.
After busting (pun intended) their asses to get noticed and be viewed as more than just a few nuts, the media soaks up the Ghostbusters like a sponge with radio talk, magazines, interviews. It shows their rising celebrity status as well as their jobs while doing it in a montage full of rapid scenes and images. It's as fun as the film itself, all to the classic theme song by Ray Parker Jr.
2: Karate Kid
Scene: The championships.
Song: "You're the Best" by Joe Esposito
A safe pick but an obligatory one, Karate Kid's final scenes are mainly made to be great with a perfect song as we watch LaRusso rise up the ranks to meet his foe, Johnny, and try his best to stay out of the bodybag that Johnny has planned for him. The matches are quick and efficient, as most martial arts matches are, and stay rather realistic which, considering the martial-arts craze at the time, is a nice change of pace. Like those matches, this montage is also efficient making it a standard and perfect example of how a montage is to be used.
Scene: Fight training.
Song: "Gonna Fly Now" by Bill Conti
Yeah, a predictable choice but is there any other one? If you haven't figured out by now this was going to be number one then you probably haven't seen the movie. Rocky made the montage sequence an art form.
Honorable Mention Because the movie rocks: Trainspotting
Scene: Opening introduction.
Song: "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop.
While not quite a montage as we know it, it strangely fits the tone of the film anyways. It's all over the place, fun and a rush. In this opening montage to the film, we have it all laid out for us plain and simple. In less than two minutes we're introduced to all the major characters, see they break the law, do drugs, enjoy soccer, all with Renton's cynical voiceover. It's fun, frantic, and a the song is a perfect fit as its full of as much energy as the montage itself. This is the only montage sequence on this list that isn't progressive, meaning it doesn't have a clear beginning and end, just a series of shots which is why it was just left off but I had to note it either way. Short and to the point and incredibly effective.
Your montage wasn't "montagy" enough but still a good one: The Breakfast Club, Real Genius, Revenge of the Nerds, The Karate Kid III, Secret of My Success, Better Off Dead, Kill Bill, Hoosiers,Titanic, Breakin' (and Breakin' 2...I guess), Bloodsport, Top Gun, Batman Begins (only off because Highlander did it better), Vanilla Sky, Happy Gilmore, Wet Hot American Summer (the funniest next to Team America), Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Gremlins
Author's note: This was easily the most difficult Top 25 I've done, not just finding videos, which was hard and time consuming (especially if they were available on easy to find sites like youtube) but also difficult in the fact that every time I'd put a film down, I'd think of another one, or worse I would recall a montage sequence, go back to see the movie and realize it wasn't a montage sequence at all. I hope it was worth it, a better part of a month this was, but it was fun.