From “Bring It On” to “Love Lies Bleeding”: The Best Training Montages of All Time

We’ve all felt that feeling. You know, the one where you’re watching a movie and you can sense, in your bones and in the pit of your stomach, that the protagonist of the film is about to undergo a hard training journey in preparation for something they have to do.

Sometimes, it comes on in the beginning of the movie because they have no experience in whatever they’re interested in doing. Sometimes, it comes on in the middle when they have to come back from some crushing defeat. Other times, it might come on when they have to prove themselves or as a flashback because they’re stuck in a situation where they have to use what they learned in training to escape. No matter the point of the movie, the training montage is a moment of unabashed euphoria: Here’s our “hero” (or “heroes”) doing what it takes to attempt to beat the odds of whatever they’re up against.

Training montages are not just used to give us an idea of what our protagonist must learn and sacrifice to become who they are at the end of the film. They also provide context for the significance of the challenge they’re taking on, to build tension for the rest of the film, and to give us hope that they’re strong enough to stand up to anything. Training montages generally follow a fairly strict formula: a challenge is introduced to the protagonist, they recognize they’re ill-equipped to handle it without preparation, they do the work, and they continue on their journey, ready to kick ass, defeat their enemies, or get themselves out of sticky situations. And they usually have some similar elements: a guide or teacher helping the protagonist achieve their goals, a very clear objective, interesting camera work, sometimes narration to help the viewers follow, and a sick score.

People might argue that the best training montages follow this formula exactly as it is and incorporate all or most of these elements but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think the best training montages — or at least, some of the most memorable ones — play with the formula a little bit. This experimentation could come by an unconventional choice of where the montage appears in the narrative, using a completely unexpected score, changing the usual order of the elements of the classic training montage, or by just completely upending our expectations of what a montage should look like. A truly great montage should have something that sets it apart from the long history of training montages in film.

The most popular and beloved training montages of all time — Rocky & Rocky IV, Mulan, Cool Runnings, and Batman Begins, for example — embrace tradition and straddle experimentation while also drawing the audience into the central conflict of the story. It becomes part of why we hold onto these stories so tightly: We’ve been shown how grueling it is for our hero to get (or not get) the thing they wanted so badly. We’re not only more connected to the outcome of the hero’s story, but we’re there with them in the muck of figuring out how to prevail.

There are hundreds of films that feature training montages of some kind, even if they’re extremely short and somewhat inconsequential to overall plot development. But the following are the ones that are truly worth seeing — sometimes even outside of the contexts of the films themselves.

Enough (2002) “Learning to Fight Back”

The training montage in Enough isn’t as experimental as some of the others on the list, but I think it succeeds in using all of the traditional elements to make us really believe that Slim (played by J.Lo and yes, that is her name in the film) will be able to beat her abusive ex-husband’s ass. In it, we not only see her finger attack half of a grapefruit but we also get little gems of fighting wisdom from her Krav Maga and self-defense trainer: “It takes twice as much energy to swing and miss than to swing and hit.” Tension builds slowly throughout the scene until the final act where her trainer puts her learning to one final test.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) “The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei”

Keeping it in the revenge story family here, I would be remiss not to mention the Bride’s/Beatrix Kiddo’s (Uma Thurman) time training with Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). Here, Quentin Tarantino creates a unique scenario that draws us into the montage. The Bride/Beatrix is buried alive and has no weapons to help her escape aside from her body. Before she attempts to escape, Tarantino brings us back into her memory to show the audience how she gained the skills to make it out of that cedar box alive.

It’s an especially interesting montage because, stylistically, it stands out among so many others but it actually just follows a lot of classic Tarantino tendencies: going from wide angles to super close ups, using silhouettes in the middle of the sequence, and zooming into the character’s faces or movements to increase the overall tension in the scene. The score, “Invincible Pole Fighter” by Sho Chun Hou and Stephen Shing, also matches so well with all of the struggles and tribulations featured in the montage.

The Iron Claw (2023) “Becoming Fighters”

I think the needle drop on this montage is probably what will make me (and everyone else) remember it forever. You don’t really know where the scene is going when Stanley Simons’s Mike Von Erich opens a new album he just received and puts it on the turntable, but when Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” starts blasting over his speakers, it takes an exhilarating turn. All of a sudden, we’re in the Von Erich boys’ garage gym where Zac Efron’s Kevin and Harris Dickinson’s David are teaching their younger brother Kerry (Jeremy Allan White) how to work out like a wrestler. In between weightlifting sequences, we get wild blasts of the boys fighting together in the ring. Taken all together, it not only shows us how much work they put into training for their performances but it also helps endear the audience to the boys’ bond, which is critical to the rest of the film.

Stick It (2006) “Missy’s Training”

A true aughts dyke favorite…who amongst us didn’t watch Stick It and wonder whether or not Haley Graham (Missy) was, well…you know, one of us?? I think what makes this particular montage so memorable — besides that famous ice bath scene that seems to be seared into the mind of every queer person I know — is that it focuses so intently on Missy’s failures and inability to fully grasp the delicate balance between athleticism and grace that gymnastics relies so heavily on. She falls and keeps falling, and there’s no place for the “Will she or won’t she?” tension to really go.

Obviously, we’re supposed to hope she’ll be fine in the end, but the montage itself doesn’t give us so much of that on its own, an unusual take on the traditional formula. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s backed by Green Day’s “Brain Stew.” Watching this back, I’m haunted by the board shorts with the 10-inch inseam, but I still think it’s one of the more interesting montages put to film.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – “Slayer Training”

Buffy jumps in the air holding a wooden stake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) is streaming on Max.

I wasn’t going to include this one because I’m not sure if anyone really cares about it as much as I do, but the truth is, Kristy Swanson (Buffy) just looks so jacked and hot in this montage, I feel like I can’t not include it. Plus, there is a little bit of humor here, which isn’t necessarily uncommon in these montages but it is rare. Buffy didn’t really need the training, technically, because she was born to be the slayer, but I like that Fran Rebel Kuzui and Joss Whedon decided to include it to kind of prove that to those of us watching.

The Cutting Edge (1992) “Doug & Kate Training”

God, this one is chaotic, isn’t it? I love the absolute heavy-handedness of it so much. Why are all the shots so close? Why is the camera so zoomed into their bodies that you can’t tell whether they’re working out or having sex? Why so much focus on the tension in their faces? I’m really not sure but it does make for such an interesting scene considering what comes before it. You see, prior to this part of the film, Doug (D.B. Sweeney) and Kate (Moira Kelly) were very uncoordinated in their skating, in their goals, in their hopes for their future together. This isn’t the only thing that finally brings them together, but it does for us…here we see them working out in sync with each other and with Black Box’s “Ride On Time,” a true 90s gem blasting perfectly over the montage. Constantly trying to one-up each other, their training together makes them challenge one another while helping build mutual respect between them as athletes and skating partners.

Million Dollar Baby (2004) “Maggie’s Training”

I’m not the biggest fan of Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking, and I’m especially not a big fan of the kind of turn this movie eventually takes but I’m a sucker for Million Dollar Baby. I mean, it’s designed to make us like it, isn’t it? It’s more of an underdog story than any underdog story you could possibly imagine and it ends tragically. But before we get there, we have to see the underdog get stronger, we have to see her test herself and her mettle, we have to see a teacher reluctantly agree to work with her and teach her everything she needs to know, and that’s exactly what we get here.

I think what’s so magical about this particular montage is the way Eastwood composed it. Of course, it’s filmed in the same drab and muted color scheme that all of his films use, but instead of toning the montage down, it kind of brings it up a little. Then, we have the gentle score of a guitar being plucked softly and melodically that injects a little playfulness into the atmosphere of the scene. As Scrap (Morgan Freeman) narrates the scene by explaining the basics of boxing to the audience, all of the elements plus Maggie’s (Hilary Swank) practice comes together to create a montage that showcases Maggie’s hard work but doesn’t feel hardcore.

Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985) “Getting show-ready”

Does it count as a training montage if the film is a technically documentary? I’m going to say “Yes” in this particular circumstance because the conditions for this particular documentary were entirely fabricated just so it could be filmed. I could write several hundreds of words about Pumping Iron II, but we’re here to talk about training montages, so let me stay focused. This one actually features two montages, so it’s a choose your fighter situation for which one you want to view the most. The first montage happens about 16 minutes into the film and follows one of the film’s main subjects Rachel McLish as she works out in her local gym with other women. Although it does show McLish doing a lot of lifting, she’s actually not the sole focus. The women are coaching each other and struggling together, which is a lot rarer to see in film than you think.

The second montage arrives about 21 minutes into the film and is of Bev Francis, the film’s other main subject, lifting with her trainer. Francis was a competitive powerlifter, not a competitive bodybuilder, prior to being part of the documentary, so this montage gives viewers an idea of what she had to do in the gym to get her body “show ready.” Like all of George Butler’s work, the focus here is mainly on the bodies of his subjects — how muscles contract and fall, how people react to doing difficult work, how much they can push until they can’t push anymore, the sounds they make as they’re pushing. It’s a celebration of what the body can do if we want to make it.

Creed (2015) “If I fight, you fight.”

When I thought about writing this, I told myself I wouldn’t put a Rocky-related scene on here, but the montage from Creed is just too good to leave off. What makes this training montage so effective is that it only comes because Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) makes a deal with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) that ultimately leads to “Adonis Creed win[ning] the night.” I don’t want to give it all away but it’s extremely touching and shows the lengths people will go to protect the people they love, even from things that are far beyond their control.

Once we get into the montage itself, it pulsates from start to finish as we watch Donnie practice his boxing moves and outrun a group of motorbike and ATV riders. On top of that, the montage begins with a classical score by Ludwig Goransson that merges seamlessly into Meek Mill’s “Lord Knows/Fighting Stronger,” and if that doesn’t make you feel truly alive for a minute, I don’t know what will.

Flashdance (1983) “Come on, let’s go workout!”

Flashdance is unique in that it technically has two training montages: one where Alex (Jennifer Beals) trains with her girls and another where she prepares for her big audition. But honestly, I think the one where she works out with her girls is just a lot more fun visually and because of all the chatting they’re doing as they’re lifting weights. Plus, it’s set to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll,” so what’s not to love? The focus of this scene is on the faces of the characters as they’re lifting, which I find funny and sets it apart from the other montages. Are they really lifting? Who can say? But I guess we’re not supposed to think too hard about that because it seems as though they are. What’s also unique about it is that we don’t see Alex doing any work even though she’s the protagonist.

Bring It On (2000) “Ok, let’s do this.”

It would probably be against the millennial code of conduct not to include Bring It On on this list, and even though the training montage doesn’t have many of the traditional components, it fits the bill to me. The montage comes on the heels of the Toros having to come up with a completely new cheerleading routine because their previous ones were stolen and the one they learned from a professional choreography was also given to other teams in the competition they’re competing in. They have to look for new skills and inspiration elsewhere, so Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) makes them take different dance classes, watch musicals, and put their previous knowledge together to create something original and extraordinary. We’re taken through all of their whacky attempts at learning new styles of dance, and we’re made to believe that they won’t be going home from the competition ashamed ever again.

Beau Travail (1999) “Basic Training”

Best training montages of all-time: a still from Beau Travail of all the men training

Beau Travail is now streaming on Max and The Criterion Channel.

Beau Travail features a couple of different training sequences but they one I’m referring to here, specifically, is the one that comes earliest in the film when we’re just getting to know Galoup (Denis Lavant) and what his troop of fellow French Foreign Legionnaires are actually doing in Djibouti. I could write a much longer piece on this training montage alone — the way the men’s sculpted bodies cut across the desert landscape, the sound of the boots hitting the rocky ground and the grunts they let out as they go through their training routine, the look in Galoup’s eyes as he watches on and joins them. Claire Denis brings it all together to create something truly singular in its approach and delivery. It’s unlike any training montage on this list or in any other film I’ve ever seen. You just have to experience it to fully get it.

I, Tonya (2017) “She really did this!”’

First of all, this montage is set to Heart’s “Barracuda,” which absolutely rules. This is training for Tonya Harding’s (Margot Robbie) big comeback and her very last opportunity to make it into the Olympics. In it, we see her do various things: skating (of course), ballet dancing, training like “Rocky did to fight the Russian.” The best part of the montage is that both Tonya and Diane (Julianne Nicholson) often stare directly into the camera to remind us that she actually did all of the stuff we see in the montage. This one really stands out to me because it has one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the whole film cut into it: One of the judges on the preliminary Olympics committee tells her she keeps getting scored low because they don’t want her representing the U.S. at the Olympics because she “refuses to play along.” She asks “Why can’t it just be about the skating?” and he doesn’t answer, and that’s the end of the montage. It really helps bring the classism and elitism Tonya experienced throughout her career into crystal clear view.

Dangal (2016) “We don’t want to wrestle.”

Two girls get ready to wrestle as their coach stands between them in Dangal

Dangal is not currently available to stream in the U.S.

Dangal is such a Disney hidden treasure here in the U.S. because it didn’t get huge distribution when it first came out. Based on the true story of amateur pehlwani wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan) and his daughters who he trained to fight despite the sport being barely sex-integrated in the 1980s and 1990s, Dangal features an epic training montage where Phogat makes his two oldest daughters, Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar), go through the typical training exercises for wrestlers at that time. For Geeta and Babita, this is the first time they’ve had to do something so physically grueling in their whole lives, so the scene is peppered with moments of exhaustion, anger, and, eventually, some triumphs. In addition to that, the montage features an original Bollywood-style track presumably sung in the voices of the girls where they beg their father to stop making them do this hard work. Like some of the other montages on this list, the training the girls have to go through brings them closer to each other and also helps them have a greater love and respect for the sport of wrestling.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001) “You are ready to be taught the new way.”

I think parodies of training montages also count as training montages! This parody is a perfect example of how making fun of something can also deepen the qualities of a film’s characters and help do the same work in the film that the thing being made fun of traditionally does. Prior to this montage, we learn that Coop (Michael Showalter) has a huge crush on Katie (Marguerite Moreau), but he’s too scared to do anything about it because she has a boyfriend (Paul Rudd). When he begins crying to Gene (Christopher Meloni) about it, Gene decides to teach Coop “the new way.” Basically, he takes him through a series of exercises and dance routines set to “Higher and Higher” by Craig Wedren and Theodore Shapiro. Coop doesn’t excel at all of it but Gene’s instruction gives him the confidence he needs to move forward and to get over having women determine his worth.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) “Training Completed”

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those films that I’ll never shut about because it really doesn’t get enough credit in our culture. It’s fun! It’s different! It’s action-packed! And Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are acting their asses off as usual! We should talk about this more, and we should talk about the enthralling training montage in it, too.

I wouldn’t say this is a strict training montage but I love what it does with the concept. Major William Cage (Cruise) lives the same day over and over again as a result of an alien invasion that broke a hole in the space-time continuum so he and Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Blunt) learn to use that fact to their advantage. They keep training to beat the aliens they are at war against over and over and over again until they’re finally confident they can win. They try new tactics every time and when Cage dies, he comes back with that information so he can improve. There’s no score here, but the sound editing is fantastic with mostly the sounds of metal clashing and guns going off being featured for about four minutes straight. At one point, Cage is paralyzed while training and Rita has to shoot him in the head to restart the day. By the end of the montage, we’re not sure if they’re going to beat these creatures, but we’re certainly rooting for them.

Love Lies Bleeding (2024) “Gone out. Be back later.”

Best training montages: Katy O'Brian lifts weights looking in the mirror

Love Lies Bleeding is now playing in theatres.

Luckily for me and everyone else who’s currently obsessed with this film, Love Lies Bleeding gives us the gift of two training montages. The first happens early on in the film, shortly after Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian) meet at Crater Gym, hook up, and begin their very swift relationship. In it, we see Lou coaching Jackie through what she needs to do to prepare for an upcoming bodybuilding competition she’s intent on winning. There’s some quick shots of Jackie lifting, but mostly, it’s a lot of flashes of Lou treating Jackie with anabolic steroid injections, whipping up yolkless egg omelets, and putting out cigarettes as they go through the motions of the intensity of Jackie’s preparation. The best part is that it all coincides with Lou making a protein shake for Jackie that she then, in an equal parts absurdly funny and very sexy turn, ends up licking off of Jackie’s chest. Thankfully, my friends, my partner, and I had the theater to ourselves so it wasn’t a big deal when we all screamed as this was happening.

The second one is the shortest montage on this list, but it’s also one of the most bizarre. There is a lot I have to say about the way Rose Glass employed elements of bodybuilding culture and the way bodybuilders live their lives in this film, and this scene helps push some of those into another dimension. Without giving too much away, a violent catastrophe threatens to prevent Jackie from getting to the bodybuilding competition. In response, Jackie decides to prepare in the wildest way possible. An anabolic steroid induced haze brings Jackie to the gym where she lifts and lifts and lifts until the gym around her begins to take a different shape. The signs in the gym — bearing typical meathead phrases like “The Body Achieves What The Mind Believes” — begin to contract and distort just like Jackie’s muscles. It’s a surrealist spin on the way these montages are typically constructed. Nothing seems real and yet everything is real all at once.

Thinking of it as a kind of fictional analog to what is seen in Pumping Iron II makes it feel even more dreamlike. In this moment, like most other montages, there is the profound hope that Jackie could go to Las Vegas, win that competition, and change her life — even though everything else in the film is pointing us to just how utterly impossible that will be.

What are your picks for the best training montages of all time?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 81 articles for us.


    • I came to this comment section with the Willow training montage in mind. It used to be on YouTube, and I’m mad at Disney all over again bc even that clip has been taken down. I think my favorite part of it is the fact that the characters are deadly serious about the high-stakes, but also clearly finding joy (and horniness) in it. Which honestly vibes with how I feel when exercising intensely — for me that’s boxing.

      Also great montage music. *never over it*

  1. Stick It influenced lesbian reporting for duty! I have made a handful of non lesbians watch it with me over the years and they have all been like “this movie isn’t actually good” but… my heart will go on. (And I’m pretty sure I say “this was an amazing needle drop in Stick It” every time I see the eBay commercial with “Come Baby Come” lol.)

  2. Ooof. I will say that I just rewatched the Rocky training montage and major credit to Rocky for doing all of that epic running in a pair of Converse high tops. My feet ache just watching 🥵

  3. Sorry but no list of this nature is complete without Demi Moore’s routine in GI Jane!! Not only for the physical aspect but for the whole psychological and emotional sh*t she had to endure!
    But kuddos for including Stick It and Buffy!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!