Zero to Hero in One Scene: The Training Montage - Troped!

Written by Spencer Sher The use of montage is a handy tool for all filmmakers, but it is most commonly used in the training montage. Join us here at WatchMojo as we discuss the trope of the training montage here on Troped. Watch as we delve into the science behind telling an audience of hard work and accomplishments in just a few seconds with just a few shots on screen. Watch on WatchMojo: To vote for what video we make next, check out the WatchMojo suggest tool here: WatchMojo.commy/suggest.php

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When a movie character needs to buff up, bear down or sharpen their mind, this is the trope they use. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Troped - the series where we deconstruct the clichés, archetypes, and story devices that won’t go away. In this episode, we’re taking a look at “Training Montages”: a succession of shots that show a character, or characters, going through a series of physical and mental exercises in preparation for the big game, upcoming fight or final battle.

A montage is a series of shots edited together to condense information into a shorter period of time. They’re great at showing that time is passing, and for giving the audience a lot of information quickly and efficiently. For most moviegoers, the word montage is synonymous with iconic training montages, like the famous scene in Rocky. Training montages provide the viewer with a glimpse of the rigors that a character or characters are undergoing in preparation for their upcoming showdown, most of the time with the accompaniment of inspirational music.

So where did the idea of a montage come from? Well, film as an art form is still relatively young. Over the course of its roughly 120-year lifespan it has received contributions from filmmakers all over the world. The Russians’ contribution was montage. Beginning in the early 1920s, a number of soviet filmmakers, led by Sergei Eisenstein, began experimenting with editing, and the result was their montage theory. These pioneer directors quickly realized the potential of their new cinematic technique, and montage quickly made its way to Hollywood. The Russians saw montage as something that was completely unique to cinema, regarding it as a form of creative editing. Some scenes, such as the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, left a lasting impression on the film world that can still be felt today.

Training montages are everywhere, and can be found in just about any genre. From superhero movies to Disney cartoons, not a year goes by without this trope being used to tell a hundred different stories. While some, such as Rocky’s run through the streets of Philly, have gone on to become iconic film moments, others, such as the training montage in “Team America: World Police” have hilariously parodied the formulaic nature of these scenes. The beauty of this particular trope is that it has a multitude of uses. Bruce Wayne used a montage to hone his skills in the Himalayas, Mulan learned to become a soldier and “The Karate Kid’s” Daniel waxed on and off while learning karate from Mr. Miyagi.

But nowhere is this trope more at home than in sports films. The Rocky franchise got the ball rolling with a number of stellar training montages in the '70s and '80s. Since then it has slowly become a staple in any film about a plucky underdog going up against a more talented opponent. It may not have been obvious back then, but Rocky kick started a movement that is still going strong today. The montage has become such an important part of showing that an individual or team is enhancing their skills that it gets used more times than a bad joke. In fact, any sports film that doesn’t include at least one epic training montage just doesn’t feel complete. Our question is this: are training montages just lazy storytelling? It has been nearly 100 years since Eisenstein gave us the Odessa Steps Sequence. Since then, the montage hasn’t evolved all that much. It’s still just a series of shots edited together quicker than normal, typically deployed in an attempt to drum up an emotional response from the viewer. But, as the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Despite how familiar audiences are with the formula, sometimes they just work.

A quick succession of diverse and adrenaline fueled shots will almost always grab an audience's attention. Who wants to watch characters improve slowly? Just give us the Cliff Notes version and let’s get to the big climactic showdown! So bust out the sweatpants, throw on some '80s hair metal and toss in a Rocky flick – this is one trope that isn’t going anywhere!

So, what do you think? Is a sports film incomplete without a training montage? What are some of your favorite examples of the “Training Montage” trope?

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