I recently started taking an exercise class called Fight Club. In it, we do an intense circuit routine involving ropes, medicine balls, weights and various forms of punching and kicking. The workout is intense, and so is the music. When "Eye of the Tiger" came on, I felt like Rocky Balboa training for a big fight with Apollo Creed.
And then it got me thinking about my favorite movie training and fight montages. These were popular in sports-themed movies in the 1980s, such as the "Rocky" franchise, and they eventually spilled over into dance films like "Dirty Dancing."
All of these types of films share a common bond—an underdog learning to believe in him\herself and finding out that anything is possible. It’s a take on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, if you will.
But it’s not just the lessons these characters are learning in these scenes that make these moments so memorable; it’s about the music that accompanies them.
So here are my top five favorite movie training montages and fight scenes and the songs that accompany them, in no particular order.
Survivor, "Burning Heart" ("Rocky IV")
When talking about inspirational training montages, "Eye of the Tiger" from the movie "Rocky" would be too easy of a choice. But although Survivor’s other famous song from the "Rocky" franchise—"Burning Heart" from "Rocky IV"—doesn’t necessarily accompany a training montage, it should, because the song "Hearts on Fire" was such a terrible choice. This song is so much better.
In this sequence, Rocky isn’t training for just any boxing match. This fight is personal, as Rocky looks to avenge the murder of his enemy-turned-best-friend, Apollo Creed, who was killed in an earlier bout with the powerful Russian giant, Ivan Drago, played by everyone’s favorite muscle-bound genius, Dolph Lundgren.
While a bearded Rocky is training in the harsh, snowy elements of Russia with nothing but wagons, rope and an old barn, Drago is training with the latest technology 1984 has to offer. The fight becomes more than just about vengeance. It becomes a metaphorical battle between two superpowers with the threat of war hanging over their heads. So why does this song makes me really want to go out and chop some wood?
Joe Esposito, "You’re the Best Around"
If you’ve seen the original "Karate Kid," you know that this song is played during Daniel LaRusso’s climb to be champion of the All-Valley Karate Championships. And it’s awesome. I mean, Esposito’s rocking anthem about being a man makes you want to root for Daniel-San all night long. But what you may not know is that the song was originally intended for the "Rocky III" soundtrack but was replaced by "Eye of the Tiger." The song was also turned down for "Flashdance." I guess Esposito’s song wasn’t the best around. But when you hear it, it sure makes you feel like you are.
Eminem, "Lose Yourself" ("8 Mile")
I’ve never seen a training sequence in a film that makes the act of writing look so exciting. It’s literally as if Eminem’s character, B-Rabbit, is training for a boxing match.
And in a way, he is. This sequence, featuring a slightly slower-tempoed version of the song, simply shows him writing his raps and honing his rhymes and wordplay for the big climactic rap battle. Not only is B-Rabbit training to battle his enemies—the Leaders of the Free World—for the next rap battle, but he’s training for a better life.
Deniece Williams, "Let’s Hear It for the Boy" ("Footloose")
Let’s hear it for this montage that features Kevin Bacon’s Ren McCormick teaching Chris Penn’s awkward, rhythm-less character how to dance, which is merely a small battle in the overall war to bring rock 'n' roll to the Bible-thumping small town of Elmore City, Okla. Williams’ song doesn’t really make me want to work out at all. The beauty of this song from this famous scene, however, is that it captures a time in the 1980s when synthesizers and cheesy, overly dramatic dance moves ruled the dance floors.
Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren, "Higher and Higher" ("Wet Hot American Summer")
This is the training montage of training montages, a parody of all the classics: "Rocky," "Dirty Dancing" and clusters of martial arts films. In "Wet Hot American Summer," Coop (Michael Showalter) yearns to win the heart of fellow camp counselor Katie (Marguerite Moreau). And the only way he can do that is through the guidance of Christopher Meloni's (from "Law & Order") character, Gene. It’s like Yoda teaching Luke about the Force. Only this involves a talking can of vegetables.
Next time you consider yourself a million-to-one shot and you feel like you’ll never be able to achieve your dream, remember what these guys went through to achieve victory. Maybe next time I go to Fight Club, I’ll request "Let’s Hear It for the Boy."
Did I miss one? Let me know in the comments below.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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