Movie montages used to be a cornerstone of Soviet movie making until the technique was discovered by Hollywood and became a method of turning losers into winners.
Cracked on Movie Montages
Movie Montages had their orgins as the number one cinematic technique of Soviet cinema in the 1920s. Back then, movie montages were completely different from what they later became. The Russians just cut between different angles instead of different scenes, and they almost never featured Sylvester Stallone in their montages. See an example of the Soviet version below.
Also, the music was way less inspirational.
Then in the late 70s, a director and a writer/actor got together and made what's widely regarded as the greatest boxing movie of all time, and the origin of the modern montage. These two would, over the next decade, beat the use of montages into the ground trough sequels to said boxing movie and other projects. We are of course talking about Leon Isaac Kennedy, Jamaa Fanaka and the wildly successful Penitentiary series.
Training Montage (a.k.a. Preparation Montage)
The Training Montage is arguably the best known type of Movie Montage and is what most people think of when they hear the words "Movie" and "Montage" right after each other. The Training Montage is, however, just one of three sub genres of the Preparation Montage, the two others are Forming A Plan Montage and Lock & Load Montage.
Forming A Plan Montage is pretty much what it sounds like: The main characters form a plan to pull off a heist, or something else that requires a plan. This montage will usually show them plotting different steps of the plan, but still leave some for when the it is set into action.
Lock & Load Montage is for when the hero doesn't need to get better, just armed. This montage will usually show shots of the hero loading up on weapons, setting traps and testing his arsenal. Examples can be found in Commando, Predator and every Rambo sequel.
The Training montage, however, is featured in every single sports movie featuring an underdog. Bloodsport, Karate Kid, No Retreat No Surrender and every single entry of the Rocky series all contain a Training Montage.
Even though the Training Montage has been heavily used for more than 20 years, no one has yet to produce a greater montage than the Cold War propaganda masterpiece Rocky IV. This near eight minute long montage shifts between shots of Rocky combining training with household chores and Drago training in dark rooms filled with large machines with blinking lights. While Drago does drugs, Rocky outruns a car driven by KGB and climbs a mountain in less than two minutes. It's just so damn patriotic it puts tears in our eyes.
Sometimes in a sports movie the hero will have to make his way to the final round by defeating several different opponents in a competition. The problem is that we really only want to watch that last round. The solution is of course a montage.
When Sylvester Stallone hijacked the Rocky series, director John G. Avildsen had to look for another place to beat the use of montages in inspirational sports movies into the ground. The solution came with the masterpiece The Karate Kid and its not equally good sequels. The first Karate Kid movie featured a great Competition Montage accompanied by Joe Esposito's excellent "You're The Best Around." The montage followed both the hero and the villain on their way to the final, and the catchy music went a long way in helping you forget how puny Ralph Macchio actually was.
Since they never came up with the idea to have Rocky fight in a "knock-out" (no pun intended) style boxing tournament, Stallone had to get his Competition Montage with a different movie. He chose to do it with Over the Top, a movie about a father's journey to win an arm wrestling championship so he could get custody of his son. In other words: It's probably the most perfectly titled movie of all time.
(For more on Over the Top check out The 7 Stalloneyest Moments of Stallone's Film Career.)
Rise to Power Montage
The Rise to Power Montage is for when you want to show how your main character moves upwards in whatever business he or she is in. Like if you want to show how the main character goes from being your everyday Johnny Gangster to the top of the crime syndicate. The most famous Rise to Power Montage is probably the one in Scarface; but when it comes to montages, the question isn't who did it most memorably, but did Rocky do it. Could the answer be anything but yes?
Since the underdog thing was kind of used up by the end of the second movie, Stallone had to come up with something new. The solution became to turn Rocky into the Apollo Creed role by making him a large public figure with advertisement, lots of money and an appearance on The Muppet Show. Stallone solved it nicely with a montage.
Montage as a Last Resort
Sometimes the director wants to make a certain scene, but he doesn't have all the cinematic aids necessary to do so. Here is when you can always turn to the montage, and Sylvester Stallone did just that in Rocky IV.
So the situation is as follows: Apollo Creed has just died and Stallone wants to let audience know that Rocky is in grief, but at the same time he has to choose between staying with his family or making a comeback to get revenge on Drago. Stallone's only problem as a director is that the actor he is directing is himself, and as an actor Stallone has only got two chops, struggling to not mispronounce words and getting hit in the face. So Stallone chooses the last resort, a montage, and it works out perfectly. Rocky goes to fight Drago, keeps his family together and no one has to see Stallone trying to act.
Unintentionally Gay Montage
That time is constantly changing is a fact. For everyone that survived the 80s it is a sad fact. Because it means that you sometimes find pictures of yourself in pastel coloured shirts and sporting a mullet that makes MacGyver look bald. For montage artists, or mediocre directors as they are also known, this meant that the montages that were heavy on dudes grasping and hugging each other became slightly less masculine than they were intended to be. Unintentionally Gay Montages are the only type of montage that don't depend on the content shown. Any type of montage can be an Unintentionally Gay Montage. For use of Unintentionally Gay Montages in underdog sports movies, check out No Retreat No Surrender. For Unintentionally Gay Montages with Sylvester Stallone, check out Lock Up. Wait, does that mean that Rocky didn't do it? Of course not.
As you might have noticed, that used to be a Training Montage back in the 80 but now it has crossed over to join the Unintentionally Gay Montages. And why is that? We're not going to lie: It's the small tank tops, and the slow-motion running in the wind scenes that ends with slow-motion sweaty man hugs and slow-motion jumping in the water.
Another montage that came out of the closet after the 80s is this training montage from Footloose. There are several things that make this an Unintentionally Gay Montage: the snapping practice, the forest running and the unintentionally gay song that plays in the background are all important factors. But what really pushes it over the limit, and far over, is Kevin Bacon's way too tight pants.
The Credit Montage comes in two versions: the opening credits montage and the closing credits montage. A Credit Montage can be used during the opening credits if you want to let the viewers get to know something about the main character(s) without stealing precious time from the main story. Like in Commando where a Credit Montage during the opening credits is used to establish a relationship between Arnold and his daughter without losing any time for shooting and pipe impaling.
A Credit Montage is used during the closing credits to sum up what you have just seen or showing bloopers. The first technique is, for instance, used in every television series that aired between 1970 and 1989. The second is used in many comedies and Jackie Chan movies including every Rush Hour movie. Another place where the first technique was used were, you guessed it, the Rocky series. Because when finishing of the Rocky series, well at least they thought they did, how else could it be done?
If you, like Sylvester Stallone, have a hard-on for montages check out The '80s Movie Montage Hall of Fame.
Or if you can't read an article that isn't in list form check out 6 Awesome 80s Movie Montages (That Make No Damn Sense).