This weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Rocky III — the movie that introduced Mr. T to a mainstream audience, featured Hulk Hogan preening as “Thunderlips” and found the charm in Paulie’s grumpy alcoholism.
It was basically a cartoon.
But the movie (which, incidentally, I love) also featured the greatest training montage soundtrack of all time.
Twice, actually. Early on, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” juxtaposes Clubber Lang’s fierce determination with Rocky’s celebrity status and Muppet Show cameo, while later, the gold standard “Gonna Fly Now” showcases a leaner, funkier Rocky finding his footwork and finishing off his expedited training with a splash (aka adorable/uncomfortable bro hug).
While The Ringer recently did a great job ranking training scene montages, our focus (and argument) here is purely focused on the songs that inspired those moments. It's a purely subjective list that gives bonus points for one-hit wonders, kitsch and the presence of Sly Stallone.
10. “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito (The Karate Kid)
The Ringer claims these third-act cut-ups of Daniel’s fight scenes aren’t a “montage.” They’re actually not “training montages,” but let’s not quibble. Esposito had some success behind the scenes as a songwriter ... and seemingly appeared on every '80s soundtrack (Foxes, Zapped, Flashdance).
9. “Winner Takes It All” by Sammy Hagar (Over the Top)
The movie’s actual montage is a weak-ass Kenny Loggins ballad featuring a few seconds of father-son bicep curls and bonding over jeans jackets. The real montage comes within Hagar’s video for the arena rock anthem, which culminates with an arm-wrestling match between the Red Rocker and Stallone.
8. “Montage” by Trey Parker (Team America: World Police)
In his best Hagar/Survivor mode, South Park creator Parker bellows “Show a lot of things happening at once/Remind everyone of what's going on/And with every shot you show a little improvement/To show it all would take too long/That's called a montage.” Tie: Wet Hot American Summer’s similarly minded meta anthem “Higher and Higher.”
7. “Low Rider” by WAR (A Knight’s Tale)
A little too on the head lyrically (“Low rider/ride a little slower” as Heath Ledger is jousting) or genius? A fantastically unexpected classic rock soundtrack powered this fun medieval flick.
6. “Feeling So Good Today” by Beau Williams (Kickboxer)
JCVD’s got the moves on and off the dance floor. Saxophone and slo-mos galore.
5. “Wild Wild Life” by Wailing Souls (Cool Runnings)
“It’s all about the push start.” Anything remotely connected to the Talking Heads is fine by us, even an iffy reggae take by this long-running (ha) Jamaican rocksteady crew. Also, check out the original Talking Heads video, which features both John Goodman and Meat Leaf cameos, along with parodies of Prince and Billy Idol (1987, you live with us forever!).
4. “Shine” by Rupert Hine (Better Off Dead)
Or, the Duran Duran b-side that never existed. A total synth-pop banger for this delightfully weird '80s ski flick that John Cusack sort of disavowed. Also, preceded by the best training-scene advice ever given: “All you have to do is go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”
3. “The Glow” by Willie Hutch (The Last Dragon)
Now this is meta: a wannabe martial artists character named Bruce Leroy watches a montage of the real Bruce Lee fighting over a lightning-fueled rap-rock anthem.
2. “Push It to the Limit” by Paul Engemann (Scarface)
Tony Montana’s rise to power has its physical moments, along with this fist-pumping synth-rocker, which also powers Mack’s hockey training in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
And finally ...
1. All the Rockys
“Gonna Fly Now.” “Hearts on Fire.” “Eye of the Tiger.” And Meek Mill’s "Gonna Fly Now"-tinged “Lord Knows” for Creed.