Ever since Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein introduced the world to the cinematic montage, it's become a powerful tool.
While the montage has taken many different forms over the years—and has been used for various functions in numerous creative ways—Eisenstein mainly considered it a tool for symbolism.
Many filmmakers still use montages for this purpose, while others have evolved to using montages for demonstrating the passage of time.
However, the ideal cinematic montage does both: not only does it demonstrate progress, but it also conveys all of the symbolic resonance that the passage of time holds for the characters involved.
Whether iconic, groundbreaking, or just downright powerful, here are our picks for the best movie montage scenes of all time and why they ought to be considered some of the best editing ever done in film.
7. Team America: World Police (2004)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are no strangers to parody. There's nothing personal about who they take aim at, so long as they find it funny—and in Team America: World Police, they do exactly that.
As they find time to poke fun at Hollywood and dictators at the same time, they also make a few gags about filmmaking itself.
The montage scene is a parody of all montages, particularly ones from the likes of Karate Kid (1983) and Rocky (1976)! The lyrics are especially hilarious, so make sure to give it a good ear.
6. Mulan (1998)
More than two decades ago, Disney released one of their greatest and arguably underrated animated films: Mulan.
Way before people were celebrating Elsa as the first Disney heroine who didn't need a man to save her, Mulan was kicking ass and taking names—even if she initially struggled to keep up with her male counterparts.
But in a desperate bid to follow through, she steels her resolve and does what no man before her had ever done: she retrieves the arrow from atop the wooden pole, earning the respect of everyone around her.
It's an electrifying montage that everyone needs to see!
5. Rocky (1976)
The Rocky franchise may have gained bigger budgets over time and Sylvester Stallone may have gained bigger muscles, but there's still no montage in the franchise better than the original.
In preparation for his fight against Apollo Creed, Rocky trains hard. We see the pushups, the jogging, the pummelling of cow carcasses. It's dingy and grimy, but Rocky comes from the streets and that's who he is—this is his chance to make something more of himself.
Watching Rocky sprint along the docks is one of the most motivational things you'll ever seen in cinema, the best sports montage in film history. It's his moment and he knows it.
4. Up (2009)
Here come the tears! In what's often considered Pixar's best four minutes of film ever made, Up opens with a montage that documents the full relationship between Carl and Ellie from start to finish.
We see the life they live together, the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs. We see their laughs, their smiles, and the fun they have along the way. We see two lives spent in harmonious companionship.
And when we see that life of partnership come to a tragic end, it's absolutely gut-wrenching yet incredibly beautiful. It's physically impossible not to tear up while watching it, so be warned.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Alongside Casablanca (1942) and The Godfather (1972), Citizen Kane frequently finds itself at the top of lists and polls when it comes to the best films of all time. The American Film Institute ranks it as number one.
Orson Welles' brilliance is on full display in every scene of the film. In one particular scene, however, Welles takes full advantage of the possibilities of film by incorporating a montage.
The progression of Charles Foster Kane's first marriage is documented across their breakfasts spent together. While they're nothing but sweetness and love at first, Kane and his wife soon grow weary of each other and turn wretched.
It's a powerful sequence that's cleverly executed, making it one of the best montages in film history to this day.
2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
There's something hauntingly beautiful about the museum montage in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
In John Hughes' classic film, the main trio is at a crossroads. They're almost adults, but of course they still possess the uncertainty, innocence, and angst that comes with being adolescents.
In what might be their last trip together, they walk through the halls of the museum—and you can feel that they each understand the portentous significance of these moments they have right now.
The film as a whole is a fun romp overall, but this montage injects the film with an immense feeling of existentialism. Where will these friends be in years to come? How will time change them? Will they ever be as happy as they are right now?
None of these questions are asked outright, but we feel them in the stares of the characters and the incredible music by The Dream Academy. It's a deeply moving montage and one of the best of all time.
1. The Godfather (1972)
Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, The Godfather also features what might just be the best montage in cinema history.
In this scene, Michael Corleone is attending his nephew's baptism and stands at the altar, ready to be sworn as the child's godfather. Before he can do so, Michael must make a vow in front of family, friends, and God.
"Do you renounce Satan?"
As he makes this vow, we witness a montage of assassinations taking place all over the city. Powerful men from many different organizations and institutions—all wrapped up in Corleone's own web of influence—are murdered where they stand.
In the streets, in an elevator, in a massage parlor. It doesn't matter where, it happens everywhere. Michael Corleone was out to get power and he has absolutely no issue with lying and killing to get it.
The montage represents some of the best character development in the history of cinema. It's a moment where Michael finally shows what he has become—at a pivotal moment in his life, Michael is asked if he will renounce Satan, and in that pivotal moment, Michael lied.