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A movie montage is a cinematic technique that combines a series of short shots or images to condense space, time, and information. Typically used to show the passage of time, a character’s development, or to create an emotional impact, montages convey a story’s progression without detailed exposition.
When done creatively, montages can be powerful storytelling tools.
Filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson, for example, use montages in ways that feel fresh and integral to their storytelling, often employing them to create humor, build tension, or develop characters beyond conventional methods.
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Montages are more Prevalent in some Movie Genres than others.
Montages are more prevalent in some movie genres than others, reflecting the narrative and emotional needs specific to those genres.
Here’s a breakdown:
Montages are a staple in sports movies, often used to show training progress, the passage of time, or a series of matches leading up to the final event.
Example: The best and most famous example is from the Rocky movies starring Sylvester Stallone as the boxer Rocky Balboa.
You might also like 20 Jaw-Dropping Martial Arts Battles in Film History, Ranked. Martial arts movies often also feature training montages – see fx No Retreat, No Surrender (1986), or The Karate Kid (1984).
Heist movies often use montages to showcase getting the band of thieves together, planning for the big heist, or revealing how it was done through flashbacks.
Example: Ocean’s Eleven (2001) includes a montage of the team preparing for the elaborate casino heist. This sequence showcases each team member’s various skills and roles as they set their plan in motion, building anticipation for the heist with a mix of tension and humor.
Montages in rom-coms often depict the blossoming of a relationship, showing sequences of dates, adventures, and moments that bond the couple, all wrapped up in a cheerful or poignant soundtrack.
They can also be used for comedic effect, showing a series of disastrous dates or a makeover transformation.
Example: 500 Days of Summer (2009) features a clever montage that contrasts the protagonist’s expectations with reality.
This sequence effectively shows the deterioration of Tom’s relationship with Summer, juxtaposing his romanticized hopes with the harsher reality, all within a split-screen format that adds a comedic yet poignant touch.
See more about juxtaposition in movies.
These films frequently use montages to depict growth, self-discovery, and the passage of time as characters navigate the trials and tribulations of growing up.
The montage allows for a visual and emotional shorthand that captures the essence of change without detailing every moment.
Example: The Breakfast Club (1985) – Although not a montage in the traditional sense of rapid scene changes, this film uses sequences that compress time to show the interactions among high school students from different cliques, revealing their inner depths and the bonds they form.
Pixar often uses montages to convey the passage of time, emotional growth, or pivotal moments in their films.
Example: UP (2009). Perhaps one of the most poignant and beautifully crafted montages in film history, the opening sequence of “Up” tells the love story of Carl and Ellie.
This montage spans several minutes and encapsulates their entire relationship, from childhood friendship to Ellie’s death.
It showcases their joys, dreams, heartbreaks, and the shared life they had, all without a single line of dialogue. This emotionally charged montage sets the stage for Carl’s motivations throughout the rest of the film.
In musicals, montages can be an opportunity to advance the story without a traditional musical number or to combine music and visuals to propel the narrative or develop character, often in a more abstract or stylized manner.
Example: in Evita (1996), we see various montage scenes. In the song “Goodnight and Thank You,” we witness a rapid succession of Eva Peron’s romances, showing how she swiftly moved on from one lover to the next.
Dramas and Biopics: These genres use montages to condense real-life events or periods, showing character development, major life changes, or the impact of historical events in a compact, efficient way.
Gangster movies often employ montage sequences to compress time, develop characters, or advance the storyline in an engaging and visually dynamic manner.
Example: Scarface (1983) showcases his violent rise in the drug world with a notable montage set to ‘Push It to the Limit.’
This sequence highlights his wealth, power, and eventual downfall, featuring scenes of extravagance and violence, including his marriage to Elvira Hancock.
Montages used as Irony or Satire
When montages follow predictable patterns or rely on overused themes (e.g., the training montage in sports films, the makeover montage in romantic comedies), they can feel cliché or formulaic to the audience.
This is especially true if the montage lacks originality or does not add anything new or specific to the narrative or character development.
However, this can also be explored for irony, satire, or even as homage as the following montage from South Park (Season 6: Asspen) is a good example of:
For more on satire in movies, see What is Satire? Meaning and Examples from Film
Montages have been a staple in cinema for decades, serving various storytelling purposes such as showing the passage of time, depicting character development, or conveying a series of events quickly and effectively.
They are in numerous genres, from sports films and romantic comedies to dramas and action movies.
Because of their common use, they are at risk of becoming cliché. But because of this, they’ve become the subject of satirical treatment and are used to great effect for humor.