Memorable Fitness Movies
If you enjoy working out and could’t live without your Netflix subscription, then you probably pay attention to how fitness is portrayed in a movie, specifically whether or not the characters could actually perform the physical feats shown on the screen – think Tom Cruise sprinting forever in The Firm. (On that note, if you want a good time suck, someone created a video of ALL scenes there Tom Cruise is running in movie – follow the link to see for yourself). In honor of the Academy Awards, here is a list of movies that have made fitness a memorable part of the story. Agree? Disagree? Which movies are missing? Please leave a comment with your input.
Note, neither documentaries like Pumping Iron, Bigger, Faster, Stronger or Generation Iron or biopics that tell the story of a real athlete like Ali or Prefontaine are included in this list (spoiler alert, despite having a statue in his honor, Rocky is NOT a real person). Yes, each of these titles are worth seeing but the purpose of this list is to identify films where fitness, either doing it or having it, is an important part of the plot. Most importantly, I wanted to identify the movies that made you want to hop out of your seat and go start sweating.
Matthew Modine as wrestler Louden Swain training to take on Shute, the best wrestler in the state, while falling for a hot (okay, 80s hot) older woman played by Linda Fiorentino. The scene where Swain challenges Shute as he’s lunging up steps carrying a log on his back will make you want to find the nearest stadium to start running stairs. The traditional underdog story set to memorable 80s music makes this one of the best fitness movies of all time.
This will make you want to go train, NOW!
In the decade that gave us a plethora of movies featuring the buff bodies of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme, it’s ironic that Mathew Modine, hardly a poster boy of fitness, is in two of what I consider the top fitness-related movies of the era. Modine stars as a US Marine journalist experiencing the horrors of war in Vietnam. What makes this a memorable fitness movie are the scenes of Marine recruit training in Parris Island, South Carolina where the recruits are ‘encouraged’ to work as hard as possible while running, marching and tackling the obstacle course. Former US Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey was initially hired as a technical consultant but was so impressive that director Stanley Kubrick decided to cast him in the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
When disco died in the late 1970s, health clubs became one of the hot spots for young singles to see and be seen. In this classic 80s flick, John Travolta stars as a Rolling Stone reporter who travels to Los Angeles to write a story on this trend and ends up falling for Jamie Lee Curtis, the dynamic and popular aerobics instructor who teaches the most popular classes at the hottest gym. If you love group workouts, Perfect provides an excellent insight into the early days of gym culture, and yes, leg warmers, leotards and body suits were a thing. Combine an awesome 80s soundtrack and hot dance scenes with Curtis and Travolta and this is a ‘can’t miss’ fitness movie.
I can’t unsee this, now you can’t either:
All Rocky movies should be on the list but IV stands out for one particular reason, the scenes of Drago and Rocky training for their showdown is probably the best fitness montage ever. In fact, it could be one of the best montages EVER, and that’s saying a lot since musical montages were a staple of many 80s movies. The irony is that when this movie came out Drago used high tech gear and machines in his training and Rocky was relegated to training in a sparse barn and the frozen Siberian Tundra; if you told me that Rocky IV is what gave Greg Glassman the idea to start CrossFit, I’d believe you.
Marky Mark and the Rock as gym rats who plot to kidnap an unscrupulous businessman played by Tony Shalhoub ,what’s not to love? This story is a great takedown of the ‘bro subculture’ of guys who value brawn more than brains; Dwayne Johnson was cast perfectly for this movie.
The (original) Karate Kid and Cobra Kai
Wax on – wax off. Paint the fence. Training balance while standing on the bow of a rowboat. Starring the late Pat Morita as karate instructor Mr. Miyagi and 80s heart throb Ralph Macchio (how did that happen?) as underdog Daniel Larusso training to compete in a karate tournament The Karate Kid provides many memorable fitness scenes. The Netflix series Cobra Kai depicts Daniel and his nemesis in their modern lives; yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s also very entertaining and fitness still plays an important role. If you want to blow your mind, Pat Morita was 52 when the original was filmed and Ralph Macchio turn 60 this year and still looks like he would get carded trying to buy booze.
This over-the-top violent movie put Gerard Butler on the map which ultimately led to the completely forgettable romantic comedy, The Bounty Hunter, so I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. If you don’t want to go hit the gym after watching the Spartans in action then you don’t have a soul.
Tie: Fight Club, Snatch, Troy and Burn After Reading
It was hard to decide which Brad Pitt movie was the best fitness movie, so I’m naming all 4. While his roles as Mickey, the bare knuckle fighting Irish gypsy in Snatch, Tyler Durden, the scrappy anti-hero in Fight Club, the warrior Achilles in Troy, or the inept personal trainer Chad in Burn After Reading, each movie makes fitness an important theme. Guys like these movies for the action, women like these movies because of Brad; whatever your reason for watching these are fun films worth seeing that can help boost your motivation for training.
It’s hard to believe that this movie is more than 20 years old but it is now more relevant than ever since the US Military has opened up combat roles for women. In this 90s flick, Demi Moore plays the first woman to be considered for the elite US Navy SEALs fighting force. Recalling Moore’s dedication and perseverance in the face of considerable opposition will help boost your mental toughness the next time you’re struggling to make it through your workout.
The Bourne Identity (all)
As Paul Rudd’s character in The 40-year Old Virgin said about The Bourne Identity, “I used to think that Damon was a Streisand but he is rocking [i]t in this one.” As a hard hitting special operations assassin struggling with an identity crisis, all three of the Bourne movies starring Matt Damon are worth seeing. If you haven’t yet tried parkour then the stunt-laden action scenes in this trilogy will have you looking up your nearest free-running gym.
This is AWESOME!
Yes, I have seen this movie because of my ex-wife (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) but we can’t have a list of top fitness movies without Channing Tatum. In this movie he’s a ne’er do well teen who turns to dancing in an effort to fit in and turn his life around. The soundtrack and dancing scenes will make you want to push the coffee table out of the way and boogie in your living room.
Indoor cycling and Peloton are extremely popular, but that’s just sitting on a 1-wheeled bike going nowhere fast. This movie is about an aspiring cyclist named Dave, played by Dennis Christopher, who yearns to compete against elite cyclists from Italy. Released in 1979, this movie will make you want to hop on your bike,1 or 2-wheeled, and start pedaling.
BRRUUUUUUUCE, no, not the dude from New Jersey, the other famous Bruce of Asian descent. Bruce was a legitimate bad-ass and his movies inspired thousands of young men to study martial arts. Bruce’s movies show him being in amazing shape so he can conquer all of his competition.
A movie about NASCAR? Yup, a few years ago I listened to a lecture by a rep from Polar, the heart rate monitor company, he went through the heart rate profile of a driver during a NASCAR race and the engine is not the only thing redlining, the effort to control a car keeps a driver’s heart rate elevated throughout the race. Plus, when this film was released, pit crews did not do any strength and conditioning for their jobs. A number of years ago pit crews realized that proper strength and conditioning programs could make them more effective for their jobs. Pit crews now train like the athletes they are so they can be as fast as possible when their driver pulls in for maintenance during a race.
This is my list and I’m sticking to it. Yes, many of these movies are more cheesy than a block of cheddar, but they are entertaining and fun to watch. The next time you need some extra motivation for your workout, hit play on one of these movies and get ready to train your glutes off.