Memorable Fitness Movies

By Pete McCall 

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.

Vison Quest

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!

Full Metal Jacket

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.  

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