Top 10 Long Take Scenes of All Time (Video Edition)
As directors move away from celluloid to digital filmmaking, some of the greatest camera tricks of all time are easily accomplished via technology. Back in the day, if you wanted a long tracking shot, you actually needed to build track to make it happen. When you see one of these shots, it takes your brain some time to register just how intricate the creation of it would be. Sometimes you have to watch it more than once to soak it all in. In the history of film there have been countless amazing single/extended/tracking shots but here are our favorites. If you have another great scene that didn't make the cut, feel free to add it to the Talk Backs below.
The grandaddy of all single take scenes, Orson Welles' noir starring Charlton Heston is a classic that deserves to be recognized alongside CITIZEN KANE. The opening scene runs over 3 minutes and was an rare cinematic accomplishment in 1958. The result is a tense swing through a small town right before tragedy strikes. Perfectly designed and executed, this is a sight to behold and a good way to set the tone for this list.
Kathryn Bigelow's scifi thriller opens with a very different type of long take. The opening sequence of the movie throws us into the perspective of a SQUID user, the device that allows people in the film to experience the memories of another person. Shot with a steadicam, the scene may not be that unique anymore since we are used to found footage movies, but back in 1995 it was very inventive. The shot still holds up all these years later and serves as a cool reminder of how dated the 1990s have become. MiniDisc, anyone?
THE SHINING has lots of memorable scenes, but none quite as technically amazing as the long tracking shot of Danny riding his big wheel around the Overlook Hotel. The scene may culminate in the creepy twins asking him to come and play, but the continuous shot of Danny riding is an amazing sight to behold. Stanley Kubrick had to have a custom made Steadicam designed to achieve the low angle on the shot in what has become a textbook example of the long tracking shot.
For 135 seconds in MAGNOLIA, Paul Thomas Anderson gives us a single unbroken scene that follows young Stanley Spector as he traverses the studio where the quiz show What Do Kids Know? is being taped. Not a monumental plot moment, but an beautifully choreographed scene that lives up to Anderson's epic tale. Anderson has used similar long takes in BOOGIE NIGHTS and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but the scope of MAGNOLIA's interconnected narrative works perfectly with a scene like this.
Action movies are hard enough to direct without removing the ability to edit. But John Woo was able to pull off an amazing feat with the hospital scene at the end of the movie. After shooting for 40 days, Woo and his team decided to film the sequence as a single five minute take that elevates the tension and may be one of the best action scenes ever put to film.
Brian De Palma has frequently used long takes to build tension in his films, but the almost thirteen minute opening sequence to SNAKE EYES takes the cake. While the rest of this Nicolas Cage movie may be utter crap, the opening itself is enough to make the movie worth seeing. See if you can figure out where De Palma was able to adjust the scenes to make this whole complicate sequence work so well.
Not the longest take on this list but definitely one of the more entertaining ones. As The Bride confronts O-Ren and her army at a Tokyo nightclub, Quentin Tarantino lays out the setting and the characters with a sweeping tracking shot that goes from high angles to low and follows multiple characters. This may be the closest thing to ballet we will ever see filmed by Tarantino and it is quite amazing to watch.
Take the complexity of any long take and combine it with a moving vehicle and you get Alfonso Cuaron's mesmerizing sequence from CHILDREN OF MEN. A specially designed car was used that allowed crew to slip in and out of the vehicle, remove the windshield and replace it, and still get around the entire car as if it were really happening. There have been few uses of practical camera tricks in the last decade as impressive as this feat.
If TOUCH OF EVIL is the grandfather of long takes then Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS is the next generation. Giving us the perspective of being alongside Ray Liotta as he brings Lorraine Bracco to the Copacabana club both propels the plot and the character into the gangster lifestyle. Shot eight times, Scorsese was forced to film this way since the club wouldn't allow them to enter the short way. The result is movie history.
Unlike every other long take on this list, Park Chan-wook's hammer fight sequence in OLDBOY is not from the perspective of being behind the characters. OLDBOY instead gives us a side view of the one on twenty-five face-off from a side view. We see Oh Dae-su fight off his opponents and also suffer at their hands. This scene only took three days to film and uses only practical effects aside from the CGI knife. A masterpiece and the rare long take from a different perspective.