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Summary

  • Films like Goodfellas, Atonement, and Children of Men utilize long takes, where the camera runs without cuts, to create impactful and memorable scenes.
  • These long take sequences, such as Henry and Karen entering the Copacabana nightclub in Goodfellas or the devastating scene in Children of Men, not only impress with their technical execution but also serve as turning points in the respective films.
  • Other notable examples of long takes include the opening scene in The Player, the entire film Rope consisting of 10 long takes, and the 17-minute long take in Gravity’s opening scene, all of which display the skill and creativity of filmmakers in capturing continuous shots.

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One of the most impressive techniques filmmakers use in movies is the long take, and a few films are in contention for the longest continuous shot in a movie. A long take, or a “oner,” is a single shot with no cuts, meaning the camera is running throughout the entire scene with no breaks, and little to no editing is needed to convey the message of the sequence. Multiple techniques are used to accomplish the difficult feat, but when done right, the lengthy shots can completely change a movie’s tone.

A handful of films worldwide have been produced by using one singular take throughout the entirety of their runtimes, like Russian Ark and Boiling Point. However, for the sake of this article, these ten scenes are accompanied by shots that are not long takes, so they are unique to the film as a whole. They are beyond memorable, not only because it is impressive to film for that long with no breaks but also because they were turning points in their respective movies, and their presence proved to the audience that these films were unlike any others.

10 Goodfellas (1990) – Henry & Karen Enter The Copacabana Nightclub

Duration: 3 Minutes

Goodfellas Henry Karen Hill Copacabana

In comparison to some of the other movies in this conversation, a three-minute take in Goodfellas does not seem that long, but it is one of the most impressive uses of a “oner.” The scene in question shows Henry, played by Ray Liotta, and Karen, played by Lorraine Bracco, entering the Copacabana nightclub on a date. Rather than line up with all the other patrons looking to enter through the front entrance, Henry takes her in through the kitchen with everyone greeting him and showing him respect along the way until he enters the main room with the table set up for them right in front.

Karen’s narration in Goodfellas shows that she has some hesitancy about getting involved with Henry, but this scene shows why she marries him. The audience is taken on the same intoxicating journey she is, showing the glamor and seduction of Henry’s lifestyle. It is a brilliant way for Martin Scorsese to make the viewer excited by this world before Henry’s life turns to chaos later in the story.

9 Atonement (2007) – Dunkirk Scene

Duration: 5.5 Minutes

James McAvoy looking sad in Atonement

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk tells the true story behind the evacuation mission in World War II, but in one sequence, Joe Wright crafted an impactful recreation of the nightmarish scenario the soldiers found themselves. In Atonement, James McAvoy plays Robbie who is forced into the army after being charged with a crime he did not commit. Catching up with him during his time in the war, this harrowing 5+ minute sequence follows Robbie as he arrives on Dunkirk Beach with all the other stranded soldiers.

The sequence has a surreal quality to it as Robbie wanders around, seeming like he is searching for some way to escape this nightmare and return home. However, as the sequence goes on, he is simply met by more defeated faces of the soldiers awaiting their fate. One-take sequences are often impressive filmmaking accomplishments, but McAvoy’s performance cannot be overlooked in selling the impact of the moment as he looks truly haunted.

8 Children Of Men (2006) – Warzone Scene

Duration: 6 Minutes

Children of Men

Director and writer Alfonso Cuarón is no stranger to long takes, and one of his most unforgettable shots is in his 2006 dystopian film Children of Men. The movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and humans are struggling to stay alive, which is putting it lightly. Children of Men does not stray from the harsh realities that hunger, depression, and absolute chaos produced following an ecocide.

Though the incredible one-take inside the car is acclaimed for good reason, the movie saves the most ambitious sequence for the end. The climax of Children of Men finds Theo (Clive Owen) in a war torn city that is in the midst of a massive battle. The camera follows him as he desperately tries to escape the mayhem and save his friend. It is an incredibly immersive experience with the complicated action-oriented elements of the story proving especially impressive. There is even a moment when blood gets on the camera and simply has to stay there for minutes.

7 The Player (1992) – Opening Scene

Duration: 8 Minutes

The Player (1992)

Robert Altman’s 1992 black comedy The Player is a satirical take on Hollywood. However, while it is very critical of the business behind making movies, it opens with a one-take sequence that serves as a reminder of the magic of making movies as well. Taking place on a studio lot, the sequence follows the hustle and bustle of the start of the work day with desperate writers pitching stories, studio gossip about people being fired, and the set up of an intriguing mystery.

Altman is having a lot of fun with this sequence, showing the energetic and fast-moving nature of the Hollywood system while also criticizing it as empty and fake. There are some hilarious moments like Buck Henry pitching the idea for The Graduate 2 and even a meta moment of an executive praising the one-take opening sequence in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.

6 1917 (2019) – Opening Scene

Duration: 9 Minutes

1917

Like Atonement, Sam Mendes’s 1917 uses the one-take approach to immerse the audience into the reality of war. The movie follows two young soldiers who are tasked with making it across a dangerous territory to deliver a message and stop an attack that is scheduled for the next day. The Best Picture nominee was constructed of numerous long takes that made it appear as if the film contained only one cut toward the middle of the story, and it was engrossing from beginning to end.

However, while there are certainly cuts throughout, there are also extended sequences with 1917‘s longest take coming at the start, nine minutes in length. The opening scene establishes the world, quickly informs the audience about the point of the film, and gets the story moving with the audience following these two soldiers on their important mission. It is a signal that the viewers will be there every step of the way with the two protagonists, making for a harrowing journey.

5 Rope (1948) – Every Scene

Duration: 10 Minutes

Three men standing together in a room in Rope

Rope is one of the more unique projects on this list because it consists of 10 long takes, which all average around 10 minutes. The Alfred Hitchcock movie further cements the filmmaker as a master of suspense with the movie unfolding in a single apartment setting and follows two murderers who have hidden a body in their apartment and hosted a dinner party, seeing if they can get away with the perfect murder.

The movie plays out like a stageplay with the long takes allowing the characters to explore the space of the apartment and have conversations as the tension builds. While editing can often be a great tool in building suspenseful moments in movies, the lack of cuts makes it all the more intense as the audience is looking for an escape from the moment without ever getting it.

Duration: 12 Minutes

Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) hanging off a ledge in Extraction 2

One-takes have become increasingly popular in modern action movies with the excitement coming from the directors not being able to chop up the edits of fight scenes and shootouts, showing the mayhem as it happens on camera. While some modern action movies miss this point and simply cover themselves by using plenty of CGI, Extraction achieves an extended action sequence that leaves a lot of questions about how they actually pulled it off.

The movie follows Chris Hemsworth’s unstoppable hero, Tyler Rake, as he takes on a dangerous mission of extracting a target from a town overrun with hostiles. The dangers of Rake’s mission are made very clear during this 12-minute action sequence that finds him in fistfights, gunfights, car chases, and falling off a building. It is a brutal and exhausting sequence that shows the audience just what Rake is up against.

3 Birdman (2014) – Opening Scene

Duration: 15 Minutes

Michael Keaton walking down the street with Birdman flying over his shoulder

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as Best Director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu. A lot of that acclaim comes from the fact that the black comedy-drama is shot to seem like one long take. The movie stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor wanting to resuscitate his career by staging an ambitious Broadway production.

While it is easy to see the one-take approach, introduced in the opening sequence, being a reference to the stage production, as the story goes on, it takes on much more meaning. Riggan encounters one issue after another, from an onstage injury to a controlling actor to his rebellious daughter, ensuring that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The long takes make the audience go on this psychological downward spiral along with the protagonist which makes for a very effective ride.

2 Hunger (2008) – Standoff Between Bobby & Dominic

Duration: 16 Minutes

Hunger. Michael Fassbender

Hunger is a small but intense movie with some truly disturbing and powerful subject matter. It tells the true story of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in which imprisoned IRA members led a hunger strike while behind bars in an attempt to regain political prisoner status. However, the most powerful scene in the movie is simply a conversation between two men captured in a 16-minute-long sequence.

IRA prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) sits down with a Catholic priest Dominic (Liam Cunningham). As Dominic attempts to convince Bobby to end his hunger strike and save himself, Bobby attempts to explain why he could never do that. The acting is stellar in the scene, but the one-take approach makes it even more powerful. It forces the audience to participate in the uncomfortable and complicated discussion, being faced with the details and the perspectives at play. It makes for a heartbreaking and moving filmmaking moment.

1 Gravity (2013) – Opening Scene

Duration: 17 Minutes

Gravity Sandra Bullock space movie

Alfonso Cuarón considered his six-minute-long take in Children of Men and decided to push even further with his 2013 science fiction thriller film Gravity. The movie stars Sandra Bullock as an astronaut in space who is left stranded when her space is destroyed. Floating alone in the cosmos, she makes the despite attempt to get back to Earth.

It is another movie that is filmed as though it were one long continuous take, however, that is achieved through some moviemaking magic hiding many of the cuts. Even with the clever editing, Gravity contains an exhilarating 16-minute one-take sequence to open the movie. It begins with Bullock’s character repairing a satellite only for chaos to strike and her thrown into a scramble to stay alive. Cuarón expertly stages the sequence putting the audience in Bullock’s position, unable to catch their breath in the pulse-pounding fight for survival.



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