Let’s take a look at some of the best long take scenes!
Filmmakers from all walks of life find different ways to immerse their audience in their film. It doesn’t matter if you have a multi million pound budget or you’re an indie filmmaker, creating one of the best long take scenes that you can in your film or TV show, will immerse your audience. When you think about modern day cinema, you think about the fast paced epics that we’ve become so accustomed to. We recently took a look into the making of Mad Max: Fury Road and we now know this film featured an astonishing 2,700 different shots, that’s around 3 seconds per shot!
That 3 seconds per shot isn’t abnormal in today’s cinema, so let’s slow it down a little. When you set out to create one long continuous shot, you’re entering into a world of logistical nightmares. There’s a a reason these kind of shots aren’t done that often but when you get it right, they’re well worth it, as you’ll see below.
Children Of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron – 2006
This is an astonishing shot and it’s the reason this post has been written. Not because we hadn’t seen a long shot before but because of the way this shot was done. It completely changes the film and to do that in one continuous shot is a great feat. We’ve all heard stories about this being filmed in several different locations and we’ve seen interviews that claim the contrary. However this was made, the result is the same. Cuaron didn’t set out purely to make one of the best long take scenes he could, he used it as a tool to convey the story.
Directed by Martin Scorsese – 1990
All long takes are hard to nail down on set, in particular, this shot from Goodfellas. Henny Youngman, kept ruining the difficult shot by forgetting his own famous lines. In the shot, we follow Karen Hill as she literally and figuratively goes deeper into the the world of the gangsters life.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – 1997
We tend to find that when a film has one extended shot, it will have more. Boogie Nights for example, opens with a long shot that introduces us to the characters of the film. This shot in particular though, is a story all in it’s own right, it has a beginning, middle, and an end. And end that is a very definitely full stop to this scene.
Touch of Evil
Directed by Orson Welles – 1958
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything written about the best long take scenes in movie history without Touch Of Evil being mentioned. The suspense and drama that this shot manages to portray in what is, on the face of it, an innocent nightly stroll. This shot perfectly sandwiches a sub plot into a story unfolding in front of our eyes. Cleverly weaving two stories into one and always keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
Directed by Park Chan-Wook – 2004
Fight scenes! Everyone loves a good fight scene! We’re not talking about the emotional kind of fight scene you might have seen in that rom-com that you;re partner made you watch last night. We’re talking about the kind of fight scene that Park Chan-Wook created in Oldboy. The scene is shot in the style of a platform game, following our protagonist down a dimly lit hallway and he throws a fare few punches.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – 1999
It’s no co-incidence that Paul Thomas Anderson has now popped up on this list twice, he loves a long shot. In fact, most of his films will feature a long shot at some point. This shot from Magnolia is the one that really stands out as it’s own shot though. It not only establishes character and location, this shot establishes the core theme of the film, relationships between people struggling to connect, but only ever passing by.
Directed by David Fincher – 2002
Recently, we’ve seen a return to filmmakers opting for as much live action as possible in their films. It’s not that CG is bad (it’s pretty damn amazing these days), it’s just that the feel of a film created with live action still cannot truly be match by CG. This shot however, is very CG heavy. It’s like Fincher was showing off his new CG toys, making the camera fly through random objects and into different rooms. The end result is another one of the best long take scenes we’ve seen.
I am Cuba
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov – 1964
When you think about how most of the shots in this list were created, you’ll probably have a decent idea. Cranes? Wires? Cable cam? CGI? Probably all of those things. Then we come to a shot like this one from I Am Cuba. Mikhail Kalatozov created this stunning shot, sweeping through the streets and up to a balcony, in 1964. How? We have no idea really, but it’s worth being in this list purely for that reason, it also helps that it is a great film.
Kill Bill (Volume 1)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino – 2003
Of course Tarantino was going to be on a list about one of the more obscure techniques in filmmaking. The all girl band providing the soundtrack, the jaunty camera angles, the killing machine Uma Thurman, this has classic Tarantino written all over it but I bet this was a hell of a shot to nail down. As with all of the best long take scenes in movie history, there are a lot of moving parts that have to work like a well oiled machine to pull the shot off. We’d say he did a damn fine job of that.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón – 2013
It makes sense that Alfonso Cuarón used a long take for his opening scene in his Space epic, Gravity. The vast nothingness seems to be perfectly placed for the slow camera tracking across the astronauts as they work on the space station. It give the audience a perfect sense of what is happening, where they are, the shot opens you up and explains the situation. You could say, the gravity of the situation. See what we did there?
Directed by Brian de Palma – 1998
We couldn’t leave this list here, not when we have the opportunity to shout about the ridiculousness of the one and only, Nic Cage. Cage and Brian de Palma don’t do things by halves so when they sat down to take about their “masterpiece” I don’t imagine they thought they were going to be creating a classic. So how do you get into a list of the best long take scenes in movie history without having a great scene? You do it the Nic Cage way, do it bigger and longer. Twelve and a half minutes long, to be precise. Sure, there are cuts and different takes but it’s relatively seamless and in all honesty, I just want to make you sit through twelve and a half minuted of Nic Cage being Nic Cage.
What’s your favorite long scenes? Let us know in the comments below!