The long take, or long shot, is when a long sequence of film is made without stopping the camera. The effect can be used (as you will see below) to evoke a huge array of emotions. This clever tool in the filmmakers toolbox has actually been used for quite a number of years, but it was so revolutionary at the outset that it took some getting used to before it really took off in the mainstream. This is a list of the 15 best long takes in movies. NOTE: I have only included films for which I could find clips on youtube. There are some spoilers below, so be warned.
The reason this is so high on the list is because the long sequence is actually made up of a few long takes very cleverly stitched together. Despite that, this is a great sequence and deserves a place here.
While long tracking shots were still not really mainstream, Jean-Luc Godard made extensive use of them in this film about a jaded married couple visiting the wife’s parents in the countryside to ensure that they get their inheritance.
This is another long shot that is actually put together from a few smaller shots – though only 3 or 4, so they are still quite long shots to begin with. I don’t like this film a great deal, but this scene belongs here.
This astonishing film lasting 96 minutes was filmed in one take – that’s right – the entire film was recorded from beginning to end without stopping. This is the first one of ten segments that show the entire movie.
Props to Mathilda for mentioning this on Top 10 Cinematographic Masterpieces.
Warning: This shot is pretty graphic (and has spoilers). Michael Haneke has made something of a name for himself in film with his long, uncomfortable shots. His 1997 film Funny Games, about two psychotic teenagers who take a family hostage in their vacation cabin, was actually meant to be a satirical portrayal of violence in media, but it turned out to be a psychological thriller that still rivals many of the films in that genre. The long shot here starts at the 3:00 mark.
This seven minute sequence starts out in a hotel room with Jack Nicholson on the bed. I am afraid I can’t say anything more as this scene contains serious spoiler material. Avoid watching this if you are planning to watch the film soon. Better yet, click the link directly below this sentence, then buy and watch the scene in its proper place.
Not only is this a great scene for its long shot (which is actually two scenes pieced together with clever editing), it is also an incredibly realistic fight scene. This is a brilliant scene – 12 bad guys, 1 good guy – and one hammer!
This is the opening scene of the picture, and it is a great scene. It exudes the vibrance and the fun of the era it attempts to portray (the 1970s). Starting from the title of the movie, we move through the street and into the club Boogie Nights. There are other great scenes in this film but this was the only one I could locate. Of note is the excellent New Year scene with William Macey.
A very slow moving scene from Last Days, the film by Van Sant about Kurt Cobain. If you have not seen this film, you definitely must. The entire film uses long takes which, in my opinion, are effectively used to give the feeling of despair. This film, and Elephant are two of Van Sant’s most accomplished uses of the long take.
An astonishingly beautiful shot that exudes the feeling of loneliness. There is only one copy of this movie available at Amazon and it is $109 – this is a highly demanded cult movie which every movie buff should own. The film duration is an epic 7 and a half hours! The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary near the end of Communism, and it is filmed entirely in black and white.
I have had some trouble finding it, but apparently there is a single cut/edit in this sequence around the 2:00 mark. This famous action sequence in a burning hospital, is a single handheld camera long take lasting 2 minutes and 42 seconds in which Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung alternately fight off enemies in frantically choreographed action and engage in emotional dialogue, through many corridors and rooms spanning two levels of the hospital, including an intervening elevator ride.
In this scene, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco walk through the Copacabana. This shot serves to put the audience in the point of view of Karen (Bracco), who is about to be swept off her feet by the temptation of the gangster lifestyle. Brilliant sequence, brilliant film. Buy it if you don’t already own it.
While this isn’t the most brilliant of films, this scene is fantastic. In it, Tony Jaa runs up a series of flights of stairs whilst fighting and throwing people over the edge. It is actually quite amusing in its badness, but you definitely can’t criticize the cameraman!
This scene was originally altered by the movie studio that released it; the aim: to improve it. Thankfully a new DVD edition is now out (link below) which is restored to the original vision of Welles. It is one of the first long takes to use traveling and direction in the take. It is also the best example of how the long take can be used with a very specific reason in mind (watch the clip and you will understand).
This film was one of the very first uses of the long shot and it is also one of Hitchcock’s great films (it only missed out on the Top 10 Hitchcock Movies to make room for the Birds.) Hitchcock filmed each scene in segments lasting up to eight minutes (the length of a reel of film at the time), each segment continuously panning from character to character in real time. Several segments end by panning against or zooming into an object (a man’s jacket, or the back of a piece of furniture, for example) or by having an actor move in front of the camera, blocking the entire screen; each scene after that starts a static shot of that same object. In this way Hitchcock effectively masked many of the cuts in the film, a technique that has frequently been used since to hide edits.
Before listing the notable omissions, I would like to point out that the absence of video clips from youtube prevented me from adding a few films that I feel really deserve to be on here. If I have left off your favorite, it may well be that this is the reason. I love the work of Gus Van Sant, for example, and am very sad that I was not able to include the beautifully serene long track scene at the start of his film Elephant.
Notable Omissions: Raging Bull, Carlito’s Way, the Player, Kill Bill I, Serenity, the Longest Day, Irreversible, Timecode, I am Cuba, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and so, so many more.