While certain movies have employed clever techniques to create the illusion of a continuous shot, these scenes excel at drawing the audience deep into the film’s universe. We will not be including “one-take films” like Birdman and 1917 since they stand in a category of their own. With that in consideration, let’s explore these extraordinary moments.
1. The Opening Shot — The Player
The opening scene of this Robert Altman film unfolds as the camera gracefully navigates through a studio lot, seamlessly transitioning from one character to another, offering a glimpse into the bustling and chaotic world of Hollywood’s film industry. It showcases pitch meetings, studio tours, and even mundane errands, providing a comprehensive view of the intricate workings behind the scenes. Notably, one of the characters cleverly acknowledges the iconic tracking shot from Touch of Evil, adding a touch of humor and self-awareness to the film’s homage to cinematic influences and the world of moviemaking.
2. Entering the Copacabana — Goodfellas
One of the most praised sequences in Scorcese’s iconic mob film is the tracking shot capturing Henry escorting Karen through the rear entrance of the Copacabana. The entire scene unfolds with a graceful and choreographed elegance as Henry and Karen navigate through a bustling environment of cooks and servants, ultimately arriving at the stunning dining room. The continuous movement of the camera, following the duo’s steps, engrosses the audience in the allure of Henry’s criminal world, leaving them captivated by the sheer glamour it exudes.
3. Coffee Run — Baby Driver
Following the exhilarating opening chase in Edgar Wright’s electrifying crime masterpiece, a memorable tracking shot ensues as Baby goes to grab coffee, accompanied by the infectious rhythm of “Harlem Shuffle.” The music seamlessly syncs with Baby’s every move, and the camera captures not only his actions but also the song’s lyrics cleverly scattered across signs and graffiti throughout the scene. This dreamlike sequence offers viewers a glimpse into the world as seen through Baby’s eyes, immersing them in a vibrant and melodic wonderland.
4. Tower of Terror — Atomic Blonde
Within this intense 10-minute fight sequence, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton engages in a fierce and grueling confrontation with a group of thugs within a Berlin building. Despite enduring brutal beatings, Lorraine manages to prevail over her adversaries through her exceptional abilities, agility, and sharp wit. Although this scene isn’t solely action-packed, the camera deliberately lingers on the characters, capturing their struggle against exhaustion and highlighting their vulnerabilities, resulting in a heightened sense of realism within the fight scene. As the sequence seamlessly transitions into a high-speed car chase, the camera continues to astound, leaving the audience thoroughly amazed.
5. Hallway Fight — Oldboy
Following 15 years of confinement, Oh Dae-Su liberates himself from his prison and confronts a corridor brimming with thugs. This claustrophobic shot, capturing a single man battling an entire gang armed solely with his fists and a hammer, is truly mesmerizing. It took 17 takes and three days to perfect, but the result is a breathtaking display of resilience and determination. Even when a knife becomes lodged in his back, Oh Dae-Su continues his relentless journey towards freedom, delivering a brilliantly executed scene that leaves a lasting impression.
6. Big Wheel Scene — The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining made groundbreaking use of long Steadicam shots, and among them, the scene featuring Danny riding his Big Wheel through the halls of the Overlook Hotel stands out as particularly remarkable. The camera skillfully tracks the young boy as he navigates from room to room, maintaining a constant level with him. Notably, the scene captivates with its strategic use of sound, or the intentional absence thereof. As Danny glides over both carpeted and non-carpeted areas, the eerie silence accentuates the haunting atmosphere of his surroundings.
7. Bomb in the Trunk — Touch of Evil
In the opening of this renowned Orson Welles masterpiece, an enigmatic individual covertly plants a homemade bomb inside the trunk of a couple’s car. We are then immersed in suspense as we follow the car’s journey through the streets and into a bustling area, anxiously anticipating the detonation of the bomb. However, the camera also shifts its focus to another couple walking in close proximity to the car, evoking a sense of fear for their safety as they unwittingly linger near the fateful vehicle.
8. Opening Scene — Gravity
Yet another masterpiece by Cuarón, this film commences with an astonishing 17-minute-long continuous take. The camera gracefully tracks astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski as they float above the Earth, diligently conducting their tasks on the Hubble Telescope. Similar to the car chase in Children of Men, this serene moment abruptly transforms into chaos when debris collides with the telescope, propelling everyone into a disorienting descent through the vast cosmic void.
9. Car Chase — Children of Men
In Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller, a tranquil car journey with Theo and his companions takes a turn for the worse when they are assaulted by an armed gang. The camera moves around the confined space without interruption, showcasing the protagonists’ escape from their attackers. Even when Julliane Moore’s character is fatally shot, the camera keeps rolling, capturing every moment of this chaotic and relentless sequence.
10. A Day at the Beach — Atonement
Even prior to Christopher Nolan’s exploration of the Battle of Dunkirk, director Joe Wright amazed viewers with his romantic war drama, notably with its five-minute long take spanning the devastated beaches of the town. As we accompany Robbie and his fellow soldiers through Dunkirk, the camera skillfully captures a sprawling and densely populated landscape of sand, marred by immense loss and devastation. This haunting yet exquisite scene evokes a profound emotional response from the audience, compelling them to watch and be deeply moved.
11. Bagghar Chase — The Adventures of Tintin
In this single continuous shot, a flurry of events unfolds as Tintin, Snowy, and the Captain dash through Bagghar in a relentless pursuit of the three scrolls that hold the key to the Unicorn’s treasure. The camera seamlessly guides the audience through every nook and cranny of the city, capturing the characters’ intense struggle to secure the scrolls. Amidst the chaos, the scene incorporates various elements, including a tumultuous river, crumbling structures, and even a tank. Despite being an animated sequence, the sheer brilliance of this car chase remains undiminished, leaving viewers in awe.
12. Tower Fight — The Protector
In this exhilarating four-minute sequence, the main character Kham engages in a breathtaking showcase of martial arts and camerawork as he ascends to the pinnacle of Tom Yum Goon Otob. The camera diligently tracks Kham’s relentless assault on a succession of thugs, capturing his seamless progression up multiple flights of stairs. It even captures the remarkable sight of Kham effortlessly hurling some adversaries over the railings, descending to the ground floor without any interruption or break in the action.
13. Hospital Shootout — Hard Boiled
In this high-octane scene crafted by director John Woo, the camera tracks Alan and Tequila as they unleash a barrage of gunfire while navigating a hospital swarming with armed assailants. They tear through the building like a force of nature, leaving chaos in their wake. Even during a momentary respite in the elevator, the camera continues to roll, capturing their unyielding determination as they confront yet another hallway brimming with armed adversaries. Although it becomes apparent upon closer examination that this scene is a combination of two shots seamlessly merged together, the initial impression of its seamless execution adds to the remarkable nature of this sequence.
14. One-Take Fight — Creed
Unlike the Rocky films, which often utilize quick cuts to skip between rounds and save time, Creed defies this convention by meticulously capturing every second of this intense match. The camera closely tracks Adonis and his opponent as they exchange blows, immersing the viewer in the ring and allowing them to witness each punch being thrown firsthand.
15. It’s a Great White! — Jaws
Following the identification of the shark that instills fear in Amity Island, Brody and Hooper make efforts to convince Mayor Vaughn to close down the beach. The camera remains fixed on the three individuals as they engage in a heated exchange near the town’s defaced billboard, amplifying the intensity of the scene. The rapid dialogue delivered by the actors adds an extra layer of captivation to this moment.