What is the greatest cinematic long take of all time?
The most intense long take scene ever captured on film. The Car Scene from Children of Men is a mesmerizing arrangement of scene orchestration and gut-wrenching acting that rivals any action sequence in existence. The post-apocalyptic reality of Alfonso Cuaron’s United Kingdom in 2027 is vividly reinforced by the powerful, often terrifying imagery that unfolds before the helpless passengers riding in Julian Taylor’s (played by Julianne Moore) station wagon. With a seemingly impossible level of preparation, timing, and execution, coupled with one of the most unforgettable group acting performances you'll ever see; the car scene from Children of Men will surely stand among the greatest examples of the long take technique in the entire history of film-making.
Release Date: January 5th, 2007 | Director: Alfonso Cuarón | Director Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki | Scene Length: 3:57 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 40 (including stuntmen) | # of Extras: 0 | Soundtrack: None
Oscars: Nominated – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing | Box Office Gross: $35.55 mm | Google Results (children of men “long take”): 123,000
True Detective - The Stash House
Without question, the greatest long take scene in television history. TV Shows aren’t supposed to use long takes. It’s too difficult to execute, the audience won’t properly appreciate it, the cast and crew don’t have the talent to pull it off . . . . Cary Fukunaga must have fought back the desire to laugh in the face of those critics who doubted his ambitious idea. But of course True Detective didn’t become the phenomenon it is today without breaking most of TV’s tired rules, and the Stash House scene from Episode 4 is perhaps the single best example of what makes this show so special. We run along with Rusty Cohle (Mathew Mcconaughey) and the Iron Crusaders as they attempt to rob the stash house of a rival gang. It was supposed to be an easy in and out job, they’d pose as police, gain entry, keep the peace, get the score, and get out. Of course nothing goes according to plan, and our chance to ride up-close and personal with Rusty and the gang makes for one of the most heart-pounding experiences in television history.
Release Date: Feb. 9th, 2014 | Director: Cary Fukunaga | Director Photography: Adam Arkapaw | Scene Length: 6:04 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 20 (including stuntmen) | # of Extras: 20+ | Soundtrack: None
Emmys: Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Casting Drama Series, Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Main Title Design | Box Office Gross: Na | Google Results (true detective “long take”): 20,300
Goodfellas – Welcome to the Copacabana
The greatest scene from one of the greatest gangster films of all time. The Cobacabana scene from Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas will forever rank as one of the most iconic and memorable moments in film history. It feels as if we’re riding on Karen’s (Lorraine Bracco) shoulders as she is introduced to the over-the-top lifestyle of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Scorcese’s embodiment of this underground world is incredibly detailed and life-like. A full 2 minutes and 27 seconds of pre-orchestrated theatre; the scene immerses the audience deep into the underbelly of the late 50’s New York mob universe. The steadicam work in this shot is superb, and the cameraman should be commended with the highest honors. The Cobacabana scene has been celebrated since the film’s release in 1990, and it is sure to live on as one of the greatest long take scenes in film history.
Release Date: Sept. 21st, 1990| Director: Martin Scorsese | Director Photography: Michael Ballhaus | Scene Length: 2:27 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 15 | # of extras: Hundreds | Soundtrack: The Crystals – "Then He Kissed Me"
Oscars: Nominated – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing | Box Office Gross: $46.80 mm | Google Results (goodfellas “long take”): 7,170
Touch of Evil – Opening
The greatest long take in the career of one of the all-time greatest directors. Orson Welles directed The War of The Worlds on the radio in 1939. He directed Citizen Kane in 1941. And he further added to his legendary portfolio with this, the famous opening scene from Touch of Evil in 1958. Nearly 60 years later, it still stands as one of the best examples of a tracking shot in the history of cinema. Just consider the monumental setup required for this shot: over 3.5 un-cut minutes of tape, at least 10 scripted actors, hundreds of extras, props, moving set pieces and crew . . . all captured by a dolly-mounted camera that feels as futuristic as any on our list. With a star-studded cast featuring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, the film never reached the pantheon of history that Citizen Kane did; but where Touch of Evil gains an edge is the strength of its opening sequence, undoubtedly one of the greatest long take scenes in film history.
Release Date: May 1st, 1958 | Director: Orson Welles | Director Photography: Russell Metty | Scene Length: 3:34 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 10 | # of Extras: Hundreds | Soundtrack: Henry Mancini - Main Title (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Oscars: None | Box Office Gross: $2.25 mm | Google Results (touch of evil “long take”): 9,520
The second greatest long take scene of the 1990’s. In a decade of film that saw the uncut tracking shot rise to unmatched levels of popularity, the opening scene from The Player was a masterpiece of orchestration, camera-work, and one-take acting that stands above all the imposters who would follow. Robert Altman’s 1992 Hollywood thriller is the story of Griffin Mill (played by Tim Robbins), the hot-shot studio script screener who made a nasty enemy somewhere in his past. Mill begins receiving death threats from a writer he once scorned, and we are soon guided down a Hollywood rabbit hole of unscrupulous characters and shady dealings. The insane 8 minute opener manages to introduce dozens of characters and story-lines using a single take. The scene is both impossibly choreographed and effortlessly natural. With a super-meta plot that was probably a couple of generations before it’s time, Altman manages to execute one of the greatest long take scenes in film history with his opening sequence in The Player.
Release Date: May 8th, 1992 | Director: Robert Altman | Director Photography: Jean Lépine | Scene Length: 8:07 | # of Scripted Actors: at least 17 | # of Extras: Dozens | Soundtrack: Thomas Newman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Oscars: Nominated – Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing | Box Office Gross: $21.70 mm | Google Results (the player “long take”): 114,000
Panic Room – The Break-In
One of the most complex and mind-bending long take scenes in film history. David Fincher’s gyrating depiction of the home invasion at Meg Altman’s (Jodie Foster) Upper West Side brownstone sends chills up my spine every time I watch it. The camera floats between the floors of the cold, colorless mansion as if we’re witnessing the crime through the eyes of a silent, slow-moving drone. The creepy familiarity of the invaders would make anyone re-think their own home security protocol, and although Foster lives in a world of wealth far beyond that of most; we can all relate to the standard architectural entry-points of her property. With an equally spooky soundtrack of impending doom, and several perplexing CGI camera tricks, the entire scene proves to be one of the most successful in Fincher’s career. The Break-in scene from Panic Room clearly stands among the most successful long takes in film history.
Release Date: March, 29th, 2002 | Director: David Fincher | Director Photography: Conrad Hall & Darius Khondji | Scene Length: 2:27 | # of Scripted Actors: 1 | # of Extras: 0 | Soundtrack: Howard Shore – Panic Room (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Oscars: None | Box Office Gross: $96.40 mm | Google Results room (panic room “long take”): 4,280
Soy Cuba – Funeral
The most ahead-of-its-time long take scene in film history. Soy Cuba is probably the most obscure film on our list, but it is a film with a story and a provenance that should be known by all fans of cinema. The movie was produced in Soviet Cuba in 1964 by Mosfilms, still the largest and most powerful film studio in Russia. Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, and universally panned by critics in Cuba and the Soviet Union, this black and white collection of four short stories was essentially forgotten in the pages of history for over 25 years. It wasn’t until the early 90’s when the film was re-discovered in America, and with the help of American film-makers Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, it was restored and re-aired in American theatres. The film employs some of the earliest examples of incredibly difficult and acrobatic tracking camera-work, including the use of: cables, pullies, dollies, and human elbow grease to give the appearance that the viewer is floating magically above the dramatic funeral procession in the Cuban streets below. It is a masterpiece of imaginative film-making.
Release Date: December, 1995 (Filmed in 1964) | Director: Mikhail Kalatozov | Director Photography: Sergey Urusevskiy | Scene Length: 2:28 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 10 | # of Extras: Hundreds | Soundtrack: Carlos Fariñas
Oscars: Na | Box Office Gross: 168,100 | Google Results (soy cuba “long take”): 13,600
The Protector (Tom-Yum-Goong) – Stair Climb
The greatest long take martial arts scene in history. Thai filmmaker Prachya Pinkaew is an all-time master of the martial arts genre, having directed both Tom Yum Goong and Ong Bak: Thai Warrior, and this scene from the former film is possibly his greatest cinematic achiement. It’s no accident that such a legendary director would be joined by an actor of similar caliber in Tony Jaa. Like so many other action superstars, Jaa cut his teeth in the world of martials arts, with strong ability in a variety of disciplines including: Aikido, Judo, Kung-Fu, Muay Thai & Taekwondo. The scene itself involves dozens of stuntmen and hundreds of set effects, props, and extras. The seemingly endless 4 minute segment depicts the film’s hero Kham (Tony Jaa) battling his way past countless henchmen, up 4 flights of stairs, where he will meet the film’s protagonist. One of the most difficult parts of the take was finding a steadicam operater able to keep up with the lightning-quick pace of Jaa. The meticulous planning and execution of this legendary shot clearly places it among the greatest long takes in film history.
Release Date: September 8th, 2006 | Director: Prachya Pinkaew | Director Photography: Nattawut Kittikhun | Scene Length: 3:54 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 30 (including stuntmen) | # of Extras: 50+
Oscars: None | Box Office Gross: $12.04 mm | Google Results (the protector “long take”): 116,000
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 – Bathroom Scene
The greatest long take ever executed by Quentin Tarantino. The bathroom scene from Kill Bill: Volume 1 might be lost in your fuzzy memory of the melee at the House of Blue Leaves. That brutally gory and iconic fight scene takes place in the same setting as this long take, and it’s probably the part you remember best. But just before that epic moment, Tarantino treats us to a highly complex and difficult long take. We start slowly floating above The Bride (Uma Thurmann), flying from room to room, as she heads for the restroom. Soon the camera slowly falls from space and we are behind a steadicam, frantically tracking a cast of characters through the frenzied restaurant. After a whirlwind tour or colors, music and curious story-lines we arrive back at the fateful restroom, and The Bride prepares for her eventual victory over O-Ren and the Crazy Eights. With a super-human combination of impossible camera work, fast-paced color and sound, and convincing performances by all the players, Tarantino has achieved in Kill Bill: Volume 1, one of the greatest long take scenes in film history.
Release Date: October 10th, 2003 | Director: Quentin Tarantino | Director Photography: Robert Richardson | Scene Length: 1:38 | # of Scripted Actors: At least 10 | # of Extras: 40+ | Soundtrack: The 18.104.22.168's - "Woo Hoo"
Oscars: None | Box Office Gross: $70.10 mm | Google Results (kill bill: vol. 1 “long take”): 1,640
Hanna – Subway Fight Scene
The greatest big-screen long take of this decade. Eric Bana’s subway fight in Hanna is a subtle yet captivating example of exquisite steadicam work in a tracking shot. The fight itself only features five actors, but thanks to the whirling, angular patterns traced by the camera we get the impression that Eric Heller (Bana) has taken down an entire army with his bare fists. The almost dance-like choreography of the fighters, columns, and camera-man imbue the scene with a hypnotizing energy that was impossible to achieve any other way, given the tight budget constraints of the project. We must also acknowledge the first 90 seconds of the shot, where the director Joe Wright sold us on a living, breathing Berlin train station, and carefully teased us with the not-so-discrete shadowy suit who followed Heller into the underground arena. A soundtrack powered by The Chemical Brothers helps kick the scene into another gear once the struggle begins. When all is said and done, the subway fight scene in Hanna will go down as one of the greatest long take fight scenes in history.
Release Date: April 8th, 2011 | Director: Joe Wright | Director Photography: Alwin H. Küchler | Scene Length: 2:30 | # of Scripted Actors: 5 | # of Extras: 30+ | Soundtrack: Chemical Brothers - "Bahnhof Rumble"
Oscars: None | Box Office Gross: $40.26 mm | Google Results (hanna “long take”): 60,000
GOAT Staff Score - Long TakeThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. Only weighted scores are displayed in this table. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Orchestration (20%)||Camera Work (20%)||Acting (20%)||Critical Reception (15%)||Public Reception (15%)||Audio / Music (10%)||Total||Final GOAT Score|
|Children of Men - Car Scene||9||3||9||9||7||8||45||740|
|True Detective - Stash House||6||5||10||8||8||7||44||730|
|Goodfellas - Copacabana||5||4||7||10||10||9||45||710|
|Touch of Evil - Opening||7||8||5||5||5||4||34||590|
|The Player - Opening||3||7||8||7||4||6||35||585|
|Panic Room - Break-In||4||10||1||4||6||10||35||550|
|I am Cuba - Funeral||8||9||2||6||1||1||27||495|
|The Protector - Stair Climb||10||2||3||1||9||2||27||470|
|Kill Bill Vol. 1 - Bathroom||2||6||6||3||3||5||25||420|
|Hanna - Subway Fight||1||1||4||2||2||3||13||210|