The best movies shot in one continuous take

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: April 6, 2022 (Last updated: January 20, 2024)

One of the best methods to gain praise and demonstrate your directorial talent is to film a long, continuous shot film. However, it’s sometimes so complicated and demanding that only a few directors have ventured to make their film look like it was shot in one constant, unbroken shot. For his World War I epic “1917,” Sam Mendes is the latest to accomplish the feat.

Here are some others that paved the way for 1917.

Rope (1948)

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of horror, was the first to undertake a single-take feature picture, attempting a revolutionary experiment with a large budget and A-list stars such as James Stewart. His film “Rope,” based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, was about two gentlemen who murdered someone, concealed his body in a large wooden chest, and then had a banquet with the trunk as the centrepiece, all to prove they could conduct the ultimate crime.

With his crew and performers, the filmmaker staged intricate choreography and filmed the motion as if it were a show. However, due to technological limitations at the time, he composed the script in 10-minute segments and equipped his camera with the largest film canisters possible, then placed the unseen cuts as the camera turned behind a chair or a table.

Russian Ark (2002)

While other directors used phantom edits and other tricks to hide their cuts, director Alexander Sokurov shot “Russian Ark” in one continuous take. His 96-minute picture used 2000 on-screen actors and three live orchestras traversing the huge Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, depicting a 300-year chronicle of Russian history.

Birdman (2014)

Alejandro Iárritu’s Best Picture victory resurrected Michael Keaton’s career, gave cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski another Oscar, and portrayed an elaborate comedy about an actor attempting to abandon his movie star history in the face of the growing industry and other outside forces.

In an article, the director stated that we conduct our lives as if they were shot on Steadicam with no edits and that the viewers had to do the same with this protagonist.

Son of Saul (2015)

As he observes the atrocities of a German concentration camp, László Nemes’ dramatic Holocaust movie clutches to the back of its lead character’s head, making him present in practically every scene of the 107-minute film. For the risk of his own life, a member of the Sonderkommando, a Jewish prisoner detained in the prison camps, was ordered to assist in the gassing of other inmates.

1917 (2019)

Because the crew had to meticulously orchestrate every split second in terms of how the actors, crew, and the camera would travel, and they had to do most of it without the assistance of Steadicam, as seen in almost all other one-shot movies. Of course, the entire picture was not shot in a single two-hour session. Instead, it was constructed as a sequence of extended, uncut shots that could be smoothly combined to seem and feel like one continuous shot, according to the production notes.

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