Most single-shot sequences, aren’t. What you’d swear are single takes are actually seamless edits — but that doesn’t dilute their mind-bending power. Even better: one-take action sequences like the third-act corker in “Atomic Blonde,” which sees Charlize Theron battling scads of baddies in a longform, long-take sequence designed to look like a single shot.
David Deitch’s film is filled with heart-pounding action scenes (Theron cracked multiple teeth while filming the Cold War-set Berlin spy thriller), but it’s that big final battle that action fans will remember. And while “Atomic Blonde” feels fresh, the sequence takes plenty of cues from single-shots that have come before.
Fans of both Theron and single-shot sequences can get a small taste of the ass-kicking to come in “Atomic Blonde” (for the really curious, the single-shot segment plays out mostly on the stairs, footage that pops up near the end of this trailer).
The single-shot sequence has also moved to the small screen, where series like “True Detective” and “Daredevil” have used it to thrilling ends. Still, movies are where the lensing trick hits the hardest, and in celebration of “Atomic Blonde” (and the action-heavy accolades it will soon receive), here are seven more of our favorite one-shot action sequences. Keep your eyes open, you don’t want to miss a thing.
The Subway Fight in “Hanna”
Tension is the name of the game in Joe Wright’s bruising 2011 actioner, and while much of that is delivered care of Saoirse Ronan’s pulse-pounding performance as the eponymous teen assassin, there are plenty of other thrills to be found. While the punch-and-crunch of this subway fight shows off Wright’s mostly underutilized skills as an action filmmaker, what sets this one apart are the opening moments in which Eric Bana’s former CIA agent Erik Heller strolls through a busy city. A nearby plane, a too-loud honk, some ominous graffiti — it also serves to put Erik (and us) very much on edge. When Erik finally makes the guy following him, he steadily prepares for a fight and loosens his suit buttons as the soundtrack amps up. Then, it’s time get punching.
The Hospital Shootout in “Hard Boiled”
John Woo outdid himself with this long-take scene from his 1992 hit “Hard Boiled.” Combining an inventive and complex setting — a hospital overrun with villains — and a mismatched pair of good guys, the fast-moving sequence still makes time for an admirably high body count. This sequence isn’t a true single-shot — the video we embedded above points out the cuts — but it’s still impressive action filmmaking that leads to a literally explosive ending.
Adonis’ First Fight in “Creed”
Ryan Coogler didn’t pull any punches (sorry) with the jaw-dropping single-shot scene that follows the first fight in his “Rocky” sequel, “Creed.” Coogler vividly deconstructed the scene for The New York Times: “We decided three weeks out from production and it was a team effort… I worked with a great stunt coordinator named Clayton Barber and a great cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, and a great Steadicam operator, Ben Semanoff. It was a conversation between all of us. I had a crew that was as crazy as me and an actor as crazy as me. So as opposed to getting scared at this idea, everybody got excited. We shot it the third day of photography. We had one camera on set and didn’t shoot anything to cut away to. We just dove off the cliff and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this.’ We did 13 takes of it.”
The Opening Battle in “The Revenant”
The backstory of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning historical drama hinged on the full-bore dedication of star Leonardo DiCaprio (remember the bear-rape rumor?) and how this film was absolutely the hardest one to make in history ever. However, the most dazzling sequence comes early in the film, when Hugh Glass’ (DiCaprio) trapping camp is attacked by an Arikara war party that isn’t interested in taking prisoners as much as ridding their land of the interlopers. It’s a gruesome, white-knuckle sequence that drives home the unpredictable and omnipresent peril. As Iñárritu told ScreenDaily, “Five years ago I knew I wanted to shoot a scene like that… Most importantly for me was not only to make this scene a real experience, but to submerge people in the emotional experience and ask, ‘Whose point of view was this?'” Mission viciously accomplished.
The Battlefield in “Children of Men”
Before “The Revenant,” cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki turned his one-shot skills to a pair of gold-standard sequences in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men.” While the infamous in-car chase scene utilizes the one-take trick, it shows up again (in an even longer take) later in the film, when star Clive Owen, the world’s last pregnant woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and his band of revolutionaries push through a nightmarish battle in the heart of a ruined Bexhill.There are, of course, a handful of cuts, but few films announce them so creatively: In one edit, a blood-soaked camera shifts out for a clean one.
The Lobby Fight in “The Protector”
No action-centric list would be complete without legendary Thai actor and martial artist Tony Jaa, and Prachya Pinkaew’s 2005 “The Protector” puts martial arts at the heart of a highly energetic single take. Set in a hotel lobby that seems designed for maximum pain — those landings? they should probably be a touch more reinforced — the sequence sees Jaa going absolutely insane while a wild world swirls around him.
The Hallway Fight in “Oldboy”
This is the movie in which Park Chan-Wook horrifically, irrevocably reconciled a single hammer as the world’s most fearsome weapon. A desperate charge by Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) through a crowded hallway filled with enemies seems especially ill-fated. But as he works his way through his enemies — aided by that hammer — survival becomes a creeping possibility that still doesn’t leave much in the way of joy. By the sequence’s end, Dae-su is wrung out, exhausted, and scarcely able to celebrate what amounts to one of his few wins. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the film, and an all-timer of a single-shot.
“Atomic Blonde” will hit theaters Friday, July 28.
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