Top 20 How Did They Shoot That?! Scenes

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Top 20 How Did They Shoot That?! Scenes

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake & Owen Maxwell
These scenes will take your breath away and have you wondering “how'd they do that?”. For this list, we're taking a look at some of cinema's most impressive sequences made possible through astonishing directing, effects, editing, and cinematography. Our countdown includes Crazy 88 Fight, Deserted London, Bloody Elevators, Joker Chase, and more!
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Top 20 How Did They Shoot That Scenes


And you thought your job was hard. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 How Did They Shoot That Scenes.

For this list, we’re taking a look at some of cinema’s most impressive sequences made possible through astonishing directing, effects, editing, and cinematography. These scenes additionally need to have a certain degree of difficulty or originality to them, leaving the audience wondering, “How the hell did they do that?”

#20: Opening Crawl

“Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)
If you’re going to make an audience read, you need to do it cinematically. George Lucas paid homage to the opening of his favorite “Flash Gordon” films with the iconic opening crawl to “Star Wars.” The scrolling text falling into a void added an epic quality to the story that allowed for all the exposition without losing any visual majesty. While the effect is accomplished now thanks to software that’s even permeated rereleases of the originals, the effect was originally accomplished thanks to giant print plates and cleverly designed camera rigs that scrolled along the text.

#19: Bridge Collapse

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)
A classic from the pre-CGI era, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” works up to a crucial scene in which the bridge itself comes tumbling down. Rather than using models, the filmmakers decided to demolish a full-scale bridge as a train comes plunging into the river below. Only getting one chance at shooting this pivotal, not to mention expensive, moment, the whole picture would have basically been ruined if anything went wrong. Fortunately, the flawless final product turned out to be nothing short of movie magic.

#18: Centrifuge

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
If you want to bring your viewers to the future, your production needs to be out-of-this-world. When Stanley Kubrick wanted to simulate zero gravity in space on his ship’s giant centrifuge, he built a mechanical one himself. While it looks absolutely baffling to see the crew running around the giant circle in continuous shots, the massive set was essentially a Ferris wheel that had to be rotated along with the actors to accomplish the seamless shots. By carefully coordinating the actors and crew members, and even occasionally strapping in actors upside-down to make it all look real, Kubrick proved just how much you can accomplish with ingenuity and a dash of crazy.

#17: Crazy 88 Fight

“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003)
Quentin Tarantino throws everything he has at his leading lady and audience in this kickass scene. Confronted by an army of masked men, the Bride engages in a gloriously choreographed battle full of severed body parts and blood spewing everywhere. As excessive as it may appear, the fight never gets tiresome. Brilliantly shot and gushing with creative swordplay, Tarantino just keeps topping himself. The sequence is so overwhelming that you really need to stop and catch your breath once it's over. Good thing “Kill Bill” was split into two movies.

#16: Raining Frogs

“Magnolia” (1999)
For a biblical scene, your attention to detail should be just immaculate. After the emotional slow-burn that fills the majority of Paul Thomas Anderson’s surreal film, the climactic ending goes above and beyond anything you’d expect from a standard drama. After sprinkling in references to the Exodus passage that mentions the frogs throughout the film, Anderson brings the plague to life for a visceral and impactful ending to his film. Thanks to some clever effects work, he mixes some practical frogs with countless CG frogs to rain down on the landscape, shocking the audience as much as it shocks the characters on screen.

#15: Deserted London

“28 Days Later” (2002)
Filming a deserted city might not sound especially complex. When you consider the time and manpower needed to make a huge capital look abandoned, though, it’s a pretty daunting task. Nevertheless, Danny Boyle pulled it off in “28 Days Later,” placing Cillian Murphy in the eerily empty streets of London. With the police closing the roads at 4 a.m. and reopening them around rush hour, Boyle only had a brief window of time each day – sometimes only a couple of dozen minutes – to shoot this stunning sequence. But it was worth it: the results certainly created a disturbing end of days vibe.

#14: Empty NYC Streets

“Vanilla Sky” (2001)
If you’ve ever felt alone in the world, this scene might hit pretty close to home. In one of the many confusing sequences from “Vanilla Sky,” Tom Cruise goes for a drive only to realize that the usually busy New York streets are unbelievably empty, at 9:00 AM. His unreal drive leads him to Times Square where he realizes something’s wrong and begins to freak out, as he’s seemingly stuck in a “Twilight Zone” episode like the one playing behind him. Most surprising, however, is that the scene isn’t computer enhanced: director Cameron Crowe was given permission to shut down Times Square for filming on a Sunday morning to create the spooky emptiness.

#13: The Burj Khalifa

“Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” (2011)
Suspending Tom Cruise outside the tallest building in the world, there are so many ways this sequence from “Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol” could have cheated. Rather than relying on a green screen or hiring a stunt double, what the audience sees is virtually what they got. The sequence is only made more thrilling when considering that’s really Tom Cruise running and crawling outside the Burj Khalifa, even if cables are supporting him. It’ll have you hanging at the edge of your seat just as Cruise hangs 123 stories above Dubai.

#12: Bloody Elevators

“The Shining” (1980)
While bigger doesn’t always mean better, when it comes to blood in horror films, the more the merrier. For this haunting scene in Stanley Kubrick’s take on the ghastly story from horror master Stephen King, a couple of liters simply wouldn’t do. For the extremely red river that both Danny and Wendy encounter in the Overlook Hotel elevator, Kubrick once again refused to cut corners to make it happen. Employing over 200 gallons of the fake blood known as Kensington gore, the blood eerily flows out, splashing against the walls and ominously obscuring the screen in its terrifying journey towards the camera.

#11: D-Day

“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Filmed over the course of a month, the Omaha Beach landings sequence from “Saving Private Ryan” places the audience at the center of the action through hand-held cameras. Although the film hasn’t introduced us to any characters yet, we immediately share all the aguish and panic these soldiers endure. While the scene is indeed a visual marvel, what’s truly miraculous is how Steven Spielberg bluntly immerses the audience in combat. With haunting imagery that will remain forever etched in our minds, never has a depiction of war felt more hellish.

#10: Bear Fight

“The Revenant” (2015)
How do you top falling off a cliff? Call in the bear! For Alejandro Iñárritu’s survival masterpiece, he needed to make Hugh Glass’ physical pain feel as real as his emotional pain, and the bear attack in the film’s first act was all but overkill. As Leonardo DiCaprio walks through the forest, he encounters a mother bear that proceeds to maul him and horribly damage his body. To make it look believable, neither a real bear nor pure CGI would work. So the crew used a blue costumed stuntman to throw DiCaprio around while cleverly applied and edited injuries were added along the way for a scene you’ll feel in your bones.


#9: The Ruined City

“1917” (2019)
Leading up to the release of this WWI epic, we were all ready to be blown away by the much discussed one-shot filming techniques used by Sam Mendes and his team. In order to execute their concept, they had to design and build a set from scratch that would facilitate the many cameras and operators moving fluidly throughout. During night scenes, they had to find a way to light the set and actors while still maintaining the natural aesthetic of the film, so they used flares. Using miniature models, they were able to study the path and shadows the flares created, and then used those findings to map out the routes of all camera personnel in real time. Honestly, it couldn’t have looked better.

#8: Joker Chase

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Through his “Dark Knight” trilogy, Christopher Nolan aspired to create a Gotham City that could exist in the real world. His grittier approach to the franchise especially shines in this freeway chase, chiefly relying on practical effects. Filmed on the streets of Chicago, the explosive confrontation works up to an applaud-worthy climax as Batman utilizes his fully functional batpod to flip the Joker’s rig. And yes, the filmmakers overturned an actual truck with a driver inside. How will Nolan ever top this amazing set piece? Stayed tuned to find out.

#7: Another Day of Sun

“La La Land” (2016)
The loudest way is often the best way to get a message across, especially in a musical. In the opener to Damien Chazelle’s love-letter to classic musicals, the cast dances and sings “Another Day of Sun” around an LA highway, shedding all the frustration that the city’s awful traffic usually brings. One woman gets out of her car to sing, and the rest of the drivers soon follow, dancing on top of their cars and closing the number on a hilarious mix of door slams and honks. The glorious six-minute long-shot was filmed by ironically shutting off part of an LA freeway for two days, likely causing even more traffic in the process.

#6: One Take Chase

“Extraction” (2020)
Most one-take action scenes are already impressive enough when they last 4 or 5 minutes. In “Extraction” however, director Sam Hargrave took things to a whole new level, stitching together 36 invidual segments together to create 12 straight minutes of car chases, tumbles, gun battles and hand to hand combat. The Netflix film sees Chris Hemsworth eluding capture in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as he seeks to return the son of a big time drug lord. Most impressive of all, Hargrave actually strapped himself down to the hood of a car in one of the chase scenes, providing the audience with a front row seat to the action. Director’s chair? Won’t be necessary.


#5: Car Chase

“Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)
Given a bigger budget for the initial sequel to “Mad Max,” George Miller was able to go as big and over-the-top as he wanted. He put the money to great use, particularly in the film’s wildly inventive climax. Driving a tanker, our death-defying hero is bombarded by a gang on wheels determined to spill his blood for oil. With vehicles crashing, vehicles catching fire, and characters jumping between vehicles, it’s exhausting just thinking about how Miller got this extraordinary scene on film. However he did it, we’re 100% grateful.

#4: Bad Trip

“Children of Men” (2006)
Most films can barely manage one breathtaking long-take, but Alfonso Cuarón seemed to have more trouble avoiding them. As the gang of runaways drives down a country road, things appear hopeful despite the dark future they live in. But as raiders descend on the car with weapons, things go from happy to disturbing in seconds, with an armed motorcycle attacker gunning one of them down during the same extended take. On top of the precise amount of coordination that was used to get each of the countless actors in the right place at the right time, a massive rig was also built on the car to catch each moment from the inside.

#3: Titanic Sinking

“Titanic” (1997)
“Titanic” is full of awe-inspiring moments that authentically recreate the supposedly unsinkable ship’s rise and demise. Utilizing a diverse blend of sets, models, green screen effects, and CGI to fashion the most convincing illusion possible, James Cameron leaves the audience gasping for air up until the Titanic’s final moments before it’s submerged below the sea. With countless extras crowding around the bow and holding on for dear life as the ships breaks in half, the audience is thrilled, shocked, heartbroken, and left feeling totally insignificant compared to the film’s majestic size.

#2: The Whole Movie

“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Creating a single mind blowing scene is one thing, but this film left audiences with jaws open from start to finish. The exploding vehicles, pole swinging, and harpooning all bring enough danger on their own, so it’s hard to imagine that they were done practically. Director George Miller and stunt coordinator Guy Norris had trained motorcyclists to simultaneously drop bombs on Furiosa’s tanker mid-jump, along with stuntmen swinging on giant pivoting poles on moving vehicles with some help from a Cirque Du Soleil member. Construction vehicles were really blasted off a tanker and most of the crashes really happened. And yes, the Doof Warrior’s guitar actually works!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:


The Smell of Napalm in the Morning
“Apocalypse Now” (1979)

Construction Site Chase
“Casino Royale” (2006)


Burning Down the House
“Backdraft” (1991)

Strapped to a Plane
“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” (2015)

Holy Melee
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014)


#1: Crashing This Plane

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
Trapped in an airborne CIA plane, there appears to be no escape for Bane. When a C-130 shows up, though, the criminal mastermind puts his unthinkable getaway plan into action. Causing the government aircraft to take a nosedive and ultimately crash to the ground, this scene is truly a revolution of stunts, cinematography, and staging. It goes to show that Christopher Nolan will never stop pushing the envelope in terms of ambitious action sequences, from the corridor fight in “Inception” to this unbelievable opening to “The Dark Knight Rises.”
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