Top 20 Greatest Movie Scenes They Got On the First Take

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Top 20 Greatest Movie Scenes They Got On the First Take

WRITTEN BY: Sammie Purcell
These movie scenes shocked directors for all the right reasons. For this list, we'll be looking at true moments of movie magic – that amazingly, happened right on the first try. Our countdown includes "The Dark Knight", "Star Wars", "127 Hours", "Psycho", "Titanic", and more!
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Top 20 Incredible Movie Scenes They Got On the First Take


Welcome to WatchMojo, where today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Incredible Movie Scenes They Got On the First Take.

For this list, we’ll be looking at true moments of movie magic – that amazingly, happened right on the first try. Consider yourself warned, there are spoilers ahead.

Let us know your favorite first-take shots in the comments below.

#20: Jail Scene

“The Master” (2012)
From the moment Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” the tension between them jumps off the screen. It’s palpable during their first meeting – and of course the unforgettable processing scene – but things come to a head in jail. It’s not surprising to hear this scene was mostly improvised, but you may be shocked to learn that what you see in the film is the first take. It’s volcanic. Joaquin Phoenix paces the cell like a caged animal – literally – breaking toilets, hitting the bunk with his head, while Philip Seymour Hoffman stands there, taking it in, until he too explodes. It’s a masterclass in acting from two of the greats.

#19: Lassie in the River

“Lassie Come Home” (1943)
Animals can be great actors too – especially the very good boy, Pal, who starred in the first Lassie film. Pal wasn’t the first choice for the part – he actually began as a stunt dog for the movie. But, lucky for Pal, his background in stunts elevated him to the titular role. There’s a famous scene in the film where Lassie must swim across a raging river and pull herself out. The dog initially cast in the role refused to get in the rushing rapids—completely fair, we wouldn’t either! But Pal stepped up to the plate, and nailed it in one take. Ah, the professionalism of man’s best friend.

#18: Colin Farrell Comes Clean

“Phone Booth” (2003)
If you’ve ever seen this movie, you know to never, EVER, pick up the payphone if it rings. In this Joel Schumacher thriller, Stu – played by Colin Farrell – gets stuck in a phone booth talking to a sniper. The unseen man threatens to kill him if he doesn’t admit to all of his misdeeds – namely, that he’s been cheating on his wife, Kelly. When Kelly shows up to the scene, the sniper changes tactics, threatening to kill her if Stu doesn’t confess. This pushes Stu over the edge, and he admits his infidelity in a stirring scene that Colin Farrell reportedly nailed on his very first try.

#17: The Poem

“10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
Based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”, this teen romantic comedy was Julia Stiles’ breakout role. The title comes from a poem that her character Kat reads out in class in front of Heath Ledger’s Patrick, who broke her heart. It’s a pivotal and memorable scene, and in a 2015 interview with Cosmopolitan UK, Stiles confirmed that the tears were real. She said that she hadn’t expected to cry, and wasn’t sure if it was because the moment connected with her own life or “if I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience of making my first big movie.” Director Gil Junger told The New York Times that the performance made him cry too, and that it was the very first take!

#16: Angela Lansbury’s Recording of “Beauty and the Beast”

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
Before recording this song, British-American actress Angela Lansbury was hesitant, due to the unfamiliar style. She also feared that she’d have difficulty sustaining the longer notes with her aging singing voice. In fact, she asked the songwriters to get someone else to sing it. But they insisted, and she ultimately agreed. However, fate had a few other twists and turns in store. On her way to New York to record the song, her plane had to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas. She arrived in New York just in time and NAILED the song in a single take! She’s credited the emergency landing for her performance, saying: "I think it was the excitement of it all, the sense of 'do it now!'"

#15: Sonny’s Death

“The Godfather” (1972)
Achieving perfection on the first take can be expensive – and no one knows that better than Francis Ford Coppola. Sonny Corleone’s brutal murder at the toll booth is one of the most famous scenes in “The Godfather” – and one of the most costly. Reportedly, the scene cost over $100,000 to shoot, with four or five cameras at the ready to capture every angle possible of James Caan’s body riddled with bullets. The scene has gone down in history as a showcase for ratcheting up tension and a masterclass in pacing – and they only needed one take to get it. Thankfully, this expensive shot paid off.

#14: Rocky & Adrian

“Rocky” (1976)
It’s hard to imagine a world without Rocky. Seriously who hasn’t acted out the training montage during a workout? But Sylvester Stalone had a tough time getting the movie made. The script, which he wrote, was rejected by many a studio because Sly was adamant that he play Rocky Balboa. Once the film was finally set in motion with Stalone in the titular role, budget restrictions got in the way, causing many scenes to be changed or cut altogether. But, thankfully, Stallone refused to cut the scene where Rocky reveals to Adrian he doesn’t think he can win. He only had one take for the scene – they were behind in their shooting schedule – but, he nailed it.

#13: The House Gets Sucked Into a Portal

“Poltergeist” (1982)
They’re hereeee! This supernatural stunner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects – and it’s final, horrifying scene is an excellent example as to why. At the end of “Poltergeist,” the Freeling family is attacked by spirits and their home is sucked into a portal. In reality, the special effects team built a model of the Freeling home and used a vacuum to suck the model into a funnel to create the effect. Of course, they had to add different special effects after the initial shot, but they were able to suck that house down in one, amazing take.

#12: Self-Amputation

“127 Hours” (2010)
If you’re squeamish, you might want to cover your eyes – this one is pretty harrowing. “127 Hours” tells the story of real life adventurer Aron Ralston, who had to cut off his own arm after being trapped under a boulder in a remote Utah canyon. Starring James Franco, the film didn’t pull any punches when it came to the controversial self-amputation scene – some viewers quite literally fainted – and Franco himself reportedly had trouble getting through it. Even though he was only cutting through a prosthetic, some of those reaction shots are probably close to how he really felt. Though challenging, it only took one take to capture the torment and anguish of this moment.

#11: Tommy Lee Jones’ Monologue

“No Country For Old Men” (2007)
When people think back on “No Country For Old Men,” it’s Javier Bardem’s disquieting performance as Anton Chigurh that stands out—and deservedly so! But, in a role that’s just as important, Tommy Lee Jones’ stoic take on Sheriff Bell aptly carries through one of the film’s most central themes – the obsoleteness of the traditional hero in the face of new evils. No country for old men, indeed! One of Jones’ best moments comes at the very end of the film, where he describes a dream he had about his father. The monologue is haunting, and Jones reportedly performed it perfectly in one take.

#10: Citizen Kane Destroys a Bedroom

“Citizen Kane” (1941)
Widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles’ first film has generated decades worth of discussion—involving both the movie itself and the behind-the-scenes drama. But today we want to focus on the scene where Kane wrecks his wife’s bedroom after she leaves him. It’s an emotional tour de force, and was captured in one take. Now there might have been a bit of pressure to nail that first take – Welles did destroy the entire set, after all – but that doesn’t take away from this moment of movie magic.

#9: Gina Carano & the Flatscreen


“Haywire” (2011)
For her first leading role on the big screen, MMA fighter Gina Carano didn’t want to pull any punches. Or have any punches pulled on her. She plays a black ops operative who’s set up by her own intelligence firm and attacked by assassins. According to Michael Fassbender, when filming the scene where his character Paul and Carano’s Mallory Kane duke it out in a hotel room, Carano kept asking him to hit her harder. Unafraid of a few bruises, she also managed to pull off the shot where she gets thrown into a flatscreen TV on the first and only take!

#8: The Psychiatrist’s Speech

“Psycho” (1960)
Who could forget the iconic shower scene? Who doesn’t remember the horrifying “Mrs. Bates is dead” reveal? While all of these terrifying moments stick in your mind, you might forget one of the quieter—but equally important—moments of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. At the end of the film, Dr. Richmond, played by Simon Oakland, gives a very long speech, explaining the psychology behind everything we’ve just witnessed. Despite the speech’s length, Oakland nailed the first take, causing Hitchcock to shake his hand and say: “Thank you very much, Mr. Oakland. You’ve just saved my picture.” High praise from the king of horror himself.

#7: Shadowfax

“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
Here’s another animal actor who simply exudes professionalism and won’t waste your time! Gandalf the Grey’s mount Shadowfax is known as one of the most majestic and fastest horses in all of Middle Earth–and this entrance lives up to that reputation. Everything – Gandalf’s smile, everyone’s reaction, the steady galloping – it’s all perfect. But what’s most impressive is this horse actor got it all right on the first take. With that little snort and shake of the mane as Gandalf says his name, you can tell this horse was meant to be a star!

#6: It’s a Wonderful Phone Call

“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed’s chemistry jumps off of the screen – and the moment their relationship comes to fruition is unforgettable. After an argument over marriage, both barely suppressing their feelings for each other, Mary and George are forced to share the phone when a mutual friend calls. Their faces pressed together, the tension builds until they finally kiss. Reportedly, Stewart was very nervous before filming. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was his first film after returning from World War II, and he hadn’t had to film a romantic scene in some time. But, chemistry won out, and the two actors created this perfect scene on the first take.

#5: Atticus Finch’s Closing Argument

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
For many of us growing up, Atticus Finch was the paragon of morality. Set in the 1930s in rural Alabama, “To Kill a Mockingbird” follows Atticus as he serves as the defense attorney of Tom Robinson—a Black man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. The film primarily plays out from the point of view of his young daughter Scout, but the audience is privy to many scenes in the courtroom – including Atticus’ gripping closing argument. Reportedly, several days were set aside for the scene in which Atticus urges the jury to find Tom Robinson innocent. But actor Gregory Peck only needed one take!

#4: Car Stunt

“The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974)
Today, with so many Fast and Furious movies under our belts, we’re used to some pretty crazy car stunts. And that’s collectively taught most of us to spot when there’s a heavy amount of CGI involved. But, back in the 1970s, this James Bond stunt was truly shocking. In “The Man With the Golden Gun,” a stunt driver has to jump a car over a river, corkscrew through the air, and land right-side-up on the other end. Production was prepared for everything to go wrong, but driver Loren “Bumps” Willert landed it in one take—earning himself a BIG bonus. Now, if we could just edit out that ridiculous sound effect, this might be one of the best stunts in history.

#3: Luke Swings to Safety

“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983)
There are plenty of daring stunts to be amazed at in the Star Wars franchise, but for the time being, we’re going to focus on this swinging good time. In “Return of the Jedi,” Luke, Leia and the rebels must escape the Sarlacc pit. There’s a moment where Luke grabs Leia and swings them both to safety – and apparently, the daring jump only took one take. Reportedly, Mark Hamill had a great time swinging around in his harness, and was really disappointed when they got the shot on the first try. Ah, the cost of perfection.

#2: Water in the Grand Staircase

“Titanic” (1997)
The home stretch of “Titanic” is filled with soaring set pieces and unimaginable terror – and the stakes of filming those boat sinking scenes were really high. Going into filming the iconic scene where water floods the Grand Staircase, the cast and crew knew they would only have one shot to get it right. After all, when part of the scene involves completely destroying your entire set, you don’t want to mess something up and have to rebuild all of that grandeur. Luckily for us – and luckily for the shooting schedule – the scene was captured perfectly on the first take.

#1: Blowing Up the Hospital

“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Heath Ledger’s Joker performance and the surrounding mythos of “The Dark Knight” have given us numerous cinema legends. But the story surrounding the famous hospital explosion is perhaps the most well-known. Wanting to use a practical effect, director Christopher Nolan got permission to blow up a real building for the scene – but of course, blowing up your major set piece means you only have one chance to get it right. The shot following Ledger’s Joker as he exits the building captures his reaction and the ensuing explosion perfectly.
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