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Top 40 “Short Take” Movie Moments

We all have our favorite movie scenes. Brando’s speech in Apocalypse Now. The vistas in Lawrence of Arabia. The cornfield showdown in North By Northwest. Nicholson’s duel with Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The pod race in The Phantom Menace.

But picking out great scenes like this are too easy. So we went to the blackboard and the vault to find the very best ‘short takes’ — scenes that were no more than five seconds long (and usually much less) — that have always stuck in our minds. Some of these are split-second flashes that you’ll have to freeze-frame to catch (#24 and #25). Some aren’t scenes at all, just masterful cuts from one scene to another (#1). Three of them involve exposed penises.

Also note that we have avoided ‘famous firsts’ — color, sound, 3-D, digital effects. This list is about the little things in storytelling, not pioneering technical achievements.

It’s the strangest list we’ve ever tried to compile at filmcritic.com, but we think it’s one of our most compelling. We hope you enjoy it.


40. Jaws – The title character makes his appearance: ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.’

39. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Veruca Salt completes her song, stands on the ‘good egg/bad egg’ scale, and is quickly jettisoned down a trash chute.

38. Ghostbusters – The giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man materializes in New York City.

37. Schindler’s List – A young boy hides in the latrine, and stares up into the sunlight.

36. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – TX uses a huge crane to wipe out everything in her path culminating, in a demolition-derby one-upmanship, with the destruction of a whole building.

35. Signs – That creepy alien crosses the frame at a kid’s birthday party.

34. Patton – George C. Scott stands before a screen-filling American flag and says, ‘No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.’

33. Jules et Jim – The ill-fated trio’s romance ends in an instant. Whoops!

32. Poltergeist – Warning: Staring into a mirror may cause you to rip your own face off in lightning-fast flashes.

31. Out of Sight – Jennifer Lopez’s expansive ass is hauled into the trunk by George Clooney.

30. Miller’s Crossing – After taking a snivelling John Turturro out into the woods to whack him, Gabriel Byrne finally fires a shot in the air and says, ‘You’re dead, get me?’

29. Back to School – A sweating and dazed Rodney Dangerfield gives his final answer to the oral test. (‘Four?’)

28. Back to the Future – Marty wakes up to see his teenage mother by his bed.

27. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Look at the fluffy bunny, innocent and white. Now look at him, covered in blood.

26. The Godfather – Big-shot Hollywood producer wakes up drenched in blood, and pulls down the sheets to discover the head of his precious stallion.

25. Psycho – In a quick flash at the very end, Norman Bates’ face morphs into a skull. (The shower scene, alas, is too long to be included here.)

24. Memento – Another quick flash, as a hospital scene showing Sammy Jankis (Steven Tobolowsky) turns into Guy Pearce’s Leonard after a nurse crosses the frame. It’s on screen for a split second, but it changes your interpretation of the film completely.

23. Fight Club – The final scene of the film is interrupted by a flash of a male member, making us wonder if we haven’t all been had.

22. The Shining – Jack Nicholson busts out a ‘Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!’ as he pokes his face through the hole he just chopped in the door.

21. Deep Blue Sea – Samuel L. Jackson is in the middle of a rousing speech about how he and his fellow stranded deep sea scientists will save themselves from the killer sharks when a shark leaps out of the water and bites him in half.

20. Rope – The opening moments, in which a man is strangled and put into a chest, that will remain in sight through the dinner party during the remainder of the film. (Since the whole film is given the appearance of one take, calling this a ‘scene’ is a stretch.)

19. Chinatown – May the slapping commence!

18. Trainspotting – Ewan McGregor climbs improbably into a toilet.

17. Sideways – Paul Giamatti dumps a winery’s spit bucket on himself. Physical comedy at its best.

16. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – The bikes go airborne in one of cinema’s greatest getaways ever.

15. Boogie Nights – The final scene gets an exclamation point with a glimpse of Dirk Diggler’s penis, revealing the remarkable depth of his talent.

14. Citizen Kane – The nature of Rosebud is finally revealed.

13. Napoleon Dynamite – Napoleon’s portrait, on which he’s spent ‘three hours shading the upper lip,’ is finally revealed.

12. The Sweet Hereafter – The school bus crashes through the ice, and slowly begins sinking into a frozen lake.

11. Alien – The chestburster makes its first, dramatic appearance.

10. Blade Runner – Daryl Hannah’s Pris gets shot, flailing and screaming so horrifically we beg for Harrison Ford’s Deckard to finish her off.

9. The Graduate – ‘Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.’ The shot (seen across the bow of Anne Bancroft’s leg) is so compelling it inspired the shot on the movie’s poster.

8. The Empire Strikes Back – Luke loses his hand. Heroes weren’t supposed to get limbs lopped off!

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Indiana Jones faces down a much larger man wielding a huge sword… and simply shoots him.

6. The Crying Game – You know what scene we’re talking about.

5. The Usual Suspects – Keyser Soze shakes off that limp and lights a smoke.

4. My Own Private Idaho – A full-size house abruptly drops from the sky, crashing into the ground.

3. Dr. Strangelove – Slim Pickens rides the ‘nukular’ bomb from the belly of his plane to its target in Russia, hooting and hollering until he hits the earth.

2. Magnolia – An ambulance carrying Julianne Moore crashes and flips on its side… which we witness from inside the vehicle. The camera appears to stay still, while everything suddenly flies the side of the screen.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Best cut ever: An ape bone suddenly turns into a spaceship as we instantaneously fast-forward a million years or so.

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