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One-Take Wonder

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When an actor's or a musician's performance is so phenomenal or so genuine (or, more simply, there are time and/or budget restraints), that a second or separate take could not possibly replicate the greatness of the first or the uncut take.

Compare All or Nothing, Throw It In!, and One-Scene Wonder. May overlap with The Oner if the take is sufficiently long.

Many, if not all, spoilers will be unmarked ahead. You Have Been Warned.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Animated Film 
  • Beauty and the Beast:
    • The titular song was originally conceived as a more up-tempo rock song; it was eventually retooled into a romantic ballad to better fit the scene. Angela Lansbury, who portrayed Mrs. Potts, was initially reluctant to provide the vocals, thinking herself a poor fit for the style of song. At the directors' request, the actress recorded one take as a backup, in case no other options were found. Lansbury reportedly brought the entire studio to tears with her performance.
    • Tony Jay recorded all of Monsiuer D'Arque's dialogue as part of his audition. The directors decided that his delivery was perfect as it was and that there was no point bringing him back to record the same lines again, so they sent his paycheck and used the audition recording exactly as it was.
  • Finding Nemo: Ellen DeGeneres did the "I look at you and I'm home" speech in one take, and wasn't able to get through the second because she was so caught up in the emotion of the scene. They used the first.
  • The Rescuers: According to Milt Kahl, Geraldine Page nailed every single one of Medusa's lines in one take.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: Sarah Stiles spontaneously decided to sing all of "Other Friends" in one take (previously it was done in pieces), and most of the final version comes from that take.

    Live-Action Film 
  • Natalie Wood was known for getting all her lines right on the first take - and she was nicknamed 'One Take Natalie' as a result.
  • Alien: The iconic chestbuster scene needed one take, and the story behind it is interesting: The actors read what was going to happen, but no one really expected John Hurt to act like having an attack and having blood exploding by his chest, so their acting was genuine. As Weaver said, they thought John Hurt really was dying right there.
  • Anthony Hopkins astounded the crew of Amistad by delivering the entire seven page courtroom speech in a single take. Steven Spielberg was so in awe, he couldn't bring himself to call him Tony, and insisted on addressing him as Sir Anthony throughout the shoot.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai had only one chance to destroy the titular bridge due to how long it took to build it and how expensive the set was (it featured an actual train getting destroyed as it crossed a collapsing bridge). If they messed it up, the film was ruined. But they got it right.
  • Citizen Kane: When the main character's wife leaves him, he completely destroys her bedroom. Given the destruction Welles caused to the set, the first take of this infamous scene was, understandably, the only take.
  • The Dark Knight:
    • The hospital scene, where the Joker totters out of Gotham General with the hospital exploding around him. The explosion stops for several seconds, causing the Joker to fiddle with the detonator, before the explosions suddenly continue. Heath Ledger does not break character (with rumors about how it was a mistake by the effects team abounding, though it turns out it was entirely intentional), nor does he even turn to watch the explosion even when he gets on the bus. Everything is executed perfectly, resulting in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
    • In the DVD Extras, it's mentioned that they only purchased two Lamborghinis for the scene in which Bruce Wayne blocks the truck driver's attempt at running over Coleman Reese. It wasn't the end of the world if they got it wrong on both takes, but splashing a million dollars on two cars is naturally not exactly the optimal scenario. However, everything went right on the first try.
  • Dr. Who and the Daleks: As an incentive Roberta Tovey (who was 11 at the time the film was produced) was paid a shilling (5p) by director Gordon Flemyng every time she did a scene in one take. She made so much money, Flemyng didn't offer her the same deal for the sequel.
  • The climactic scene of Duel was filmed in one take due to budget restrictions, since it shows the tanker truck driving off a cliff. A mechanical malfunction during filming caused an unintended addition to the scene: the truck door hanging open from where the stunt driver had to jump out at the last second, which some viewers mistook for a hint that the Serial Killer driver character escaped the crash.
  • The scene in The Exorcist where Regan projectile vomits at Father Karras only required one take. The vomit was intended to hit Jason Miller in the chest, but the plastic tubing misfired, hitting him in the face. His reaction of shock and disgust while wiping away the vomit is genuine, and Miller admitted in an interview that he was very angered by this mistake.
  • The scene in in Extreme Prejudice where Powers Boothe picks up a scorpion then crushes it with his bare hand was done in one take.
  • Bobby's scene with his father in Five Easy Pieces only required one take.
  • The train-on-a-collapsing-bridge setup was done for the climax of Buster Keaton's The General.
  • The racetrack scene in Get Carter was done in one take.
  • Sonny's death scene in The Godfather was the most expensive in the movie to set up and film, for it cost over one hundred thousand dollars to set up, and was finished in just one take from four or five different camera angles.
  • Eli Wallach refused to do another take of the train scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly after almost getting decapitated. Thankfully, it only required one.
  • Hard Boiled: Because of the shooting schedule, the crew only had one chance to perform the continuous take during the gun-battle in the hospital.
  • High and Tight: Kaireht Yovera was given free reign to improvise during Becky's Confession Cam segment. What she improvised was significantly better than what had been written for her. They did however two more takes, because the loud rain outside was affecting the sound.
  • The Hobbit: Stephen Hunter (Bombur) caught the egg thrown into his mouth on the first take, but was unable to catch it on subsequent takes. Therefore the take used was the first one.
  • Spencer Tracy's eleven-minute closing speech in Judgment at Nuremberg was filmed in one take.
  • Jurassic Park: Jeff Goldblum claimed that his reaction to seeing a Brachiosaurus for the first time was captured in one take ("you crazy son-of-a-bitch, you did it"), with Steven Spielberg dictating to him off-camera what expression he wanted.
  • The scene in The Lord of the Rings where Gandalf calls for his horse, and Shadowfax comes galloping across the fields and straight up to his Master, was achieved on the first take.
  • The Man with the Golden Gun: Stunt driver Loren "Bumps" Williard pulled off a full corkscrew in a car, and did so on his very first attempt.
  • The Master: Joaquin Phoenix's unhinged performance as an alcohol-addled follower of Hoffman's character was on full display in a largely improvised scene. Phoenix went absolutely berserk, and his first take at the scene was the one Anderson chose to use in the final cut.
  • The falling bookcase gag in The Mummy (1999) was done in one take.
  • According to Sidney Lumet, the "Mad as Hell" speech in Network was filmed in one and a half takes. Midway through the second take, Peter Finch abruptly stopped in exhaustion. Lumet was unaware of Finch's failing heart at the time, but in any case, did not ask for a third take. What's in the completed film is the second take for the first half of the speech, and the second half from the first take.
  • Phone Booth: The shooter demands that Stu come clean to his wife about his marital infidelities, resulting in an emotional scene that Colin Farrell managed to nail down on the first take. The entire film itself was shot in just 12 days.
  • The climactic scene in The Pit and the Pendulum of Nicholas strangling Elizabeth was all done in one take.
  • The climactic mall pole slide sequence in Police Story was filmed in one take, without any rehearsals or use of wires.
  • In Poolhall Junkies there is a scene where Christopher Walken is called upon to make a trick shot. He was supposed to take a practice run of the scene before filming but he asked for the practice run to be filmed in case he actually made the shot on the first try, which he did.
  • "Your Crowning Glory" from The Princess Diaries 2 was the first time Julie Andrews had sung in public, or on-screen since she had throat surgery in 1997. She reportedly nailed the song on the first take, and brought tears to the eyes of the crew present.
  • The psychiatrist's speech at the end of Psycho was considered an extremely important part of the film, since it provided the detailed Exposition needed to understand everything that had happened up to that point. But since the speech was so long and full of nuance, by all expectations it should have been a struggle to film. Instead, actor Simon Oakland did it perfectly in the first take, leading Alfred Hitchcock to stand up, shake his hand, and say "Thank you very much, Mr. Oakland. You've just saved my picture."
  • There was only one take of the abduction scene in Rabbit-Proof Fence, because it was so traumatic to the child actors.
  • During the production for Rocky, with the film running behind schedule, Sylvester Stallone was allowed only one shot at Rocky's most vulnerable moment, confessing his insecurities to his girlfriend, Adrian. Thankfully, that was all he needed, and the character's pivotal moment was kept.
  • Run Lola Run has a scene where Lola plays roulette, bets everything she has on Red 20, and wins. They filmed the croupier spinning the roulette wheel and dropping the ball, intending to later film a prepared shot of the ball landing on the correct spot, and edit the two shots together. But the ball actually landed on Red 20 on the first take, so no editing was needed.
  • Some Like It Hot: Marilyn Monroe was notorious about insisting on multiple takes (the "where's that bourbon" line took eighty-one takes before she was happy). But for the upper berth bed scene, they did the whole thing in one take and at the end Marilyn said "I loved it too" - shocking everyone.
  • Meryl Streep did the final scene of Sophie's Choice in one take and refused to do it again, saying that as a mother, she found it too painful and emotionally draining.
  • 10 Things I Hate About You: The then-17 year old Julia Stiles slowly broke down into tears while reading the poem on the very first take, an acting cue that was not in the film's script. First-time director Gil Junger was so moved, he called a wrap to the shoot after that.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus Finch's closing statement, in which Finch demanded the jury "do their duty", was originally planned to take several days. But Gregory Peck somehow managed to nail the speech in only one take—that alone was enough to guarantee Peck's only Best Actor Oscar.
  • Many scenes in Trainspotting had to be done in one take due to the low budget.
  • According to Kevin Smith, Johnny Depp never learned his opening monologue for Tusk because a misprint in his script gave him the impression he'd be delivering that monologue off-screen (meaning they could just ADR it in later). Undeterred, Depp grabbed the script and memorized the scene in five minutes flat. He ended up nailing the monologue in one take.
  • Martin Scorsese claimed that the scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Jordan attempts to get in his car while extremely impaired on Lemmons was improvised on the day of filming, and that it was Leonardo DiCaprio's idea to open the car door with his foot. DiCaprio strained his back during the scene, and was only able to perform the stunt once.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad:
    • In "Caballo Sin Nombre", the famous "pizza tossing" scene, where Walt angrily throws a pizza on the roof of his house, was shot in one take. The crew tried to reshoot it, but Bryan Cranston never managed to have the pizza land on the roof again after the first take.
    • According to Dean Norris, Hank's death scene was done in one take.
  • In the How I Met Your Mother episode "Bad News", Lily steps out of a cab and tells Marshall that his father has died. This prompts an emotional reaction from Marshall, with him embracing Lily and crying "I'm not ready for this." Marshall's actor, Jason Segel, did not know about the twist before Lily said the the words, and the scene was done in only one take.
  • Newhart: The legendary reveal scene at the end of the Grand Finale was shot in the only take - without rehearsal - because the live Studio Audience's initial reaction would not have been replicated on subsequent takes.
  • Sesame Street: After Mr. Hooper's actor died, the show did an episode explaining his death in-universe as well. The cast was so emotional, they were unable to do a second take without breaking down.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The infamous ending to "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse" was done all in one take. Despite the fact that Will's baseball cap fell off after Uncle Phil hugs him and Karyn Parsons (Hilary) could be heard crying backstage. Director Shelly Jensen was too emotional to do another take.
  • Zoom: An interstitial for an episode of Arthur note  reveals the "Zoom Znack" segment for fruit pizza was shot in a single take.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Spock's emotional breakdown in "The Naked Time" was shot in one take (as they didn't have time for a second one) - though contrary to urban legend, it was not improvised.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Sarek", the mind meld scene was shot in a single take.
  • The "Chandelier Scene" from Only Fools and Horses, in which the Trotter brothers prepare to remove a priceless chandelier for cleaning only for their grandfather to unscrew the wrong one which crashes to the ground behind them, had to be done in a single take as they could only afford one chandelier for the gag. David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst were under strict instructions to stand completely still and silent for 30 seconds after the chandelier dropped as the scene was originally supposed to be the final shot of the episode. Lyndhurst later claimed the director told him he would be fired if he made a mistake or started laughing.
  • Hannibal: At one point Hannibal Lecter is seen performing an elaborate cooking trick where he throws an egg in the air, cracks it over the narrow edge of a spatula as it falls and catches the yolk inside a small bowl. The crew were convinced the trick was too dificult and prepared several dozen eggs as well as three chefs to act as hand doubles. Mads Mikkelsen performed the trick perfectly on the first take with no rehearsals. Turns out Mikkelsen was a juggler in his youth which he credited for being able to pull off the trick.

    Music 
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • The scene in "Amish Paradise" from Bad Hair Day where a barn door falls perfectly around Al was shot in one take, because if it went wrong, Al legitimately could have died.
    • The ending to the "You Don't Love Me Anymore" music video where Al smashes an Ovation guitar was also done in one take. Al went on record saying the guitar cost $1,000 and it was the only guitar at that price that was going to be destroyed.
  • The Award-Bait Song "My Heart Will Go On" by Céline Dion for Titanic (1997) was recorded in one take from her demo.
  • Bad Company's self-titled song's vocals were done this way, with the added bonus of recording in an open field at midnight for added atmosphere.
  • The Beatles' cover of "Twist and Shout". John Lennon had a cold during the recording session, but kept on playing regardless. Since they had little recording time left, the band recorded it on one take. John's raspy voice blended really smoothly with the song, and producer George Martin threw it in, and the rest is history.
  • The Cherry Poppin' Daddies' sole hit, "Zoot Suit Riot," had its vocals done this way due to No Budget. There's a cheeky lampshade on the end, where singer Steve Perry tells the engineer "I think I'm about ready to sing this!" right before the song ends.
  • Eddie Hazel's solo on Funkadelic's Maggot Brain was done in one take and made up on the fly.
  • Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn recorded the vocals for their cover of Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives" in only one take.
  • "The Mariner's Revenge Song", by The Decemberists, was recorded on a single take using a single microphone at a church.
  • Freddie Mercury was very ill when Queen were to record "The Show Must Go On", which was his last recorded song. When Brian May expressed concern that he might not be well enough to sing the part Mercury responded by throwing back a shot of vodka, declaring "I'll fucking do it, darling!" and nailing the vocals in one take.
  • Josh Gracin didn't think that he would be able to record Marcel's "Nothin' to Lose" due to it being incredibly rapid-fire... only to nail the song on the first take.
  • Kathy Mattea's "455 Rocket" had several takes recorded, but the first one was kept because, according to Mattea, none of the musicians were aware that they were being recorded at the time. As a result, the recording has a "looser" feel, and the drummer can be heard dropping his drumsticks and laughing at the end.
  • LeAnn Rimes's "One Way Ticket (Because I Can)" was recorded entirely in one take. What makes this all the more impressive is that she was only 14 when she cut the song.
  • According to the booklet, the vocals to Manowar's song "Hatred" was recorded in one take, with singer Eric Adams looking at the recording studio's manager who was screwing the band over.
  • Michael Stipe's haunting performance on R.E.M.'s "Losing my Religion" is all the more impressive for the fact that the vocal track was recorded in a single take. The band later described the whole process of creating the song as feeling like they had tapped into a base archetype, as the rest of the composition and recording went nearly as cleanly.
  • Gordon Lightfoot and his backing team recorded "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" on the first take...having never played it together before.
  • Steve Wariner does this frequently, most notably the entirety of his Burnin' the Roadhouse Down album.

    Video Games 
  • Spec Ops: The Line reportedly had every single voice-line recorded during the same day. By the end, the voice actors were just as tired and weary as the characters they were portraying - which was wholly intentional.

    Web Original 
  • Aaron: Thomas Fitzgerald did the close-up shot of Adam revealing that his girlfriend miscarried in just one take.
  • In Epic Rap Battles of History, Epic Lloyd as Genghis Khan draws his sword and cuts an easter egg in half in just one take while filming "Genghis Khan vs. The Easter Bunny".
  • GoldStandard the scene of Fergal smashing Tom's head in with the shovel was done by Bobby Calloway in one take — including an ad-lib of Fergal pausing to check if he was still dead, before smashing him once more.

    Western Animation 
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