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One-Take Wonder

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When an actor'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.
  • 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.

    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: Resurrection: Sigourney Weaver's infamous no-look basketball shot in the movie's first act. After spending weeks practicing, Weaver was only hitting about a sixth of her attempts. The director preferred to just add the ball in later—which is why the shot was staged with the ball leaving the frame, but allowed Weaver six attempts to pull it off for real. With 5 misses, the actress put her last chance to good use. The cheers from her co-stars when she sunk it meant the shot had to be cut immediately.
  • 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.
  • 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 train-on-a-collapsing-bridge setup was done for the climax of Buster Keaton's The General.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Spencer Tracy's eleven-minute closing speech in Judgment at Nuremberg was filmed in one take.
  • 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 he 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.
  • 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 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 speech by the psychiatrist 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 first (and only) Best Actor Oscar.
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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 first and only take - and 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.
  • 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 Next Generation: In "Sarek", the mind meld scene was shot in a single take.

    Music 
  • The Award-Bait Song "My Heart Will Go On" by Céline Dion for Titanic (1997) was recorded in one take from her demo.
  • 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.
  • 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, and Mercury reportedly threw a shot back and did it in one go.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Spec Ops: The Line reportedly had every single voiceline 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 
  • The theme song of Adventure Time is a scratch recording that was kept because they were never satisfied with any of the other attempts to record it, resulting in the opening having the faint sound of one of the show's artists typing away at a keyboard and squeaking in their chair.
  • Ducktales 2017: According to Word of God, David Tennant nailed the most emotional scene from "The Last Crash of the Sunchaser!", both the monologue and the ensuing fallout, in one take.
  • Rob Paulsen performed the song "Yakko's World" from Animaniacs in a single take, and he still sings it live at conventions.
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