While HBO’s newest hit drama, True Detective, has gained a reputation as a slow-burning character study through its first three episodes, the fourth episode, entitled “Who Goes There,” blew the lid off that label entirely, providing viewers with an action sequence that ranks among the best to ever be filmed for either television or film. At the heart of the much talked-about action sequence was a six-minute one-shot — a single take without any cuts or edits — that put viewers alongside the protagonist during a heist gone wrong and his later escape, all in real time.
Even for viewers who have come to appreciate True Detective’s slow and deliberate style of storytelling, “Who Goes There” proved that writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga — who directed all eight episodes of the series — have their heart set on further blurring the line between television and film as the series roars toward the finish line. And with actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson providing performances almost assured to score Emmys this year, the fourth episode of the series proved just how powerful careful character work can be in an extended format, especially when the story kicks into high gear.
But back to that mind-blowing one-shot at the end of “Who Goes There.” If you had any doubts that the shot in question was somehow digitally manipulated or stitched together, it’s time to give credit where credit is due. According to an interview with MTV, the six-minute shot was indeed one take. Even though Fukunaga strategically placed several spots in the choreography and photography to stitch together multiple takes if necessary, those tactics were ultimately unneeded.
So does the scene already deserve a place among the greatest one-shots of all time? While it’s not difficult to see it securing a slot in television and cinematic history, it’s important to note that the one-shot has a rich history going back to the earliest days of film. Here are nine of cinema’s most famous one-shots of all time.