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Difficult Movie Scenes That Actors Nailed On The First Take

Ever watched a particularly complex movie scene and wondered, "How long did it take them to film this?" Think about all of the times in basketball movies where an actor hits a difficult shot, or how often you see an impressive fight sequence in an action flick. Or what about a movie that requires extremely complex dance routines or musical numbers? How many times did the director have to yell "cut" before they got that shot just right?

Amazingly enough, some movie actors are prone to the occasional "one-take wonder," knocking the scene out of the park on their first try. It could happen at any moment, ranging from a throwaway background bit to one of the most iconic parts of the film. Whether you call it skill, focus, luck, or maybe a mixture of all three, these occurrences are truly impressive and deserve to be recognized. Without further adieu, here are some difficult movie scenes that actors nailed on the first take.

Gina Carano did a one-take TV toss

Gina Carano is no stranger to being a badass. As an MMA fighter, she had seven wins and one loss before taking her talents to Hollywood. In 2011, she was cast in the lead role of Mallory Kane in Steven Soderbergh's adrenaline-pumping action flick, Haywire. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Soderbergh cast her after seeing Carano fight in a match on TV. As the impressed director put it, "I've never seen someone like her fight — in a cage."

As Kane, Carano engages in some highly entertaining fight sequences with a slew of popular actors, including Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, and Michael Fassbender. During her fight with Fassbender, who plays an MI6 agent secretly planning to kill Kane, Carano gets lifted up and thrown into a flat-screen TV in a hotel room. According to The Ringer, this shot was attempted only once, and it went perfectly. In fact, you might even say it went smashingly.

Hugh Jackman nailed his target in one take

Is there anything that Hugh Jackman can't do? The Aussie-born, award-winning actor has boasted his singing ability in musicals like Les Misérables and The Greatest Showman, flexed his ridiculous muscles as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, and even displayed his softer, funnier side with his vocal work in 2019's Missing Link. The guy seems to be a jack of all trades, always capable of overcoming whatever challenge he's faced with.

Thus, it's perhaps unsurprising to learn that in 2018's political drama, The Front Runner, Jackman was able to shock director Jason Reitman with one of his unprecedented abilities. In the film's main action sequence, Jackman, who plays U.S. senator Gary Hart, had to throw an ax at a faraway target. According to the film's screenwriters, Jay Carson and Matt Bai, people on set took bets on how many times it would take Jackman to hit the target. However, almost everybody was way off. "Everyone had to take a number — I got eight," Bai told Yahoo! Entertainment. Carson added, "That reaction you see [in the film] is everyone's actual reaction. Our star nailed it on the first take!" Honestly though, would you expect anything less from Wolverine?

Margot Robbie, a mirror, and movie magic

Margot Robbie's portrayal of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya was undoubtedly award-worthy, earning the actress an Oscar nomination. When speaking on ABC's Popcorn with Peter Travers, Robbie talked about how keeping an open mind helped her nail the role. "Because I didn't know about any of it," Robbie said, "I could approach the character and the story with no preconceived notions and no judgement already passed on them."

Although Robbie's entire performance was poignantly wonderful, there's one scene in particular that arguably earned her the Oscar nom. In this brilliant sequence, Harding is putting on makeup while looking at a mirror, practicing fake smiles as tears fall down her cheeks. According to the film's director, Craig Gillespie, the incredibly powerful scene almost didn't happen. If something went wrong while shooting, they would've had to remove all of Robbie's makeup and try it again. Fortunately, the Australian beauty stuck the landing in one take.

Tommy Lee Jones gave that monologue in just one go

Tommy Lee Jones, the Texas-bred star of films like The Fugitive and Men in Black, is the secret ingredient to No Country for Old Men. Sure, Javier Bardem gets all the credit, but Jones is the one who shoulders the emotional and philosophical weight of the movie. And since this guy is an Oscar-winning star and acting veteran, he carries that weight with grace and dignity. Playing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Jones is the film's lone guiding force of morality, searching for meaning in a world without hope. And in what W Magazine called "the best two and a half minutes of acting onscreen" of 2007, Jones finishes the film with an extended monologue about his late father. It's a haunting speech that brings a beautiful yet abrupt end to a super violent movie, and when asked how many takes it took the get the shot just right, Jones responded, "One. I'd been practicing." 

Luke, use the rope

During Mark Hamill's panel at the 2016 Star Wars Celebration in London, the audience was treated to several tidbits of behind-the-scenes Luke Skywalker info. He spoke for about an hour, sharing things like his initial hatred for the name Luke Skywalker (his character was originally named Luke Starkiller, and he thought Skywalker sounded too much like "Fly Swatter"), and that he hadn't actually read a true script for A New Hope until he showed up on set.

During his panel, he also discussed his favorite Star Wars scene of all time: swinging to safety on the sail barge set in Return of the Jedi. As you might recall, in the scene, Luke grabs Leia, and the two swing via rope off Jabba the Hutt's soon-to-be-exploding ship. Hamill noted that he and Carrie Fischer nailed the scene in one take, which actually made him upset. Why? Well, as it turns out, he was really looking forward to swinging some more. Fortunately, the stunt team let Hamill play around in his harness until George Lucas asked him to come down. That might be the most "Mark Hamill" fact we've ever heard.

Eddie Vedder is way more than just a singer

Eddie Vedder is no one-trick-pony. The Pearl Jam front man was a composer on 2007's Into the Wild, and more recently, he showed up in the third season of Twin Peaks. But Vedder's most memorable movie appearance came in 2007's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a spoof of music biopics like the Joaquin Phoenix flick Walk the Line

In Vedder's cameo, the real-life grunge rocker introduces Dewey Cox (the ever-hilarious John C. Reilly) for a lifetime achievement award. In an interview with Coming Soon, co-writer Judd Apatow pretended he was annoyed with Vedder for being so talented. As Apatow put it, "And Eddie Vedder came. Dewey gets his lifetime achievement award, and Eddie does the over-the-top induction speech. That was irritating too, because Eddie nailed it on the first take. He did it perfectly." It sounds like walking might be hard, but for Eddie Vedder, acting is easy.

Pure luck and a perfect shot in this one-take sports scene

Mark Holton is probably best recognized as Francis Buxton, Pee Wee Herman's archnemesis in 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure. However, the actor also starred in several successful films throughout the '80s and '90s, including the The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Leprechaun, and even A League of Their Own. But Holton might be most famous for playing the character of Chubby in the Teen Wolf series.

Speaking with The San Antonio Current, Holton reflected on the many achievements of his acting career. When the topic of his epic hook shot in 1985's Teen Wolf was brought up, Holton shared an interesting factoid about the scene. "Believe it or not," Holton said, "I nailed it on the first take. The surprised reaction you see on my face was real. Pure luck!" That just goes to show that, in some cases, it's better to be lucky than athletic. Move over, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed did a wonderful job

The Oscar-winning Jimmy Stewart, arguably one of the greatest actors of all time, was an incredibly well-rounded performer. He played roles ranging from a an in-over-his-head politician in 1939's comedic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to a retired police detective in 1958's thrilling Vertigo. He also shared the screen with some of the most attractive actresses of his generation, including Kim Novak, Lee Remick, and Katharine Hepburn.

Still, it's hard to forget his sizzling on-screen chemistry with Donna Reed in 1946's timeless Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life. As George Bailey and Mary Hatch, Stewart and Reed delivered a top-notch romance with a grounded feel. Their relationship seems so genuine that it's not surprising to learn that it came effortlessly. In one of the film's pivotal moments, George and Mary get a phone call from a friend, and since they're face-to-face, the two start locking lips. Stewart was reportedly super nervous before filming, but the man got it done in just one take. What a pro.

Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe were total pros

In 2017, BBC crowned 1959's Some Like It Hot as the greatest comedy ever made. The timeless classic stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curits, and Jack Lemmon, and the plot follows two desperate musicians who, after getting run out of town by a gangster, join an all-girl band heading to Florida. The rub? They go full-Juwanna Mann, pretending to be women in order to join the group.

In March 2019, Jack Lemmon's son, Chris, spoke to Fox News about how his father handled working with Marilyn Monroe's notorious addictions while filming. "The truth is Marilyn did have some problems on the set," Chris Lemmon explained. "She was nervous that it could get in the way." In the film, there's a scene in which Monroe and Lemmon have a few drinks on a train, and Monroe was more than a little anxious about the scene. As Chris tells it, her chemistry with Lemmon helped them overcome any alcoholic hurdles. "She was flirty with him because she thought it might bring some spice into the scene," the younger Lemmon said, "And of course, he flirted right back. And that's how that great scene between them was born. That was all one take."

Pal nailed his action hero scene in one take

Who says that only human actors can steal the big screen? Movies like Air BudBeethoven, and Marley & Me prove that canines can be just as talented actors as their homo sapien costars. And don't forget about Lassie, the collie phenom that first captured America's heart in 1943.

Interestingly enough, the actual star of the first Lassie film, Lassie Come Home, was not a dog named Lassie. The pup who actually played the titular role was a male collie named Pal. According to the New York Film Academy, Pal (who auditioned along with 1,500 other dogs) was initially only brought on for stunt work. However, during the film's tricky river swimming sequence, Pal stood in for the lead and nailed the scene in one take. The director was so amazed that from that point on, Pal was the permanent new star. In other words, Pal was a doggone wonder.