Best Film Editing
Sequences of All-Time:
From the Silents to the Present


Written by Tim Dirks

Best Film Editing Sequences of All-Time
Title Screen
Film Title/ Director & Editor and Film Description

Out of Sight (1998)

d. Steven Soderbergh

(Best Film Editing Nominee: Anne V. Coates)

This crime caper contained a well-known, teasingly-filmed and edited, cross-cutting (or inter-cutting) sequence between convicted two of its characters:

  • bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney)
  • deputy federal agent/marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez)

First, they were conversing in a Detroit hotel bar-lounge and sharing a drink ("I like your hair, I like your outfit"), while they flirtatiously called each other different alias names, Gary and Celeste.

He explained how they were destined to be together:

It's just something that happens. It's like seeing someone for the first time. You can be passing on the street and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there's this kind of a recognition, like you both know something. The next moment, the person's gone, and, and it's too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go and you think to yourself 'what if' I had stopped, if I had said something. What if. What if. It may only happen a few times in your life...or once.

Minutes later (after she knowingly invited: "Let's get out of here") in images that were non-continuous (with flash-forwards and flash-backs) accompanied by overlaid dialogue, she undressed in front of penthouse room windows with a view of snow falling outside amidst the lights of the city.

They were also seen in the bedroom, where they kissed and entered the bed to make love.

Run Lola Run (1998, Germ.) (aka Lola Rennt)

d. Tom Tykwer
Film Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy

In this relentlessly-thrilling, exhilarating hit film, there were three breath-taking and frenetic attempts (all "what-if" scenarios of repeating the past), largely shot in real time, of short red-haired, tattooed Lola (Franke Potente) running to help her dependent petty criminal-boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu).

Reportedly, the spectacularly fast-paced film had 1581 cuts, averaging out to 2.7 seconds per shot.

In each instance, she ran and acquired replacement cash of 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes so that he didn't have to rob a supermarket - and suffer the fateful consequences.

He was panicking at a yellow phone booth in Berlin, where he was to meet his boss Ronnie (Heino Ferch) at noon (in about 20 minutes) with the cash, but he had inadvertently left the bag of cash on the subway car, where it was picked up by a bum.

The film's clever twist was that she was off by only a matter of seconds each time, drastically altering the consequences.

  • in the first attempt, Lola was shot in the chest by police and died!
  • in the second attempt, Manni was run over by a red ambulance
  • in the third attempt, Lola won over 100,000 marks at a casino playing roulette (Black 20) and Manni recovered the lost money from the bum - Manni's reassuring words to Lola in the film's conclusion after a third and successful attempt were: "Did you run here? Don't worry. Everything's okay. Come on. What's in the bag?" - it was the film's last line before a freeze-frame

The story ended happily, but only after two earlier attempts had very different outcomes (in the first two cases, robberies of money led to death). The credits scrolled from top to bottom

Also notable was the film's techno/industrial soundtrack and the use of a mix of visual styles.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

d. Steven Spielberg

(Best Film Editing Winner: Michael Kahn)

Steven Spielberg's WWII war drama opened, after a short prologue, with a harrowing, graphically-visceral 25-minute depiction of the Allied landing on D-Day on Omaha Beach (June 6, 1944).

Its vivid opening sequence of the blood-bath attack was documentary-styled cinema verite at its finest (with hand-held cameras and special-effects shots), based on actual veterans' accounts of their experiences, and using film that deliberately bleached out colors to make it appear like a newsreel.

The frantically-edited, immersive scene, to accentuate the terror and chaos and the tremendous number of casualties, began with a view of one of the soldier's trembling hands as his PT boat approached the landing area of the beachhead, revealing him to be veteran Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks in an Oscar-nominated role).

One soldier vomited, and another kissed his crucifix.

Miller told his nervous platoon that was squatting down and readied for landing the craft: "We'll see you on the beach."

The sequence showed the grisly horrors of war as they dropped the PT's ramp and some soldiers jumped over the side into the ocean to escape the gunfire - the first wave of soldiers leaving the boats were instantly shot down as the camera jerked around, revealing that there was nowhere to hide.

Bullets struck bodies underwater, legs were blown off, soldiers were incinerated by an exploding flamethrower, a grunt carried his own severed arm, and one man held onto his own pile of bloody intestines (crying: "Mama! Mama!") etc.

The segment was accompanied by the loud sounds of ricocheting bullets, explosions, and grenades as the German troops in bunkers and machine gun nests fired relentlessly at the unprotected soldiers who had little cover.

For a few disorienting moments, Miller was shell-shocked and lost his hearing from loud shrapnel (as the soundtrack went blank).

Also, while he dragged a wounded fellow soldier, a bomb struck and took off the lower-half of the man's body, signifying how helpless the soldiers were and how battle deaths were very violent.

The Matrix (1999)

d. Andy and Larry Wachowski

(Best Film Editing Winner: Zach Staenberg)

The Matrix became best known for its phenomenal and revolutionary visual effects - airborne kung fu, 3-D freeze frame effects with a rotating or pivoting camera, and bullet-dodging ("bullet-time" and "Flo-Mo").

This action film became a smash hit, featuring elaborate fighting and stunt sequences with complex editing.

In the main fight-training sequence, computer programmer Thomas Anderson/Neo (Keanu Reeves) was first trained in various combat skills and martial arts via downloads (Jujitsu, Kempo, Tae Kwon Do, Drunken Boxing, etc.) through a plug-in jack at the back of his head.

Then, in a highly-choreographed sequence filmed with multiple cameras and requiring intensive film editing, Neo personally battled within a kung-fu sparring program against Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in a virtual reality environment similar to the Construct.

In the matchup, Neo was shown how he possessed super-human abilities, could break some programming rules, and could bend others, i.e., the laws of physics.

He realized he could free his mind and perform impossible feats of physicality.

The pace of the scene was set by the various lengths of film spliced or edited together.

Best Film Editing Sequences
(chronological order)
Introduction | 1900-1919 | 1920-1939 | 1940-1959 | 1960-1966 | 1967-1969 | 1970-1977
1978-1989 | 1990-1995 | 1996-1999 | 2000-now

Previous Page Next Page