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


Written by Tim Dirks

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

Best Film Editing Sequences of All-Time: Film editing could be called 'film construction' and has been regarded by many as the 'invisible' art behind some of the greatest motion picture sequences of all time. Film editing is a skilled art - the selection and integration of a sequence of shots taken from thousands of feet of film to establish a structure, tempo, mood, or style.

This survey of the best examples of film editing stretches back to the earliest silent films. The very first films were called actualities - they were short, single-shot films with a stationary camera, viewing a scene (a train pulling into a station, workers leaving a factory, etc.), without editing of any kind. The art of film editing (originally called "cutting" since it involved splicing together pieces of nitrate or celluloid) first developed in the films of Parisian Georges Melies (e.g., Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902) (aka A Trip to the Moon)) and Edwin S. Porter (e.g., Life of an American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903)). Editing involved the manipulation of time and space to tell a story.

The concept of montage (aka collision editing or "putting together") -- rapidly juxtaposing various shots (or sequences), often conflicting images, in order to evoke a mood, emotional response, or derive new meaning, etc. - was an experimental approach toward editing taken by Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s (see Battleship Potemkin (1925)). The word montage has also taken on the added meaning of a compressed sequence of narrative material, condensed in time.

As cinema progressed, classic scenes of masterful film editing appeared, such as the following:

Many of the most memorable film-editing sequences are highlighted in this multi-part tribute to one of the least understood of the cinema's technical arts.

To learn more about the art of film editing, it's also essential to know some of the technical terminology, i.e. cross-cutting, dissolve, cutaway, reverse cut, jump cut, etc. See this site's illustrated Film Terms Glossary. For further investigation, note the film titles below that were honored in 2012 as the 75 Best Edited Films of All-Time by the Motion Picture Editors Guild - many of which show up in Filmsite's own compilation (arranged chronologically in this site's featured article).

Best Edited Films of All-Time
(voted upon by the Motion Picture Editors Guild, published in Editors Guild Magazine, May-June 2012 issue)

1. Raging Bull (1980)
(Thelma Schoonmaker)
2. Citizen Kane (1941)
(Robert Wise)
3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
(Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald B. Greenberg, Walter Murch)
4. All That Jazz (1979)
(Alan Heim)
5. Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
(Dede Allen)
6. The Godfather (1972)
(William H. Reynolds, Peter Zinner)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
(Anne V. Coates)
8. Jaws (1975)
(Verna Fields)
9. JFK (1991)
(Pietro Scalia, Joe Hutshing)
10. The French Connection (1971)
(Gerald B. Greenberg)
11. The Conversation (1974)
(Richard Chew)
12. Psycho (1960)
(George Tomasini)
13. Battleship Potemkin (1925, Soviet Union)
(Grigori Aleksandrov, Sergei Eisenstein)
14. Memento (2000)
(Dody Dorn)
15. GoodFellas (1990)
(James Y. Kewi, Thelma Schoonmaker)
16. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
(Richard Chew, T.M. Christopher, Marcia Lucas, George Lucas, Paul Hirsch)
17. City of God (2002, Braz.) (aka Cidade de Deus)
(Daniel Rezende)
18. Pulp Fiction (1994)
(Sally Menke)
19. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(Ray Lovejoy)
20. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
(Dede Allen)
21. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
(Michael Kahn)
22. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
(Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, Peter Zinner)
23. The Wild Bunch (1969)
(Lou Lombardo)
24. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
(Michael Kahn)
25. The Matrix (1999)
(Zach Staenberg)
26. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
(Craig McKay)
27. Breathless (1960, Fr.) (aka À Bout De Soufflé)
(Cécile Decugis)
28. Fight Club (1999)
(James Haygood)
29. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
(Jay Rabinowitz)
30. Cabaret (1972)
(David Bretherton)
31. Chinatown (1974)
(Sam O'Steen)
32. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
(Jill Bilcock)
33. Seven Samurai (1954, Jp.)
(Koichi Iwashita, Akira Kurosawa)
34. Casablanca (1942)
(Owen Marks)
35. Inception (2010)
(Lee Smith)
36. Rope (1948)
(William H. Zeigler)
37. Schindler's List (1993)
(Michael Kahn)
38. West Side Story (1961)
(Thomas Stanford)

39. The Fugitive (1993)
(Dan Brochu, David Finfer, Dean Goodhil, Dov Hoenig, Richard Nord, Dennis Virkler)
40. A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK)
(Bill Butler)
41. 8 1/2 (1963, It.)
(Leo Cattozzo)
42. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
(Sheldon Kahn, Lynzee Klingman)
43. Reds (1981)
(Dede Allen, Craig McKay)
44. The Shining (1980)
(Ray Lovejoy)
45. Days of Heaven (1978)
(Billy Weber)
46. Ben-Hur (1959)
(Margaret Booth, John Dunning, Ralph E. Winters)
47. Vertigo (1958)
(George Tomasini)
48. Apollo 13 (1995)
(Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill)
49. Rear Window (1954)
(George Tomasini)
50. Touch of Evil (1958)
(Edward Curtiss, Walter Murch, Aaron Stell, Virgil W. Vogel)
51. Man With a Camera (1929, Soviet Union)
(Dziga Vertov, and Elizaveta Svilova)
52a. The Graduate (1967)
(Sam O'Steen)
52b. Out of Sight (1998)
(Anne V. Coates)
54. High Noon (1952)
(Elmo Williams)
55. Black Hawk Down (2001)
(Pietro Scalia)
56. Titanic (1997)
(Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris)
57. The Limey (1999, UK)
(Sarah Flack)
58. The Exorcist (1973)
(Norman Gay, Jordan Leondopoulos, Bud S. Smith, Evan A. Lottman)
59. Annie Hall (1977)
(Wendy Greene Bricmont, Ralph Rosemblum)
60. Rashomon (1950, Jp.)
(Akira Kurosawa)
61a. Sherlock Jr. (1924)
(Buster Keaton, Roy B. Yokelson)
61b. Speed (1994)
(John Wright)
63. L.A. Confidential (1997)
(Peter Honess)
64. The Sound of Music (1965)
(William H. Reynolds)
65. The Tree of Life (2011)
(Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa)
66. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
(Christopher Rouse)
67. Z (1969, Fr./Alg.)
(Françoise Bonnot)
68. A Hard Day's Night (1964, UK)
(John Jympson)
69a. Hugo (2011)
(Thelma Schoonmaker)
69b. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
(Hugh A. Robertson)
69c. Miller's Crossing (1990)
(Michael R. Miller)
72. Blade Runner (1982)
(Gillian L. Hutshing, Marsha Nakashima, Terry Rawlings)
73. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
(Mary Sweeney)
74. Rocky (1976)
(Scott Conrad, Richard Halsey)
75. North by Northwest (1959)
(George Tomasini)

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

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