9 Famous Movies You Didn’t Realize Were Shot in Chronological Order

Here’s something you maybe never thought of before: movies are not shot in chronological order. From a sheer logistics standpoint, it’s not cost effective or efficient to shoot a film in order. For example, let’s say that a film has 10 scenes to shoot on location at a beach house on the Jersey shore. Those ten scenes appear throughout the entire film, however, all those scenes would be shot together. A production team needs to set up lighting, electricians need to run wires, and a set designer basically takes over someone’s house to turn it into whatever is needed for the movie. However, every once in a while, a director opts to shoot a script in order. Here are 15 films shot in chronological order.

If it’s not efficient to produce movies shot in chronological order, then why does it sometimes occur? Most often, it’s to get the best performances out of actors. In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg wanted the children actors to be as emotional as possible when E.T. finally gets the opportunity to go home. The kids knew that the film was about to wrap, so when they were saying farewell to their extra-terrestrial friend on camera, they knew that they were going to be saying goodbye to all the people they met while making the movie.

Some directors almost seem to prefer to make movies shot in order. Spanish auteur Alejandro Iñárritu shot his first English speaking film 21 Grams and his Oscar winning The Revenant in chronological order. Spielberg also shot the legendary 30-minute Omaha Beach scene of Saving Private Ryan in order.For whatever their reasons, some filmmakers don’t mind the possible logistics nightmare of a chronological shoot. Some production decisions are made not with ease in mind but rather with art. Not every movie on this list was a critical or box office hit. However, there are several iconic movies featured that perhaps would not be the same if not for a visionary director who wasn’t scared to break the rules.

1. The Shining

Perhaps no director in the history of cinema was more fastidious and meticulous than Stanley Kubrick. Hundreds of stories have been told about how difficult Kubrick was to work with during the year-long filming of The Shining. He was so hard on actress Shelley Duvall that her hair started to fall out and she nearly suffered a nervous breakdown.

Production was only supposed to last 100 days; it lasted 250. Kubrick opted to film in chronological order so that he could have the opportunity to change things. Kubrick’s compulsive nature became the stuff of legend. He was known as a multiple take director – some report that the continuous take scene of Jack Nicholson bouncing the tennis ball off the wall took over 100 takes. Additionally, the scene where blood spills out of the elevator was rumored to have taken nine days just to set up, because Kubrick didn’t think that the blood looked real enough.

  • Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson
  • Released: 1980
  • Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

2. The Revenant

A lot has been made about how difficult it was to film The Revenant – from the extremely cold temperatures, to the rocky environmental conditions. Adding to the difficulty was director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who insisted that he had to shoot the film in chronological order. The award-winning director explained the method to his madness during an appearance at the Producers’ Masterclass:

“That’s the only way I understand the story and the characters, and that’s the way I leave the story room to grow and understand it, and make changes to suddenly what is required to do. As filmmakers, sometimes you are god, and sometimes you are a creature of the thing. In a way you have to be humble to hear what’s going on and see the transformation … even when it costs a little more. I’m not investing in visual effects, but emotional effects, and I think actors understand the emotions better when it’s chronological.”

In the end, the film won three Academy Awards, one for Iñárritu, which made him the first filmmaker to ever win back to back Oscars for Best Director. And of course, Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home his Best Actor Oscar.

  • Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
  • Released: 2015
  • Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

3. American Graffiti

George Lucas’s coming of age drama American Graffiti put the acclaimed director on the map. The film takes place over the course of a single night, as a group of high school buddies cruise their hometown strip one last time before they head off to college. Lucas wanted to shoot the film in chronological order so that the actors, growing tired from the hectic production scedule, would look more tired as the night wore on.Several up and coming actors appeared in American Graffiti. Perhaps this was when Lucas thought to cast Harrison Ford as Han Solo? Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, and Mackenzie Phillips were also in the film. But it was future A-list director Ron Howard who put up the biggest stink about having to shoot the film in order. Apparently the veteran sitcom actor didn’t know why Lucas chose to shoot chronologically, and he felt it was an insult to the cast’s professionalism. Howard obviously later changed his tune, choosing to film the Academy Award-winning biopic A Beautiful Mind using the same method.

  • Actors: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams
  • Released: 1973
  • Directed by: George Lucas

4. The Breakfast Club

From a logistical standpoint, shooting the 1985 John Hughes teenage classic in chronological order didn’t really hurt the film’s production schedule. Almost the entire film takes place in a high school library. The library set was actually built in the gymnasium of Maine North High School in Illinois.Hughes treated the shooting of The Breakfast Club like a stage play. He had the actors repeatedly rehearse the entire duration of the script, a script he wrote in just two days, before he began actual production. This was actor Judd Nelson’s first film, so he thought all films were shot in chronological order.

  • Actors: Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall
  • Released: 1985
  • Directed by: John Hughes

5. 9½ Weeks

9 1/2 Weeks is about a sadomasochistic, obsessive, and ultimately degrading sexual relationship. Director Adrian Lyne felt he had to shoot the 1986 drama in chronological order to break Kim Basinger down emotionally, just like her character Elizabeth breaks down throughout the film. On set spectators who watched Lyne’s treatment of Basinger were shocked and even disturbed at the intensity with which the director handled the actress.

Lyne reportedly tried to get Basinger to hate her co-star Mickey Rourke by telling her rumors. She was also not allowed to speak with Rourke between takes. Basinger was very critical of Lyne’s methods after filming wrapped. She called it a traumatic experience and admitted that it sparked problems in her marriage with Ron Britton.Lyne, on the other hand, didn’t see a problem with his methods, and even justified Basinger’s trauma for the sake of art. “The limits are defined by your participants. If any of the participants can’t cope, it will show on film. They would both be basket cases. They’d fall apart. What if the scene calls for them to fall apart? Then it’s legitimate. You’re doing it for the screen.”

  • Actors: Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Christine Baranski, Ronnie Wood, Dan Lauria
  • Released: 1986
  • Directed by: Adrian Lyne

6. Saving Private Ryan

The entire production followed the story in chronological order, which director Steven Spielberg called “demoralizing.” Even with filming, the Omaha Beach battle at the beginning of the film was strictly chronological. It spanned a four-week period. Director Steven Spielberg asserts that none of the battle was storyboarded in advance. The scene cost $11 million and featured over 1,000 extras.

Spielberg has directed over 50 films, and this epic half-hour beach scene is often cited as his greatest cinematic achievement. The scene features Allied soldiers as they storm Omaha Beach on D-Day. It depicts the brutal horrors of war and Spielberg holds nothing back as bodies are graphically blown up and torn apart.

  • Actors: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel
  • Released: 1998
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg

7. A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard took a page from George Lucas’s American Graffiti and opted to film A Beautiful Mind in chronological order to allow Russell Crowe the chance to depict the progression of John Nash’s erratic behavior. As the film moves along, genius mathematician Nash delves further and further into schizophrenia. He ultimately gets to the point where he loses the ability to tell what is real and what is fantasy.Howard’s narrative strategy paid off. The Nash biopic won four Academy Awards. Crowe took home the Oscar for Best Actor and Howard won for Best Director. Shooting in chronological order also seemed to help Jennifer Connelly, who played Nash’s loving wife. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

  • Actors: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg
  • Released: 2001
  • Directed by: Ron Howard

8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Perhaps no director works better with young children than Steven Spielberg. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is about a small group of children, led by Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, and their relationship with an extra terrestrial, who they are trying to hide from their parents. In order to get the greatest payoff from the young actors during the emotional farewell scene where E.T. returns home, Spielberg opted to shoot the film in order. The kids were actually emotional during the climatic scene because they knew that the movie was going to wrap that day, and it would mean saying goodbye to everyone on set.E.T. went on to become the highest grossing film of all time, that is until Spielberg topped the box office once again in 1993 with Jurassic Park. When adjusted for inflation, E.T. is the fourth highest-grossing movie ever. The film won four Academy Awards. However, it failed to win the Best Picture trophy, that prize went to Gandhi, which was directed by Richard Attenborough, who beat out Spielberg for Best Director at the 1983 Oscars.

  • Actors: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore, C. Thomas Howell
  • Released: 1982
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg

9. Rope

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) was shot in chronological order, as the film plays out in real time. The Master of Suspense wanted to see what it was like to shoot a film in one long continuous take. Unfortunately, that was not quite possible, since a camera magazine only holds 10 minutes of film. The James Stewart-led crime drama therefore had to be divided up into 10 takes. At the end of each take, Hitchcock would use an invisible edit to hide the cut. A similar method was used by Alejandro Iñárritu in the Academy Award-winning movie Birdman.

  • Actors: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke
  • Released: 1948
  • Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock