Have you ever watched a movie where someone says they will absolutely not do a thing, but the very next shot is them doing the thing? How about a scene where someone is about to get murdered, but the very next shot is someone making dinner? If you answered yes, you may have encountered a smash cut in the wild. But what is a smash cut, where did it come from, why is it used, and how can you take advantage of it?
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Define Smash Cut
Let's define smash cut
Not that it’s the most complex technique out there, but we would like to define smash cut for you. In this way, you won’t be confused and we can focus on explaining it with smash cut examples, along with mentioning common characteristics that make a smash cut easy to spot.
SMASH CUT DEFINITION
What is a smash cut?
A smash cut is an abrupt and/or jarring edit that cuts from one scene to another without pause or warning. It is also known as a Gilligan cut, named after the show Gilligan’s Island, where a character would protest against doing something but then the very next shot would be them in the middle of doing the thing they were protesting against. It is often used for comedic effect, but it can also be used effectively in horror and even drama.
Smash Cut Characteristics Include:
- A character saying they will not do a thing but then immediately cut to them doing the thing.
- Someone in danger (e.g. about to get stabbed) but then cutting to something safe and not at all dangerous.
- A character saying something nice about someone and then cutting to that someone being not nice.
- A hero celebrating a victory and then cutting to someone else being sad because of that victory.
What is a smash cut for?
Smash cuts got their other name — Gilligan cut — from the show Gilligan’s Island. In it, one of the characters, like Gilligan, would be adamant that they would not do something, only for the very next shot to be them doing the thing. This is an early smash cut example and plenty of television shows and movies have used them for comedic value.
A smash cut, whether for comedy, horror, or drama, relies on a setup and a punchline each and every time. While this makes them great for comedies, a this type of cut is very versatile. The clip below presents, in just forty seconds, a few examples of smash cuts from different movies, as well as streaming sensation Stranger Things.
What is a smash cut? • Smash cut example
As the clip above demonstrates, a smash cut can be used in more than just comedies. These cuts are popular in horror films, where a character might be having a nightmare and they suddenly wake up from it. It is also often used to juxtapose two different scenarios, such as someone about to die but cutting just before that to something more innocuous.
So while comedy often uses juxtaposition for a laugh, horror or thrillers will use it to make the audience feel relief or discomfort.
Even a drama can use this type of cut, but in less extreme ways. You could have a character giving someone bad news and immediately cut to the aftermath. Smash cuts can also be used to change between time periods, like if someone is in a courtroom and is relating a story or situation. So while a drama might use a smash transition less dramatically, it can still be quite effective.
Smash Cut Examples
Using smash cuts
If you want to talk about smash cuts in a literal sense (i.e. with a “smash” style sound effect), Edgar Wright has it in spades. His films are well known for their fast-paced and comedic editing. And as the clip below shows, he uses smash cuts to exciting but humorous effect (along with other transition styles).
Specifically, the train transition scene from Hot Fuzz, one of Wright’s best movies, demonstrates how a smash cut can also be used similarly to a jump cut to show the transition of time and place (and show the difference between those two types of edits).
What is a smash cut? • Jump cut vs smash cut
For smash cuts more similar to Gilligan, we have a classic example courtesy of Toy Story 2. Aside from having a good setup and punchline, it also tricks the audience into thinking metaphorically when Buzz says “use your head” when he actually means it literally.
Toy Story 2 smash cut example
Using a more serious movie, Goodfellas actually has its fair share of smash cuts. After a successful heist before Christmas, Henry Hill gets a little extra money from Jimmy Conway, who tells him to be smart with it. Cut to Henry entering his house with the most expensive tree he could find.
What is a smash cut in Goodfellas?
While this moment is funny, it also underscores how reckless some of these characters are once they get their hands on more money. It indicates that real trouble could come about from not only having the money but from being too flashy with it.
And of course, even the Marvel Cinematic Universe has utilized smash cuts for comedic purposes. In the clip below, Thor: Ragnarok takes full advantage of the trope to create a funny scene while Thor and Loki think of a way to escape the situation they’re in. At the same time, the scene briefly shows off the strained but affectionate relationship between the two brothers.
Define smash cut • What is a smash cut in Thor: Ragnarok
There are many examples of smash cuts out there, especially in the realm of television. You might even be able to find some within the text of shooting scripts, and you can find many of these scripts online. But whether it’s a comedy, a horror tale, or something else entirely, a smash cut can appear just about anywhere. Its effectiveness, like all things, will depend on execution and, like a good joke, timing.
What is a Match Cut?
Now that you know how to answer “what is a smash cut,” take a look at what a match cut is. A cousin of the smash cut, the match cut is another effective editing technique that shows up in movies, including a couple famous ones. Read our article to look at the various techniques and their examples.
Up Next: The Match Cut Explained →
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