By W.T. Bane
Let’s start this party with a bang! The opening scene of movie is the time to grab the audience, capture their attention, tie it to a chair with some rope and force their eyes on the screen. Get their attention and get it early, because too many people in these days are too ADD to sit thro….
What was I saying? Oh yeah. Opening scenes of a movie are important to grab people’s attention and convince them they just spent their money well. So let’s talk about the best opening scenes in the business.
(These are the best opening SCENES! Best opening shots and opening credits will be saved for a different list.)
- A Different Kirk
A Star Trek reboot for a new generation! With this one scene J.J. Abrams locks us in with the story of Kirk’s father in his one mission as Captain while simultaneously securing the canon we’ve loved locked away in another timeline, and opening the new franchise up for all new possibilities. The true testament is how well Chris Hemsworth is able to encapture the audience to care so much for someone we’ve seen so little of. Also J.J. Abrams pretty much tells us up front how his Star Trek will be: more explosions, more action, more lens flare and far less philosophical debate.
- Follow the White Rabbit
It starts with a cold open into a world very much like our own, with some twists. The opening of The Matrix gives us a riveting action scene of Trinity on the run. We don’t know what she’s running from, but as long as they keep it coming with the crazy martial arts, the bullet time slow motion effects and the tight leather, the audience is hooked in. The Matrix doesn’t let the audience down from there.
- The Nightcrawler Stalks
For anyone who is a fan of the X-Men, or especially the Nightcrawler character, this scene was a game changer. The First X-Men was good, but it was mired by a low budget considering. The effects were ok for the time but left room to be desired. X-2: X-Men United gives us the mutant powers we are craving right from the start. This is a full fledged meal of mutant power wonderment as Nightcrawler rips his way through the White House on a one man mission. This is what we were hoping for out of an X-Men movie and still stands as one of the best uses of Mutant powers on screen up till the recent Days of Future Past’s opening. It’s a shame we haven’t seen much of Nightcrawler since.
- Don’t Go In the Water
This is beautiful for its simplicity. It’s a preview of everything to come. If you go in the water, you’re going to have a bad time, and the dreading familiar theme in the background foreboding all those who dare enter of what awaits them.
- Garcon Means Boy
Pulp Fiction opens with what Tarrantino does best: monotonous, seemingly drivel conversation that he makes into fascinating music while the world turns violent. The man is best at writing almost meaningless conversation that for some reason is absolutely fascinating to listen to. It peppers all of his films between his other great production, large scale violence. This cold open shows us just how well he can get us to invest in characters we know nothing about while they “quack, quack, quack” in the words of honey bunny.
- Shoot Her!
Let’s move to the opposite end of the spectrum. There is no conversation to be had in the opening of Jurassic Park, only orders. Robert Muldoon simply gives orders to the men loading something mysterious in a very large ominous box. Fear is RAMPANT! You can smell it in the air and see it on the look of everyone’s face. Spielberg drops the danger level on us front and center when the film opens with the bravest man in the park yelling “shoot her!” as he desperately tries to save the first victim from Hammond’s great mistake, another great foreshadowing of the rest of the film by Spielberg.
- A Better Love Story Than Twilight
Here comes the feels. I don’t think my heart has ever been broken so quickly. The only thing that comes close is the opening to Batman & Robin and it’s for all the wrong reasons. Instead, Up presents the story of two children who meet and make quick friends due to the their kindred spirit and mutual love for adventure. What follows is a 5 minute montage of the story of a man and a woman who fall in love, get married, have hopes and dreams, happily struggle their lives away together to capture to them, fail to meet them together, and finally become separated by the one unstoppable force that looms for us all, leaving one of them alone, unfulfilled and miserable. I can’t think of a scene in any movie that captures so many feelings in so little time and leaves the audience in as much of a wreck as this one, all in the first 10 minutes.
- The Circle of Life
Bouncing to the other end of the spectrum, I can’t think of any Disney opening that captures Disney magic like this! From the opening shot of the rising sun with the opening note blaring across the sun soaked fields, to the march of the various wildlife to the welcoming of the prince, to the final presentation of Simba, no film can capture that “there is more to see than can ever be seen. More to do, than can ever be done.” The Circle of Life is 4 minutes of pure Disney magic like no other. It rips your attention away from you and only lets it go when you are completely enraptured in a world where lions talk and baboons remind you of who you really are. It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. It’s magical. It’s Disney at its best.
- The Bank Job
This is another example of a scene that could be a film all to its own. It could be considered one of the best short films of all time, and was almost presented as such when, in special Imax showings of I Am Legend, this scene was presented as a one act preview of The Dark Knight. It is one of the best bank heists scenes ever. We follow 5 men in clown masks as they terrorize a bank and off each other one by one in a well orchestrated plan to decrease the pool of shares of their stolen goods, all while giving us the background along the way as they guess why the Joker wears make up, setting up the character without him appearing, at least until he unveils himself in the end. It’s a fantastic example of telling us and showing us who a character is and their importance without outright telling us to be afraid of him, and with one shot of the Joker’s face we know we are in for the ride of our lives.
- The Hat, the Idol and the Boulder
This scene is an adventure all to its own in the film that defines adventure. In it, we are introduced to the shadowy figure with the whip and hat, a silhouette identifiable forever on, as he makes his way through the jungle to seek an important artifact. Little is said by the man whose very stance and glance say more than words could. His very actions tell us everything we need to know about Indiana Jones. The pivotal scene itself is one of the most iconic as he removes the artifact from its resting position and what follows is the most famous chase ever in the form of a giant rolling boulder. This one scene itself could have been the climax to an entire adventure film, and the rest of Raiders is a series of sequels. If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones.
Note: Star Wars was initially on this list but removed. It has a fantastic opening title and opening shot. The opening pan of the on the run rebel cruiser followed by the almost never ending Star Destroyer over a deserted planet is forever enshrined in my memory, but what follows after it is far less interesting that those two shots and does not match the criteria of a great opening SCENE.