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The 20 Greatest Movie Opening Scenes In Film History

05 November 2014 | Features, Other Lists | by David Williams

14. Social Network

Unlike many other entries on this list, the opening of Social Network impresses us with its rapid dialogues instead of dialogue-free pure cinema. This scene basically shows how Zuckerberg and his girlfriend break up after a conversation in a crowded bar.

David Fincher shot this scene in a very conventional manner, just over-the-shoulder two-shots. What makes it brilliant is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s 9-page dialogues, the two main characters fire words at each other like they are shooting bullets, the overlapping dialogues are so fast that the camera quickly moves to the other after landing on the one talking for only few seconds. It’s very well-written and shows what a total asshole Zuckerberg is in the movie, it’s fun to watch such a tense scene unfold.


13. Black Sunday

Mario Bava is the king of creating atmosphere, and Black Sunday is the perfect showcase. In this opening, we are in the middle of a foggy forest in the Medieval Age. There is something like a ritual going on here, a witch is sentenced to death. Before she is burnt to death, the executioner takes out a metal mask full of spikes, places it on her face and hammers it into her flesh.

The film is shot in black & white, which makes it all the more creepier. Bava makes this scene extremely brutal by using the subjective shot, making it look like it is the viewer that is being sentenced. The horrifying mask is like being placed on the viewer’s face, which makes it quite unnerving. Bava scared us from the very beginning, and there are more terrifying things to happen next.


12. The Naked Kiss

If you don’t know how to open a film, Samuel Fuller can teach you a lesson. In the opening of his classic B movie The Naked Kiss, we see a beautiful young woman (played by the gorgeous Constance Towers) beating the hell out of a guy for reasons we don’t know. The director uses subjective shots so you can almost feel the anger. The shaky camera indicates the power. The young woman keeps attacking like she is unstoppable. A hand (it’s actually the director’s hand) pulled off  her wig, but the now totally bald woman still won’t stop.

This opening scene is violent, brutal and almost overwhelming, Sam Fuller shows his filmmaking style from the first minute of the film. It’s a powerful plot device that lures you into wanting to know more about the characters and their stories. In this case, it pulls you into a black hole that will depress you for days.


11. The Player

Robert Altman’s classic is one of the best films about Hollywood ever made, and the opening shot tells you why. It’s a long shot full of cynicism on Hollywood cliches.

Two of the most interesting shots are: the pitch scenes in the studio executive’s office, every time the pitcher tries to pitch a story that are full of cliches and could sell in a place like Hollywood, the executive must have heard of such pitches a hundred of times, so he can even guess some of the parts.

Another great thing about this long take is two people walking and talking about long takes, one is proud of knowing the famous long takes in Hitch’s Rope and Welles’ Touch of Evil, the other mentions great long takes from European cinema the man doesn’t know or care about.

This opening scene is great not only because it’s a well-crafted long take, it also effectively tells everything that happens in a Hollywood studio and mocks the cliches in Hollywood movies and ignorance of some Hollywood people.


10. Werckeister Harmonies

Here comes the master of long takes. Simply put, the opening scene of Bela Tarr’s Werckeister Harmonies is a near-10-minute long take about a young fellow who shows the people in the bar how the solar system works and what immortality is.

The camera movement is so fluent that after watching the scene you don’t realize it’s an unbroken take. The meticulous mise-en-scene shows us the incredible talent of Bela Tarr as a unique filmmaker. The opening is so technically stunning that Tarr has to make longer shots in the rest of the film to continue with his story.


9. Inglourious Basterds

We already have an entry from Mr. Tarantino on the list, but this one is so good that we just couldn’t drop it. The opening scene of Inglorious Basterds is probably the most impressive one in all of his films. It’s not an interrogation as brutal as in other films, it’s rather polite. The weapon of Jew Hunter is not gun, but smartness, patience, and his language, to be more exact, his linguistic ability.

It’s a dialogue-heavy scene, every word counts in terms of tension building, it grabs you and never lets you go. Hans Landa toys with his prey in ease, we sympathize the jew but we couldn’t help him. This opening scene shows the mastery of Tarantino’s ability in dialogue writings and direction. No one would forget this scene after seeing it for the first time.


8. La Dolce Vita

The opening shot of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece shows a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus over the city of Rome. The off-ground high-up position of Jesus perfectly indicates its position in the post-war Italians’ mind, both false and unreal.

Faith is both lost and desperately needed in the whole film, its meaning can’t be understood by those modern young women who are taking sunbath in their bikinis. The guys who carry them also don’t understand it, they are only asking for the phone numbers from the girls.

This opening can be read as symmetrical to the equally famous ending, both are heavy with symbolism, both indicate people’s inability to understand and communicate.



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