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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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  • Gijs Schep

    I miss Lord of War. Not the best movie (at all), but an impressive opening of the journey of a bullit from fabrication until its deadly final, all taken in one shot.

    • Lars Franssen

      Hey, that immediately sprung into my mind, as well!

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  • Sebastien Ebacher

    Wow, I am surprise that 2001 a Space Odyssey is not in that list. For me, by far one of the most epic opening scene for a movie. 🙂 Thanks for this list.

    • Brian Lussier

      I guess it’s because the ending tops the opening.

    • Rich G

      Ditto

  • Sidharth J Dev

    Pulp Fiction deserves a place, don’t you think?

  • Carecalho

    What about “Turin Horse”? Amazing..

  • Carecalho

    Lost Highway

  • Matthew Haughton

    Where’s Lion King?? Lol. You know nothing.

    • ScooterGirl

      Damned straight. “The Lion King” has one of the best opening sequences of all time and that resonating beat that vibrates through you when they finally flash the title card? Brilliant.

  • Jacob Olsen

    The Big Chill. Master class.

  • Brian Lussier

    My favorite opening to a film is the prologue to The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. One of my favorite pieces of filmmaking ever committed to film.

  • Ellen Lira

    The rocky horror picture show?

  • Cinema270

    The opening of Loius Malle’s Le Fou Follet (The Fire Within) has the greatest opening scene I’ve ever seen. Absorbing and heart-wrenching.

  • Christian Felipe

    What about Ghost in the Shell? That opening is amazing and never reproduced in film.

    • Robert J West Thompson

      Gladiator…or The Rock! Hans Zimmer’s music has a lot to do with my choices !

  • Klaus Dannick

    Two entries from Tarantino? Please… I’ll let Fellini’s double-entry slide (well, because he’s Fellini), but Welles is more deserving for both “Touch of Evil” and the iconic “Citizen Kane” opening. It’s great to see Mario Bava and Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss” on such a list. Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho” has a brilliant opening scene, and I’d rate the opening of DiPalma’s “Carrie” over Carpenter’s “Halloween”. Finally, Bergman’s “Persona”, Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (or “MULHOLLAND DR.” or “INLAND EMPIRE”), Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”, Aldrich’s “Kiss Me Deadly”, and especially Roeg s nd Cammell’s “Performance” merit recognition here.

    • Andres Abad

      i agree with you. I love Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds but as opening scenes there is not that much of GREAT to show comparing to the whole movie list you named. I personally disagree with this site list awarding “The Social Network” opening a position here. That was a well written dialogue.. thats all. Persona and maybe the most stressfull but awesome opening ive seen “Irreversible” would match and elevate this list even higher.

  • zeb

    2001: A Space Odyssey?

    • szore88

      Has its moments and was a big hit when it came out but I think its overrated. The ending is too abstract for me and flaws the film.

  • Bogdan Colpacci

    may I sugest “Dom Hemingway”?:)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2A5LbpUBoA

  • Alex Becerra

    My favorite would be “Persona”, by Ingmar Bergman — but, damn! Memento’s intro is so clever.

  • Pete Howell

    Nice list. Blue Velvet, maybe?

  • John Robertshaw

    I would have to include Boogie Nights first shot which introduces every major character in the film….. It might be a tribute to Welles but it is extraordinary in itself.

    • Andres Abad

      Indeed. PTA said on a Radio Q/A he is all about rendering tribute to Welles and Fellini. BTW boogie Nights is awesome.

  • Jasmin Jandric

    The Godfather…

  • beli

    ” the bus looks like full of zombies”hmmm I’ve always thought of the bus as being so overcrowded you couldn’t even see their heads. not so much as zombies.

  • szore88

    No Jaws? Or Indiana Jones even.

  • Jeremy Stewart

    Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu. I get chills just thinking about it.

  • Alex Huet

    I love Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia’s opening.
    The first 8 mn of Michael Mann’s Ali are fantastic also.

  • Steppenwolf

    Se7en has by far the best opening scene ever. Nothing comes close to that, although its style is still copied a lot. Unforgetable, perfectly matching Nine Inch Nails music, too.
    (but I fear you dismissed that opening scene for defining it as opening credits)

  • Johann S.

    How could you say these are the 20 best ones, when you clearly haven’t seen every movie ever?

    • thecolonel1

      And you have?

  • Manuel Lopes

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8AXd1ayxrg A Touch of Evil by Orson Welles

  • Debraj Bhattacharya

    Trainspotting…

    • Ahmed

      Hell yeah! The choose life opening scene is legendary.

    • Rich G

      I concur

  • Rui Martins

    2001: A Space Odyssey
    Goodfellas

    • Jeffrey

      agree with both of them.

  • Angel de la Torre

    Luis Buñuel: un chien andalou (1928)

  • sugar_man

    for me Harold and Maude is number one

  • Ted Wolf

    citizen kane? I pointed out the window staying in the same spot to my youngest and it blew her mind.The Last Laugh is also a great opening sequence.

  • Andy Kubica

    Boogie Nights and Superman

    • ScooterGirl

      Crikey, I forgot about Superman. That WAS a great opening sequence!

  • Andres Abad

    I personally disagree with this site list awarding “The Social Network” opening a position here. That was a well written dialogue.. thats all. Persona and maybe the most stressfull but awesome opening ive seen “Irreversible” would match and elevate this list even higher.
    I know is overrated maybe but.. i personally believe that Taxi Driver`s opening is a work of art. If you saw the movie two times in a row you`ll understand.
    And plz… kick Reservoir dogs out of here and put The Godfather I opening in this list. That scene is just so powerful

  • simonpjlduckett

    Apocaplypse Now? “Saigon…….shit!”

    • Amyth Dutta

      Amen !
      Apocalypse Now has the best starting scene in the history of cinema making period !

  • softeyes

    The Dark Knight’s opening was great!

  • Andreea

    what about the intro to Enter the void? The visuals are incredible

  • Sushant

    Pulp fiction, godfather

  • Ahmed

    Basically any Tarantino movie deserves to be on the list.

  • Rich G

    Bladerunner

  • Marcello Paffetti

    miss, miss, miss Mulholland Drive (David Lynch) – Opening scene music

    by ANGELO BADALAMENTI !!

  • Zapatilla Loca

    what about Leaving Arizona??…longest intro in any movie Ive ever seen!

  • Amyth Dutta

    Are you guys kidding me ? No tell me you guys are ! Apocalypse Now has the best film opening scene in the history of

    • ScooterGirl

      “1).Get high !”

      If you need to get high to enjoy the brilliance of an opening sequence that it’s not that great of an opening sequence.

      I like listening to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” stoned but it’s just as good straight because, well, it’s freaking brilliant.

  • Turling
  • wow all source is good but i am watch movies Zoolander 2

  • Paesito Paez

    Scream´s opening? Like seriously Reservoir Dogs gets in but not Scream! That´s pure blasphemy

  • Frankie

    Apocalypse Now (” This is the End” ). Best opening scene and
    25th Hour the best ending scene.

  • Sucio Anacoreta

    the social network?? you must be joking.
    no doubt the best is GOZU. and of course disney’s the lion’s king and the hunchback of notre dame

  • Sara Oh

    The cook the thief his wife and her lover ?

  • Jeffrey

    No room for The Mechanic? Or is that because the first 5 minutes are more like 15.

  • LunaMorgan85

    Amadeus had an excellent opening too.

  • Joe Montoto

    1931 Frankenstein: Opening funeral scene culminating with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and Fritz (Dwight Frye) digging with shovels to rob the fresh grave, and Henry tossing a shovelful of dirt onto the face of the grim reaper statue in the background.

  • Joe Montoto

    THERE WILL BE BLOOD sets the mood for the whole film with no dialogue. Great!

  • Rokurota

    How about children of men?

  • warrenzoell

    Contact had a great opening.

  • ScooterGirl

    Any list of top 20 opening sequences that doesn’t include the jaw dropping opening sequence from “The Lion King” isn’t a list worth looking at.

  • Kyle Highquality Scott

    i suppose no one has seen the movie Belly

  • Bob Jennings

    Is the only criteria to write this blog being a tarantino fan boy?

    .

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    2001, Boogie Nights, or Royal Tenenbaums could replace most of these.

  • Anthony

    Persona and 2001 should replace Basterds and Social Network; much more important opening scenes, as well as films. Sexy Beast had a great opening, too.

    Reservoir Dogs is such a great opening due to the fact that it is the first we hear(!) of Tarantino as writer/director, and that opening monologue into dialogue encapsulates everything that Tarantino is about. It was also a powerful moment in film history. Watching Dogs was mind-blowing at the time.

    This site as a whole needs to get over Tarantino. I was a huge fan of him in the nineties and his first three films are undeniably exciting and fresh. But his last two have left me a bit unsure of what to think of him. I enjoyed most of Django, until it turned into a ridiculous, derivative bloodbath that was trying in it’s tedium. Hateful Eight was more of the same. His dialogue sounded like ‘his’ dialogue; Sharp and clever, but also, tired and stale at the same time. Thinking about it, even Inglorious Basterds tested my patience, though I think, ultimately, it is probably as close to a masterpiece as he has come. Blah, blah, sorry, end Tarantino rant.

  • Lars Franssen

    Always this hype about 2001. It’s BORING! And the opening sequence? Why would a bunch of apes fight over a dead-dry ravine? And why do they look like poorly trained actors in shabby ape costumes? And that oh so brilliant jump cut. Am I the only one thinking that it’s poorly executed? Btw, I’m a big fan of Kubrik’s good movies! Just thought I’d mention it before the shit storm hits me …

    • Brad Weiss

      Yep. Just you.

      Let’s see your genre-defining film that influenced just about everything that followed it, which does better. I’ll wait.

      My ten year-old thinks just about everything under the sun is BORING. Doesn’t mean it is. Just thought I’d mention it before it hits you that you have no taste.

      • Lars Franssen

        And you deduce my lack of taste from my judgement of a single movie? Interesting.

        • Brad Weiss

          No, the deduction was not based on a single movie, but on a single comment.

          • Lars Franssen

            Maybe if you invest the time to read my comment carefully, you’ll find that yours was superfluous.

          • Brad Weiss

            On the contrary, a close reading of your post reinforces the conclusion that you, in fact, do not have any taste in film.

            Note – there aren’t exactly a lot of people jumping to second your proposal that 2001 (or one of the most iconic moments in film history, by consensus) is “poorly executed.” Not a lot of film critics, either. I suppose you can show Kubrick how it’s done, though, right? (Still waiting.)

            No? Okay, then.

          • Lars Franssen

            I’m really tiring of you, your condescension and your personal attacks! Please, just live happily in the firm knowledge that you are in the possession of the ultimate reference in matters of taste, but do it far away from me!

          • Brad Weiss

            That’s my problem, how? If you’re getting tired, then give it a rest.

  • winnner

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 2001 a Space Odyssey – Slumdog Millionaire Some of the best Openings!!!

  • Roger Iversen

    Alien (1979)
    Easily overlooked, but that opening is a thing of beauty.

  • Jorge Elí Casas

    Saving Private Ryan..

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  • Brian Berta

    Good list. Some of my favorites would include “Blade Runner”, Children of Men”, “Strange Days”, “Manhattan”, “Taxi Driver”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Enter the Void”, and “Persona”.

  • Abhishek

    I was looking for 2001 and am glad that it isn’t here!

  • Carl Edgar Consiglio

    BMX Bandits 🙂

    • Joe Borg

      kellek joan of arc (lawyers words not mine) f’hajtek and you shat in your pants; haha. you couldnt even cope with the truth. you are on the OTHER side. do not minimally think you are on the side of right. evil hypocrite.

    • Joe Borg

      and does that girl really have the face to like posts about decency and morality … i do wonder what kind of self awareness people of your kind possess. zilch.

    • Joe Borg

      il fatt li tajtek ragun fuq punt ma tibdilx il fatt li int bastardo completo ovvjament.

    • Joe Borg

      Staqsi lil huha u daqqiet ta harta Lin nisa…limbarazz ta nies…Birds of a feather flock together. Low.

  • fantail31

    The Graduate.

  • Adrian

    The only wrong thing with the opening shot in Inglorious Basterds is that it easily outshines the rest of the movie.

  • faramarz k

    Recently as I’m reading the articles of this website, the page suddenly jumps down to the advertisement at the bottom of the page. Is this a new system or something? so we can’t even read an article online anymore without having to scroll up and down all the time between what we are reading and the adds.

  • Relf

    Whahahahahahaahaha Two Tarantino’s? Whahahahahaha you just lost all of your credibility

  • Sam Oslich

    Scream is easily top 5 of all time and BY FAR the best horror opening scene of all time. The fact that it’s not even listed makes this list a complete and utter joke.