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The 20 Greatest Movie Opening Scenes In Film History

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

7. Antichrist

In one of the most beautiful opening sequences in film history, Las Von Trier uses black and white cinematography, slow motions and background music “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo to show us a tragic accident.

The scene juxtaposes a young couple having sex while their baby steps out of the window and falls to death. The rhythm of the clothes whirling matches the movement of the erotic body movements in a delicate way. This is the master scene of all Von Trier movies, it’s both sexy and violent, real and fantastic at the same time.

 

6. Three Colors: Blue

The opening of Three Colors: Blue is a master class of visual telling. First it’s the close-up of a wheel, the motif of circulation appears at the very beginning of the film. Then we see a hand of someone in the car playing a piece of blue paper, the primary color of this film also appears. Next are several beautiful shots of the girl at the back seat, whose life will terminate very soon. The car stops, it’s another close-up of a part of the car, it shows the gas is leaking from the tube, foreshadowing the accident that is about to happen.

Then it’s the accident scene, which is shot in a very clever fashion. We first see the car coming, then the camera cuts to a boy who apparently has failed many times to contain the ball with his wooden stick. As soon as he finally succeeds, he hears the bang, the camera cuts back to the car, which just crashed on a big tree. The scene ends.

What makes this scene so terrific is how director Kieslowski manages to use pure cinema to tell a story, there is not a single dialogue in the scene, but we totally understand what has happened. The tension is built in a very subtle way and is released in an unexpected fashion. Impressive filmmaking.

 

5. Le Samourai

The opening shot of French director Jean Pierre Melville’s classic neo-noir Le Samourai is like a painting. It’s a static shot of a bleak room full of silence, its gray-blue color scheme makes it almost like a black and white film.

First we see the quote that explains the connection between the modern gangster Jef (played by the impossible cool Alain Delon) and Japanese Ronin. Then we hear the sound of a bird and traffics outside the window. We didn’t notice there is a man there, until we see the smoke. The man slowly sits up like a ghost and turns his back to the camera, keeping distance between us and his own solitude. You can’t open a film about a lonely hired-to-kill gangster better than this.

 

4. Rear Window

The master of suspense is also the master of visual storytelling. In the opening scene of Hicthcock’s all-time classic, it tells us all the background stories without saying a word. First, the camera goes outside the window, spans 360 degrees to give us a whole view of the neighborhood. Then it cuts to Jeff’s living room, using two shots to indicate the high temperature. Next the camera goes out again, giving us more details about the people living in the yard.

The second time we see Jeff, the camera shows us the cause of his immobility and what he does for a living. The objects tell you everything you need to know about the protagonist.

First it’s his broken leg with his name written on it, then a broken camera he used before the accident, then the photo of the accident, more photos that reveal his occupation, last, a pile of fashion magazines that further explain it. Hitchcock started his career as a silent movie director and he remained that way all his career, using visuals to tell the story. This is pure cinema at its best.

 

3. Touch of Evil

Not the longest or the most effective narrative, but definitely the most ambitious and complicated opening one take in film history, the opening scene of Orson Welles’ noir masterpiece is one of its kind.

The whole scene works like a Hitchcock mini movie. A timing bomb is set at the beginning of the scene, and blows at the end. What makes this opening scene so great is its technical difficulty. The crane shot moves several streets to record what is happening;  it involves not only the victims and the two protagonists, but also crowds on the street. Any tiny mistake of the movement made by anyone would ruin such a shot.

Only directors like Welles who has the talent and pursuit of cinematic marvel could pull off such a shot. It has been studied everywhere and you definitely shouldn’t miss this one scene and what comes after it.

 

2. 8½

Fellini opens his masterpiece with an utterly surreal scene. We see a man suffocating in a car in a traffic jam in a tunnel, it’s a totally silent world. He looks for help but it seems the time stops and everyone else is immobile, the bus looks like full of zombies. Finally he gets out and flies high above the sky, only to be pulled down like a balloon by another man on the ground.

Like the rest of the film, this opening scene delves into our subconscious. It shows the haunting power of dreams in a very cinematic way, again, like the opening of his La Dolce Vita, it’s full of symbolism. Finding a way to express something that can’t be directly shown, that is the magic of Fellini’s cinema.

 

1. Once Upon a Time in the West

Anyone who has seen this film probably have guessed that it will top the list. So here it is. It is the greatest opening scene of all time for one simple word – PACE and two main reasons: first, its effective use of various shots to tell the story and show the space. We have the big close-up shots to introduce the three main characters, the medium shots to show the inner space of the waiting room, the long shots to show the outer space of the station, and low-angel shots to show the coming of a train. The film alternates between these shots, and always uses the right shot at the right time.

Second, its brilliant sound design throughout the scene. Not only is Ennio Morricone a master of music, he’s also very good at using natural sound in a very effective way. From the beginning to the end, there is a continuous sound of a windmill, this indicates the location remains the same throughout, only time slowly passes, this gives a kind of consistency to the scene. Other sound effects include the buzzing of the fly, dripping from the ceiling, and the clicking of a gun and of course, the sound of a harmonica. Since there is no dialogue until the confrontation, the sound is vital here to build the tension.

All in all, this is a typical Leone scene. During the long wait, time is stretched and tension is built, then there is a quick showdown. It is the pace of the process that matters, not the climax that comes after it. This is one of Leone’s unconventional filmmaking techniques.

 

 

 

 

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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