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The 30 Best Opening Lines in Cinema History

13 June 2016 | Features, Other Lists | by Andy Kubica

best opening lines

The opening scene or moments of a film can tell us a lot, or not very much at all.

These days, most movies do not have opening credits and jump right in to the story.

Is this because filmmakers think we don’t have the attention span to sit through a few minutes of opening credits or they are just so eager to begin weaving their tale they just can’t wait?

Opening lines can be presented in many ways:

a. Title cards
b. Scroll
c. Voiceover
d. Opening scene itself

It is interesting when you start to think about the range of the way films introduce their characters, stories and settings and how they use dialogue to set an immediate mood. Obviously, the screenplay is one of the most important elements to any film; however, the opening camera shot, score and lighting also play important roles in establishing the world for the characters to live in.

A lot of movies use opening narration to give us important details we may need to know or to catch us up on the action so we don’t miss anything. It is also a way to give a lot of exposition quickly.

Often times the first line of dialogue can tell us a lot about the lead character of the film and an introduction as to what their journey will be.

 

30. “One time, my cousin Walter got this cat stuck in his ass.” from Mallrats (1995)

mallrats

Context: Brodie (Jason Lee) opens the film by telling us a funny story.

It turns out all he’s trying to do is remove the gerbil and can’t figure out any other way to do it.

Why is it great: Writer and director Kevin Smith received a lot of grief for his sophomore efforts following “Clerks”, but it wasn’t due to the writing.

While not as good as its predecessor, “Mallrats” is a funny film with a great performance by Jason Lee (and Stan Lee) spouting lines like this one. It’s random, hilarious and gives us quick insight into Brodie’s shallow personality.

The years have definitely been kinder to film, so much so that Smith plans on making a sequel, “Mallbrats” at some point in his life.

 

29. “On November 1st, 1959, the population of New York City was 8,042,783. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of five feet six and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan.” from The Apartment (1960)

The Apartment (1960)

Context: In the opening narration Jack Lemmon explains, as his character C.C. Baxter, his world of corporate life at an insurance company in great detail. We get the immediate sense he is bored in his life and hopes for something exciting to happen.

Why is it great: Lemmon’s delivery is classic with this line and for the entire film. It sets up his character’s situation and his obsessive behavior in trying to balance his social life as well as those of his cowrokers.

We now know a little about his life and are eager to learn a lot more.

 

28. “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight, from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” from The Outsiders (1983)

The Outsiders (1983)

Context: Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) has to write a school paper about his life experience, so he begins it with this memorable line. It’s funny and poignant all at the same time as you yet know nothing about him, his friends or the events to follow.

Why is it great: One of those full circle moments where the end is also the beginning, the line also ends the film and makes you think about the events that just happened in a meaningful way.

Should Ponyboy have faced the consequences of his actions or did he deserve to be held accountable?

 

27. “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television.” from Trainspotting (1998)

trainspotting-toilet-scene

Context: Renton (Ewan McGregor) begins his face-paced opening tirade voiceover with this humorous line as he introduces himself to us along with friends Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) among others and their world of heroin-induced fun.

His speech goes on and on as you struggle to even keep up with what he is saying it comes so quickly.

Why is it great: The speech along with the opening montage and musical score really gets us quickly into this over-the-top excessive world these characters inhabit. We quickly want to know all about their various adventures and how low their lives will get before maybe arriving on the road to salvation.

 

26. “What came first, the music or the misery?” from High Fidelity (2000)

high fidelity

Context: Following the opening shot of a record spinning on a turntable, Rob Gordon (John Cusack) asks the audience a series of probing questions to open the film.

This includes another memorable line: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Why is it great: Cusack has a dry, stoic delivery that works perfect for his character and you immediately feel for him. He just wants a little understanding.

Basically, Rob is trying to figure out where he went wrong in his life and had ended up working at a record store. He wonders why he keeps having bad relationships with women.

 

25. “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” from The Departed (2006)

The Departed (2006)

Context: After starting to show us images from “Boston – Some years ago”, you begin to hear the voiceover by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) describing the city in which he lives. His words echo as we view images of violence between the citizens and police.

This sets us right into the story as he goes on to talk about the “Knights of Columbus” as well as President Kennedy further describing the environment of the film and story you are about to witness.

Why is it great: Nicholson mostly.

The line also escribes Costello’s outlook on life rather succinctly. He doesn’t mince words in discussions with others as you know exactly where you stand with him at all times.

 

24. “Hey boy. What you doin’ with my Mama’s car? Wait there! Ain’t you ashamed? You’re tryin’ to steal an ol’ lady’s automobile.” from Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie-and-Clyde

Context: After the opening credits and brief historical descriptions of the real-life criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, we enjoy seeing a close up of this version of Bonnie’s (Faye Dunaway) lips as she admires herself in a mirror as well as her playing around naked in her room getting ready for the day.

The looks outside and sees a stranger admiring the car.

Why is it great: Dunaway is striking beautiful as she prances about trying to figure out what to do next.

The line is innocent and inquisitive and also serves as introduction to Clyde (Warren Beatty) as well.

They quickly become friends, lovers and infamous very quickly.

 

 

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  • Dimitri Poenaru

    What about the opening lines from Identity (the poem)? Or from Lost Highway (Dick Laurent is dead)?

    • Klaus Dannick

      I thought about the opening line of Lost Highway but promptly dismissed it. It will only be of interest for those of us who liked Lost Highway, and many, many people did not like it.

      • Dimitri Poenaru

        Oh, i understand. Thanks for the answer. Nice list btw.

  • Valentin Genev

    MUST I FOREVER BE A BEGAAAAAAAR?

  • Deepesh

    ONLY English language films?! Films like The White
    Ribbon, The Turin Horse, The Double Life of Veronique, Kwaidan etc have greater opening lines than all the films of this list.

    • FlyteBro

      99% of the films listed on this site are English.

      99% of them are also made by either Scorsese, The Koens, Tarantino, Hitchcock or Kubrick.

      Taste of Cinema basically just keeps on making up new excuses to list the same movies over and over, which incidentally also happen to be the most well known films in the world.

      The people who write these lists are utterly unaware that there are other filmmakers out there, and that other countries also produce movies.

    • Wyatt W.B

      Write your own fucking list if it makes you so upset. Don’t whine about it. If you don’t like it, act on it!

      • Deepesh

        Seems that you are upset by my comment. The point is that if one hasn’t seen many films and doesn’t know the films all over the world, then why one bothers making these types of ridiculous lists? As if there are only American films in the world!

        • Dirk

          I think Wyatt was more infuriated by the lack of sense in your original comment. Rather than critizise a list made of subjective judgments without providing any good reasons, you’d be better served making your own list and posting it online for further discussion. Saying “this is bad” serves nothing, it’s just the author whinging.

          • FlyteBro

            It is perfectly viable to criticize something, without having to prove that you can make a better version yourself. Especially when the original list is so obviously flawed as this one.

            Saying “this is bad” actually serves the writer heaps, as just like a student getting bad grades, he will hopefully learn something by it and not make the same mistake again.

            And your complaint that the OP did not provide any good reasons for complaining, and should have made his own list, is doubly stupid because he gave an extremely good reason to point out a terrible flaw AND HE DID EVEN WRITE HIS OWN LIST:

            Ribbon, The Turin Horse, The Double Life of Veronique, Kwaidan etc have greater opening lines than all the films of this list.

          • Dirk

            If one wants to posit themselves as vapid and incapable of constructive criticism then sure, you’re right that it’s “viable” to criticise something without offering any reasons for that judgment.
            But with that the reviewer must also accept that others will inevitably point out the reality that they’ve contributed fuck-all to the discussion.

            This isn’t a school, it’s an online forum – but an actual teacher gives his pupil reasons for his grade, and then the pupil will decide if the teacher actually has a clue what they’re talking about.

          • FlyteBro

            But gave a very good reason! He pointed out that the list only had English films! What more of a reason do you need? It’s such an obvious flaw to anyone who knows anything about movies, and pointing that out is about as constructive as criticism gets!

            And life IS a school, where you learn by your mistakes. If you can’t handle criticism, you shouldn’t go out the door, much less publish things to the public.

            This was a terrible list, because it only featured English films. That’s the simple truth, and there’s no way around it.

          • Dirk

            I’m not sure how the language of films could dictate the quality of them, so I didn’t grasp that was the argument, my apologies.
            While, for me, it’s a meaningless argument because it doesn’t speak to the content of any examples I agree the site doesn’t talk about foreign films enough so that’s why everyone should share their reasoning so we can talk about them more and discover good new shit. Vapid criticism gets no one anywhere.
            In this case, I can’t think of any great opening lines in foreign films myself but I’d like to know what they were for the White Ribbon, The Turin Horse, The Double Life of Veronique, Kwaidan, and whatever else you’re generous enough to write about and share. Thanks

          • FlyteBro

            The language of films does not dictate the quality of the FILMS, but it does however dictate the quality of the LIST.

            If you’re making a list of “The best of [anything] in history”, yet you only include a very small portion of the world, then you are, by default, not listing the best at all.

            The only excuse for this list would be if the author actually intended to list the best “English language films”, or if he simply haven’t seen very many movies, in which case you would wonder why he would write such a list at all. What interest is there in seeing a list of “Best in history” written by someone who has an extremely limited knowledge about the subject?

            Off the top of my head, a couple of my favorite and memorable first lines are:

            Irreversible – “Time ruins everything”

            Man Bites Dog – “I’ve just finished ballasting the corpse, see? That means you fill it up with certain things, because you might not be aware of it, but a corpse underwater fills up with air. See?”

        • FlyteBro

          Well said!

  • Klaus Dannick

    Kevin Smith has an undeniable gift for dialogue, but nothing from Mallrats belongs on a best-of-anything list. I feel the same about the wacky hi-jinx of the how “utterly cool and fashionably edgy it is to he a junky” manifesto that is Trainspotting, but I know I’m in a minority there. As for Aronofsky’s work, a comparison with the opening lines of Pi (as well as the rest of the film) reveal Black Swan as the frivolity that it is.

  • Gogzilla

    Conan the Barbarian: Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

  • V.C. Privitera

    Agreed with the top 3 Choices that I would’ve, while I’d put Goodfallas at number, with Godagher taking 3rd…just the fact it’s probably the most “straight-forward” no-need for anything more to explain, you’re getting yourself involved with the day-to-day daily routines from shaking somebody down to extortion to Murder….
    You’re next field-guide of sorts for anyone who’s curious to get a perspective from the people that were there living this “Cova Notra.”
    “Fear & Loathing…” will ALWAYS be my Number One though, cause it’s my all-time favorite film and, no bul-shit, you can’t really beat that one Singular line to jump-start this or any flick and grab their attempting to get the audience into the Madness, or Heart of Madness….that, my friends : was great Raul Duke & his beastly Counterpart, his craze-eyed “lived…” Attorney DR. GONZO!
    I get goosebumps just thinking about that Sequnce…..swading torwards those damn ugly bats that were seemingly drawn to these two in the. Smidge of the Desert…..