It throws us into its world, introduces us it to its characters and establishes its tone. The opening scene. Many films hinge on its success, much like the 25 below. Many of these gems are short films by themselves, working with a beginning, middle and end that shakes its audiences and makes big promises the rest of the film will (in many cases) struggle to keep. These films below maintain said promises (for the most part).
This list is in honor of Anton Corbijn’s The American, which offers one of the best openings of the year.
Runner-ups: The Matrix, Rope, Sin City, Desperado, and Halloween.
Let the opinions begin below and click watch to check them out if available.
25. Inglourious Basterds
For many (including yours truly), this is the best scene in the film. It introduces the film’s best character (Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa) and second best character (Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna) and, in between, offers viewers an amazing conversation that’s mostly about milk and rumors. This won’t be the last time Tarantino makes the list.
24. Vertigo (watch)
Along with the sweet irony of the setting (a film called Vertigo begins with a rooftop chase), the invention of the zolly shot. That’s a Hitchcock double whammy!
23. Antichrist (watch)
Painfully slow, painfully detailed and painfully, well, painful. As hard to forget as the rest of the film. Or any of Lars von Trier’s films come to think of it.
22. La Dolce Vita (watch)
Fellini’s unofficial 8 1/2 companion piece starts with this strange image: a praying Jesus hooked to the bottom of a helicopter, begging the question: what is that supposed to mean? Only slightly more memorable than 8 1/2‘s existential car wash/beach opening.
21. Lord of War (watch)
Andrew Niccol’s “Life of a Bullet” (outlined briefly above) sequence is one of those openings that might actually hurt the rest of the film, it’s so good. What’s left, though it be underrated, feels normal and cliched in many ways.
20. Goodfellas (watch)
What’s that noise? The sound of Scorsese figuring out a way to make the gangster film vital again.
19. The Dark Knight (watch)
One of the best villain introductions of all time, and after a run-and-gun bank heist. Plus, a cameo from William Fichtner. What more could you want!
18. A Clockwork Orange (watch)
Kubrick gives us the face of pure evil, and then holds on it for what feels like a century. That lone, long eyebrow deserves an Oscar all on its own.
17. Goldeneye (watch)
Talk about announcing your presence with authority. After over 5 years of Bond-lessness (and many, many more lacking any quality Bond), director Martin Campbell and television star Pierce Brosnan remind us why Bond will always be shaken, but truly never stirred. Even when catching up with a nosediving plane in mid-air.
16. There Will Be Blood
But first, there will be silence. An opening as ambitious as it is ponderous, beautiful and haunting, all we have for comfort is Jonny Greenwood’s terrifying score and Daniel Day-Lewis falling down a mine shaft.
15. The Player (watch)
The quintessential meta-film, Robert Altman makes good on his satirical promise right off the bat, with a 5-minute long shot during which Fred Ward’s security guard laments the death of the long shot to another on the lot.
14. Citizen Kane (watch)
Rosebud. In a few dolly shots and one extreme close up (above), Orson Welles offers moviegoers the greatest mystery in American cinema.
13. Children of Men
No other sci-fi film has established it’s world quicker, smarter or more naturally than Cuaron’s masterpiece. We live in a world without birth, the youngest man has just been murdered…boom.
12. Reservoir Dogs (watch)
The first scene in Quentin Tarantino’s feature film career is one of his best. And who does it star? Quentin Tarantino. And Madonna. And big dicks. And Quentin Tarantino.
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (watch)
The text at the opening of this opening: “The Dawn Of Man.” And as it turns out, it’s also the dawn of violence.
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