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.
10. Narc (watch)
Before Greengrass and Bourne’s hand-held fury, there was this. Joe Carnahan and Jason Patric, and one of the most visceral, violent and blue foot chases you’ll ever see. The rest of the film is tame compared to this (much like Lord of War in that way).
9. The Godfather Part 2 (watch)
The origin of a killer through the eyes of Francis Ford Coppola. Lush cinematography, wide lenses and universal storytelling in the vein of O. Henry guide young Vito to America, where a busied immigration clerk mistakes Vito’s home town, Corleone, for his last name.
8. Star Wars (watch)
When something’s mocked more than a thousand times, it’s memorable. And classic. And whatever other kind of complimentary adjective you can think of.
7. Touch of Evil (watch)
This mostly-forgotten crime gem (directed by one Orson Welles) stars Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop and offers a long, one-shot car bomb sequence across the Mexico/U.S. border that will have you scratching your head as to how exactly Welles and his crew pulled it off.
6. Night of the Living Dead (watch)
The introduction of modern horror deserves a spot (a high spot) on this list. And how about setting the beginning of Night of the Living Dead in a cemetery. Genius.
5. Mission: Impossible III
Some of Tom Cruise’s best acting comes in these first five minutes, in which Ethan Hunt, chained to a chair, attempts to convince an eerily calm Philip Seymour Hoffman not to kill his fiancee. Whoa.
3. Once Upon A Time In The West (watch)
Essentially opening with the ending of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is just as good of an idea as it sounds like. As for introducing villains, The Dark Knight can’t hold a candle to Sergio Leone’s introduction of the vicious Henry Fonda in this one.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (watch)
Um, there’s a giant boulder, a fedora, Alfred Molina saying “Adios, señor” and Indy declaring to Jacques that he hates snakes. Goddamn you Spielberg, can you do an opening better? See below.
1. Jaws (watch)
Who was that girl in the beginning of this thing? And why isn’t she famous? Few have faux-been tugged into the sea better than she. By few I mean nobody.
Did your favorites make the list? What are your most memorable openings?