The opening of a film can be the most important part. It can last a few seconds or quite a while. It is to pull us into the film and introduce us to the characters. It can do so with a conversation, or an empty landscape, or an electrifying musical score. I now present to you, the best film openings of all time:
1) Apocalypse Now- The first shot is still, a shot of gently swaying palm trees. The shot looks so pleasent, it could’ve been shot in the back of grandparents’ Florida home. Then suddenly the silence is broken by rapid bomb fire to the tune of The Doors’ “The End”. All of the hell and unexpected chaos of war captured in one dialogue-free shot. Brilliant and haunting.
2) There Will Be Blood- A creepy buzzing sound gets louder and louder until its like an all around shout. The screens fade from black to a shot of some mountains. It is as if they are ablaze with fire, even though they look totally natural. Just that builds up all the heightening suspense and worsening evil to come in this epic masterpiece.
3) Reservoir Dogs- It’s just a bunch of strangers in sunglasses sitting around a table. They talk for several minutes in a conversation ranging from tipping to the definition of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. It has nothing to do with the movie but reveals so much about each character’s personality. You want it to go on forever but sadly it stops, but at least the rest of the movie still lies ahead.
4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas- It’s nearly impossible to capture the life and adventures of Hunter S. Thompson but this adaptation comes as close as anyone ever will. The beginning word-for-word follows the book as we see Thompson and his attorney driving through the desert in a convertible filled with drugs. This opening gives so much meaning to the writing, and a vision of what really happened on Thompson’s journey. What better way to get to know a character then by every drug he takes?
5) 2001: A Space Odyssey- It goes on for a near ten minutes. Ten undisturbed minutes of absolutely no dialougue and totally human-free. We get a glimpse of early man and his evolution and then witness one of the greatest transitions between past and future ever filmed. What a great opening is all about.
6) Once Upon a Time in the West- Another opening that silence is more powerful than speaking. The audience gets to glimpse at and study a group of scruffy looking cowboys waiting for a train, shattered by Charles Bronson’s gunshots. One of few movie scenes in which someone trying to swat a fly is actually captivating.
7) Goodfellas- The way opening is of a bunch of men driving down a highway in the middle of the night and then suddenly opening the trunk and stabbing to death a man inside of it. We then transition to the beginning of Henry Hill’s mob days with Liotta’s perfect narration. Scorsese jolts you out of your seat then blends in great humor and character study within just a few minutes. A genius opening to Scorsese’s best film.
8) Vertigo- James Stewart and a cop are chasing a criminal amongst high rise rooftops. Stewart slips and is hanging off the edge when a cop who tries to save him falls to his death instead. Hitchcock’s revolutionary zoom out/track shot terrifyingly shows the character’s fear of heights like it was ours. The master of suspense at the top of his game.
9) Raiders of the Lost Ark- It’s become iconic now; the image of Harrison Ford dashing from a gigantic boulder and outrunning savage Indians. We know the character isn’t going to die at the beginning, but Speilberg makes that perfect level of suspense where we seem to forget this fact and are more thrilled as to how Indy will make it out alive. The fun and adventure begins here.
10) The Big Lebowski- It seems cruel to leave a comedy off this list, for the opening is the best way to get the audience laughing and prepared for the film’s sense of humor. This one shows off Lebowski‘s very dark, odd humor as it opens with a desert tumbleweed traveling through the urban sprawl of LA until we meet the title character, The Dude, who’s head is dumped in a toilet as he is attacked for no reason except mistaken identity. This sounds cruel but just like the movie, the more you watch it, the funnier it gets. Points also for Sam Elliot’s perfectly droll and western-like narration.
What are your thoughts? Any other great openings to add to the list?