10 Classic Opening Scenes: Jordan’s Take

watchmen batman gotham

Nite Owl foiling a crook at the Gotham Opera House where Batman is playing. The detail Zach Snyder included in his adaption of Watchmen is quite extraordinary

By Jordan

How fondly one remembers a film is dependent almost entirely on it’s denouement and the manner in which it concludes, but whether one even bothers to spend the two hours watching it in the first place relies heavily on it’s opening scene…

A film needs to grab it’s audience’s attention immediately, either gently leading them into it’s imagined world or shocking them into attentiveness. In one way or another, these films do exactly that.

I hope you enjoy, and even agree with my picks; assuming my introduction grabbed you enough to keep reading…

For Eddie’s list click here

10. From Dusk ‘till Dawn (1996)

Dusk

The Gecko brothers are heading to Mexico, and nothing will stand in there way… apart from some vampires later on

Whats happening?

The Gecko Brothers (George Clooney at his smooth-talking best and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino), fugitives after a bloody bank robbery, are holding petrified shoppers hostage in a rural gas station before the local sheriff casually meanders in…

Whys it good?

Michael Parks. This was the first and remains the best use of Parks in the Tarantino/Rodriguez partnership, with his scene-stealing presence and mesmerizing speech stealing the hearts of all grungy cult film fans. Add in Clooney shooting his ER reputation down in flames and wildcard in everyone’s favorite video store clerk in his best acting role and you have one of the greatest opening scenes of all time.

9. The Wild Bunch (1969)

the wild bunch poster

It pushed the boundaries of acceptable violence and it started with a bang: The Wild Bunch

Whats happening?

The wild west is beginning to tame, with the prohibition era looming the train-tracks no longer dominating industry. Enter the Wild Bunch: a gang of aging outlaws whose plan to rob a bank in broad daylight is about to instigate an unprecedented bloodbath (which would go on to be topped in the film’s final act).

Whys it good?

Everyone can die. No exception. That may not necessarily sound good but what Peckinpah achieved in starting his classic Western all guns blazing was the expectation that anything goes, no-one is safe and taboos are sure to be broken. Of course this mentality does prevail in all his films…

8. Halloween (1978)

Halloween credits

John Carpenter is quite simply one of America’s greatest ever directors. I feel like I don’t say that enough

Whats happening?

It’s Halloween in 1963, and 6 year-old Michael Myers has decided to murder his sister.

Whys it good?

Michael Myers would go on to be one of the most enigmatic villains of all time; a shadow, silently waiting with his blade in hand to fell unsuspecting suburban teenage babysitters, and what makes his first appearance so darn interesting is that we see the world through his perverse young eyes, heading upstairs and stabbing his sister to death before calmly being taken away by the police.

Just writing about Halloween makes me want to watch it ASAP.

7. Scream (1996)

Drew Barrymore in Wes Craven's "Scream"

“Do you like scary movies?”

Whats happening?

Casey (Drew Barrymore) is home alone, isolated with the night having well and truly set in, when she receives an unexpected phone-call from a very talkative psychopath…

Whys it good?

In a terrifying, surprising (Drew’s dead already???) and utterly uncompromising manner, the absolutely icon opening to the first Scream movie proved to the world that Wes Craven was back, and again taking no prisoners.

6. Night of the Living Dead (1975)

Johnny's death signaled the beginning of the unrelenting horror in Romero's Night of the Living Dead

Johnny’s death signaled the beginning of the unrelenting horror in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

Whats happening?

Barbara and her Brother Johnny have traveled to the countryside to visit the gravestone of their father, where Barbara notice a strange man stumbling towards them and Johnny sees this as a perfect opportunity for some taunting:

Whys it good?

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara, there’s one of them now! Says Johnny shortly before he becomes legendary film-maker George A. Romero’s first ever zombie victim. A death such as this in broad daylight and in an unprecedented manner helped ensure Night of the Living Dead as a horror, and in fact cinema, classic.

5. 28 Days Later (2002)

28DaysLater-Still1Whats happening?

After a chaotic raid on a laboratory holding dozens of caged chimpanzees, we witness shocking instances of rage and then cut to silence. The empty streets of a deserted London, and a lone figure in hospital drapes confused while walking around them.

Whys it good?

The image of The Big Ben and Parliament House surrounded by eerie nothing is an unforgettable one, capturing the viewers gaze and imagination, before the music begins to crescendo and our apparently sole survivor of a mysterious disaster has a brutal encounter with those he stumbles upon.

4. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalpyse

“This is the End, beautiful friend”

Whats happening?

A hallucinogenic, drug and alcohol fueled vision of a blurred room with a disorientated soldier overlapping a napalm attack on the Vietnam jungle backed by the hallucinogenic, drug and alcohol fueled lyrics of The Doors.

Whys it good?

The End by The Doors is one of the strangest, greatest alternative rock tunes of all time, and when combined with Martin Sheen’s reckless, dazed performance and the sight of America destroying a country many argue they had no right to be in it creates the essential curtain opening into a suitably uncompromising experience.

3. Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

Delmer Darion: blackjack dealer, scuba diver and victim of a cruel fate

Whats happening?

A narrator tells of stories about chance and coincidence, each laced with black humor and irony, while Aimee Mann’s melancholic version of One plays in the background.

Whys it good?

Similarly themed circumstances traversing through time, sweeping camera movement, rapid editing and an Aimee Mann song; this opening scene is good enough to hold the attention of any viewer for 3 hours in itself, but through also introducing each of our broken, world-weary characters it instead perfectly introduces one of the finest films of the past 20 years.

2. Watchmen (2009)

watchmen opening scene

The Comedian gets his punchline in the opening scene of Watchmen

Whats happening?

A man, later revealed to be masked crime-fighter The Comedian, fights a home invader who in a balletic fashion easily defeats him, leading to the above image…

The camera zooms in on the striking yellow of The Comedian’s badge, transitioning into a simply stunning opening credits sequence which ingeniously rewrites the good and bad of American history.

Whys it good?

Zach Snyder faced a monumental challenge in translating the mammoth tome of Watchmen to the screen, and it’s fair to say that most thought he’d be unable to pull it off. Straight away though, we lay witness to the perfect casting decision made in Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the incredible production values and our tensions cease, and the phenomenal way in which he introduces an unfamiliar audience with a vastly different Western world then instigates an unbridled optimism.

When it comes to how much can be accomplished in the editing room, the times they are a changing indeed.

1. Blue Velvet (1986)

magnolia opening

White picket fence and red roses; life in suburbia couldn’t be more perfect…

Whats happening?

A sunny view of a peaceful All-American town turns dark when an elderly man has a heart-attack and the camera starts burrowing into the ground uncovering the critters that call the darkness home. It’s not nearly as traumatizing as it sounds, possibly because it takes a moment to realize exactly what just happened in all the dreamlike splendor, but it’s David Lynch, so you know it’s only gonna get weirder…

Whys it good?

It represents the underlining theme, or “idea” as he would say, in Lynch’s hugely controversial masterpiece wonderfully, with the audience literally being taken below the earth into the realm of it’s ugly inhabitants, while an idealistic world continues in the sunshine above.

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42 responses to “10 Classic Opening Scenes: Jordan’s Take

  1. Films whose opening scenes immediately spring to mind: Le Mépris [Contempt] (1963), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Barbarella (1968), Patton (1970), Jaws (1975), Midnight Express (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), 37°2 le matin [Betty Blue] (1986), The Abyss (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Basic Instinct (1992), and Chicago (2002). I think the reason for each one is obvious.The only films you’ve ranked that I haven’t seen are Magnolia (1999) and 28 Days Later (2002). I needed to read your article to remind me of how the other eight opened.

    • Some excellent choices there! Once upon a time in the West almost made the cut for me – such a wonderfully paced and atmospheric scene, and pretty much any Giallo like Dressed to Kill I agree with also, especially the early works of Argento, whose films always commenced with a wonderfully staged violent set piece.
      Thanks for the comment, Jordan

  2. You can tell this list reads more like your favorite movies list.. I guess that makes sense as the intros helped fashion your favorites – but would have enjoyed it more seeing appreciation for intro’s to movies you don’t really like (and maybe a few less in the horror genre) but can respect the opening alone.

    • Yeahh, the horror genre leads itself so well to eye catching openings though – as it needs to show the viewer what they’re in for right off the bat. But yes I absolutely do love all the films on this list.
      Jordan

  3. Fabulous post, man. Many I agree with, especially From Dusk Till Dawn and Magnolia but I was hoping for The Big Lebowski to be there. I just love Sam Elliot’s indroduction to The Dude.

  4. Love this list Jordan. So many brilliant opening sequences up there. Scream is a personal favourite; it’s packed with wit and horror and satire, and completely captures the essence of what’s to come.

    Adam.

  5. Pingback: 10 Classic Opening Scenes: Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  6. Good list Jordan! Sad to see no Scorsese’s films in there though, as I’m a big fan of a lot of his opening scenes. He seems to follow the same sort of structure with them, by introducing the audience to the main character as the character likes to view themselves.
    For example, ‘The Departed’ opens to a voiceover from key main character Frank, musing about the changing world he lives in and how his line of work fits into it. Or as he sees it, adds value to it! In ‘The Godfather’, Corleone declares “we’re not murderers” in the same sentence as he instructs some muscle to put out a hit on a stranger. And in ‘Goodfellas’ , Scorsese thrusts violence in the audience’s faces from the outset, then follows it up with a quip from Henry ‘As far back as I remember I always wanted to be a gangster’. The purpose of his opening movie scenes is always to show a glimpse of these men exerting the dangerous power they hold.

    • Cheers!
      Very, very good points – I love Scorsese’s films and could’ve easily included some. Unfortunately my love of horror films was a bit to strong in this instance ha.
      Jordan

  7. Pingback: 10 Classic Movie Endings: Jordan’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  8. Good list to run across a year later. One correction: the man at the beginning of “Blue Velvet” has a stroke, not a heart attack.

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