The Ten Greatest Movie Openings
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Peter Jackson and company were putting together an adaptation of arguably the most popular book series of the 20th century in what was destined to be a monumental movie trilogy. So how in the world do you get across to the audience all of the richly woven history and context of Tolkien meticulously detailed world? With a kick-ass opening montage, that’s how.
This seven minute prologue had a big task. It needed to explain the power of the rings, the threat of Sauron, introduce the different races and locations of middle earth, and give some insight into the Last Alliance history. Not only did it succeed, but it was a blood-pumping opening which prepared audiences for the epic story which was about to unfold.
9. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Austin Powers was a pretty big comedic power house back at the turn of the century, and Mike Myers used that notoriety to make a no-holds-barred cameo extravaganza to kick off his third film. By spoofing his own film, he was able to inject immediate excitement with his “alternate casting”, involving Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, Gweneth Paltrow, and Danny Devito. And then it just devolves from there, including a musical sequence which involves both Steven Spielberg and Britney Spears.
Its unfortunate that the rest of the film was crap. Still, hilarious first few minutes.
8. Jaws (1975)
Do do do do do do do do
do do do do do do do do
da da daaaaaa
da da daa da da daa da da daaa doooooooo
7. Goldeneye (1995)
What better way to usher in a new Bond series than with a tense, rousing action scene? It all starts with a bungee dive from a high dam, which has been called the best movie stunt ever filmed. It then ends up with Bond free falling into a plane to escape an exploding complex. Great stuff. It really brought a ton of energy back into the Bond series in one swift stroke and gave audiences a great context for the fun action film they were about to see, reminiscent of another notable opening sequence which will be appearing further up in this list.
6. Scream (1996)
Scream ushered in the brief rejuvenation of the horror genre in the mid 90’s and gave audiences a strong sense of what it was about in the first few minutes. This opening uses a spooky phone call as its horror gimmick and works it very well. Creepy and very relatable to the audience who could just as easily receive a similar call. But the most brilliant stroke was using Drew Barrymore in this scene, someone who had a high billing in the film’s promotion, and killing her of right at the start. A very surprising twist.
5. Up (2009)
Its pretty incredible what can be done in a montage of a few minutes. In Up, we go through a gamut of emotions before the actual plot of the film has begun as Carl’s life with his wife Ellie is showcased through image and music only. We feel their joy their struggles, the sorrow. Its a love story contained within 5 minutes and which provide the emotional context of the whole rest of the film. Beautiful and moving, this is how to do a montage right.
4. Star Wars (1977)
Some openings on this list have full sequences, others short scenes, and in this case just the opening shot is enough to get it on. The shot of the rebel cruiser being followed by the Star Destroyer with roars over the heads of the audience is so simple, yet says so much. We immediately get a picture of this mismatched conflict between the tiny rebels and the massively powerful Empire. But we also get a sense of the revolutionary special effects and the grand scope of the story which we are about to experience.
Once that giant ship moved into view from above, it changed the movies forever. Some with say for the worse, others for the better, and others will be neither here nor their, but almost everyone can agree that movies changed from this point on.
3. Touch of Evil (1958)
This 3 1/2 minute long shot sees Charleton Heston’s character and his wife walking down a street which leads from the US to the Mexican border. Even today it is still considered one of the best long takes in movie history. It builds great tension as a bomb is smuggled across the border and we get bits and pieces of its journey while following the movie’s eventual hero. Truly a classic opening in cinema history.
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan contains one of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed. And it just happens to be at the beginning of the film. Spielberg’s D-Day scene is now infamous even among non-film buffs due to its incredible cinematography and striking realism. As the Allied troops move from sea to land and work their way up the beach, the action is filmed with meticulously structured chaos. It makes us appreciate what these soldiers went through and makes me hope that I never have to fight in a war like that.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I know, I know, you all saw this coming. Especially since it didn’t show up in the other 9 slots. But there’s a reason you all saw it coming. This is one of the most iconic action sequences in movie history, with adventured breathed into every frame. Its thrilling, its fun, its everything you want to go to the movies for. Audiences who watch this movie for the first time see this opening scene and are immediately excited, wondering “if this is just the start, what ELSE does this movie have in store!?” Its a spectacular introcution to not just a great film, but perhaps the most notorious film hero of all time.