First scenes in movies are like the opening lines in a novel. Fundamental.
As you settle in your cinema seat, juggling popcorn and a giant soft drink, these are the moments which pull you from reality into another world, that cause you to stare and stop shifting. In those opening seconds, the impression created is something that will influence the rest of your viewing.
It’s not that a film cannot redeem itself from a weak start, or even a low key one. But what an opportunity for a director to grab your attention, and retain it. If the film is great, you’re with it from the very start. If it’s not, you’ll still remember the opening scene.
Yep – First impressions last.
So I got to thinking. Of all the movies, what would happen if I tasked myself with listing my five favourite opening scenes? Scenes that, regardless of how long since I first saw them, have lived on in my head.
Tough? Certainly. I had to pick openings that have stayed with me, regardless of the rest of the film (I’m happy to say that four out my five I class as truly great films).
So without further ado, my five top film openings are as follows:
5) 2001 A Space Odyssey – Much celebrated and unlike anything else. The scenes that Kubrick put together revealing the dawn of civilisation are disturbing, haunting, epic and awe-inspiring. The bone-toss transition to spacecraft a piece of Kubrick genius. Not a word is spoken, and yet you are glued to every gesture, sound and shot of barren landscape. Not to
mention the Monolith.
4) Narc – Perhaps a strange choice, but I just can’t forget this brutal opener, which hits you like an unexpected stomach blow. Within a manic 45 secs, a chase on foot sees a junkie inject an innocent bystander with heroin, another man shot, as well as a pregnant woman left with blood and urine pouring from her as Jason Patric (good? bad? – at this stage we have no idea, after all he did shoot her) crouches over her screaming as sirens draw closer. The remainder is pretty weak, but I’ve never forgotten the first minute.
3) Bladerunner – My favourite movie of all time. The text telling you it’s Los Angeles in 2019 fades before revealing a vista somewhere between a nightmare and something beautiful. Flames and flying ships surround the viewer, before we cut to a screen-filling eyeball reflecting this futuristic depiction of Hades, and then cut back again as the Tyrell Corporation looms into view. The music by Vangelis is suitably otherwordly, and sends a shiver down my spine every time. Visionary, poetic and truly, truly beautiful.
2) Star Wars IV:A New Hope – A planet, a moon, a small spaceship followed by a bloody BIG one. Well known, well celebrated. This changed cinema forever. Enough said.
1) Once Upon a Time in the West – A lesson in pure filmmaking indulgence. This 12 minute opening is a slow moving puzzle depicting three cowboys waiting at a station. What for? We don’t know. The scene is wonderfully constructed, using sound and editing to build the mystery. There’s humour and tension, but no rush. Everything unravels towards a moment of pure and sudden violence as Charles Bronson arrives. The result? We have lots more questions, but are already hypnotised. Like the rest of the film, Director Sergio Leone delights in taking his time. Thank God, because when cinema is this good, there’s nothing better than wallowing in it.
So that’s it – my top five.
Agree or disagree?
I don’t care.