Matt’s Top 10 Film Opening Sequences
The opening sequence for a film sets the standard. It welcomes you to the world that you’re about to be lost in for a few hours. How a film starts off is just as important as how it ends, sometimes even more so. With the exception to one film on this list, all standard “opening credits” sequences are off-limits. The opening sequences I have chosen truly introduce you to the world, rather than being a chaotic montage with credits rolling. I love the title sequences of any James Bond film and “Superbad,” but they will not be seen on this list, perhaps that’ll be used for one of my articles next week. But, until then, enjoy my top 10 film opening sequences.
#10. “Raging Bull”
Here is my one standard “opening credits” sequence. “Raging Bull” is a dark tale full of violence, emotion and fabulous editing. The opening sequence shows Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) in his famous leopard print robe, hopping around the boxing ring and getting ready for his bout. What makes this one special is the black & white cinematography and the music, all while the credits roll. With this one image/sequence, which is completely in slow motion, you understand the emotional journey you’re about to get into. The film might be one of the greatest boxing films ever made, but it’s also a heartbreaking tragedy, and this excellent opening sequence introduces that in superb fashion.
While this film will forever be on the fence for many people, it does start off with a bang. Usually, a film about racism or one that has a racist element shows a minority getting beaten or bullied by a white man. “Crash” takes it a step further, going to the lengths of creating several well-developed racist characters, stretching over several different nationalities and races. How the film starts off is quite harrowing, and I won’t go into too much detail within this article because of its inappropriate nature. Let’s just say a racist police officer (Matt Dillon) pulls over an African-American couple because he suspects they were “having some fun” while driving. Deep down, the audience knows the police officer pulled them over because they are a minority, so what happens next makes it even worse. The police officer demands to search the vehicle and its occupants, and he proceeds to feel up and sexually violate the female passenger, all while her husband watches, being held back by Matt Dillon’s wide-eyed partner, Ryan Phillippe. The scene says, “Welcome to Crash!” and it sticks with you throughout the rest of the film, including one of my favorite endings/montage sequences.
#8. “The Truman Show”
Side note for this one before I get into it: Need a perfect example of how music should be used for an opening sequence? Go watch this one. For those that do not know the premise of “The Truman Show,” its about a man named Truman who is unaware his life is actually being filmed as a television show. Just think of the most authentic reality television show, with actors playing Truman’s friends and family, and you pretty much got the gist of the premise. It’s an excellent tale about finding yourself and breaking away from your old life and experiencing something new. How it starts off is kind of ingenious. It starts off with interviews of the show’s director and actors, already introducing you to the falsehood and structured life Truman is living in. After the interviews are over, the audience gets to experience a day in Truman’s life inside his enclosed, dome-shaped fabricated world. It’s awesome to see where all the hidden cameras are and how the actors and crew cover up something that goes wrong, like a studio light falling from the sky. This opening is one of the best when it comes to introducing you to the world and the protagonist’s life; I highly recommend this film to everyone.
#7. “Cold Mountain”
Want one of the best Civil War films? “Cold Mountain” is probably better than “Gettysburg,” but I’ll have to study them a little bit more to come to that conclusion. The film starts off with the Union Army setting up an offensive attack on the Confederate Army. We see the Union have built tunnels underneath the Confederate lines and placed TNT in those tunnels. Once they light the fuse, what you get is the first heart palpitations you’ll get during this scene. As you see the Union soldiers lying and waiting for the explosion, all you can do is anticipate the violent battle that is about to ensue. After the explosion occurs, there are a few moments of quiet aftermath as we watch the film’s star, Jude Law, examine the carnage. That’s when the Union soldiers charge, but they get stuck at the bottom of a hill that their explosives created. With the Union’s offensive not going as planned, the Confederates sit at the top of the hill and just pick off the Union soldiers. Jude Law eventually dives down into the Union soldiers, looking for a friend. Excellent cinematography comes into play here, creating a harrowing sense of chaos, violence, carnage and claustrophobia. This is the only battle scene in the entire movie, but it starts the film off with a bang and allows you to witness the horrors of war.
#6. “Pulp Fiction”
With a nice conversation between Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), this scene starts off like watching a random couple having a random conversation while enjoying a nice breakfast at a diner. Their conversation does have a dark and morbid tone to it, but every couple’s conversations sometimes goes to the depths of talking about robbing a bank or something of that nature. The conversation takes a turn, though; when Pumpkin talks about robbing the diner they are currently in. Slowly but surely, we as the audience start to understand, “Oh, these two are actually criminals… and they are really about to do this?” It’s a great realization that has made this opening so famous. The turn of events and a quick switch like this is something Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are known for, many of their films opening scenes start off one way and then do a complete 180 with in the first two minutes. This scene is no different, and it introduces you to the well written and twist turning world of “Pulp Fiction” after Honey Bunny and Pumpkin pull out their guns and start yelling.
#5 “From Dusk Till Dawn”
Like I said before, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are known for turning their nice, calm opening sequences into utter chaos within a matter of seconds. While the opening to “Inglorious Basterds” is something that should be studied by every actor, “From Dusk Till Dawn” has one of the best openings of all-time. It starts off with the town sheriff coming into a Gas Mart like it’s an ordinary day. The clerk behind the counter acts normal and carries a pretty good conversation until the sheriff leaves to use the restroom. That’s when it happens. A young George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino come out from the corners of the Mart, holding guns and two women hostage. The audience then realizes Clooney and Tarantino have been hiding and forced the clerk to act cool towards the sheriff. When Tarantino suspects the clerk was giving signals to the sheriff, the tension rises and death threats are thrown every which way. The sheriff does come back out, and the clerk goes back to acting normal, but then Tarantino shoots the sheriff in the head. After that, a crazy shootout ensues, ending with the mart being engulfed in flames. It’s a complete 180 from how the scene started, introducing you to the random/ingenious twists that occur throughout the entire film. If an Academy Award existed for Best Opening Scene, this should’ve won in 1996/1997.
#4. “District 9”
I still think this film should’ve won best picture over “The Hurt Locker,” but at least it’s still a fan favorite within the entertainment industry. This film starts off like a documentary, showing interviews and raw footage of a South African Shantytown. The interviews grab people’s opinions about the occupants of the Shantytown, stating they “Aren’t Welcome Here” and “We’re spending money on them, when the money could go towards more important things.” By the interviewees’ dialogue, you might think they are talking about foreign immigrants that seem to have migrated to their country, very similar to a very controversial subject in today’s world. Then we get into the Shantytown itself and see the GIGANTIC alien spaceship that sits in the sky above it. The occupants truly are an alien life form from outer space. The footage shows the awful conditions they live in, automatically creating empathy for the creatures. It’s an opening that introduces you to the film’s guerilla style and the fictional, yet not entirely, South African world. If the emotions you feel, plus having your heartstrings pulled, during this opening surprise you, then just wait until you get through the entire film. The opening does a great job of setting the tone that the film keeps in a masterful way. This is not your normal Sci-Fi/Alien film. Not at all.
Okay, this film isn’t all that great, in my opinion. I’m a HUGE fanboy of the book, so of course I’m going to judge it down to the final shot. The cinematography and action aren’t disappointing, but the casting is where things really go down hill, plus the big change at the end that jerked me the wrong way. Regardless with how the film turns out, the opening scene is beautiful. Shot for shot, it matches the graphic novel’s fight scene between The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and an unknown assassin. It’s a scene fan boys can drool over because it’s everything we expected it to be. It’s how we envisioned the scene the first, second, third, and fourth times we read it. For new fans/viewers, they get to witness a superb fight scene with wonderful choreography and music. The scene does a good job of introducing the audience to the style, tone and mysterious nature of the rest of the film, but as a scene by itself, it surpasses the rest of the film by a mile. This is one of those instances where the opening scene is extremely important, because without this scene I wouldn’t have stayed through the entire film. The perfection in the beginning kept me in my chair, hoping there would be more perfect moments like it, but I was disappointed in the end.
#2. “Blade Runner”
Talk about an introduction. This opening sequence includes the film’s opening titles and the first scene: the Voight-Kampff Test. With amazing panoramic shots of a year 2018 world that our world will look nothing like in three years, it’s still a beautiful introduction to a beautiful film. It shows the gloomy and industrial aspects of a future world that is over populated and has flying cars as their main source of transformation. A Sci-Fi fan’s dream sequence. Add the film’s wonderful score into the mix, and you understand where this story is going to take place and the film’s philosophical undertones. Now, the Voight-Kampff Test does the same things as the establishing shots, but it introduces you to the main villains of the film: the Replicants. It’s a strange, tension-filled scene that immediately starts freaking you out when the test subject (Brion James) becomes unstable and frantic, eventually shooting the man performing the test. This part of the opening sequence welcomes you to the world’s violence and how it’s not going to be a normal Sci-fi piece with spaceships and aliens. The opening sequences gets the audience ready for the Film Noir they are about to experience, filled with mystery, wonderful cinematography, dark villains and a simple, yet eerie, soundtrack.
#1. “Saving Private Ryan”
Steven Spielberg is one of the best and most famous directors of all-time. All of his works are great and he’s a genius at what he does, but he’s especially a master of composition and staging when it comes to film. This scene captures the Omaha Beach assault on D-Day during World War II. From the opening shot, your heart starts thumping in your chest. Even if you’re not a history buff and you don’t know much about D-Day and World War II, you know something violent and terrible is about to occur. After the boats hit the beach and the assault truly begins, this is when Spielberg’s mastery with the camera comes into play. Watch this scene, pause it during any wide-shot, and study the shot’s composition. It’s always perfect, creating a world and atmosphere of chaos that is just short of realistic. This scene is terrifying and will make you say, “How did anyone survive?” over and over again. The scene welcomes you to World War II and the horrors of war in the first ten minutes, establishing that this film will be violent, emotional, terrifying and very well done. This is my favorite opening to a movie and the best of all-time, in my opinion.
I did a test with all these openings, which pretty much solidified their positions on this list. I watched each opening five times in a row, testing to see if I get tired of them or if the opening loses its touch. Some openings were taken off this list because I got bored of them by the third time, but every opening that made it kept me enthralled, entertained and captivated throughout those five viewings. That’s important for an opening. If it doesn’t captivate the audience within the first few minutes, anything substantial later in the film is lackluster and dry. Even if it has a great ending, the film needs to start first, so it’s crucial for every film to grab a hold of the audience and peek their interest right off the bat. All these openings do that for me.