GMan’s Top 5 Film Opening Scenes
The opening of a film is arguably the most important part. If the opening scene falls flat then you may decide it isn’t for you and turn it off.
However if the opening is thrilling/interesting/provocative you could be hooked in through to the end – even if the middle is terrible. We all have our favourites, and we’ll address these later in the article, but the following 5 film openers are some of the best in cinema history.
5. Lord Of War
Also titled “The Life of a Bullet” the scene shows a bullet from manufacturing through transport and finally to it’s intended purpose. This opening scene gives you a good grasp on what you are about to watch – a political satire about guns. The fun little journey the bullet goes on – almost rolling into the sea with a swirling camera angle is a stark contrast against the final “shot” showing the bullet being fired into a teenage boys head. You know straight away whether or not you’ll like this film.
But the opening scene shows a nice chilled out night time drive with three friends, we’ve all been there right? Then there’s a thudding. Oh Billy, why couldn’t you keep quiet…?
I’ll never forget the first time I saw this scene, the horrific violence really shocked me to attention. Scorsese had my mouth agape within minutes of the film starting. Already you are complicit with the characters – you’ve just witnessed a brutal murder, you get a close up of Ray Liotta’s face and you can see his mind turning, wondering, “How the hell did I get here?” – queue flashback scenes – “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” And you just know straight away you are going to find out how they got to that point. But by the time it comes around you are so wrapped up in the rest of the story that you don’t see it coming until the first blow is struck.
3. Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg’s opening for Private Ryan was ambitious to say the least. To recreate something like the Omaha Beach landing takes a brave director. It is a particularly sensitive event in history and according to reports – Spielberg nailed it. The scope of the whole scene is enormous – it moves from epic sweeping shots of the whole battlefield to following Capt. John Miller’s Company in taking their section of the beach. There are some extremely powerful images that – for me at least – evoke a lot of emotion. A soldier slowly ambles around the battlefield looking down at the ground, suddenly he picks something up and turns around – is his arm missing… oh wait, thats what he just picked up! The guy was looking for his arm! It’s things like this that really make the opening hit home – this actually happened!
The film was also a huge inspiration for the FPS gaming genre and undoubtedly gave Call of Duty and Medal of Honor the nudges they needed to really combine narrative in an action genre.
2. The Godfather
I’m a huge fan of the entire wedding segment of The Godfather. It really sets up all the characters for the rest of the film from The Don himself through to minor characters like Luca Brasi. Michael makes it clear he is not interested in his families line of business – “That’s my family Kay, not me.” and Sonny’s temper flares when he smashes the FBI photographers camera. All the traits which make these characters who they are, melt into this huge pot to make the wonderful creation that is – the wedding scene. On top of that you have the brilliant Mamma Corleone singing with a smile that can’t be acted. According to reports the whole scene was created as though it were a real wedding – alcohol included!
1. The Goonies
And so nerds, we have the number one film opening ever! Again this scene really sets up all the characters and gives you a good idea of what the Fratelli’s are about. Each of The Goonies themselves gets a short scene where the Fratelli’s pass by on their merry police chase and you get a small window into each ones life before the film kicks in. Particularly funny is Chunk pressing his milkshake up against the window of the restaurant to get a better look at the car chase. The comedy interaction between Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi is hilarious as they squabble like two school children while they’re running a jailbreak. Overall it again sets the tone for the rest of the film – an adventurous little jape with comedy and child-like action sequences. Also see Mamma Fratelli – “Trust in your old mother boys!”
Over to the other Nerds favourite scenes:
Star Wars: A New Hope
The opening text crawl with John Williams score blasting demands your attention from the off! The Star Destroyer cuts through the vastness of space above an alien planet then snaps into the sterile interior. Classic!
The opening scene of Kill Bill is Brutal, the Bride shot in the head while trying to tell her killer that she’s carrying his baby. Shot in black and white with no background music it draws in the full attention of the audience and leaves us with plenty of questions we must have answered. By the end of the scene we’re almost lead to believe this must be how the story ends, she can’t possibly survive a bullet to the head? Right?
The opening of Up has more emotion and more heart that just about any film I’ve ever seen. That a couple’s entire life together could be satisfactorily presented without dialogue is proof enough that Pixar are in a league of their own. That we’re treated to it in the space often minutes is astonishing. A beautiful and heartbreaking sequence
This was a brilliant opening. In classic cookie-cutter Hollywood, you start with a wide opening shot to establish location, such as a helicopter shot above New York City, then a medium shot of the location itself, such as an Italian-American restaurant, and then a close up of your character. Usual Suspects opens with none of these. It shows a boat, and then Gabriel Byrne in mortal terror. The antagonist literally p****s from a great height and puts out a trail of fire that would have blown up the boat. Said antagonist, Kaiser Sosei, is then standing over him holding a gun in his left hand (more on that later) and they briefly have a conversation. The scene ends with a close up of a big pile of ropes on the pier, slowly zooming in and then fades to Kevin Spacey’s face. This is trying to convey that Spacey was hiding behind the ropes and witnessed the whole thing.
So aside from the fact we don’t have the usual establishing shot, the other things which are genius about this opening scene is when it’s considered with the rest of the film. The film famously ends with the disabled Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) leaving the police station after spending the whole film telling the story of the group and how one of them was actually Kaiser Sosei, only to them start walking normally and suavely escapes. The officer interrogating him quickly realises that Kint/Sosei had been using names and places around his office to spin this amazing yarn that he had fallen for hook, line and sinker. The reason the opening scene is especially important, is because it is the only scene we as an audience can “trust” to be real, as the director Bryan Singer has chosen to reveal this to us. Every scene following this is from the mouth of Kint/Sosei.
Other things about this opening scene, the identity of Kaiser Sosei is unknown as his face is covered, so we have to guess throughout the film who he is and are given a particular clue. He holds his gun in his left hand. Of the 5 usual suspects, Verbal Kint has cerebral palsy which affects his left side, and so he cannot use his left hand. So throughout the film we look to each of the 4 to see if they use their left hands. Singer uses this to curve ball us, as EACH character at some point in the film holds a gun in their left hand. All except Verbal Kint, thus eliminating him from our suspicions. This is of course Kaiser Sosei’s whole schtick. But what a schtick it is… It’s also even more naughty of Singer to give us the close of up shot of the ropes, as there was never anybody there as Verbal Kint was on the boat the whole time as Kaiser Sosei!! Brilliant film.
What is your favourite film opening? Which of ours do you like most?
Posted on September 7, 2013, in Film and tagged Goodfellas, Kill Bill, Lord Of War, Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars: A New Hope, the godfather, The Goonies, Up, Usual Suspects. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.