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What Are The Best Opening Scenes in Cinema?

Pulp Fiction

The opening scene of a film is very important and I’ve known people to switch off a film because they didn’t like the opening scene. The debate about what is the best opening scene has raged on for years with films like The Godfather, Jaws and Trainspotting are typical contenders. Here are a list of some of the less-discussed great opening scenes.

Spoiler warning – minor spoilers for Scream

Baby Driver

Baby Driver // Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

The opening scene of Baby Driver has been decades in the making, with Edgar Wright using the idea of a waiting getaway driver listening to music in a music video for Mint Royale in 2003. In the film Baby is waiting while his criminal comrades rob a bank, whilst waiting he listens to Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues explosion, dancing as best a person can while sitting in a car. As soon as his accomplices get in the car Baby is away and what follows is, in my opinion, the greatest car chase ever filmed. It contains jaw-dropping scenes of the car dodging all manner of traps and pursuers as well as edited to match up with the song that is still playing.

Death of Stalin

Death of Stalin
This is what a person looks like when Stalin is one the phone // Credit: Death of Stalin – Entertainment One Films

One of the best comedies of recent years is Armando Ianucci’s Death of Stalin. Not immediately a film that suggests hilarity as it deals with the death of one of the most despicable humans who ever lived but it is is very, very funny. The opening scene is in a concert hall where a performance of classical music is being broadcast live on the radio. In the studio a call comes through from telling the director to call this number back to speak to Stalin himself. Stalin wants a recording of the performance but it was not recorded. The unbelievable panic that takes control of everyone is terrifying as they are all convinced they’re going to die. It doesn’t matter that’s a fairly trivial request, it doesn’t matter that really Stalin should have asked for a recording before the performance. The mix of sheer terror and absolute absurdity is the hallmark of the film.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork orange
The extremely unsettling beginning of A Clockwork Orange // Credit: A Clockwork Orange – Warner Bros

There are a number of Kubrick films that were options, the creepy flying shot from The Shining following the winding road, the introduction to the insane drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket but I chose A Clockwork Orange. Even the title cards are involved in this – alternating between bright red and bright blue completely filling the screen, and then the close up of Alex’s face, who, costume and makeup aside, is terrifying as he stares down the camera. The camera pulls back revealing the bizarre milk bar and with Alex quickly starting a voiceover using the “nadsat” slang language which further makes the characters something alien. Like many costumes in films the droogs could potentially look silly – they do not, they are exceptionally sinister-looking.

Scream

Drew Barrymore - Scream
Drew Barrymore screaming in Scream // Credit: Scream – Dimension Films

I’m not actually a big fan of the Scream franchise but this opening scene is undeniably great and sets up the rest of the film perfectly. The first great aspect to it is that while Drew Barrymore is in it, she is also killed in this first scene, and she was the most famous person in the entire film (with the possible exception of the legendary Henry Winkler as the principal who also dies) so after that it felt like anyone and everyone could die. The scene also contains the entire premise of the movie – a serial killer with a love of and encyclopedic knowledge of horror films and will use these tropes to kill their victims. Also as a pedantic film fan I appreciate they correct Barrymore’s character when she got film trivia wrong.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises - Bane
Bane is unmasked…revealing another mask // Credit: The Dark Knight Rises – Warner Bros

The Dark Knight has a great opening scene – the Joker robbing a bank while his accomplices kill each other, but The Dark Knight Rises has a great one too that is talked about a lot less. On an isolated airstrip somewhere in Europe the CIA take into their protection a renowned scientist with some dangerous knowledge and also take into their custody a number of hooded individuals – soldiers for the “masked man”. Once in the air it is revealed one of them is the masked man himself, Bane. It’s hard to describe what happens next but Bane basically uses a bigger plane to “steal” the plane they’re on, all to kidnap the scientist with dangerous knowledge. Bane’s ferocity, strength and devotion to his cause is evident from the very beginning and it is clear this is a very bad guy. Also I’ve never seen someone steal a plane in a film before.

Tarantino

Pulp Fiction
If you rob a restaurant you’ve eaten in do you leave a tip? // Credit: Pulp Fiction – Miramax Films

When I was compiling a long list of potential films there was a lot of Tarantino – the argument about tipping in Reservoir Dogs, the diner conversation about robbery in Pulp Fiction, the introduction of the wedding massacre in Kill Bill, the unforgettable entrances of Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. They all feature Tarantino’s trademark witty dialogue and usually mixed with violence (of the scenes I’ve mentioned only Reservoir Dogs contains no violence and it certainly makes up for that later).

Also Read: What Makes A Tarantino Film?

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Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.

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