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Article – Five Favourite Opening Film Scenes


Posted January 18, 2014 by

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Five Favourite Opening Film Scenes

The opening scene to a film is crucial. Those first few minutes, sometimes even seconds, decide whether we change the channel or swap the DVD so engaging the audience as soon as possible is top priority. Whether it be through fear, curiosity, humour or sometimes plain shock factor, filmmakers strive to grab our attention. So when I found myself humming the Mandarin version of Anything Goes (as y’do) courtesy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom whilst stacking shelves at work today, it got me thinking about my favourite opening scenes. Whilst I could make the list never-ending, below is a selection that really stand out in my memories of first watching them, as well as holding a special spot in my movie-loving heart. In no particular order…


Reservoir Dogs (1992) Dir.: Quentin Tarantino

Here’s a tough one – Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs? Both these Tarantino classics have superb opening scenes but Reservoir Dogs has to win this round. When settling in to watch an explicit heist movie, the last thing audiences expected the film to open with was a bunch of grown gangsters discussing the deeper meaning behind Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ lyrics. 100% unexpected, 100% entertaining and, of course, most definitely 100% Quentin Tarantino – this opening scene of his debut film marked a riotous entrance to our screens, and culture, back in 1992.


Jaws (1975) Dir.: Steven Spielberg

No doubt those famous bass notes are thrumming in your head already. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws – a film that remains chilling nearly 40 years later – launches into an instantly unsettling scene which immediately throws the audience in deep water. After exchanging flirtatious glances around the campfire, teenagers Chrissie and Tom decide some skinny-dipping is in order. Inebriated Tom soon flops down on the sand, leaving Chrissie frolicking in the ocean. Cue music. Giggles soon turn to screeches of terror as an unseen horror wrenches Chrissie from one side of the frame to the other before her harrowing screams are suddenly silenced as she is pulled under, only an innocuous ‘plop’-ing sound marking her watery demise. This opening is powerful for a number of reasons, not only does it signify the tone of the movie for its audience in one rapid blast of destructivity and concealed horror, but it also heralded the introduction of one of the most ominous, and certainly most memorable, film scores in movie history.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) Dir.: John Hughes

Now for something a tad more light-hearted, John Hughes’ coming of age comedy flick Ferris Bueller’s Day Off revolves around three teens ditching school in favour of having the ultimate day off, whilst of course learning those essential life lessons along the way. This opening scene introduces us to charismatic teen Ferris as he tricks his parents into believing he’s too sick for school. With sly winks thrown at his jealous sister in between comical groans of pain, the scene is a perfect preamble to the charming Ferris, perfectly setting the scene for the comedic tone of the film. In our youth we all tried “faking out the parents” – elsewise you were a sweeter child than me – resulting in the scene also acting as a slice of nostalgia, childish irresponsibility we can all empathise with as viewers, the feeling lasting throughout the entirety of the epic day off.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Dir.: Steven Spielberg

This was the first film to spring to mind when compiling this list! I have a lot of love for this Indy outing as a whole, but the opening scene is just brilliant. Whilst all the Indiana Jones movies showcase fantastic intros – the boulder chase of Raiders, the circus train of Last Crusade etc. – the opening to Temple of Doom couldn’t be more different from previous forays. A Mandarin rendition of the song ‘Anything Goes’ sung by an enchanting Kate Capshaw along with an army of showgirls swathed in sparkles and diamonds, this was like no other Indy setting we’d seen yet. As the music fades, in waltzes Mr. Ford in a James Bond-esque white suit – the epitome of suave. The juxtaposition of Club Obi Wan and shimmying lounge-singer Willie with the rough-around-the-edges gruff adventurer makes this scene instantly memorable and visually gorgeous.


Memento (2000) Dir.: Christopher Nolan

The opening to Nolan’s non-chronological thriller Memento is deceptively simple: a polaroid photograph being shaken, only it is losing clarity with each passing moments rather than developing. As the picture of a blood-splattered room fades entirely to white, we realise that we are witnessing time pass backwards as main character Guy Pierce takes the photo we were viewing only moments prior. This triggers instant curiosity – what crime occurred? Is Pierce criminal or bystander? What events led to this moment? And so on and so forth. With the tangled narrative structure, the film’s foremost draw is its capacity to engage its audience, causing viewers to desire to uncover the truth behind the events of the films plot, and discover their true order. This desire is instantaneously kindled by the simple yet powerful opening scene of Memento.

That’s it folks! I’m sure I’ll wake up in the middle of the night kicking myself about films I have forgotten. There are no doubt absolute classic openings that belong on similar lists – The Godfather and Star Wars spring to mind – but the films I’ve spoken about here cover the variety of different hooks filmmakers use to ensnare their audience; whether it is tapping into our fear and shock through sudden shark attacks, stimulating our curiosity through ‘who-dunnits’ and intrigue or simply inducing the wow factor through unexpected musical numbers, these intros have got the movie magic, alright!

Which of your favourites do you think belong on such a list?


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Becca Spackman
Freelance Contributor

One Comment


    Great list you have there. I still have chills rewatching that Jaws opening. The memento one is really clever, because the whole film is to be running backwards so it makes sense of the opening credits to do so as well.

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