Film.com has put together a wonderful list complete with video clips of the fifty best opening film scenes of all time. This list is Not America-centric, so you’re sure to come across several foreign films you haven’t seen. Look over the clips and Film.com’s review of each and get inspired to write a groundbreaking opening scene of your own.
Here are the top five films on the list:
5.) “Touch of Evil” (Orson Welles) 1958
The nearly wordless opening shot of Orson Welles’ other other *other* masterpiece is arguably more famous than the film it portends, a 200-second tracking shot that begins with an adorably old-fashioned bomb being planted in the trunk of a car, and ends with a bang (and a kiss). A self-contained (but not self-serving) masterpiece of cinematic suspense, the elaborately choreographed tracking shot is made all the more impressive by how firmly it anchors the nihilistic noir that follows. It may not be the cinema’s most impressive long shot anymore (thanks, “Russian Ark”), but it’s still the most perfect (except for that whole Charlton Heston in brownface thing). – DE
4.) “Walkabout” (Nicolas Roeg) 1971
We open on a brick wall, the most benign sight you can imagine. The camera tracks right to reveal the bustling Australian metropolis it was hiding from us, pulling back the curtain on the world behind the one we’ve built. Feet and faces, people moving with purpose. A primordial drone mixes with a chorus of huffing schoolgirls, whose syncopated breathing is rhythmic and ridiculous. Consumerism. Suicide. Oblivion. So begins Nicolas Roeg’s salve for the discord of modern living, the opening sequence of which anticipates everything from OK Computer to “Serial Experiments: Lain” in a violent montage that palpably captures what it means to feel “hysterical and useless.” – DE
3.) “The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola) 1972
“I believe in America.”
It takes a good three-and-a-half minutes before we even get to see Marlon Brando as Don Corleone. With amazing patience, we’re treated to a monologue full of despair , and then we’re treated to the powerhouse being petitioned, a man who strikes fear in the hearts of all, demanding of respect and kisses on his ring. Don Corleone is a man of precision, he will not offer more than justice to this undertake who pleads before him. But perhaps they can now be friends, with all the dreaded obligation that friendship entails? The undertaker acquiesces, his desire for revenge overriding his better angels. The conflicted relationship between the mafia and America is laid bare, as the police and court system are dismissed as complicit in letting an Italian-American down. Who will step in? The Godfather, naturally. – LL
2.) “Once Upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone) 1968
Whenever I hear someone say the phrase “pure cinema,” my mind immediately takes me to the opening sequence of Sergio Leone’s epic “Once Upon a Time in the West”. Three bad men wait for a train at a station in the middle of the great American nowhere. They’re familiar types, Western gun-slingers who time had forgot and the movies were in the midst of forgetting. They wait, and they wait, and they wait. Of course, it’s not the action that makes this such an immortal introduction, but the symphonic and sensuous manner in which Leone cuts it together, the droning wail of a water-pump or the buzzing of a fly all working in tandem to sew a perfect discord. It’s the greatest scene Quentin Tarantino never filmed, taking all of his dialogue and sublimating it into stimuli — an entire epoch, anamorphically distilled into 13 minutes. Add one of the greatest motifs that Ennio Morricone / anyone has ever written, a terse and impossibly cool bit of chirping, and one supremely badass Charles Bronson and you’ve got film perfection.
The tragically abbreviated clip below doesn’t even begin to do it justice. – DE
1.) “8 ½” (Federico Fellini) 1963
What does it all mean? You’ve come all this way so I won’t go into a long, indulgent explanation here. What I will say is this: the opening of “8 ½” is brilliant for the same reason that the film as a whole is brilliant. It’s as rich in symbolism as it is in character, as visually impressive as it is emotionally resonant. “8 ½” is a triumph of sound and music that begins with complete and utter silence. To eventually reach its open, exultantly freeing finale it must open trapped, cramped and short of breath. “8 ½” is like a roller coaster of consciousness – this sequence is the train climbing that first hill, stopping briefly at the top to quietly look down from the heavens before plunging into a rollicking, pulsing adventure through one man’s tortured mind. – DW