5 Phenomenal Opening Scenes

PHENOM 5

Sometimes a great opening sequence can set the tone for the entire movie. In today’s Phenomenal 5 we are going to look at some of the very best of them. Narrowing it down to just five is brutal but those are my self-inflicted rules. While I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there is no denying that these five opening scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Saving Private Ryan”

RYAN

Of all the films on this list this is probably the most heralded movie opening of the bunch. Steven Spielberg ratchets locks in on battlefield realism in giving us what many have called the most authentic depiction of combat ever put on screen. From the very first frame we understand Spielberg wants to immerse us in the tension and horror of D-Day. The result is a gripping and visceral cinematic account unlike anything we’ve seen.

#4 – “The Dark Knight”

DARKKNIGHT

There are many things I love about Christopher Nolan’s unforgettable opening to “The Dark Knight”. First and foremost it serves as our first introduction to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker. It begins with an eerie opening shot of him holding a mask on a street corner. From there Nolan takes us through a bank heist that’s deftly shot and edited, has such sharp pacing, and features some of the best moments from Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s a superb scene.

#3 – “Touch of Evil”

YOUCH

There are many examples you can point to that shows off Orson Welles’ brilliance as a filmmaker. One is found in the opening scene of his 1958 gem “Touch of Evil”. The movie opens with one of cinema’s great uninterrupted tracking shots. For over three minutes the camera weaves back and forth between two newlyweds walking and a second couple slowly navigating their convertible down a crowded street. Talking about it doesn’t do it justice. It is truly a must-see sequence for any movie fan.

#2 – Inglourious Basterds”

LANDA

While I may not have been blown away by every aspect of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”, the opening of his alternate-reality World War 2 film may be his very best work. It features Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) questioning a French farmer (Denis Ménochet) about the whereabouts of missing Jewish families. The white-knuckled interrogation ratchets up the intensity unlike anything I’ve seen on screen.

#1 – “Once Upon A Time in the West”

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An absolute masterclass on the use of image and sound to build atmosphere and tension. This Sergio Leone classic is my favorite western for a host a reasons, one being Leone’s unmatched technique. The opening train station scene encapsulates Leone’s breathtaking artistry. From the first look into Jack Elam’s eyes to the echo of Charles Bronson’s revolver. It’s pure cinematic brilliance and the perfect way to open Leone’s masterpiece.

There were several big ones I hated to leave off so I’m counting on the comments section to help me out. C’mon readers, don’t let me down.

51 thoughts on “5 Phenomenal Opening Scenes

      • Yes I think so (though all his movies are rescue attempts!! – he’s saved the world 4 times now -line from his current movie 🙂 ) anyways I digress, its the one that starts with a pretty blonde driving a jeep, an earthquake happens and she is toppled off the road, the soundtrack to it is AM AY ZING! even though its a Rock saves the world movie 🙂

  1. I have seen most of these films and you’re right; they do have great openings. The opening for Saving Private Ryan in particular really grabs the audience’s attention while telling them exactly what is at stake. Kind of makes me wish Spielberg would challenge himself more these days.

  2. All really good choices. I would personally add the following:
    The opening to the original Star Wars film is an absolute classic with that Star Destroyer flying overhead. I would also go for the opening in Jaws, which was absolutely terrifying.

  3. Saving Private Ryan!! I’d say that’s a movie opener that has had the biggest impact on me. That being said, I’m glad the Dark Knight was on there too! 🙂 (And Touch of Evil! Yes, Touch of Evil)

  4. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices. And here’s something that I’m sure not many know about the opening scene in Once Upon a Time in the West. The three men waiting for Charles Bronson to arrive were supposed to be played by Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach but Eastwood had fallen out with Leone during the production of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly while Van Cleef and Wallach were unavailable.

  5. Magnificent list. Makes me think of starting one, but I wouldn’t know where to start…

    Nice to see Inglourious Basterds get a mention. The first 20 minutes of that film still remains as Tarantino’s best directorial work. To go from an epic western to a historical war drama to a claustrophobic horror-thriller all in one scene, amazing.

    • 100% agree with it being QT’s very best work. His ability to ratchet up tension in that scene reminds me of some of the true greats of cinema history. It’s such an incredible mix of performance, dialogue, and pacing.

  6. Touch of Evil’s intro really is quite something, isn’t it? It really does show Welles at his top form, I’m not sure any other director could have pulled that off that effortlessly.

    Also second Magnolia’s intro, though some of my other favorites include Apocalypse Now, 2001 (though pretty much any Kubrick opening would do), La Dolce Vita, Taxi Driver, The Searchers, and The Wall.

  7. The opening of Jaws is so gut-wrenching , that as a 10 year old sitting in the theater it messed me up really good for the whole movie going forward . Still a gripping start to an amazing movie . The 1st Star Wars , that space scene of the destroyer coming into the scene and the whole sequence was awesome . Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indys amazing escape and run was cool .The original Night of the Living Dead , was so creepy and terrifying . Goldeneye was a great relaunch with a new Bond . Opening sequence set the tone for the movie .

    • Looooove that someone finally mentioned “Raiders”. That’s one I REALLY struggled with leaving off the list. And what a great memory of “Jaws”! Of course that’s probably a hard first impression to forget, right?

      • Its funny because every time I watch that movie again , at least once a year , I can recall that theater experience lol Still one of the most unique nights I ever had at a movie. Great memories though .

  8. Well, I’d have included the opening title sequence of 2001 A Space Odyssey personally, but all those above deserve and warrant inclusion in such a list. The opening shots of the original Star Wars could probably have snuck in, whilst I’m absolutely in awe of EVERYTHING Sergio Leone did as a filmmaker, you could make a list solely with his films alone. OUATITW is astonishingly well shot, a masterpiece of cinematography and framing.

    It might also pay to check out the opening sequence to The Villainess (a recent flick) and revisit Casino Royale and The Matrix before locking things away.

    Kudos for including Saving Private Ryan – easily my pick for #1.

    • I need to check out the Villainess. And you’re so right on Leone. I was introduced to him at a very early age because he was a favorite of my dad. Anytime one of his films would hit television you can guarantee we were going to watch it.

    • Oh that Dunkirk opening is brilliant! Running through the village dodging gunfire before making it to that dead end, wide open beach. Sooo good.

  9. I don’t know if it’s up there with some of these fine choices, but I friggin love the way Casino Royale opens, in black and white, some business to be handled before he gets his little 007 status. That was a CLASSIC Bond cold open.

  10. Great list! I love all these opening sequences, and I frequently re-watched those of The dark knight and Inglorious basterds even when I didn’t have time to re-watch the whole movie!

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