10. The Searchers
There are many films that match their opening scenes with their closing ones as an attempt to connote a circular story, one that brings the character back to their roots or to where they started. However, there is no better opening that comes together with its end in perfect harmony than that of The Searchers. The first shot beautifully captures the west in all its glory as we look past a silhouetted woman into a barren landscape. It comes in perfect symmetry as the legendary John Wayne, the embodiment of the western genre, steps out from the doorway into that very landscape to continue his lonesome journey.
9. Rear Window
With a set up akin to a play, Rear Window is a perfect example of visual storytelling that provides an abundance of detail without a single utterance. We are introduced to several fringe characters around the block, learn of Jimmy Stewart’s photography hobby and reasoning behind why he is wheelchair-bound and all with two beautiful circular camera shots. Alfred Hitchcock may have been known as the master of suspense, but he had perfected so much more.
The intricate set up of a one-shot scene is always appreciative for anyone that follows cinema, but where there are many imitators there is usually one iconic moment that stands at the epicentre. The opening scene of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil is not the most complex of narrative creations, but it is technically masterful in what it achieves. Using several extended crane shots over a small American border town, we follow the planting of a bomb all the way up to its detonation, totalling an impressive 3 minutes of screen time. Only a visionary such as Welles possessed the expertise and craft to attempt such a scene. Although it took a full night to complete, they were finally able to do so without mess ups in the last possible take before sunrise.
7. The Matrix
After the first four minutes of The Wachowski Sibling’s debut film The Matrix, audiences quickly realised they had never seen anything like this before. Inspired by the high octane action of the likes of John Woo and the martial arts wizardry seen in Tai-Chi Master (1993) and Iron Monkey (1993), Western audiences were dazzled from the off as we are introduced to a world not bound by the laws of physics. Starting off at a sprint, we watch the leather-clad Trinity dash over rooftops as she flees from the agents hot on her tail, only to survive somehow where no escape seemed possible. Teasing us with some insane stunts and those ‘Bullet time’ moments, this opening scene was a game changer.
6. Le Samourai
With all of the entries that burst onto the movie screen with power and verbosity, there is much needed room for the appreciation of simplicity. The birth of one of cinema’s coolest leads is found in Jean Pierre Melville’s neo-noir film Le Samourai, the tale of a solitary hitman in Paris. After introducing us to the quote that compares Alain Delon’s Jef Costello with that of a Japanese Ronin, we watch as a figure appears in view laying in a bare room. With no dialogue or plot direction, we survey a solitary man who intends to stay that way by keeping everyone-including the audience, at arm’s length. As he prepares to enter the storyline, we have no clue or indication where he is going, but follow on intrigued at the possibility of understanding such a ghostly figure.
Steven Spielberg started of his career as he meant to go on with delivering iconic cinematic moments from the very beginning. His ocean monster kept people away from the seaside for many years and it’s no wonder when the chilling classic Jaws opens to such a horrifying introduction. With that subtly beautiful score by John Williams, we are introduced to the horror that lurks around Amity Island as a young woman is violently pulled under by the titular character. Horrifying doesn’t even cut it.
As memorable as those blue neon words followed by the crashing sounds of John Williams is the scene that starts off one of the biggest cinematic franchises of all time. As the wall of text floats off into the starry sky the music turns slightly more dramatic as a Star Destroyer crawls overhead in an impressive feat of CGI accomplishment. Not only that, but after a skirmish on a rebellion cruiser, we are introduced to one of the most iconic movie villains of all time as he steps out amidst the smoke to search for the princess Leia. A great start to a great story.
Just as he did with Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino shows that he is a director in love with the sound of his own character’s voices. The perfect example of such is in his opening to the 2009 WWII fable Inglorious Basterds, in which we see the ‘Jew Hunter’ Hans Landa toy with his prey in a beautifully devilish act. The dialogue is as arduous as it is impressive, but for each long or apparently light hearted exchange there is a threatening subtext that begins to bubble and rise ever so slowly, leading to a climactic explosion of action that Tarantino is just as famous for.
2. Lion King
We have no idea what the opening words are, but we all sing along regardless. Disney’s 1995 animated film The Lion King is a colourful celebration of old-school animation – perfectly encapsulated by its montage-of-sorts opening that sees the birth of the future king of Pride Rock. As Carmen Twillie bellows out the iconic ‘Circle of Life’ we are invited along with the entire Animal Kingdom to celebrate a majestic moment of beauty. As the scene closes with a thunderous drum, you’re left with silence to take in all that you have seen and appreciate what you are about to witness.
Tension has never been more palpable than that felt in the opening of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone uses pace and a variety of shots to add detail after detail into a scene that for the most, nothing happens. Yet, you get the feeling something is building, something the characters are aware of but we are yet to find out. With the ever-perfect Ennio Morricone providing a masterful touch that balances natural sounds with his famous score. When Charles Bronson steps of that train and we hear that harmonica, we know there’s a showdown afoot, and one that’s a memorable moment for the history of cinema.