The opening scene to any great movie throws us into the setting, introduces us to its main characters, and establishes its tone and pace. Many movies hinge on the success of an opening sequence, as it must hook and pull in the viewer, and makes a promise that the rest of the movie will hope to maintain. Some of these opening scenes are so iconic that they have become (in some cases) more well-known than the entire movie itself. Take a look at our list of the top ten most memorable opening scenes from movies!
10. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
Quentin Tarantino is a master of opening scenes. One could argue that his opening scenes are often as impressive and impactful as the climaxes of his movies. Of all his movies, the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds may hold a candle to the remainder of the movie; it is shocking, haunting, and devilishly charming all at the same time as Christoph Waltz delivers a harrowing performance as Col. Hans Landa.
9. GOODFELLAS (1990)
Goodfellas starts with three unremarkable people driving around in an old, rattling Cadillac. Simplicity is key in this 90-second scene, where not much happens, but it subtly captures the nature of the three main characters perfectly in this short opening sequence. What’s that noise? The sound of Scorsese making the gangster movie essential again.
8. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
From Christopher Nolan, we received one of the best villain introductions to arguably the best movie villain of all time. After a run-and-gun bank heist, (plus a cameo from William Fichtner) we get our first look at Heath Ledger’s The Joker as he delivers his iconic line, “whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you… stranger.”
7. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
From Stanley Kubrick, we received the face of pure evil in the teenage sociopath Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) from A Clockwork Orange. The ominous notes of Henry Purcell’s “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary” are synthesized and introduce the audience to a sinister peak into the demented mind of the main character.
6. THE GODFATHER (1972)
One of the most memorable opening scenes of all time just so happens to be in one of the best movies ever made. It immediately establishes the superiority and power of the titular character of the movie—offering his legions to deliver “justice” to an enemy while he calmly strokes his pet cat. From this perspective, the audience sees Don Corleone in his element, a crime lord doing what he does best.
5. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
In another Kubrick opening, The Dawn of Man scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey is nothing if not iconic. It features that eerie black monolith that makes its way across space and time, and ape-men discovering tools and murder. And how could you not be swept up in that unmistakable music.
4. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
In the iconic scene from Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) refuses to tip, we get our first taste of the masterful dialogue that comes from Quentin Tarantino. The scene does a great job establishing the tension between Mr. Pink and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel). It’s only in the violent ending of the movie that we finally understand the underlying mistrust that was present in this scene, making the opening all the more worth revisiting.
3. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
“Rosebud” may be one of the most famous lines in movie history, and if that was the only memorable aspect of this scene, it would still have been placed at the top of this list. It opens like a horror movie, layers of film piled on top of each other depicting an eerie wasteland set to haunting music. It creates so much interest and emotion in just the start of the movie, it makes this one of the most unforgettable movies of all time.
2. THE LION KING (1994)
The Lion King opens with easily one of the most iconic sequences (animated and otherwise) to date. With such emotion compiled into the birth of Simba accompanied by spellbinding visuals and music, we receive an opening scene that is wonderfully creative, incredibly detailed, and most of all, pure Disney magic.
1. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
There are few heroes in cinema greater than Indiana Jones and few movies greater than Raiders of the Lost Ark. This movie gave us one of the greatest character introductions in movie history as Indie dashes through trap after trap, attempting to escape the collapsing temple with his stolen idol. This sequence stands the test of time, over 35 years later; as wonderful as the Indiana Jones series can be, they haven’t ever topped the exciting pinnacle of the first movie’s opening 15 minutes.