While a great film is the summation of its many parts all working in tandem to achieve something special, a stellar opening scene is something special in cinema. Hooking the audience from the get go can make people invest more deeply into a character or a story than they may have predicted, which in turn elevates the power of the film as a whole. In addition, a single scene can be a powerful self-contained narrative on its own, free from the larger film in which it is contained. Through the power of strong writing, directing, and acting, the vision of the film can be boiled down into one moment for something truly powerful.
The following 13 scenes are some of the best openings in movie history and are must-sees for anyone interested in the power of a single scene. The following are presented in no particular order and are not representative of the greatest ever. They are simply fantastic pieces of film.
The Dark Knight
Maybe the greatest introduction for a character in modern cinema? Director Christopher Nolan knew that Heath Ledger’s The Joker needed an epic entrance in The Dark Knight and his bank heist says volumes about both the character and the world of the narrative in just a few minutes. Blending both the realistic thrills of Michael Mann’s Heat and the superhero world of Batman Begins for a perfect balance of both, The Joker’s bank heist is filled to the brim with twists, deaths, and reveals from start to finish as the criminal robs a mob bank and kills off his own men at the same time. All the while, Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score creates a propulsive and unnerving feeling for the entire scene. This is how to start a film, and the twisted bank robbery opening will be remembered and studied for years to come.
Touch of Evil
One of the great single shot scenes in cinema and certainly one of its most influential due to its timing in film history, the beginning of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil starts off with a ticking time bomb placed in a car. From there, the camera tracks both the car and a newlywed couple walking in the area without ever cutting for three and a half minutes. Using all manner of camera techniques, the presence of the bomb adds an ever growing tension to the scene by simply having audiences know that it is there without seeing it again. It’s an expert course in uninterrupted cinematography and storytelling that hooks in audiences thanks to the very real danger at hand, which is only relieved when the bomb finally goes off.