'It’s as rich in symbolism as it is in character, as visually impressive as it is emotionally resonant. [It] 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.'
1968 / Sergio Leone
'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.'
1972 / Francis Ford Coppola
'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.'
1971 / Nicolas Roeg
'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.'
1958 / Orson Welles
'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).'
2009 / Quentin Tarantino
'You won’t find a more intense opening scene, or one with higher stakes, life and death hanging in the balance. Hans Landa is portrayed as a monster, but a clever monster, the sort of villain that’s made all the more terrifying by his poise and polish.'
1979 / Woody Allen
'The opening lays down its inexpressible love for the city with rushed class, matching the fits and starts of Allen’s tortured monologue to the unstoppable drive of Gershwin’s music.'
1987 / Wim Wenders
'We open on a city — it looks like Berlin, but it’s hard to tell from the skies. Wim Wenders’ camera swoops around a number of seemingly random citizens, capturing their unfiltered interior monologues as the various people think about whatever.'
2007 / Paul Thomas Anderson
'The opening scene...shows the awful price early oil men paid.... Endlessly toiling in the dust and grime of America, the first four-and-a-half-minutes portray his grim determination and sacrifice.'
1929 / Dziga Vertov
'When Vertov looked at a camera, he didn’t see a means of preserving what the naked eye can see, but a contraption capable of bettering it. For Vertov, the camera offered the world as we know it, seen as we can’t.'
1974 / Orson Welles
'“During the next hour, everything you’ll hear from us is really true, based on solid facts.”... This film about trickery messes with our perception from the very beginning, confusing and manipulating the audience with the skill of a great and entirely fraudulent magician.
1995 / Martin Campbell
'Are there opening shots more spectacular than Pierce Brosnan as James Bond bungee- jumping down the breathtakingly enormous Contra Dam in Switzerland?'
1960 / Federico Fellini
'A broad landscape is taken in, and a statue of Jesus hangs from the helicopter, the marriage of technology and the old world juxtaposed with women in bikinis heralding the arrival of a new religious icon.'
2000 / Bela Tarr
'Captured in one fluid 10-minute take, the film opens with a man named Janos using the patrons of his local bar to create and narrate a living diorama of the human condition. That’s not some flowery crap, that’s literally what happens.'
1961 / Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
'The threatening choreography is fantastic, and the initial fight between the Sharks and the Jets has become rightfully iconic. Even better, however, are the handful of opening shots of New York City.'
1975 / Steven Spielberg
'Still, as the film that established Steven Spielberg, it’s easy to pick up on the broad appeal the luminary director will make a standard of his future cinematic offerings. And we’re all still a little afraid of the water.'
1964 / Samuel Fuller
'Towers gives the rough and tumble performance of a lifetime, assaulting the camera with her shoe and throwing off her wig with vengeful aplomb. It was shocking then, and it’s only somewhat less shocking today.'
1958 / Alfred Hitchcock
'The music jolts, and we open on a chase scene across rooftops. Gunfire and a fervent desperation to escape, but why?'
1992 / Robert Altman
'An extended and dizzyingly fluid sequence shot that floats around a studio lot, Altman introduces us to executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) as he fields pitches, but — more importantly — maps out the cutthroat and incestuous world in which he operates.'
1993 / Mike Leigh
'David Thewlis, having sex in an alley. He’s violent, somewhat sadistic and practically Dostoevskian in his intensely self-absorbed and brutal perspective. At the beginning, however, we don’t know that.'
1960 / Mario Bava
'A 17th century Moldavian witch is faced with trial by fire, branding and eternal condemnation. Yet the final mask of the demon (the Italian title of the film) makes this sequence iconic, an evocative image of violence you won’t easily forget.'
1956 / John Ford
'It’s a reunion, the man from nowhere coming home, the blue sky of the American West setting a tone we’ll later see modern directors like The Coen Bros. emulate.'
1941 / Orson Welles
'This isn’t about “Rosebud.” The whole point of “Rosebud,” the cinema’s most famous single-word mystery, is that it’s decidedly not a codex to unlocking the impenetrable Charles Foster Kane, a man as fundamentally unknowable as any other.'
1996 / Danny Boyle
'The topic? Heroin, and the joy it brings our protagonist, Renton. Boyle also establishes the other characters with a stylish focus, from Sick Boy not even making a play on the soccer ball to Begbie completely taking out a fellow player with an illegal slide.'
2003 / Sofia Coppola
'Yes, I’m talking about the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s a**. In fact, I’m only talking about the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s a**.'
Year / Director
Opening Scene Description
1993 / Krzysztof Kieslowski
'Among the most beautifully photographed scenes on this (or any other) list, the opening of Kieslowski’s renowned trilogy is in some ways enigmatic – Juliette Binoche, the protagonist and star, does not even appear on screen.'
2009 / Pete Docter
'If you take a prospective friend or mate to see it, and they don’t cry, then they are a heartless monster. There is no middle ground to this argument!'
1954 / Akira Kurosawa
'The film’s opening sequence isn’t particularly flashy; bandits ride up to the bluff overlooking a small village, ultimately deciding to return a few months later and get their pillage on. One of the villagers overhears the chatter, and we cut to a gaggle of peasants gathering in the center of town, asking “Why has God forsaken us?” to the heavens.'
2011 / Lars von Trier
'The images become like ghosts or the memories of a bad dream, haunting the spectator as we watch Kirsten Dunst’s character unravel en route to a final apocalypse.'
1961 / Pier Paolo Pasolini
'Very, very few actresses have the screen presence of Anna Magnani.... [B]egins at a wedding banquet, with the volcanic actress driving some pigs into the banquet hall with a broom, as a joke for the newlyweds and their assembled guests (a quintessentially Pasolini moment).'
1979 / Francis Ford Coppola
'We see Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) eyes and his cigarette. The trees burn, choppers cross the screen in a dance of death, a revolver shares Willard’s bed.'
1963 / Jean-Luc Godard
'[I]sn’t the only film in which the opening credits are narrated to the audience rather than presented as text, but Godard’s formalist drama of film, image, and infidelity is certainly the most aggressive (almost hostile) example.'
1955 / Robert Aldrich
'A woman, out of breath, needs help. Are we in a thriller? Are we in a romance? Neither and both, we’re deep into one of the most important genres, film-noir, and we can expect huge amounts of moody entertainment to follow.'
1991 / Lars von Trier
'“You will now listen to my voice,” Max von Sydow commands over the monochrome image of a train slowly rolling into oblivion, and resistance is futile.... Be there at ten, or you'll miss the last train.'
2006 / Alfonso Cuaron
'There are no more children, but Clive Owen has coffee and alcohol to drink, even as London in 2027 explodes all around.'
1941 / Preston Sturges
'The title “The End” hits the screen before we even get to meet Joel McCrea, cleverly confusing us and setting up the frisky spirit of cinema’s greatest love letter to comedy and upended expectations.'
1972 / Werner Herzog
'The tale of a doomed 16th century expedition for the storied city of El Dorado,...kicks off by foreshadowing its hero’s descent into madness with a literal descent of its own, as a parade of extras walk down the world’s most terrifying mountain path.'
2010 / David Fincher
'Yet what shines here is the structure of the dialog, the way Sorkin’s impulses weave through each other and into the inevitable break-up that will set Zuckerberg down the road of greatness, anxiety, and a*****ery.'
1990 / Martin Scorsese
'A film for which Martin Scorsese was robbed of Best Director glory,...opens with a freeze frame and boozy music. We see Ray Liotta, a voiceover, a crime syndicate’s methods portrayed as simple yet entirely effective.'
1945 / David Lean
'The scene is almost meaningless the first time around. Yet after you’ve seen David Lean’s romantic classic once, the tears begin to well up from the establishing shot of the café’s interior. It’s a masterpiece of longing, tissues necessary.'
1972 / Bob Fosse
'There’s plenty of actual dancing, the girls introducing the joyfully lewd and vaguely sinister spirit of the Kit Kat Club. Yet this is about more than just the nightlife of Berlin.'
1985 / Terry Gilliam
'Start your film off with an unexplained explosion and you’re likely to grab an audience’s attention. The introduction of two villains, terrorism and a totalitarian state, indicate we’re in for a topsy-turvy ride.'
1999 / Patrice Leconte
'Patrice Leconte’s woozily romantic and criminally under-seen fable kicks off with a beautiful woman named Adele testifying about her splintered love life in front of a faceless jury.'
1999 / Paul Thomas Anderson
'And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just ‘Something That Happened.’ This cannot be ‘One of Those Things…‘ This, please, cannot be that.''
1966 / Vera Chytilova
'Marie I and Marie II sit against a wall, bored out of their minds. And then a realization: “When everything is being spoiled, we’ll be spoiled too!”'
1992 / Quentin Tarantino
'You know the scene. A bunch of gangsters sit around a diner table as the one with the biggest chin offers an alternative reading of a famous pop song. That’s it, really.'
1996 / Wes Craven
'Wes Craven’s self-aware sense of pitch-black humor is complimented only by his ability to engineer a freaky horror set piece, in this case one of the best of all time.'
1968 / Stanley Kubrick
'Stanley Kubrick clues you in to the type of film experience you’re about to have, full of weighty themes and incredible visuals.'
1994 / Rob Minkoff
'The opening scene...offers up the only African chant that’s immediately recognizable to most Americans this side of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album. The sun rises, the song continues, and all the animals herald a new dawn.'
1998 / Brian De Palma
'Kicking off with an absurdly complex 12.5-minute tracking shot that combines De Palma’s dual loves of seediness and nested images as it follows Nicolas Cage (at his sleaziest) as he works all the angles in the lead up to a title fight in Atlantic City.'