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Opening Scenes So Good They Should Be Their Own Movie

May 27, 2021 1.3k votes 219 voters 15.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the movie openings that could stand on their own.

Cinematic opening sequences serve an important role. There's an old saying among authors that the first sentence of a book needs to be a "grabber" so that the reader wants to keep going. The same is true of a motion picture's first scene. If we aren't hooked right away, we'll start thinking about what we're having for dinner that night, or something that happened at work, or a million other things. On the other hand, if we are hooked, the fun is just beginning.

Some movies go a step further by having self-contained opening scenes. These are intros that essentially serve as short films. They may or may not have relevance to the overall plot. Either way, you could theoretically take them out of the picture and present them independently. This list will look at a few of the most notable examples, coming from a variety of genres, including horror, sci-fi, comedy, and action. Even if you don't feel like watching - or have time to watch - the whole movie, you can put on these intros and get a dose of viewing satisfaction.

Which of the following opening scenes is the best? Your votes will decide. 

  • The Dark Knight is a really great superhero movie that kicks off with a really great heist movie. A bunch of goons are wearing clown masks as they storm one of Gotham's banks. Employees and customers inside are terrorized. Then something odd happens. The goons begin firing upon each other until only two are left. One of the surviving members makes his way to an injured teller, ripping off his mask and revealing himself as the Joker. 

    It's a heck of a way to introduce one of comic books' most notorious villains. Director Christopher Nolan ramps up the tension in the scene, lulling us into thinking we're witnessing an average bank robbery, only to spring one twist after another on us. The reason why this scene works on its own is because it perfectly and succinctly demonstrates the Joker's evil. He has orchestrated a multi-level plan that involves not only robbing a bank, but also dispatching of the very people helping him pull it off. He even conceives of having a school bus crash through the bank's wall in order to provide a quick getaway.

    Everything we need to know about this iteration of the Joker can be found in The Dark Knight's opening minutes. 

    Great opening scene?
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark begins with a remarkable sequence that lets the audience know exactly what kind of experience they're in for. Indiana Jones makes his way through a Peruvian temple, where he eventually finds the golden idol he's been looking for. The place is obviously booby-trapped, so he knows he can't just snatch the thing and run. Estimating the weight of the idol, Indy removes some dirt from a bag he's holding, then swiftly makes a swap. For just a second, all seems well. He got the weight wrong, though, setting off a trap that leads to him barely outrunning a giant boulder rolling toward him. Once safely outside, his nemesis Rene Belloq takes the idol from him. 

    Indiana Jones faces all kinds of adventures in the movie. This is one of them. It serves no purpose to the overall plot, other than to establish Belloq as a villain. What it does do is provide us with a swift-yet-comprehensive portrait of Indy himself. In just a few minutes, we see what he does and the obstacles he routinely faces. His ingenuity is made clear, as is the roguish side that gives him the confidence to even try swiping ancient treasure. The sequence is exciting, too, with that boulder threatening to flatten him. 

    Great opening scene?
  • The 2009 Star Trek movie does something remarkable - it introduces us to a whole new Starfleet, then proceeds to eliminate them all. The sequence takes place onboard the USS Kelvin, a ship much like the more familiar Enterprise. A Romulan ship attacks it, then slays the captain during what is supposed to be a peace negotiation. First Officer George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) takes over while crew members get his pregnant wife to safety. Just after their baby boy is born, Kirk flies the Kelvin into the Romulan ship, sacrificing himself and anyone left onboard in order to stop the hostile aliens.

    If you want to talk about a movie that has everything, this segment is it. Sure, it's just the prelude, but it takes you through the wringer. It's got suspense, action, romance, joy, and tragedy, all in eight fast-paced minutes. In the larger scheme of things, this scene is just a little backstory about James T. Kirk's birth. Nonetheless, this dazzling intro is also a full-fledged Star Trek adventure that incorporates much of the lore the series has worked hard to establish. 

    Great opening scene?
  • Not only is the opening scene of Up satisfying on its own, but the sequence is also a grade-A tearjerker. In the course of just a few minutes, it takes us through the relationship of Carl and Ellie in a touching montage. The two meet as children, grow up to get married, buy a home, and suffer the heartbreak of miscarriage when they attempt to start a family. Then Ellie becomes ill and passes away, leaving Carl alone.

    Lots of movies make you cry at the end. Finding one that makes you cry at the beginning is rare. Pixar outdoes itself with this sequence. It may be the best piece of work they've ever done. As used in the film, it's a prelude of sorts, helping us understand who Carl is and why he'll eventually go on a journey. That said, you could totally take the sequence out of the picture altogether and release it as a short. This six-minute masterpiece is thoroughly touching. 

    Great opening scene?