5 Memorable Opening Shots in Movies

When I watch movies, I often look for great opening shots. These are the first things we see when the camera fades in from black and the film begins. A good director will often make a good opening shot to hook the viewer into the film, and here are five of my favourites, in no particular order:

Caché (2005)

The film opens with a deceptively simple stationary shot of the house of a wealthy French couple and their son. We soon release, in a perfectly Michael Haneke manner, that this is a videotape of their house recorded by an unknown person/s, who have then mailed the recording to the couple. A fantastic film which opens in an excellent manner.

Somewhere (2010)

Sofia Coppola’s newest film, and undoubtedly her best, is the excellent indie drama Somewhere. It opens with one of my favourite shots of all time, a shot quite similar to the opening of The Brown Bunny, except this shot is stationary and unmoving, a wise decision. If you find this boring and meaningless, then I suggest you watch the whole movie. If, after that, you still find it boring and meaningless… I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Oh, wow. Who could forget that awesome movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey? Obviously, a lot of people, as I was the only one in my family who didn’t doze off while the movie played on when I watched it when I was twelve after Stanley Kubrick died. From this magnificently epic opening shot and onwards, it catapulted my life into a realm of film and cinema. It’s so simplistic, yet so beautiful:

Boogie Nights (1997)

Steadicam, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Boogie Nights is easily number one. The opening shot actually really made me feel like I was cruising around the disco, checking out all the funky characters. Everything about it is perfect; the timing, the way it moves so rhythmically, and how awesome the seventies looked through the eyes of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video for this, which is sad, because the music is absolutely perfect in this scene, but let me cut it down to the bare basics. This is Stanley Kubrick being cheeky, which is something we very rarely get from the director, and is what makes the opening so unique. No one knew how to get an audience’s attention like Kubrick:

Now it’s time for…

Leave a comment with what you thought of my five choices, and name some of your own.

Thanks for reading.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on May 18, 2011, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Cache is such an unsettling gem. Michael Haneke is quite an underrated director IMO.

  2. The Boogie Nights long shot is great! I agree it makes you feel apart of the world from the get go!

    • I’m completely in love with Paul Thomas Anderson’s camerawork, especially in Boogie Nights and Magnolia (oh, and Robert Elswit’s cinematography in There Will Be Blood is awesome).

  3. The Boogie Nights assessment is dead on…I love that intro. It’d definitely be in my top five.

    Off the top of my head, I’ll give major props to Apocalypse Now’s intro. The Doors’ “The End” playing when the jungle goes up in smoke gives me chills. That it segues into Martin Sheen’s “Saigon. Shit, I’m still only in Saigon” rant is positively bone-chilling.

    Also, one of my favorite opening shots is in Dazed and Confused. I won’t apologize for loving that movie, and I adore the scene where Pickford’s GTO turns the corner slo-mo in the parking lot with “Sweet Emotion” blaring on the soundtrack. I remember seeing the pic when I was about 17 and realizing how much those first few images just made you long for summer.

    And, finally, I’ll admit that I’ve always really dug the beginning frames of Saturday Night Fever. Say what you will about that movie, but the sound of screeching train cars fading into the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” always gets me. Tony Manero’s bravado in the first three minutes, when he’s strolling down the street carrying a can of paint, checking out his shoes against another pair in a display window, only give us the slightest idea of what’s to come for the rest of the movie. A lot of people hate that movie, but I think it’s kind of a masterpiece–the grittiness, romance, humor and violence are somehow perfectly balanced. It’s not a perfect movie, but I love it anyway.

    • Apocalypse Now is one of my ten favourite movies of all time, and the opening is one of the reasons. Just watching it on a huge screen with the speakers cranked up to eleven really blows my mind, and I can’t believe it slipped my mind whilst doing this list. I might add it as a sixth sometime.

      I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen Dazed and Confused (though I plan to). It sounds awesome. I never really bothered with Saturday Night Fever, though I have seen the opening. You made some great choices. I admire your tastes! It takes guts to say that about a movie with a reputation like SNF.

  4. Great observations, especially Eyes Wide Shut, I thought the beginning and ending were so much more interesting than the nonsense in the middle. The beginning should definitely grab you and I like it best when it comes at the story from the side.
    Thanks
    Jim

    • I wouldn’t call the stuff in the middle ‘nonsense’ but if that’s your opinion I respect it. I agree with you about the ending, though. If this were a list of closing shots, that would definitely be in consideration.

  5. Great job with this list! I liked the top 2 picks because they are so well done, and it would only take two directors such as PT Anderson and Stanley Kubrick to get these images on screen.

  6. In The Heat Of The Night and 28 Days Later…Two of the best opens for me ever

  7. I must admit I didn’t read the heading of this post correctly and replaced the word ‘shots’ with ‘scenes’ in my head but I’ve written more than I can be bothered changing so scenes it remains.

    I don’t know where you are in your ‘film evolution’ (as I recently saw it cleverly formatted) but it would be safe to say your fully involved in your indie/classics period (one of the most exciting and inspiring transitions to undergo) hence this post on visuals that have commanded your attention. My cinematography fanaticism began and pretty much ended with Wes Anderson and now artistic choices involving the camera are less important to me. Although every now and then a first time director will reinvigorate my understanding of the importance of style that is so prominent in a film debut and I admire the passion that comes with it. You only have to watch A Single Man or The King’s Speech to know what I’m talking about. Yes it’s not Tom Hooper’s first film but the framing is so damn scintillating its hard to believe it isn’t.

    I would like to say that I’m glad you liked Coppola’s Somewhere as much as I was disappointed by it. I was so looking forward to it as the trailer was so insatiably charming. The film itself (as you stated) starts off strongly we understand straight away he is a man who has everything and nothing. Coppola whether intentional or not has a knack of fusing the fantastic with the mundane, a popular filmic motif but one that is hard to get right. It is pitch perfect in Lost in Translation and has moments of this greatness in Somewhere – no better example than the Twins packing up their stripper poles – but the difference is that Somewhere becomes too repetitive. Sofia is great at capturing ‘moments’ but as Somewhere progresses it has less to say until each following moment is a tautology of the last. You can debate to death the ‘artistic’ merits of the films ending, and I love a good open-ender, but when it comes down to it the finale is an uninspired cliche which comes off as lazy rather than profound. A Coppola cop out. The entire films substance can be condensed into the trailer.

    You mentioned The Brown Bunny but I will refrain from discussing Vincent Gallo today.

    Now Memorable Opening ‘Scenes’ in Movies.

    One of my all time favourite opening scenes is from the Irish comedy Intermission. It catches you completely off guard and sets the tone wonderfully for the rest of the movie. It is reminiscent of the opening of Way of the Gun which unfortunately, unlike Intermission, doesn’t live up to it’s opening.

    Another exquisite opening that encapsulates the rest of the film’s tone is the incredibly fearless film Happiness written and directed by Todd Solondz. It starts out awkwardly funny before becoming heart-wrenchingly tragic then back to bitterly and cruelly hilarious. The rest of the film is bound to divide audiences but those whom embrace it’s morbidly fascinating, darkly funny subject matter will be fans for life. (Boom shot!)

    And no matter how cynical my mind frame was as I prepared to watch it, as far as pure nostalgic resonance and grandiose spectacle go Toy Story 3 opens with the most guilty of pleasures but ultimately one of the most successful openings when it comes to absorbing the viewer immediately back into its world, no matter how long ago you last saw the original.

    I hope you do an Opening Scenes post yourself, or better yet, a Guilty Pleasures list. I like your posts as they are more or less positive in their love of film, or at least diplomatic. Everyone has their dirty little movie secrets and it’s always fun to see other people express their love of bad cinema rather than the hate. Cheers.

    • Wow, nice comment. I have to admit “Somewhere” was a tad uneven at times, but I felt Coppola’s filmmaking techniques (especially the use of stationary shots) to be strangely grabbing and deep. I could be full of shit, but there’s something admirable about the deeper meaning behind it, a meaning which coincidentally might seem synonymous with Solondz’ “Happiness”: a lot of people aren’t happy, and their sadness can lead to shallowness and self-rejection.

      I’d be interested to hear your opinions on Vincent Gallo, though I have a feeling you’re one of the haters.

      Doing a list of opening scenes is an intriguing idea, and I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for your thoughts, neocowboy.

      • Not a ‘hater’ so to speak but I do feel (and certainly in The Brown Bunny) his body of work has a strong aura of narcissism and misogyny. I don’t hate his work I just find him… trying.

    • Hmm… trying… That’s a new way to put it. There may be narcissism and a teensy weensy bit of misogyny there, but I personally don’t think it’s an overwhelming and unbearable amount. I like his movies.

  8. filminfluences

    Nice work! I did a little historical analysis of some influential opening shots (not scenes) and which films Boogie Nights was influenced by: http://filminfluences.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/opening-shots-a-tree-of-influence/

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