Sofia CrimiVaroli | Friday, September 15, 2023
A movie’s opening scene may well be the most important scene in a movie. Oftentimes it is overlooked, but it can carry just as much weight as the ending scene. It introduces key characters, frames the time and location and sets the mood for the entire movie. A great opening scene has to be a hook for the audience, drawing them in and giving them all the important information and dynamics without boring them. And yet, all too often we forget about these introductions. So, today, I will be showing appreciation for what I believe to be some of the best opening scenes in movie history.
I have this theory that Steve Buscemi can make any movie better, and the opening scene of “Desperado” does nothing to disprove this claim. When Buscemi strolls into the cantina in this movie, greeted with threatening stares, he maintains his air of confidence and ignorance, graphically retelling events he’d witnessed in a shootout earlier. Not only does it make for a fun scene, but it paints an intimidating picture of Antonio Banderas’ character, who we have yet to meet. Buscemi goes on talking for the entire scene, his incredible delivery and disposition selling his story to the bar patrons. I love a scene like this one. It is so simple and has potential to be great or ultimately forgettable based on the actor.
“Scream” is a revolutionary movie in many ways. It completely revitalized the horror genre in the ‘90s, and it’s no wonder that “Scream” has one of the most famous opening scenes in movie history. We must first understand that “Scream” was marketed as a Drew Barrymore movie. As a famous actress, she was in the forefront of promotions and posters. As far as the public was concerned, she was the protagonist of the entire movie. So, when the first scene plays and she is brutally murdered, it throws the audience in a complete loop. It shows right off the bat that nobody is safe and anybody, even the star, is on the chopping block. This is a marketing ploy that could never be successfully executed today.
“The Dark Knight”
Every audience loves a good heist, and “The Dark Knight” delivers. This opening scene introduces the Joker’s goons, displaying their hostility, greed and attitude towards others and within the organization. Not only is it a beautiful, cinematic scene and a carefully thought out heist, but it is a classic Joker scheme straight out of the comic books — complete with henchmen, bombs, double-crosses, elaborate getaways and the infamous clown masks. It also helps us understand the twisted, intricate mindset of the Joker and gives us everything we want in a Batman movie. Until the end, we don’t even know this scene is introducing us to one of the greatest movie villains of all time.
Need I explain why this absolute emotional roller coaster of a scene gets a spot on this list?
I don’t think any other movie has brought their audience to tears in such an immediate time frame. All in the first scene, you’re laughing at childhood nostalgia, smiling at a blossoming relationship, tearing up at the inability to start a family, dreaming of growing old with someone you love and then sobbing at the death of the one person who truly loves you. DreamWorks actually put a miscarriage subplot in the opening scene of their children’s movie. This scene is filled with all the whimsical nature of childhood and the adventurous spirit Carl and Ellie had as children that fuels their desire to visit Paradise Falls, which will direct the entire plot of the movie. This is a super effective setup to the movie — we completely understand Carl’s motivation and relate to him before the five-minute mark.
Honorable mentions: Once Upon a Time in the West, Hercules, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pulp Fiction
Coming in at number one is Christoph Waltz’s incredible opening scene in “Inglorious Basterds.” This is one of the most brilliantly performed scenes in any movie I have ever seen. Waltz brings an excellent delivery in every scene in “Inglorious Basterds,” always managing to feel three steps ahead of any other character. This scene rivals some of John Carpenter’s for the most intense, suspenseful six minutes in any movie. The entire conversation between Colonel Hans Landa and Monsieur LaPadite with Ennio Morricone’s score in the background is off-putting and discordant, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats. We know the LaPadites are harboring a Jewish family, but does the Colonel know? When he launches into a monologue about his nickname and how he got it, the audience is captivated, holding their breaths with the Deyfuses as Landa stares into the soul of Monsieur LaPadite. Ultimately, it is a breathtaking scene that I firmly believe no other actor could have pulled off and it sets up the tone of the movie and the fear we should all have for Colonel Hans Landa.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.