First off, there are SPOILERS in this article. Please be aware of this before reading.
As I was writing the review for Jack Reacher, and remembering how great the opening of that film was, it got me thinking about my favorite opening’s to movies. Now, I am aware that Top 10 lists can be very emotive things, so I’m not holding this out as a definitive list, just a starting point for discussion. It would be great to hear other peoples comments, do you agree with my choices? Is there anything you would add or take away? Are there any great openings I have forgotten or not seen?
Anyway, enough of my yacking, lets boogie…
10 – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyders 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead was surely going to be a sacrilegious, money grabbing disgrace of a movie compared to the seminal George A. Romero original. There was no way that a film could match the brilliance of the original was there? As it happens, yes there was (almost!). Not only did Snyder create a fitting remake that did not betray the original (including the running Zombies!), he created a film that was good enough to stand on its own two feet. The opening of this film had to be good, to get the doubters on board straight away, as boy did it deliver. It is a classic horror movie set up. We start with our heroine at work in a hospital seemingly having a normal day, the script just referencing “bites”, the lady on the stretcher in the background with a bleeding neck wound (nothing unusual in a hospital!), the only suggestions that things may not be as they seem. And then “Have a Nice Day” by the Stereophonics kicks in as we drive home to a typical suburban home. It is a great opening to lull you into a false sense of security. We then wake up the next morning to the neighbors child standing in the bedroom doorway, and things just go crazy from there!
9 – Drive
The pink 80′s style font used in the credits for this film are enough to get your attention immediately, Ryan Goslings voice over explaining how he works, the soft electro beat that is slowly building in the background. In terms of atmosphere, there are not many films in recent memory that work as well as Drive. As the camera pans up you see Goslings character, simply called Driver, wearing an impossibly cool jacket, so cool in fact that you immediately want one, but in the same instant are crushed with the knowledge that you could never pull it off as well! Cut to the Driver on his way to pick up his car for the job, all the while that electro beat keeps building, until it kicks in as we pan out to the city scape, the playground of the Driver. What follows is a tense, electrifying get away sequence that culminates with the Driver calmly walking away from the car, seeming to melt into the crowd walking home from a ball game. All the while that electro beat is pumping away in the background, Drive is an outstanding illustration of the importance of the sound editors job in film making. Then we cut to some amazing 80′s style synth pop for the credits sequence. Its then we realise that we are only 10 minutes in and we are going to be having an immensely enjoyable couple of hours.
8 – Star Trek (2009)
J.J. Abrams re-imagining of the Star Trek universe is a thrill ride from start to finish, and probably stands as the blue print for all future sci-fi re-imaginings. However, it is the first 10 minutes of the film that really sticks in the memory. Captain Kirks birth, literally on the battlefield, is wonderfully imagined with a film stealing turn by Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk, Captain Kirks father. Under attack from a vengeful Romulan, George is thrust into being Captain after his predecessor is ruthlessly murdered. With the autopilot damaged (O.K., so this may be one of the biggest movie cliches ever!), and the need to pilot the ship while the rest of the crew escape, he speaks to his wife, naming his son as he’s born, all the while heading to his doom. Its brilliantly acted and directed, and surprisingly emotional for a big budget sci-fi film.
7 – Casino Royal (2006)
I am a big fan of the Bond series of films, but even a dedicated fan like myself knew that something needed to change after the invisible car madness of Die Another Day. The series needed freshening up and invigorating, and thats exactly what Casino Royal did. It introduced us to a new, modern Bond, one that was prepared to fight dirty rather than worry if his hair was out of place. The film starts in atmospheric black and white, as we join Bond on one of his first missions before becoming a ’00′. As the mark asks how his contact died, Bond simply replies ‘not well’ as we cut to a brutal fight in a bathroom while Bond notches up his first kill by drowning the henchman in a sink. It is a brutal opening, and one we were not expecting after the excesses of the Brosnan era. The scene ends brilliantly with Bond dispatching his second kill while quipping how much easier it is that time around. We then cut to a new take on the iconic gun barrel opening sequence as Bond puts a bullet in his first victim to finish him off. As we move into colour, the with classic blood red dripping down the screen, we know that the Bond franchise is in safe hands.
6 – Zombieland
I had not heard much about Zombieland before I saw it, so I had pretty low expectations when I sat down to watch it. After a grandstanding first 5 minutes however, I knew that this film was going to take its place in the movie hall of fame. We are not even a minute in and we already have a Zombie chowing down on the poor soul holding the camera. The narrator gets started on the ‘list of rules’ needed to survive Zombieland, and it is brilliantly funny. The director using on screen subtitles effectively to help explain them. Its a fresh take on the genre, the commentary is hilarious, while the onscreen pictures are pretty horrific. It is a contradiction that works really well and sets up the tone for the rest of the film perfectly. As the chimes of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls kick in, the opening credits roll with the zombies beginning to take over. In the space of 5 minutes, you are hooked and ready to settle down in Zombieland!
5 – The Descent
Neil Marshall’s brilliant horror The Descent, is one of the best and most scary films of the last 10 years. There are very few other films that will make you squirm with feelings of claustrophobia and terror as this film does, and it does not let up for its entire running time. The opening to the film is a classic example of a slow burn set up, from the exhilarating white water rafting sequence, to the clever introduction of the main characters and some of the issues surrounding them. It is a great piece of mis-direction, and ensures that you will not be ready for the sucker punch that hits around three minutes in. It really sets the tone for the rest of the film. You are in no doubt that this is going to be a dark, unsettling piece of film making.
4 – The Dark Knight
I was in two minds as to whether to include this on the list, as it seems like an obvious choice. However, I then sat down to watch the films opening again and was reminded just how brilliant it really is. Batman Begins was a great film, but nobody was prepared for just how outstanding The Dark Knight was. All of a sudden you did not feel like quite so much of a geek talking about comic book characters, as here was a film that universally loved, not just by comic book geeks like me, but by everybody. The opening 10 minutes of this film sets the tone perfectly. We had not seen a comic book film grounded in such reality before. It was also a perfect example of how to introduce your main villain, and of course Heath Ledgers turn as the Joker has gone on to be critically acclaimed, and rightly so. The film went on to make over a billion dollars at the box office, and is now part of one of the all time great movie trilogies. Its the opening of this film though, that really raised the bar for what is possible with comic book adaptions.
3 – Inglorious Basterds
Ok, so Quentin Tarantino has made better films than Inglorious Basterds. But the opening to the film is brilliant, and as good as the opening to Pulp Fiction is, I feel this just shades it. I had not heard of Christoph Waltz before, but after the opening interview he performs you know you will be hearing of him again in the future. The haunting piano and western like score that lays over the approach of two black cars is unsettling, and just as the character we see prepares himself for his visitors, the audience prepares itself for what is to come. It brilliantly cranks up the tension. But its Waltz’s performance that really makes the opening, he is simply brilliant as the Nazi agent, Hans Landa, all smiles and friendly gestures but with a subtle menacing undertone, you will certainly not see anyone else drink a glass of milk as sinisterly as Waltz does here! As the conversations unfolds, the unease of the audience grows until the climax, a harrowing and brutal explosion of violence as the Nazi officer completes his mission. The scene finishes with the surviving member of the murdered family escaping and running off into the hills, and just as you think Landa is going to gun her down, he lets her go.
2 – Goodfellas
There’s not much more to say about Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus that hasn’t already been said. Simply a classic, faultless piece of timeless filmmaking. You could write an article on the greatness of this movie alone. The opening scene is just one of numerous classic scenes. The credits cutting straight to the taillights of our main characters car, the bumping noises alerting our protagonists to unfinished business in the trunk, the cars tail light bathing Jimmy, Tommy and Henry in an unsettling red light as we await to see what the mysterious bumping is. It is all a brilliant set up to the horrifying, sickening violence that is magnificently portrayed by Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro, really hammering home that we are going to be in the company of some pretty bad people over the next couple of hours. And then the immortal line, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”. Genius!
1 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
It had to be really! Is there really another film out there that has as much of an exhilarating opening as Spielberg’s classic? As the Paramount Pictures logo fades away to reveal a mountain in the distance, we catch a glimpse of our hero from behind as he starts his trek through the increasingly inhospitable jungle. Indys reveal is expertly handled, amazingly taking a henchman’s gun away with his bull whip then emerging from the shadows. As a kid, from that moment on, all you wanted to be was Indiana Jones. The journey though the cave to the idol we are searching for is a classic example of how to make a family adventure film without treating the kids like they are kids. We have spiders, rotting corpses, poisoned darts, the gruesome (and pretty gory for a PG!) death of the remaining henchman, and of course the now legendary escape. They really don’t make films like this anymore. Couple that with an incredible musical score and you know this is a film that you are going to want to watch repeatedly for the rest of your life!
So there we have it! Any comments would be welcomed!