You’ve got a couple of minutes to build a world, fill it with characters, set a tone, and hook me into sticking around to see what comes next. Indeed, the opening scene of a film is a challenge. When it goes right, great opening scenes exist as a microcosm – a short introductory film that establishes so much about the feature to follow.
When compiling a list of cinema’s very best efforts in the opening of movies, I considered a number of factors but above all I needed to really love the simple sense of immersion the opening scene creates. The world, the rhythm, the ways that the upcoming film is going to push boundaries, or exercise restraint. Tone.
The only simple rule that I followed in the developing of this list is that the opening scene must truly open the film, and that scene must actually end. In other words, “Saving Private Ryan” would not qualify – as the hugely popular “D-Day” scene is not actually the opening scene of the film. Similarly, opening scenes that run something like 20 minutes would also not be eligible due to being more of a sequence than a scene.
So, read on for my list of the most iconic, the most fantastic, and the most original opening scenes in the history of cinema. Did I get it right, or did I leave out your favorite opener? Leave a comment after you’ve gone through the list – there’s always a chance I’ll write a follow-up blog to your suggestion if I haven’t seen a film, or haven’t revisited it recently enough to put it on a list.
10. Lord of War (2005) – The Life of a Bullet
Dir: Andrew Niccol
DP: Amir Mokri
The somewhat scarcely appreciated “Lord of War” stars Nicolas Cage as an illegal gunrunner negotiating a series of dangerous deals during his rise to power in a story purportedly based on the life of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The opening scene begins with a short monologue to camera from Nicolas Cage before launching into the excellent “Life of a Bullet” sequence. The camera is seemingly strapped to a single assault rifle bullet as it is assembled in a Soviet factory, loaded into a crate of bullets and transported to the front lines of the African warzone before finally being loaded into an AK-47 and fired into the head of a child soldier.
Great subtle use of CGI allows for this poignant examination of the purpose of weapons manufacturing, it is a wonderful overture of a theme expressed throughout the entire feature film.