Some horror movies—like Psycho, Alien, and The Shining—like to take things slow, gradually introducing their characters and their world before they unleash the real scares.
But for most horror movies, the opposite approach is taken: immediately grab the audience's attention with a terrifying opening scene that introduces the threat and sets the tone for what's to come.
Neither method is better than the other, but the immediate method does make a bigger impression on audiences right out the gate.
Here are our picks for the greatest horror movie opening scenes and introductions that made their point, left us wanting more, and ultimately stick with us all these years later.
10. The Conjuring (2013)
In 2013, James Wan's The Conjuring took the world by storm. Its masterful direction, charming leads, and chilling atmosphere impressed both critics and audiences alike, leading to one of the most successful horror movie franchises in history.
And it all started with a close-up of a creepy doll's eye.
The opening scene of The Conjuring tells the story of how paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren came into possession of Annabelle, a seemingly haunted doll.
And in just six minutes, this movie was able to keep audiences on the edges of their seats while introducing us to one of the most iconic horror icons of the 21st century.
9. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
In Hollywood, remaking any film is a tricky endeavor. Remaking a seminal classic like George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead? That's downright dangerous. Done without care, such an attempt could lead to critical panning, financial disaster, and career suicide.
Fortunately, the opening scene of 2004's Dawn of the Dead proved that this film wasn't going to be one of the countless disposable horror movie remakes that plagued the early 2000s.
Widely considered to be Zack Snyder's best film, Dawn of the Dead starts in an idyllic suburban neighborhood with an ER nurse named Anna living a perfectly normal life—until a zombified little girl invades her home and turns her husband into a flesh-eating zombie.
8. A Quiet Place (2018)
Who would've thought that The Office's lovable Jim Halpert would direct one of the best horror films of the 21st century?
In 2018, John Krasinski surprised everyone by releasing A Quiet Place, a smart, spine-chilling post-apocalyptic film that caught everyone's attention with its devastating opening scene.
In the first ten minutes, Krasinski brilliantly introduces us to the ruined world of our protagonists, the Abbot family, as they silently scavenge for supplies in a deserted town. They're afraid to make noise.
So when the youngest son secretly swipes a toy rocket, we all know what's going to happen—yet it's still shocking to see it on screen. It's an effective and emotionally devastating intro sequence that clearly establishes one thing: no one is safe in this world.
7. It (2017)
The 2017 adaptation of Stephen King's It had big (clown) shoes to fill after the 1990 miniseries traumatized an entire generation with Tim Curry's terrifying portrayal of Pennywise the dancing clown.
Fortunately, 2017's It proved up to the task from the very beginning. The movie starts with six-year-old Georgie, who heads out to play in the rain with a paper boat that his older brother Bill made for him.
When his boat falls down a sewer drain, Georgie encounters Pennywise, who offers to give him his boat back. The clown convinces Georgie to get closer—then rips off his arm and drags him into the sewer, effectively traumatizing a new generation of moviegoers.
6. It Follows (2014)
It Follows is an intelligent and wickedly original horror film about a young woman who's cursed with a supernatural entity that's always following her, slowly closing the distance to kill her.
The movie starts in a seemingly normal neighborhood, with a scared young woman running from something we can't see. She drives to the beach and tearfully says goodbye to her father over the phone. Seconds later, we see that she was brutally murdered.
We don't know how it happened or who did it, but now we know why she was so scared. It's an unsettling opening scene that leaves audiences intrigued and wanting more.
5. When A Stranger Calls (1979)
Even if you've never seen When A Stranger Calls, you probably know this scene. A babysitter receives a call from a stranger who asks if she has checked on the children.
Assuming it's a prank, she hangs up and pays no attention to it. However, when the stranger keeps calling, she grows increasingly more nervous—and when she finally contacts the police, they inform her that the calls are coming from inside the house.
It's one of the most famous plot twists in horror cinema, but what many people don't know is that the entire sequence occurs within the first twenty minutes of the movie. The rest of the film is a bit of a letdown.
Still, that iconic opening scene remains a classic all these decades later, which just goes to show how effective it was.
4. Final Destination 2 (2003)
Every Final Destination movie starts the same way: the main character has a vision of a terrible accident that kills a bunch of people.
Whether it's by plane crash, rollercoaster accident, or race track tragedy, the Final Destination franchise always manages to entertain, surprise, and one-up itself with each film's creative kills.
But the best opening scene is still the one from Final Destination 2, which involves a chaotic highway accident caused by a logging truck.
Not only does this sequence remind us how quickly a normal car ride can end in tragedy, but everyone who watched it became at least a little scared of driving behind logging trucks.
3. Scream (1996)
The opening scene of the original Scream is legendary for several reasons: the witty dialogue, the masterful direction by Wes Craven, the creepy atmosphere, but most of all, Drew Barrymore's iconic performance.
When Scream first released, Drew Barrymore was big-name actress who was marketed as the film's main protagonist. Nobody expected her to die within the film's opening scene!
That's something that no other horror movie had ever done. Even Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho allowed its star, Janet Leigh, to live past the 45-minute mark before she was unexpectedly stabbed to death in the shower.
The first 13 minutes of Scream elevated the film and turned it into a horror movie legend, so much so that it inspired numerous films to try imitating it—but none have ever come close.
2. Halloween (1978)
It's only fitting that the movie that revolutionized the horror genre also offered a masterclass on how to begin a horror movie: with an opening scene that leaves the audience both terrified and wanting more.
Halloween starts with a brilliantly executed long take from the perspective of the killer. We follow him as he grabs a knife from the kitchen, puts on a clown mask, and brutally murders a young woman who's sitting alone in her bedroom.
Then the shocking twist comes: the killer turns out to be a six-year-old boy named Michael, who just murdered his older sister.
In just five minutes, we're introduced to one of the most iconic, influential, and relentless horror movie villains of all time in Michael Myers. There's no sympathetic backstory or reasonable motive behind his actions besides him being pure evil.
1. Jaws (1975)
The opening scene of Jaws single-handedly made millions of people afraid of the ocean. Its influence and effectiveness cannot be overstated, which is why it's the best horror movie opening scene in history.
Steven Spielberg's direction, John Williams's score, and Susan Backlinie's acting came together so magnificently that this film gave sharks a terrible reputation—one that hasn't been shaken off yet.
Jaws starts with a young woman named Chrissy sneaking away from a beach party to go skinny dipping in the ocean, where she's suddenly attacked by a Great White Shark.
Due to the film's infamously hellish production with malfunctioning mechanical sharks, we never actually see the beast in the opening scene—but that just made it all the more scarier.
Jaws forces us to piece everything together using our imagination, and that's more frightening than anything we could see on screen. Nothing is scarier than the unknown.