Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They are both born and made by the events of their lives, defining their moral compass and reaching a capacity for good on which audiences thrive.
The moment we meet the hero is a crucial moment in cinema that carries a great weight upon its shoulders. That first introduction of a character defines the movie that’s about to unfold, making it the movie’s most potent strength—or, when executed poorly, its undoing.
Which first moments caught us off guard? Which introductions rose above the average clichéd encounter? Here are our picks for the best movie hero introductions and why they’re great.
8. The Terminator (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
When that ominous blue sphere appears after an electrical storm, we know what’s coming back in time. Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 return for more killing sent shivers up our spine as we suspected the machine had been sent back to kill John Connor.
However, when Schwarzenegger’s machine takes some clothes, boots, and a motorcycle from a group of bikers, we felt that something was different—he doesn’t ruthlessly murder them for attacking him.
And when the T-800 grabbed hold of John Connor to shield him from the T-1000’s bullets? That’s when we realized that Schwarzenegger was the hero this time. It’s a moment that elicited excited gasps from us, who only knew Schwarzenegger as the villain up ’til now.
7. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars: A New Hope)
When Luke Skywalker becomes victim to an attack by the Sandpeople, he’s knocked unconscious. The creatures rife through his belongings, at least until a man in a large hooded cloak appears, waving and screaming in a way that frightens them away.
As the man gets closer to the passed-out Luke, he checks on the boy, then looks up at R2-D2 and removes his hood to reveal his face.
For the first time in the Star Wars saga, we meet a Jedi Knight in the form of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. It may not be the most overtly huge moment in Star Wars, but meeting Obi-Wan has profound significance.
6. Batman (1989’s Batman)
Starting in a Gotham City alleyway, we watch as two criminals rob an unsuspecting family before running off to a nearby rooftop to comb through what they’ve looted. As they count their haul, something lands behind them—a figure in a black suit looking fearsome.
The two sense that something is standing behind them… and they look up to see Batman for the first time. Terrified out of their minds, they try to escape only to be brutally beaten up by Batman.
The Dark Knight dangles one of the thieves off a ledge. He utters the immortal cinematic line: “I’m Batman.” Then leaves as silently as he arrived. In doing so, he shows us that this is everything we’ve ever wanted from the comic book hero.
5. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
The virtue and dignity of Atticus Finch make the character live on screen via Gregory Peck’s extraordinary performance. However, when we first meet him through the eyes of Scout Finch, it feels as though a character is merely introducing us to her dad and nothing more.
Atticus Finch’s unassuming presence doesn’t strike us until the movie begins to focus on his legal case in defending Tom Robinson. But as a man? Atticus is fallible and not without his distractions, as any of us are.
Meeting Atticus almost feels uninspired. He and Scout talk about how poor they are, and he attempts to convince Jem to come out of his treehouse. He fails to do so, and so he leaves his son there.
At first sight, it’s obvious that Mr. Finch is a dignified man who demands and gives respect, but he’s a father first and foremost. That gives him a familiar edge, which leads him through the film.
4. Superman (1978’s Superman)
Among all the Superman scenes on the big screen, none compare to the moment when Christopher Reeve first reveals himself and saves Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane from a crashed helicopter.
As she dangles from the wreckage, he sees her from below and pulls his shirt apart to reveal his iconic crest. Then, as Lois finally slips and plunges to her imminent death, Superman catches her just in time—along with the helicopter as it slides off the building, too.
John Williams’ score perfectly captures the magnitude of the sequence as Lois and Superman meet for the first time. Back in 1978, this scene made audiences truly believe that a man could fly.
3. Shane (Shane)
The opening sequence of Shane sees the mysterious gunslinger riding through the valley before reaching a homestead, where he’s hired as a farmhand… and that’s it.
What holds the sequence together is the history behind Shane. He appears to be somebody who can handle himself. His clothes aren’t worn rags. He has a nice pistol. His personality is reserved, almost withdrawn.
Of course, the film’s finale shows us who Shane is and what he can do with the gun in his hand. But that first sequence? It gives us something to hold onto as the layers of the character slowly unravel. We know he’s a hero, but we don’t know what kind of hero he is just yet.
2. James Bond (Dr. No)
Is there a better movie introduction to the sheer coolness of a character like James Bond in Dr. No? No, there isn’t.
As the opening of Dr. No plays out, we find ourselves slowly making our way through a casino before settling at a poker table. One man appears to be in control of all the other players at the table, especially a beautiful woman who’s betting against him.
As the as-yet-unseen man tells the woman that he “admires her courage,” she returns the compliment by saying, “I admire your luck, Mr…” And the suave man cuts her off: “Bond. James Bond.”
There he is. We see Sean Connery wearing a tuxedo, winning the game, and lighting a cigarette with an intently debonair look on his face. In that moment, we learn everything we need to know about him—and it’s a moment that stands out even 60 years later.
1. Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
A mysterious man with a stetson hat navigates his way into a temple that’s hidden deep within a jungle. He expertly avoids the booby traps set for interlopers such as himself. He’s there to snatch a golden idol.
As John Williams’ score rises to crescendo, Indiana Jones measures out the weight of a bag of sand and swaps it with the golden idol. For a moment, all is well… until the bag sinks and the calm-until-now journey instantly shifts into a daring getaway.
While escaping the cave—and the iconic stone boulder—Indiana Jones runs into his great rival, who tells the local tribe to kill Indy as he takes the prize from him. That’s when Indy bolts for a nearby seaplane.
It all sounds very heroic, but Harrison Ford brings an element of comedy to Indiana Jones that makes him more than just a swashbuckling rogue. He’s all of us as he terrifyingly runs from murderous tribesmen, and that made Indy instantly loveble—and a hero in every sense of the word.