A great movie opening sets the tone for the rest of the film. Even if it doesn’t give you much information off the bat, it gives you a taste of what kind of movie you’re in for.
Most movie openings establish the main character or villain in the first scene—and that may not always be a person. For example, in The Shining, we meet the hotel before we meet any of the actors, which makes sense since the hotel is indeed the main character.
Here are some of the greatest opening movie scenes of all time. Not only do they perfectly set the foundations for their individual stories, but they hook you and make you want to keep watching.
Did your favorite opening movie scene make the cut?
11. Casino Royale
Casino Royale set the stage for a new kind of James Bond, and this opening scene made sure we knew that right from the start.
It’s filmed in black and white, it’s ugly, and it’s brutal. The action is realistically desperate, clumsy, and chaotic. There’s none of the stylized glamour or irony that Bond was traditionally known for.
Instead, this opening scene establishes Bond as a cold and uncompromising killer. People may now be tired of the brooding, serious Bond at the time I’m writing this, but few can deny that it worked exceedingly well when this movie came out.
Gladiator might be the greatest “swords and sandals” movie ever made, and we get that feeling right from the get-go.
The opening scene of Gladiator is a masterclass and gold standard for how ancient warfare ought to be depicted in movies. Not to say that the warfare is historically accurate—but it looks amazing, it develops character, and it’s downright entertaining.
How could you see an opening scene with lasers and skull-crushing robots in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse and NOT want to keep watching?
Combine it with the suspenseful, adrenaline-pumping musical score and you have no choice but to sit with your eyes glued to the screen, hooked for whatever incredible action is still to come.
The opening scene of Terminator 2 has all of these things and more. It’s only one of the iconic scenes in a movie full of some of the most iconic scenes in movie history.
8. Blue Velvet
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This is the perfect opening scene for Blue Velvet, a movie about the darkness that hides beneath the surface of an idyllic American suburban neighborhood.
A man suffers a heart attack on the grass he was watering. The school buses drive on by. His dog bites at the water from the hose still in his hand. The manicured order of the suburban world continues unabated by his tragedy.
And just beneath him, insects writhe around below the surface—always there but out of sight and out of mind.
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“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
This is the first line from the movie adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It effectively sets the stage for what you’re in for.
This movie, like the book, begins with an intense chaotic energy that somehow keeps up for its entire bizarre duration.
Jurassic Park is iconic in so many ways, and its opening scene is no exception. It’s the perfect way to introduce a movie monster.
The opening scene successfully shows the audience how dangerous and powerful this monster is. You experience the monster’s terrifying and destructive nature as it lifts a man into the air and drags him screaming into its cage.
But the audience is never shown what exactly the monster is. Viewers are left horrified, guessing, hooked—and they’re perfectly primed for the rest of the movie’s ride.
When it comes to the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, rumor has it that Martin Sheen got really drunk prior to filming. He went on to cut his hand after punching a mirror, and then tried to attack director Francis Ford Coppola.
This understandably freaked out the film crew, who wanted to stop shooting—but Sheen insisted that they keep rolling. Ethics aside, the end result couldn’t have been a better opening introduction for his character and the movie.
There are countless movies that open with heist scenes. Many of them are even quite good. But even among such contentious competition, the opening scene from Heat remains one of the best.
One of the best aspects of Heat—not just in its opening scene but as a movie overall—is the level of realism that exists in all of its action scenes. That alone places it several levels above most other action movies.
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The Godfather opens with one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. In just a few minutes, it develops the character of Don Corleone into a full picture. We understand who he is, what he values, and how he operates.
Interestingly, nobody planned on having a cat in this sequence; director Francis Ford Coppola saw it running around the studio and put it in Marlon Brando’s hands. When Coppola later listened to the scene, he could barely hear Brando’s lines over the cat’s purring.
2. The Shining
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The Shining opens with a beautiful aerial shot of the vast wilderness that’s about to isolate the characters and the audience for the duration of the movie.
Accompanied by a foreboding electronic medieval hymn, it effectively sets the tone for the story that’s about to unfold.
Sure, you can see the shadow of the helicopter that they used to film the scene with—but everything else about this sequence is so good that I think we can let that slide.
This tense scene that opens Inglourious Basterds has a well-deserved reputation as one of Quentin Tarantino’s greatest movie scenes of all time.
It clocks in at just under 20 minutes, and nearly all of that screen time is dialogue. But the acting, the subtext, and Tarantino’s craftsmanship put you on the edge of your seat—it’s more thrilling than many action movies manage to be.