If you’ve walked into the cinema 10 minutes late, or turned on the television after these movies have begun playing, forget about it – you might well have missed the best bit! Here’s 10 unmissable movie beginnings…
10. The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
Few words can describe just how good The Dark Knight is. Firstly, it should have been the difficult “second album” given director Christopher Nolan had already given us the brilliant Batman Begins. Secondly, how could any sequel live up to the qualities of the first film? But Nolan is a rare breed, a director of consistency not just in terms of an ability to deliver crowd-pleasing movies that marry artistic integrity and the qualities of a visionary auteur but with work that contains blockbuster potential and, importantly, a sense of innovation and originality. The Dark Knight captured all that and its awe-inspiring opening sequence which introduces us to one of comic book cinema’s greatest villains (in Heath Ledger’s Joker) through an almost wordless bank heist is an incredible achievement of sweeping camera movement and atmospheric sound.
9. Scream (Craven, 1996)
Miss the first ten minutes and effectively you’ve missed the best bit of Wes Craven’s 1990s slasher flick. Writer Kevin Williamson, fresh from his exploits wooing teens with teenage romance and associated angst in TV’s Dawson’s Creek, concocts a terrifically sadistic game of cat and mouse between horror movie fan Drew Barrymore (who just wants to eat popcorn and relax) and her knife-wielding attacker who phones up asking: “What’s your favorite scary movie!”.
8. Inglorious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
Christopher Waltz. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Tarantino gives the Austrian-born actor the chance to shine and he takes the opportunity with fangs gnawing and claws clawing. Waltz’s “Jew Hunter” is one of the scariest characters ever created by Tarantino. The opening sequence of Inglorious Basterds, in which Waltz’s SS colonel preys upon a well-meaning farmer in order to find and assassinate a Jewish family hiding under the floorboards, is unforgettable in its brutality and unrelenting in its agonizing build-up to tragedy.
7. Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)
Steven Spielberg introduces us to terror at sea in a terrific opening sequence that creates the unsettling notion of the unseen monster preying upon innocent swimmers enjoying the ocean. Miss happy-go-lucky swimmer Chrissie Watkins’ midnight nightmare at your peril.
6. Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, 1950)
Sunset Boulevard is a terrific meditation on the fading star of celebrity, looking inwardly at Hollywood itself, and a thrilling mystery based on who killed who and why. Miss the opening sequence in which we find a dead body floating in a pool and the effectiveness of the film’s flashback leading up to the event becomes somewhat diluted.
5. Star Wars (Lucas, 1977)
From the crawling text introducing us to a war already in the midst of fighting to the emergence of an Imperial Star Destroyer attacking a small Rebel Alliance ship, the first sight of evil Lord Darth Vader, and the escape of droids C-3PO and R2-D2, no one can afford to miss the start of Star Wars.
4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981)
Boulders the size of buses, mystical booby traps, long forgotten treasure, a snake on a plane and a fedora cap – it’s all there in the opening of Indiana Jones. Spielberg crams in everything from betrayal and retribution to desperate escape; it all happens in the first few minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a set of adventurous sequences no audience member can miss.
3. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
Jungle tranquillity is interrupted by an inferno of fire as incendiary bombs erupt to the tune of The End by The Doors and the cutter-cutter-cutter sounds of American Huey helicopters surveying the damage. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s hypnotic opening sequence in Apocalypse Now offers fleeting glances of Martin Sheen’s face, his consciousness appearing to be in and out; his nightmare the reality of his waking moment.
2. Touch Of Evil (Welles, 1958)
Orson Welles has had plenty of plaudits lavished upon his work over the years, after all he did co-write, produce, direct and star in Citizen Kane, the greatest film ever made in so many critics’ eyes. His 1958 “classic”, a film taken from his grasp and reconstituted by Universal which re-shot some elements of the film without Welles’ input, has grown in stature over the years thanks in part to a legacy built upon troubled beginnings, but mainly because audiences have warmed to yet another Welles masterpiece. The opening sequence is unmissable thanks to the immediacy of heightened tension (a time bomb is secreted in a car which a couple get into) and the lingering view we have on the scene (Welles giving us nowhere to hide from detonation as the camera never cuts away). The technical ingenuity of the tracking shot is matched by nihilistic anticipation of what’s to come. It’s the beginning of the end for film noir; a fitting conclusion to a much celebrated American genre.
1. Once Upon A Time In The West (Leone, 1968)
Epic in nature yet intimate in its cinematic dynamic, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West is the apotheosis of Spain’s spaghetti Western. In a matter of just a few magical minutes, Leone’s wide frame throws us crashing into a sun bleached “wild west” as three raggedy, gun-slinging antagonists await with agonising patience the arrival of a train. Typical of Leone’s approach to this perennially dangerous time, the innocuous quickly becomes conflicted by the arrival of Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing drifter. The relentlessness of the diegetic, natural sounds – squeaking metal joints and the buzzing of the insect kingdom – instil an unsettling mundaneness that anticipates, with a strange sense of serenity, the stinging blasts of gunfire.
Written and Compiled by Dan Stephens
Over to you: what are your top 10 unmissable movie openings?