(SPOILER ALERT!) If the opening scenes of Up don’t tug on your heartstrings, then nothing will. We meet a young Mr. Fredricksen who finds his soul mate, Ellie. They fall in love, get married, grow old together, and have their happily ever after until Ellie becomes ill and dies. And there goes the first box of tissues.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Staying true to its Saturday serial inspirations, the film that introduced the world to Indiana Jones starts as in medias res as possible, with our fedora-wearing hero and an unlucky Alfred Molina infiltrating a Peruvian temple to claim a golden idol. Poisoned darts, booby traps, and, most iconically, one enormous rolling boulder start the adventure off with such a breathless bang that the film’s real triumph is that it didn’t go downhill from there. —Keith Staskiewicz
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
Who knew a group of men running in slow motion on the beach would become so iconic? Thanks to Vangelis’ opening song, ”Titles,” we have this scene to thank for all subsequent slow-motion montages. (And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t hummed this song while running myself.)
Initially there is silence, and then eerie music leads us to the final resting place of Charles Foster Kane. The camera draws us inside the castle and we see the famous close-up of lips saying ”Rosebud.” Kane drops the snow globe in his hands and dies. (All this in the first three minutes!)
Anyone who questions Woody Allen’s skill as a visual director need only look at the lyrical ode to the Island of No-Turns-On-Red that opens Manhattan. Gorgeous black-and-white images of the city’s cloud-scratching skyline are set perfectly to the heady clarinet wails of ”Rhapsody in Blue,” even as Allen’s stuttering voice-over pokes fun at this very over-romanticization: ”He adored New York City….” Indeed, he did. —Keith Staskiewicz
Starting with a view of Earth, the camera pulls back in space through many galaxies with the audio moving backward in time. The image eventually becomes a glint in Ellie’s eye.
WEST SIDE STORY
With all its finger snapping and dancing, this nearly nine-minute-long scene was a perfect introduction to the two groups of fleet-footed street gangs at the center of the Oscar-winning musical, and the extent of their conflict.
”The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.” This film starts out at the fear center of our nameless narrator’s (Edward Norton) brain. The camera then pans all the way out, following the narrator’s fear impulse out of his skull until we see his beaten and bruised face.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
Sarah (Kristen Bell) arrives at her boyfriend Peter’s (Jason Segel) house just as he finishes showering. She then breaks up with him as he stands there completely naked. Most awkward breakup of all time? Quite possibly.
Is that a flat tire? Nope. It’s a live body in the trunk; a few more stabs and gunshots will do the trick though! ”For as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster,” says Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Mission accomplished.
The 1988 cult classic opens with a Rachel Sweet ode to, well, hairspray, as the kids of the Corny Collins show get ready for action. Thank goodness they have their ”magic potion in a 12 ounce can” to keep their hair styled to perfection. (I’m guessing this opening scene is probably flammable from all that hairspray.)
Who knew four bars of music could instill such paralyzing fear? It’s one of the scariest 60 seconds in cinematic history and pretty much guarantees people won’t be going anywhere near the water after seeing the film.
THE LION KING
All the animals gather at Pride Rock to see Simba, the newborn cub of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi. Simba will be the new king, because this is the Circle of Life.
Katherine Bigelow’s grungy dystopian noir is often unfairly overlooked, partly because of a shaky last act. The beginning, however, is gangbusters. In one frenetic three-minute-long extended take, she takes us through a vicious robbery gone wrong as seen through the eyes of one of the robbers. It’s the perfect introduction to a world in which voyeurism is a top commodity. —Keith Staskiewicz
Before American Beauty, before Desperate Housewives, this classic noir was narrated from beyond the grave. After an inventive credit sequence, in which the actors? names are projected onto the asphalt of the titular roadway, we are given the shocking and indelible image of William Holden doing a dead man’s float in a backyard pool, even as the actor sarcastically tells you about it in voice-over. —Keith Staskiewicz
A simple breakfast conversation shared by Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, evolves into a great scheme to rob the diner they’re in. The two seal the plan with a kiss, pull out their guns, and the opening credits roll. They had no idea what lay ahead…and neither did we.
Quentin Tarantino opened another movie with a diner scene as Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, gangster Joe Cabot, and his son sit around the table eating breakfast. The men have an analytical discussion of Madonna’s ”Like a Virgin” and Mr. Pink’s anti-tipping policy.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
The movie opens with a World War II veteran visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The man drops to his knees in tears, and then the scene cuts to June 6, 1944, the beginning of the Normandy invasion. The movie is known for the intense depiction of the Omaha Beach assault, but its emotional opener set us up for the joltingly violent war scene.
”Why do you want to know my name?” ”Because I want to know who I’m looking at.” In the first few minutes of this teen horror classic, we hear a telephone conversation that makes me never want to be home alone again. Completely terrifying.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Julie Andrews’ character, Maria, basks in the beauty of the Alps by belting out the opening number of the 1965 classic, The Sound of Music. The hills are indeed alive.
STAR WARS: EPISODE IV
”A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … It is a period of civil war.” And thus begins most famous text crawl of all time. The Star Wars theme and floating yellow type set the stage for the epic space franchise that lives on today.
THE DARK KNIGHT
In this opening sequence, Heath Ledger’s Joker robs a bank with his accomplices, and successfully tricks them into killing each other, allowing him to keep all the money. And with that, one of the greatest portrayals of this classic villain was born.
”No one gives it to you. You have to take it,” Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) tells us, setting the stage for this 2006 Boston crime film. Sure, he’s a bad dude doing bad, bad things, but it’s a heck of a good line.
On this, the day of his daughter’s wedding, the Don cannot turn down a request. As the undertaker pleads for a favor, the camera slowly zooms out until we finally see Corleone’s imposing tuxedoed figure stroking a cat on his lap. Bonasera. Bonasera.
”Things got out of control, and we lost Doug.” These guys lost the groom at the bachelor party, and experience the Worst. Hangover. Ever.
The romantic drama opens with a view of a lake at sunset paired with a soothing piano melody. We see an older woman (whom we later learn is suffering from Alzheimer’s) looking at the lake from a window. We’re two minutes in and the waterworks are already starting. (Seriously. Plan on an obscene amount of ugly crying.)
Two awesome ’80s songs open this movie (the Top Gun anthem and Kenny Loggins’ ”Danger Zone”). Plane after plane takes off, and you’ll start feeling the need — the need for speed.
TOUCH OF EVIL
In the opening scene, a shadowy figure places a time bomb in the trunk of a car. A crane shot follows the car through the streets of a Mexico/U.S. border town, and the tension grows because we’re expecting an explosion. The bomb does not go off until the car exits the scene.
As evidenced by his other entries on this list, Quentin Tarantino has a knack for opening scenes. The one that lights the fuse of this WWII alternate-reality epic is especially impressive since it shows exactly how much the director has evolved. Where he used to be show-offy, doing little more than filming the (impressive) dialogue on the page, Tarantino adds subtext and nearly unbearable tension as the terrible Hans Landa plays with a French dairy farmer like a cat playing with its dinner. —Keith Staskiewicz
THE PALM BEACH STORY
Preston Sturges had one of the most impressive runs of any writer-director: In a span of five years he produced more classic comedies than most do in a lifetime. That easily includes this hilarious, Hays Code-testing film about love and marriage, but it should also include a film he didn’t make, the finale of which we glimpse at the start of The Palm Beach Story. As the opening credits roll, we see a madcap dash to the altar involving not only stars Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert, but also their respective twins, as well as a series of accidental switcheroos. Only Sturges would be so wackily brilliant as to start his movie with the conclusion of another, and then tie them both perfectly together once more at the end. —Keith Staskiewicz