The first scene of a movie is crucial. It's our first impression, the part that should draw us in enough to keep us watching the rest. And yet it shouldn't be so phenomenal that it's all downhill from there. Of course, when considering the best openings of all time we are likely to include a few that not only stand out but also stand apart. Take, for example, the start of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, which has the honor of also kicking off Film.com's thorough list of The 50 Best Opening Scenes of All Time.
Not to spoil the ending, but the site's number one is 8 1/2, which I'll agree with. It's such a favorite of mine that in film school I kept reworking it as the opening to my own scripts. This was before I knew about Stardust Memories. Even Woody Allen, who gave us the second best opening ever (seventh, according to Film.com), believed it worth repeating. Other terrific first bits necessarily highlighted over there include Touch of Evil, The Player, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brazil and The Naked Kiss, which does go downhill afterward but not too much that it's not a completely great work.
A few favorites that they've unfortunately missed include the impressionistic jog of Birth ending in death and a metaphoric transition implying reincarnation. Also, the film I consider to have the third greatest opening of all time: The Rules of Attraction. Sure, it kind of has three beginnings all culminating as one, but it has to get props for taking 15 whole minutes before the title and opening credits begin. And even then, following those credits' montage of reverse-motion shots, director Roger Avary basically replays most of what we've just seen in forward motion without titles and with a new full soundtrack choice. It's a whole other opening sequence. Ballsy. And for some people, overkill.
One thing I realized while killing my afternoon watching Film.com's selections is that documentaries in general could use more great opening scenes. They've included two docs, both of which could battle for the honor of most unconventional nonfiction film, but should there be more or are there really none worthy? Some doc openings I think are especially special include the cane attack in Beware of Mr. Baker, the bridge jump with Malick-esque voiceover in Streetwise, the waltz of The Last Waltz, the mining montage in Harlan County, USA, and of course the "music video" for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in Don't Look Back.
Best doc opening ever, though, is in Triumph of the Will. Even if we don't think Hitler descended from Heaven to rule the Earth, it's a brilliant start to a work of propaganda meant to imply this fact.
What movie has the greatest opening sequence of all time?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter (including some suggestions for simply the best doc opening of all time):
Join the next discussion on Twitter by following Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) and Movies.com (@Moviesdotcom).