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The right opening for a film can set the entire tone for what’s about to be seen; it can foreshadow events, hint at character arcs, establish hallmarks of a series and live on even more than the actual film. Here’s another list of more of the most memorable and impactful film openings.
Saving Private Ryan
Before some careful thought, this series had four separate Steven Spielberg films and Spielberg is a director that deserves his own series highlighting his trademarks and storytelling but his World War II drama, Saving Private Ryan is a genuine masterpiece. For starters, it’s starkly different than most of Spielberg’s previous films with the only exception being Schindler’s List but the 90’s marked a turning point for the legendary director and this opening scene featuring the brutality of the Omaha Beach invasion during D-Day signaled to all audiences that this was going to be a very different war movie. The film originally opens with an old man visiting the cemetery near the beaches of Normandy and following an emotional collapse, we are transported back to June 6, 1944 as US Army Rangers storm the beaches of France to storm the Western Front and liberate Europe from the clutches of Adolf Hitler. The scene lists for over 20 minutes and to say it is brutal is an understatement and ends with Tom Hanks’ character of Captain Miller looking out on the carnage left over following the penetration of the beach head as the moment becomes solemn while serving as a reminder of what was sacrificed in order to obtain freedom.
David Fincher perfected the modern horror genre when he released Se7en in 1995 but he further added to this legacy when he directed Zodiac in 2007. Based on the real-life crimes of the Zodiac Killer who stalked the Bay Area and Central California during the late 60’s and 70’s, Zodiac is almost a new version of Silence of the Lambs about how obsession can take over one’s life and this opening scene is chilling. As the film opens, a young woman picks up a young man during Fourth of July celebrations and the two drive out to a nearby lover’s lane to enjoy a private moment. However, this moment is interrupted by a stranger who walks up to their car with a flashlight and a gun and without hesitation, begins to shoot the young couple while they are alone. Only the young man survives as the killer places a chilling, almost monotone phone call to the local police department to report that he was responsible for this incident and for another set of murders that occurred in the prior year. It certainly makes me think twice about listening to Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” as it plays on the radio while the victims are gunned down.
Besides The Dark Knight, this opening to Quentin Tarantino’s World War II masterpiece serves as a chilling introduction to the film’s villain, SS Colonel Hans Landa aka “The Jew Hunter”. While presenting himself as an overly charming individual, Colonel Landa is a coldblooded, ruthless killer who has been given a mission and will do everything within his power to succeed in that mission. Watching the scene in retrospect reveals so much about Landa; how he checks the pulse of one of the LaPadite daughters, how he looks at the floor when no one will be looking and his requests for milk all give shed some light on how this villain operates. The scene opens with an opulent Nazi vehicle pulling up to a cozy farmhouse in the French countryside when Colonel Landa approaches the unassuming Perrier LaPadite and begins to interrogate him on the whereabouts on the Jewish families that once lived in the area who may have gone into hiding. Landa is quick to figure out that LaPadite is sheltering one of the families underneath his floor and sells them out in order to save his own family. As Landa feigns leaving the home, he signals his soldiers to return to the cottage, shoot into the floor and massacres the poor family. However, not all of them are murdered as a young woman manages to escape the carnage and vanishes into the countryside.
The Lion King
The Disney Renaissance hit its peak in 1994 with the release of The Lion King and that opening is spectacular. The film opens in silence as title cards are shown with red lettering but then the “Circle of Life”, sung by Lebo M and Carmen Twillie, comes on to really make this move come to life. We then see glimpses of life in the African savannah as many different groups of animals seem to be making a journey of some kind but as the music swells into the chorus we see the glorious sight of Pride Rock and a majestic lion overlooking his domain but he’s treated with a reverence reserved only for royalty as he warmly embraces and greets a baboon who arrives to perform a presentation of the new lion cub to the animal kingdom. As the music swells once again, the little cub is presented to the crowd and all of the creatures bow before this future king. Disney loved this opening so much that it was featured as the trailer before The Lion King’s premiere and it’s become so beloved that it even became an integral part of the Broadway show.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
At this point, we are no stranger to seeing Tom Cruise put himself through insane situations just to entertain audiences but in my opinion, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is one of the more insane things he’s ever done. The film opens with the team in Belarus trying to intercept a shipment of nerve gas from being delivered to a group of international terrorists but they are unable to stop the place from taking off and leaving with the nerve gas. Jeremy Renner is safe in headquarters trying to oversee the mission, Simon Pegg is trying to cripple the plane, Ving Rhames is providing an assist from Malayasia and of course, as the Mission Impossible theme kicks in, Tom Cruise shows up to stop the plane the hard way. While he’s no able to get into the plane, he latches himself to the outside of the plane and hilariously yells for Pegg to open a door to get into the plane. Cruise is able to enter the plane and steal the nerve gas as the theme fully kicks in and gets this adventure started.
Featured Image Credit: American Cinematographer