The 5 Best Movie Openings of All Time

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 a list of some of the most memorable and impactful film openings.


Released in 1964, the third entry in the already hugely popular James Bond film series, Goldfinger immediately became the film by which future films in the series would be judged and this prologue would be part of the main reason. This cold open begins with 007 on a different mission, similar to the action serial series of the 1930’s and 1940’s, as he infiltrates some type of drug smuggling operation to blow up several storage containers. As he exits the location, he takes off his wetsuit to reveal the now iconic white tuxedo with that noticeable red flower. This tough yet suave demeanor is made exponentially cooler by the mere presence of Sean Connery as the Scottish actor is still the gold standard for all actors in the series even after almost 60 years. This opening concludes with Connery seducing a young woman as it is then revealed than she is also hiding an assassin in her room with the goal of murdering him but Bond emerges the victor and exits with one of the best one-liners in the franchise’s history. While virtually every subsequent in the series has attempted to replicate this opening, none have come close to the action or the succinctness of the prologue and immediately establishes one of the most enduring and celebrated trademarks of any film series.

The Dark Knight

Even after 15 years following its release, The Dark Knight is still the best comic book superhero ever and it’s hardly up for debate. Anticipation was high for this film in the summer of 2008 and this opening blew away those expectations. Director Christopher Nolan has created his own trademark by creating these prologues for his films and his Dark Knight trilogy was no exception; Batman Begins showed a young Bruce Wayne discovering his fear and setting him down a path that would see him becoming the Caped Crusader and the savior of Gotham but with The Dark Knight and the introduction of Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker, Nolan knew he had to do something different and so he crafted an opening that feels more in line with a Michael Mann heist film (Nolan has cited Mann’s masterpiece, Heat, as a direction inspiration for The Dark Knight) and the action does not let up. The scene opens with a skyscraper window being blown open and two criminals donning clown masks ziplining down to an unknown building. The film then moves to another criminal being picked up by a group of thugs wearing more clown masks and the plot immediately becomes clear; they are about to rob a bank. Following the entrance into the bank, several of the robbers murdering each other in order to obtain a larger share of the take and the bank manager brandishing a shotgun to confront the criminals. As a bus dramatically slams into the building’s façade, the bank manager has one final message for the lone survivor of this group but as the music from Hans Zimmer swells, this criminal reveals himself to be the Joker and immediately exits the crime scene. It is a prologue that sets up this version of the Joker as the most radical and conniving portrayal that had even been put onscreen at that point in history.


I have previously spoken about my love of this movie and this introduction does so much even without a direct glimpse of the terrifying monster at the core of the film. After a brief credits scene that features that iconic score from John Williams, the film opens on a beach scene featuring a group of young people, a bonfire, an acoustic guitar and lots of alcohol. When two of them lock eyes, the woman takes off down the beach and invites the young man to go swimming with her but the man is too drunk to get out of his clothes and passes out in the sand while his date swims out into the bay. At first, everything seems quiet and the woman is enjoying her swim but the perspective shifts underwater and the music begins to creep until a stinger is performed, signaling the first bite from the shark and the terror ensues. The woman, portrayed by actress Susan Backlinie, was initially not warned when she would be pulled by the harness she was wearing and her reactions onscreen are purely her instincts and cues as an actress. It is a brief performance that is completely terrifying due to the thrashing sound design, Backlinie’s screams and of course, that music from John Williams. The scene when Chrissy begs for help as she is pulled under the ocean’s surface and becomes the first victim in the summer of terror on Amity Island.

The Godfather

The best film ever made deserves an iconic opening and The Godfather provides just that. This opening sets up literally everything the follows it in the film; from Tom Hagen visiting Jack Woltz in California while hoping to become consigliere to the family, Luca Brasi’s ultimate demise, Sollozzo emerging as a threat against the Corleone family, Sonny’s marital infidelity, Fredo’s bumbling attitude, Don Vito’s waning power in a changing world and Michael Corleone as the tragic figure in this whole epic. The Godfather’s opening makes it unique and something that would be more typical in an opera and even a television miniseries but writer/director Francis Ford Coppola rewrote the rules for crafting a film’s prologue with this long sequence. The wedding of Connie Corleone is meant to be a happy occasion and it is for the most part but her father is continuously called away for business as it is the one day he cannot refuse a request according to Sicilian custom and the requests range from violence against sexual assaulters, to keeping a young man from being conscripted into the Army and helping his own godson resurrect his career. There is so much that happens but Coppola finds a way to not overload the audience with the interactions and dialogue and the performances from the entirety of the cast are brilliant as there is no weak link in this entire film. 


When revolutionary films come to mind, Scream is one that must be put somewhere on that list. Director Wes Craven’s masterpiece from 1996 completely reinvented the slasher subgenre of horror films and even managed to satirize the pillars of the genre from Halloween, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street and even Friday the 13th. Set in the fictional town of Woodsboro, a series of brutal murders that seem random at first but are designed to target one Sydney Prescott whose mother was raped and murdered one year before these killings begin and is forced to reckon with that trauma as well as this new trauma but this opening sets the tone for the entire series. The film opens with actress Drew Barrymore making a bowl of popcorn while waiting for her boyfriend to arrive at her home when she receives a phone call that now asks that iconic question, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and the voice proceeds to play a sadistic game with Barrymore as her hesitancy to play the game culminates with the murder of her boyfriend (which had to be edited for the film to avoid receiving a NC-17 rating) and her killer chases her around her home and ultimately kills her as her parents arrive to find their daughter’s dismembered body hanging from a tree in their front yard. It was a shocking opening as Barrymore received top billing for the film and was presumed to be the main figure in the story until her character’s murder and put forth the notion that no character would be safe for the entire series as popular characters were introduced but quickly off in sequels but the opening of this first film remains the most memorable of the entire series. 

If I did not cover an opening that lives rent free in your head, don’t worry. Be on the lookout for part two of this series coming out soon.

Featured Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

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