Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The greatest opening shots in movies

with 7 comments

When I sat down to make a list of my favorite opening shots in film—having done the same with closing shots last week—I found that the task was surprisingly difficult. For the most part, an opening shot lacks the same power as its opposite number at the end: instead of a summation of all that has come before, an opening shot is more like a declaration of intentions. As a result, the appeal is to the eye and mind, rather than the heart.

Still, there are some wonderful images here. Note that I’ve restricted myself to one shot per director, if only because Kubrick would have completely taken over otherwise. And for many more possibilities, check out Jim Emerson’s terrific Opening Shots project, to which I owe several of the entries below. Click or mouse over for the titles:

7 Responses

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  1. I’ve always thought the makers of films are really novelists on speed.

    (Fashion designers are doing speed balls…)

    If you can’t grab someone in your opening shot you have lost them to their popcorn and their nap time.

    Writers know that we will stick with them for 20 pages or so.

    The filmmakers don’t have the luxury. So, the opening shot is the shot?


    January 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm

  2. Personally, I’d hope that most audiences—especially paying audiences—tend to give a movie the benefit of the doubt for at least the first ten minutes. After that, all bets are off. (Or, as Oscar Brotman said, “If nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen.”) A great first shot doesn’t hurt, of course.

    Viewers are much more unforgiving when it comes to television, where if an episode doesn’t grab them at once, they’re likely to change the channel. Which is why movies and TV move at such different speeds.


    January 21, 2011 at 8:30 am

  3. Television seems like an entirely unforgiving animal these days.

    If there is not an immediate response from a very large number of viewers the project is scrapped.

    It’s not even really meant for the creators anymore IMHO. Producers and public. Obviously you’re creating but it is driven by taste.

    There are geniuses out there who understand the public and that would be Oprah in tv. And in music, David Foster.


    January 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm

  4. Understanding what the public wants is definitely a kind of genius. I might add J.J. Abrams to that list, although even he doesn’t always succeed. (See: Undercovers.)


    January 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  5. add Abrams…although he doesn’t always succeed.

    True enough.


    January 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm

  6. I love every single opening scene of every movie I’ve ever watched.


    It’s because the opening gives the art department a chance to go overboard (freaky).

    James Bond movies; etc.

    And for the ones that aren’t over the top…the movies that most stick out for me are the kind and gentle openings that won’t leave my mind.

    S. Coppolo’s Virgin Suicides (all that green grass in the suburbs)

    Howard’s End (I was in school and skipped out twice to see the opening scene again and oops again)

    Flowers and beautiful pastels of flowers. Mesmerizing.

    So, yes I AM a fan of opening scenes in movies (not like books)…


    January 21, 2011 at 11:08 pm

  7. Good list! And I’d agree with your first statement, with one change: I love every opening scene of every movie I also love.

    (Even when I don’t care for the movie itself, e.g. A Clockwork Orange, a really brilliant opening shot will sometimes grab my attention. But that doesn’t happen very often.)


    January 22, 2011 at 9:16 am

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