It is a relatively standard cinematic convention to kick off a film (particularly in the action/thriller genre) with an exciting opening sequence. This can be used for several purposes… it can immediately hook the audience’s attention; it can provide a quick sketch of a main hero or villain; it can get some useful background information out of the way; it can simply be an awesome set piece that didn’t fit anywhere into the main narrative. Whatever the reason, a good opening sequence can be like a miniature movie in itself – you can watch it on its own and appreciate it for its own merits.
Here are my personal top five opening sequences:
5. Scream – Drew Barrymore getting killed
The opening to Scream is a great example of such a sequence setting the mood of a film. Killing off a relatively well known actress first thing is not entirely original, but always fun to see. However, it also set the audience’s expectations, by combining the self-referential genre elements with genuine scares.
4. Lord of the Rings – The history of the one ring
The history of the ring could have been delivered over the course of the film, as the occasion demanded it. However, by putting it right at the start, it gave a cinematic opening to what is otherwise a relatively slow beginning, as well as immediately showcasing the new large scale effects that characterised the trilogy.
3. X2 – Nightcrawler assaulting the Whitehouse
This sequence is pure spectacle and intentionally so; the plot of the film could have been served just as well by a far more low key asssassination attempt, but this immediately threw the audience back into the X-men universe and introduced a new character at the same time.
2. Sin City – The Salesman
The opening to Sin City truly is completely self-contained. Based on one of the short stories and shot beautifully, it’s a sequence that can truly be enjoyed by itself, without even needing to watch the rest of the film.
1. The Dark Knight – The Joker’s bank heist
The opening to the Dark Knight is a great example of an opening sequence giving a sketch of a character. The elaborate heist, which is enjoyable in itself, covers all the main personality traits of the Joker; he’s mad (dressing everyone as clowns), ruthless (killing off his fellow criminals one by one), smart (the plan comes off perfectly)… we come away with an immediate sense of how this version of the Joker fits within Nolan’s Batman universe.
As a final note, there is one franchise I have not mentioned, which is pretty much the king of opening sequences… James Bond. The main reason I haven’t included any bond films in this list is because I couldn’t settle on a single film. If anyone would like to make any claims over which one should have made my list, please leave a comment.