The 50 Best Opening Scenes of All Time


Creating the right opening scene may not always be the most difficult part of making a movie, but it's invariably the most perverse.  Every film ever made begins with the same sense of endless possibility, the infinite canvas of the universe at its disposal, and then -- in a flash -- limits it all to just. One. Thing.

In our current cinematic climate, opening scenes are more important than ever before. The theatrical experience has remained largely unchanged over the years, but since the advent of home video -- be it Betamax or Blu-ray -- most movies come with a built-in escape route. Whereas the dark confines of a theater inherently provides an immersive experience by blocking out the rest of the world, nowadays, most people have to actively deny the intrusions of the outside world in order to really get into a film -- the onus is no longer on us to surrender ourselves to a movie so much as it is on the movie to actively keep everything else in our lives at bay.

Be that as it may, the mark of a great opening sequence is the same as it ever was: It has to grab you by the throat and insist that you don't look away. So far as great beginnings are concerned, even the most seemingly benign examples are imbued with a certain violence, stealing you away down the rabbit hole with such force that you're powerless to resist. The best opening scenes will seduce you into the world you see on screen, regardless of its kind or size. And so, inspired by the tone-setting orgy of adolescent hedonism with which  "Spring Breakers" explodes into life, presents our list of the 50 Best Opening Scenes ever made.

50.) “Snake Eyes” (Brian De Palma) 1998

Lest we kick things off on the wrong foot, let’s be clear that this isn’t a list of the greatest opening shots of all time (and if it were, “Snake Eyes” would sure rank a hell of a lot higher). Be that as it may, for Brian De Palma there may not be much of a difference. “Snake Eyes” isn’t a great movie. If you want to be a stickler for details, “Snake Eyes” isn’t really even a good movie, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t know how to get your attention. Kicking off with an absurdly complex 12.5-minute tracking shot that combines De Palma’s dual loves of seediness and nested images as it follows Nicolas Cage (at his sleaziest) as he works all the angles in the lead up to a title fight in Atlantic City. Leisure suits, lizard-men (Gary Sinise), snipers and intrigue ... it’s such a delicious set-up, you’ll never believe the taste the film eventually leaves in your mouth. - David Ehrlich

49.) "The Lion King" (Rob Minkoff) 1994

The opening scene of "The Lion King" offers up the only African chant that's immediately recognizable to most Americans this side of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. The sun rises, the song continues, and all the animals herald a new dawn. This was the last golden era of Disney animation, and this opening scene goes a long way toward explaining why they held the pole position for decades, mixing beautiful animation with a profoundly positive worldview. - Laremy Legel

48.) "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Stanley Kubrick) 1968

The opening scene to "2001: A Space Odyssey" is probably the most recognizable movie music in the world. Stanley Kubrick clues you in to the type of film experience you're about to have, full of weighty themes and incredible visuals. The amount of confidence in this type of opening is also incredible, you don't tell an audience "Hey, watch this scene without any dialogue for two minutes" if you don't have the utmost confidence that you're going to deliver throughout. - LL

47. "Scream" (Wes Craven) 1996

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

Ok, so in some ways this has been parodied and mocked to death, including (and especially) in its own sequels. Yet it’s persistent for a reason. Wes Craven’s self-aware sense of pitch-black humor is complimented only by his ability to engineer a freaky horror set piece, in this case one of the best of all time. – Daniel Walber

46.) “Reservoir Dogs” (Quentin Tarantino) 1992

“Excuse me for not being the world’s biggest Madonna fan.” Welcome to the pantheon, Mr. Tarantino. You know the scene. A bunch of gangsters sit around a diner table as the one with the biggest chin offers an alternative reading of a famous pop song. That’s it, really. I don’t even mean for this blurb to factor in the iconic slow-mo title shot that follows. And yeah, the pre-credit rap in “Pup Fiction” -- also featuring Tim Roth -- might be more exciting. But this right here is the portrait of an artist revealing the essence of his approach to the medium, taking an established iota of culture and making it his own, with such mania and tense sincerity that it feels like we’re, um, encountering it for the very first time. - DE

45.) "Daisies" (Věra Chytilová) 1966

Marie I and Marie II sit against a wall, bored out of their minds. And then a realization: “When everything is being spoiled, we’ll be spoiled too!” The scene is simply shot, with a single cinematic flourish in the girls’ creaking limbs – they’re like dolls, come to life to make mischief on a society that objectifies them. Then with a playful slap we’re off, led by director Vera Chytilova on an anarchic romp as hilarious as it is biting. – DW

44.) "Magnolia" (Paul Thomas Anderson) 1999

To be sure, Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" is at times a strange film. Often brilliant, occasionally confounding, and always massively intense, the film starts with a voiceover that expertly sets the vibe. To wit:

"And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just 'Something That Happened.' This cannot be 'One of Those Things... ' This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can't. This Was Not Just A Matter Of Chance. Ohhhh. These strange things happen all the time."

Then you're hit with Aimee Mann's "One". Magnifico. (The video below contains only the last third of the pre-credits sequence) - LL

43.) “Girl on the Bridge” (Patrice Leconte) 1999

And this is where you fall in love with Vanessa Paradis. Patrice Leconte’s woozily romantic and criminally under-seen fable kicks off with a beautiful woman named Adele testifying about her splintered love life in front of a faceless jury. An unseen interrogator insists that Adele detail her every sexual encounter, the gap-toothed girl lamenting how -- for all of her lovers -- she’s never found love. “Some people are born to be happy, but I get conned every day of my life.” Slowly, over the course of nearly eight minutes, her breezy c’est la vie attitude slowly blooms into wistful despair. She’s waiting for something. Waiting for what? Waiting for a man who will stab her in the front. - DE

42.) "Brazil" (Terry Gilliam) 1995

Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" can accurately be described as "bonkers" - but in the best possible way. Start your film off with an unexplained explosion and you're likely to grab an audience's attention. The introduction of two villains, terrorism and a totalitarian state, indicate we're in for a topsy-turvy ride. We have nothing to hang on to, we are completely at Gilliam's mercy, and his plan is to warp our world forevermore. He succeeds. - LL

41.) "Cabaret" (Bob Fosse) 1972

Joel Grey, in full MC make-up, has one of the most memorable faces in film history. In “Cabaret” he’s the personification of wryness, mockingly suggestive and gleefully profane. And he’s only the centerpiece of Bob Fosse’s expertly choreographed opening number. There’s plenty of actual dancing, the girls introducing the joyfully lewd and vaguely sinister spirit of the Kit Kat Club. Yet this is about more than just the nightlife of Berlin. The editing is equally deft, careful to keep us mindful of German daylight society lurking on the edges as young and naïve Brian arrives by train. Other movie musicals have used the theater as a crutch – this masterful opening sequence shows that Fosse knows exactly what he’s doing. Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead, ask Helga. – DW

40.) "Brief Encounter" (David Lean) 1945

At first glance, it doesn't appear as though the opening scene of “Brief Encounter” amounts to all that much. Trains rush along platforms to the lingering notes of Rachmaninoff’s "Piano Concerto No. 2", but the film quickly turns to the mundane goings-on of the haunted station’s café. The barmaid flirts brusquely with a regular customer. A young couple in the back corner is interrupted by a gossip, an annoying acquaintance. The scene is almost meaningless the first time around. Yet after you’ve seen David Lean’s romantic classic once, the tears begin to well up from the establishing shot of the café’s interior. It’s a masterpiece of longing, tissues necessary. (Below, you can watch the entire film). – DW

39.) "Goodfellas" (Martin Scorsese) 1990

A film for which Martin Scorsese was robbed of Best Director glory, "Goodfellas" opens with a freeze frame and boozy music. We see Ray Liota, a voiceover, a crime syndicate's methods portrayed as simple yet entirely effective. This type of opening is now commonplace, see "Blow," but Ray Liota and Joe Pesci make this version special for the anti-heroes they set up with speed. - LL

38.) "The Social Network" (David Fincher) 2010

For all that David Fincher brought to the table, “The Social Network” is ultimately Aaron Sorkin’s movie more than anyone else’s. Even if you disagree with that, it’s hard to argue that this is his scene. Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg are both excellent in their delivery, of course – without their groundwork-laying performances in these few minutes the whole movie might have seemed unframed and somehow off. Yet what shines here is the structure of the dialog, the way Sorkin’s impulses weave through each other and into the inevitable break-up that will set Zuckerberg down the road of greatness, anxiety, and assholery. Also, that “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster” line still stings. (The video below is only an excerpt of the scene in question). – DW

37.) “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” (Werner Herzog) 1972

Werner Herzog loves to self-mythologize, and he needs you to know that he’s not f**king around. “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” is arguably the best film of an oeuvre full of legitimate contenders, and its opening scene is a perfect summation of the ethos that guides his work. The tale of a doomed 16th century expedition for the storied city of El Dorado, “Aguirre” kicks off by foreshadowing its hero’s descent into madness with a literal descent of its own, as a parade of extras walk down the world’s most terrifying mountain path. Some of them are in palanquins, others in chains, but all of them are obviously there for real, forcing you to buy the stakes before you have a clue how much it’s ultimately going to cost. - DE

36.) "Sullivan’s Travels" (Preston Sturges) 1941

“Sullivan’s Travels” opens with the best fight on a moving train in the history of movies that don't really have anything to do with fights on moving trains. Preston Sturgers offers us a diversion before anything else, choosing to begin with the final scene of a film by his fictional lead character. The title “The End” hits the screen before we even get to meet Joel McCrea, cleverly confusing us and setting up the frisky spirit of cinema’s greatest love letter to comedy and upended expectations. The first joke, a producer insisting that this high-minded art is made “with a little sex,” is pretty excellent, too. (The clip below unfortunately begins just after the movie within the movie ends). – DW

35.) "Children of Men" (Alfonso Cuarón) 2006

Science fiction requires immediate establishment, because it's a world somewhat foreign to us. "Children of Men" provides a movie's worth of context in the first 90 seconds. There are no more children, but Clive Owen has coffee and alcohol to drink, even as London in 2027 explodes all around. Gritty camerawork and one-shots are the calling cards of Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men," and they are immediately on display to great effect. - LL

34.) “Europa” (Lars von Trier) 1991

Movies are (too) often described as “hypnotic,” but Lars von Trier’s dazzling hyper-formalist freakout is one of the only films to ever legitimately earn the description, in that it begins by literally hypnotizing you. “You will now listen to my voice,” Max von Sydow commands over the monochrome image of a train slowly rolling into oblivion, and resistance is futile. One does not simply walk to “Europa,” you must be lulled into it. Before you know it, you’ve been seduced into a wild dream noir, primed to receive the hallucinatory images with which von Trier tells the story of an American railway worker who falls in love with the wrong femme in a bizarro US-occupied Germany.

Be there at ten, or you’ll miss the last train. - DE

33.) "Kiss Me Deadly" (Robert Aldrich) 1955

A woman, out of breath, needs help. Are we in a thriller? Are we in a romance? Neither and both, we're deep into one of the most important genres, film-noir, and we can expect huge amounts of moody entertainment to follow. Then director Robert Aldrich hits us with it, all the way back in 1955 he was delivering a backward title sequence, at this point just showing off how far ahead of the field he was. - LL

32.) “Contempt” (Jean-Luc Godard) 1963

“Contempt” isn’t the only film in which the opening credits are narrated to the audience rather than presented as text, but Godard’s formalist drama of film, image, and infidelity is certainly the most aggressive (almost hostile) example. As Raoul Coutard’s camera twirls around and tilts down at us, the machinations of the cinema are draped over the entire experience like an dull desire that’s easier to name than it is to feel. I’d say more, but this sequence really speak for itself.

Note, the following video may not be safe for work if you work somewhere that is staunchly anti-butt. - DE

31.) "Apocalypse Now" (Francis Ford Coppola) 1979

A helicopter, yellow smoke, and the haunting voice of Jim Morrison, so begins "Apocalypse Now". This was the end of American innocence, the end of the illusion that war was always noble, the fire and smoke of Coppola's masterpiece washing away all hope of clarity. We see Captain Willard's (Martin Sheen) eyes and his cigarette. The trees burn, choppers cross the screen in a dance of death, a revolver shares Willard's bed. Isn't it hard to tell what game is being played the children are insane? - LL

30.) "Mamma Roma" (Pier Paolo Pasolini) 1961

Very, very few actresses have the screen presence of Anna Magnani. And no one, with perhaps the exception of Roberto Rossellini, knew how to best capture her essence on film than Pier Paolo Pasolini. “Mamma Roma” begins at a wedding banquet, with the volcanic actress driving some pigs into the banquet hall with a broom, as a joke for the newlyweds and their assembled guests (a quintessentially Pasolini moment). Yet things really fire up when the toasting begins, sung rhyming couplets in an Italian tradition. Magnani absolutely owns the screen, belting and laughing with such spirit that we have no problem at all assigning her Mamma Roma the profane and spiritual motherhood of an entire nation. – DW

29.) "Melancholia" (Lars von Trier) 2011

Some movies have opening scenes, some movies have prologues. “Melancholia” has an overture, and not in the way that “Gone with the Wind” or “Dr. Zhivago” have overtures, the way a house might have a welcome mat. Lars von Trier took Wagner’s "Prelude to Tristan and Isolde" and -- with an explicit nod to Andrei Tarkovsky -- built it into a cinematic introduction to a film as bulky and audacious as any grand opera. The images become like ghosts or the memories of a bad dream, haunting the spectator as we watch Kirsten Dunst’s character unravel en route to a final apocalypse. (The video below is a look at the special effects that made the prologue sequence possible. Not ideal, but it's the best we've got). – DW

28.) “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa) 1954

You don’t need me to tell you that Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece is, um, an epic masterpiece, but for a movie that’s definitive edition clocks in at nearly four hours, “Seven Samurai” is a model of narrative economy. The film’s opening sequence isn’t particularly flashy; bandits ride up to the bluff overlooking a small village, ultimately deciding to return a few months later and get their pillage on. One of the villagers overhears the chatter, and we cut to a gaggle of peasants gathering in the center of town, asking “Why has God forsaken us?” to the heavens. In less than two minutes, Kurosawa has provided the foundation for the 206 minutes that follow. We hear the despair, but we remember the apathy. (Unfortunately, we couldn't find a clip of the opening scene, but you've seen it, right? RIGHT?) - DE

27.) "Up" (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson) 2009

You can use the opening from "Up" as a litmus test. If you take a prospective friend or mate to see it, and they don't cry, then they are a heartless monster. There is no middle ground to this argument! The scene is also critical because it sets up Carl as a sympathetic, and yet clearly wounded, main character. It's amazing that the joy and sorrow of love was captured expertly within an animation, but that's the genius of "Up" and its opening scene. - LL

26.) "Three Colors: Blue" (Krzysztof Kieślowski) 1993

“Three Colors: Blue” is about music, authorship and memory. Yet before all of that, it's about loss (and the color blue, natch). This film full of orchestra flourishes begins in near silence, until that quiet is interrupted by the brutal car crash that suddenly destroys a family. Among the most beautifully photographed scenes on this (or any other) list, the opening of Kieslowski’s renowned trilogy is in some ways enigmatic – Juliette Binoche, the protagonist and star, does not even appear on screen. It is more about the tragedy itself, framed in the gorgeous and gloomy blues of early morning in the countryside. There's music to it, even if it's hard to hear. – DW

25.) “Lost in Translation” (Sofia Coppola) 2003

Yes, I’m talking about the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s ass. In fact, I’m only talking about the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s ass. The stationary shot with which Sofia Coppola begins her best film is so substantive and dense with information that it functions as an immensely effective opening sequence in and of itself. I don’t mean to sound lecherous or flippant -- I certainly wasn’t trying to be when I wrote 2,000 words about the color of underwear that Johansson wears in the scene. You had my curiosity, Sofia Coppola, now you have my attention. - DE

24.) "Trainspotting" (Danny Boyle) 1996

Future Best Director Danny Boyle starts "Trainspotting" with maximum aplomb. The topic? Heroin, and the joy it brings our protagonist, Renton. Boyle also establishes the other characters with a stylish focus, from Sick Boy not even making a play on the soccer ball to Begbie completely taking out a fellow player with an illegal slide. It also encapsulates the entire narrative thrust of "Trainspotting" - a young Ewan McGregor chose not to choose life. He chose something else. - LL

23.) “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles) 1941

This isn’t about “Rosebud.” The whole point of “Rosebud,” the cinema’s most famous single-word mystery, is that it’s decidedly not a codex to unlocking the impenetrable Charles Foster Kane, a man as fundamentally unknowable as any other. It’s just another piece of a puzzle that can never be solved, the inevitable anticlimactic reveal telling us nothing and everything all at once. But the opening sequence of “Citizen Kane” makes Kane’s ultimate inaccessibility perfectly clear well before he speaks his first and final words, kicking things by scaling a fence (adorned with a “No Trespassing” sign) only to find the ruins of Xanadu. Of course, Kane’s nurse could never have heard the immortal line. Often cited as a mistake, I’ve always thought this oddity an early symptom of the film’s perfection. - DE

22.) "The Searchers" (John Ford) 1956

Director John Ford won an astounding four Best Director Academy Awards, and his iconic opening shot of "The Searchers" shows why. It's a reunion, the man from nowhere coming home, the blue sky of the American West setting a tone we'll later see modern directors like The Coen Bros. emulate. - LL

21.) "Black Sunday" (Mario Bava) 1960

Mario Bava was a master of atmosphere. His films creep under your skin, thriving on a thoroughly frightful quality. “Black Sunday” works quicker than perhaps any other work of horror in building a texture of dread, opening with a prologue set centuries in the past. A 17th century Moldavian witch is faced with trial by fire, branding and eternal condemnation. Yet the final mask of the demon (the Italian title of the film) makes this sequence iconic, an evocative image of violence you won’t easily forget. – DW

20.) "Naked" (Mike Leigh) 1993

David Thewlis, having sex in an alley. He’s violent, somewhat sadistic and practically Dostoevskian in his intensely self-absorbed and brutal perspective. At the beginning, however, we don’t know that. All we have is a few images of Thewlis’s character holding a woman against a wall, initially with her permission but soon very much without. She screams and he runs off into the night, their brief meeting turned to disaster. It’s a snapshot of darkened narrative to come, an appropriately uncomfortable prelude to one of the cinema's most discomfiting works of art. – DW

19.) "The Player" (Robert Altman) 1992

Robert Altman's "mild" satire of the movie business doesn't just begin with one of the most famous opening scenes in film history, it begins with several of them. An extended and dizzyingly fluid sequence shot that floats around a studio lot, Altman introduces us to executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) as he fields pitches, but -- more importantly -- maps out the cutthroat and incestuous world in which he operates. It name-drops "Touch of Evil" and other scenes you'll find on this list, introduces Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold 12 years before the premiere of "Entourage", and illustrates the sick inertia of the Hollywood system. It may not be the most technically ambitious sequence shot around, but it makes you feel like you're in the know.  -DE

18.) "Vertigo" (Alfred Hitchcock) 1954

The music jolts, and we open on a chase scene across rooftops. Gunfire and a fervent desperation to escape, but why? This is Hitchcock at his finest, peril and confusion twirling around in the same stew, you're engaged from the start, death being dealt out within the first 90 seconds of the movie. This style of opening and action scene has been done thousands of times since, but never again with the innovation level of "Vertigo". - LL

17.) "The Naked Kiss" (Samuel Fuller) 1964

Well, this one’s a doozy. This tawdriest B-movie of Sam Fuller’s pulpy, somewhat deranged filmography opens with sex, violence and a pile of cash. Constance Towers gives the rough and tumble performance of a lifetime, assaulting the camera with her shoe and throwing off her wig with vengeful aplomb. It was shocking then, and it’s only somewhat less shocking today. Meanwhile, its charm has only grown since it dove right into the seedy underbelly of suburbia back in 1964. – DW

16.) "Jaws" (Steven Spielberg) 1975

The film that launched a few billion phobias starts quickly with the main entree, a shark attack. Measured against today's effects, these first moments now looks a little hokey, even if all the thrashing and screaming plays to the audience. Still, as the film that established Steven Spielberg, it's easy to pick up on the broad appeal the luminary director will make a standard of his future cinematic offerings. And we're all still a little afraid of the water. - LL

15.) "West Side Story" (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise) 1964

The first number of “West Side Story” is great, obviously. The threatening choreography is fantastic, and the initial fight between the Sharks and the Jets has become rightfully iconic. Even better, however, are the handful of opening shots of New York City. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins position the audience directly above Manhattan, looking down at the roofs of Midtown architectural wonders and public housing alike. We hear whistling, the impending gang violence on the Upper West Side eerily echoing through the entire city before the story has even begun. It’s one of the little touches that elevate “West Side Story” from filmed-musical to great musical film. (Bummer the video below cuts out those majestic aerial shots). – DW

14.) “Werckmeister Harmonies” (Béla Tarr) 2000

“All I ask is that you step with me into the boundlessness.” This is one hell of an invitation.

Béla Tarr is no stranger to the long take, but -- for all the information he’s capable of packing into any one of his compositions -- only the opening shot of “Werckmeister Harmonies” has enough room to fit (and explain) the entire known universe. Captured in one fluid 10-minute take, the film opens with a man named Janos using the patrons of his local bar to create and narrate a living diorama of the human condition. That’s not some flowery crap, that’s literally what happens. Light, astrophysics, mortality, the indifference of the cosmos to our suffering ... it’s all there in one intricately staged scene. The really amazing part is that the film goes on to completely outsize its opening sequence. - DE

13.) "La Dolce Vita" (Federico Fellini) 1960

In 1960 a helicopter shot was no small feat, and it's handled with such style here that you wish that today's directors would take note of how to start their film with a sense of grandeur. A broad landscape is taken in, and a statue of Jesus hangs from the helicopter, the marriage of technology and the old world juxtaposed with women in bikinis heralding the arrival of a new religious icon. The opening sequence shows an amazing amount of technical proficiency, Federico Fellini's enormous talent evident for all the world to see. - LL

12.) "Goldeneye" (Martin Campbell) 1995

Are there opening shots more spectacular than Pierce Brosnan as James Bond bungee- jumping down the breathtakingly enormous Contra Dam in Switzerland? Maybe. But that alone isn’t why “Goldeneye” is on this list. After a tightly-built if fairly standard stand-off in the fictional Arkhangel Chemical Weapons Facility in the defunct USSR, the sequence concludes with another ridiculous image: the jump off of a cliff into a moving plane. There’s pretty much nothing like it, at least nothing that balances absurd audacity and relatively simple composition with such ease, all the while exploding the mythos of our most iconic spy. – DW

11.) "F for Fake" (Orson Welles) 1974

“During the next hour, everything you’ll hear from us is really true, based on solid facts.” The beginning of “F for Fake” is akin to that of “Daisies,” both of them the starting gunshot of a dizzying cinematic horserace. Like “Mamma Roma,” it succeeds in great part due to the extraordinary charisma of its star, in this case Orson Welles. Yet it raises the bar above both of those with its playful and contradictory spirit. This film about trickery messes with our perception from the very beginning, confusing and manipulating the audience with the skill of a great and entirely fraudulent magician. You can’t know just how great it begins until you’ve been blindsided by how it ends. – DW

10.) "Man With a Movie Camera" (Dziga Vertov) 1929

For Dziga Vertov, the camera was wasted on the meaningless piddle of other mediums, and that filmmakers were denying their device of its true potential by using it to present the same dramas and stories possible to the written word. As he wrote with invective in an 1923 Council of Three appeal to cinematographers, “Cinema’s system is poisoned with the terrible toxin of routine.” When Vertov looked at a camera, he didn’t see a means of preserving what the naked eye can see, but a contraption capable of bettering it. For Vertov, the camera offered the world as we know it, seen as we can’t. "Man With the Movie Camera" was to be the film that used the form itself to illustrate Vertov’s ideology, and its opening sequence -- which plays like a silent-era “Holy Motors” -- revels in the power that the cinema placed at his disposal. - DE

9.) "There Will Be Blood" (Paul Thomas Anderson) 2007

The opening scene of "There Will be Blood" shows the awful price early oil men paid, and it goes a long way toward explaining why Daniel Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview is such a hard and unforgiving man. He's not a villain, but he's not a hero either, he's simply doing what must be done, and he's motivated by the fact that he could die tomorrow. Endlessly toiling in the dust and grime of America, the first four-and-a-half-minutes portray his grim determination and sacrifice. - LL

Note: Unfortunately, this slightly tampered-with clip was the best we could find.

8.) “Wings of Desire” (Wim Wenders) 1987

“Wings of Desire” begins with an unforgettable 11-minute sequence that seems diffuse and disorienting until you realize that it's precisely the opposite. We open on a city -- it looks like Berlin, but it’s hard to tell from the skies. Wim Wenders' camera swoops around a number of seemingly random citizens, capturing their unfiltered interior monologues as the various people think about whatever.

And so on, we float about, as if nowhere and nothing is beyond our purview, not even the human heart (ugh). It's all scattershot, a mess of secrets and factoids with no context. All sympathy, but no empathy. Berlin as we see it here is too gorgeous by half, sublime and glistening but just a bit out of reach. When Wenders finally drops us into a conversation between two angels, the descent allows awe and pity to perfectly intertwine, and “Wings of Desire” is already flying. - DE

7.) "Manhattan" (Woody Allen) 1979

“Chapter one...”

Few pieces of music capture the many tempos of New York City like “Rhapsody in Blue”, and few movies capture its blend of anxiety and romance like Woody Allen’s black & white ode. The opening lays down its inexpressible love for the city with rushed class, matching the fits and starts of Allen’s tortured monologue to the unstoppable drive of Gershwin’s music. In the end it is New York itself that wins, pushing past the script into a wordless celebration of its skyline and rhythm that can only explode into fireworks. – DW

6.) "Inglourious Basterds" (Quentin Tarantino) 2009

You won't find a more intense opening scene, or one with higher stakes, life and death hanging in the balance. Hans Landa is portrayed as a monster, but a clever monster, the sort of villain that's made all the more terrifying by his poise and polish. We immediately sense the awful position World War II victims found themselves in - do you cavort with the enemy and lose your soul? Or stand your ground and lose your life? There are no winners in the world of Hans Lands, only ordinary people scrambling to not lose it all. Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) tries to hold on against all odds, sprinting off into the distance, giving new and ultimately vengeful meaning to "the one that got away." - LL

5.) “Touch of Evil” (Orson Welles) 1958

The nearly wordless opening shot of Orson Welles’ other other *other* masterpiece is arguably more famous than the film it portends, a 200-second tracking shot that begins with an adorably old-fashioned bomb being planted in the trunk of a car, and ends with a bang (and a kiss). A self-contained (but not self-serving) masterpiece of cinematic suspense, the elaborately choreographed tracking shot is made all the more impressive by how firmly it anchors the nihilistic noir that follows. It may not be the cinema’s most impressive long shot anymore (thanks, “Russian Ark”), but it’s still the most perfect (except for that whole Charlton Heston in brownface thing). - DE

4.) “Walkabout” (Nicolas Roeg) 1971

We open on a brick wall, the most benign sight you can imagine. The camera tracks right to reveal the bustling Australian metropolis it was hiding from us, pulling back the curtain on the world behind the one we’ve built. Feet and faces, people moving with purpose. A primordial drone mixes with a chorus of huffing schoolgirls, whose syncopated breathing is rhythmic and ridiculous. Consumerism. Suicide. Oblivion. So begins Nicolas Roeg’s salve for the discord of modern living, the opening sequence of which anticipates everything from OK Computer to “Serial Experiments: Lain” in a violent montage that palpably captures what it means to feel “hysterical and useless.” - DE

3.) "The Godfather" (Francis Ford Coppola) 1972

"I believe in America."

It takes a good three-and-a-half minutes before we even get to see Marlon Brando as Don Corleone. With amazing patience, we're treated to a monologue full of despair , and then we're treated to the powerhouse being petitioned, a man who strikes fear in the hearts of all, demanding of respect and kisses on his ring. Don Corleone is a man of precision, he will not offer more than justice to this undertake who pleads before him. But perhaps they can now be friends, with all the dreaded obligation that friendship entails? The undertaker acquiesces, his desire for revenge overriding his better angels. The conflicted relationship between the mafia and America is laid bare, as the police and court system are dismissed as complicit in letting an Italian-American down. Who will step in? The Godfather, naturally. - LL

2.) "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Sergio Leone) 1968

Whenever I hear someone say the phrase "pure cinema," my mind immediately takes me to the opening sequence of Sergio Leone's epic "Once Upon a Time in the West". Three bad men wait for a train at a station in the middle of the great American nowhere. They're familiar types, Western gun-slingers who time had forgot and the movies were in the midst of forgetting. They wait, and they wait, and they wait. Of course, it's not the action that makes this such an immortal introduction, but the symphonic and sensuous manner in which Leone cuts it together, the droning wail of a water-pump or the buzzing of a fly all working in tandem to sew a perfect discord.  It's the greatest scene Quentin Tarantino never filmed, taking all of his dialogue and sublimating it into stimuli -- an entire epoch, anamorphically distilled into 13 minutes. Add one of the greatest motifs that Ennio Morricone / anyone has ever written, a terse and impossibly cool bit of chirping, and one supremely badass Charles Bronson and you've got film perfection.

The tragically abbreviated clip below doesn't even begin to do it justice. - DE

1.) "8 ½" (Federico Fellini) 1963

What does it all mean? You’ve come all this way so I won’t go into a long, indulgent explanation here. What I will say is this: the opening of “8 ½” is brilliant for the same reason that the film as a whole is brilliant. It’s as rich in symbolism as it is in character, as visually impressive as it is emotionally resonant. “8 ½” is a triumph of sound and music that begins with complete and utter silence. To eventually reach its open, exultantly freeing finale it must open trapped, cramped and short of breath. “8 ½” is like a roller coaster of consciousness – this sequence is the train climbing that first hill, stopping briefly at the top to quietly look down from the heavens before plunging into a rollicking, pulsing adventure through one man’s tortured mind. – DW