The film opening scene. The best chance to make the best impression on the viewer, and sometimes the only chance to hook in your audience before you lose them altogether – especially in this ADD, 140 character, 7 seconds per web page world we find ourselves living in today.
Like all of my lists, this will measure five films in total. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, just ones I particularly like.
LORD OF WAR
Creepy, unsettling and thought-provoking, the first three and a half minutes of this film set a bar so high it’s hard for the rest of the film to clear it. Without any words in relation to character or plot, you are instantly dropped into the world of the film. A couple of lines, some great music and stunning images. Watch this, and I defy you to not want to see what comes next.
Speaking of films not clearing the bar set by the opening sequence, the first 20 minutes of The A-Team are among the best in action-comedy film history. Each character is quickly introduced, but without sacrificing any depth and character quirks. The opening sequence drops you right into the center of their world, challenging the viewer to catch up – always a good way to get your viewers engaged quickly. Can’t find the full 20 minutes online, so you’ll have to settle for this piece.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Like with the A-Team, The Social Network drops the viewer straight into the middle of its world – right into the middle of a crucial character conversation, in fact. (Perhaps) thankfully, that’s where the similarities end. All dialogue with quick cuts, each character is well established through the crackling interplay. A scene with took 99 takes to get just right (writer Aaron Sorkin lobbied for one more to make an even 100), the exhausting scene sets the stage for the rest of the film. Here’s a piece of it for your viewing pleasure.
Like with the Social Network, the opening scene for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is all dialogue and interplay between two characters. Very few can take seemingly throwaway dialogue and use it to consistently build underlying tension like Tarantino, in this case without either character acknowledging what’s actually happening below the surface. For this scene alone, the film should have won Best Picture. Again, I can’t find the full piece online, so here’s a sample.
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Different from any of the other five scenes, Butch Cassidy is almost minimalist in nature. Starting with the old film clips, it helps establish the historical nature of the film, and also offers the film’s primary juxtaposition: Butch and Sundance alive in an Old West that also is advanced to the point where it can film them. It goes on to show all of the security measures the bank is taking against robberies, which Butch lamenting the fact to the guard that the bank now looks ugly – both aesthetically and in a business sense. Finally, Sundance is well-established as the amazing gunfighter he is, while also bringing out the sparking interplay between the two characters. None of the opening is online, but enjoy the film’s original trailer.