10 Best Opening Scenes In Movie History

These movies have the best opening scenes ever.

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

opening scenes

These days, some of the biggest franchises, including John Wick and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, typically dominate the box office. Audiences clearly love these franchises, but when did these films actually win them over? It all comes down to how you start, and we’re here to deliver a definitive ranking of the best opening scenes in Hollywood history.

10. Up (2009)

If you don’t mind opening scenes that make you sad, then you’ll probably enjoy the opening of Up. While most of the movie focuses on the interplay between old and grumpy Carl and young and plucky Russell, the opening shows Carl as a happy young groom, then following his life and absolute devastation at the death of his wife. As heartbreaking as it is, the death of Carl’s bride Ellie helps set the story in motion so that we can fully appreciate that young Russell is basically the son that Carl and Ellie never got the chance to have.

9. The Social Network (2010)

If you didn’t already realize that The Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin, it has one of those opening scenes that will instantly tip you off. In playing Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg speaks a mile a minute, quickly establishing himself as equal measures intelligent and socially maladjusted. His getting rightly dumped by his girlfriend in this scene helps to set up the rest of the plot, which firmly establishes that the idea of Facebook came out of Zuckerberg’s need for petty revenge.

8. The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather is one of those movies that devotes opening scenes to introducing the outsized personalities we are going to spend a lot of time with. For example, much of this scene is dominated by Marlon Brando as the titular godfather, entertaining requests ahead of the wedding of his daughter. Therefore, we are introduced to Don Corleone as a decisive problem-solver with an instantly-iconic voice, and the scene effortlessly introduces other important themes like the struggle between adopting American values and retaining Italian cultural heritage.

7. Jaws (1975)

opening scenes

We love all the opening scenes on this list, but Jaws deserves a special nod because it decides to get to the point and give the audience what we want. Director Steven Spielberg knew that people were coming to see a giant shark eat people, and that’s exactly what we get in the first scene. In addition to getting our attention, this scene makes sure we share Brody’s frustration when he can’t get the mayor to take the shark threat seriously.  

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

opening scenes

And if Steven Spielberg was already pretty good at giving audiences what they wanted in opening scenes with Jaws, he was a genuine master by the time he released Saving Private Ryan. The opening scene shows the D-Day invasion of Normandy in a stunning level of detail that we have never seen before or since. It’s a thrilling way to kick things off, and this scene helps us to appreciate the quieter character moments that come later on.

5. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now has one of those opening scenes that leans more into stylishly setting the entire mood of the film and our principal characters. Hearing the haunting music by The Doors gives everything a creeping air of unreality, and we see a confusing swirl of imagery that includes forests being lit on fire, helicopters flying, and a soldier descending into alcoholism and madness. In addition to instantly engaging the audience, this scene also forces us to later question whether Martin Sheen’s character is any saner than the crazy fellow soldier he is assigned to bring in.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Long before becoming a memorable villain in Star Trek: Picard, Amanda Plummer was giving us one of the best opening scenes in film history in Pulp Fiction. We see her and her boyfriend (Tim Roth) having a frank discussion about robbing the restaurant before threatening all of the customers at gunpoint. Sure, the scene is interesting in and of itself, but what makes it really captivating is that the circular storytelling of Quentin Tarantino ensures we don’t get a resolution to this scene until the end of the movie.

3. The Dark Knight (2008)

Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan knew that The Dark Knight needed to stand out from other Batman opening scenes, so he gave us something different: an intimate view of a well-planned bank robbery. We soon find out this is all the work of the Joker (Heath Ledger), someone who isn’t afraid to take on the mob or kill his own henchmen. In one scene, we get the perfect introduction to the fact that the Joker is smart enough to be a major threat and chaotically violent enough that his actions can’t easily be predicted.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

opening scenes

While we’re crossing our fingers that the next Indiana Jones will be better than the last, true fans of everyone’s favorite archeologist know it doesn’t get better than Raiders of the Lost Ark. The opening scene here shows Indy at his best as he successfully raids a tomb only to run afoul of an old colleague’s betrayal and hostile natives. In short, the scene establishes Indy as both a hyper-competent adventurer and an underdog, making it easier to root for him as he hunts down the biggest treasure yet.

1. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

opening scenes

As far as opening scenes go, the first Star Wars movie is nothing less than perfect: it gives us great introductions to some of our important characters, painting Leia as fiercely determined, C-3PO as perpetually scared, and Darth Vader as death incarnate. But even before we get introduced to these characters, the shot of the Rebel blockade runner being chased by the Imperial Star Destroyer perfectly sets up the rest of the film. The Star Destroyer is overpowering in its reach, just like the Empire, and the Rebels’ ship is a symbol of their struggle as they try to stay one step ahead of Vader and his minions.

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