Anyone that has ever tried to write something, whether it be a story, a poem, a script or even an essay, knows that the first sentence is always the hardest. It sets a pretence of what is to follow which means that if your first sentence isn’t up to scratch, your reader will assume that the rest isn’t either.
It is the same for films. The opening scene or scenes of a film set the tone and mood in order to successfully lead the viewer to a climax of anticipation and awe before the story gets under way. A bad film opening might mean cinema ticket sales if your film is cleverly advertised, but people sure as hell aren’t buying your DVD afterwards.
Below are five of my favourite film openings, and why I consider them to be ‘perfect’. They are also all favourite films of mine, and I would recommend all of them to pretty much anyone.
Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino
‘Honey-Bunny’ and ‘Pumpkin’ open Tarantino’s punchy masterpiece with an interchange which is just as jarring as it is funny. The scene perfectly establishes the core of the film, which hangs upon endless scenes of riveting dialogue.
28 Days Later – Danny Boyle
The opening scene is not technically the one I have chosen to share with you here. The sequence I am referring to comes just after this, when coma patient Jim awakens to a desolate and deserted city. Filmed on location, the scenes of actor Cillian Murphy walking through the empty London create a terrifying sense of reality and isolation that create the perfect sense of horror needed for the plot to unfold successfully.
The Shining – Stanley Kubrick
A simpler film opening than the others, but just as effective, the beginning of The Shining indicates an unease that continues to blossom throughout the course of the film. The music used in this opening sequence along with sweeping aerial shots of a lone car in the mountains creates the ultimate tension, along with an overwhelming sense of solitude that extends far past this first sequence.
Trainspotting – Danny Boyle
Firmly ingrained in the Edinburgh drug scene, it is made perfectly clear that Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, has chosen his chaotic criminal life throughout the opening scene. The famous voice over – ‘Choose Life’ – has become an iconic moment in British cinema since, and not for no reason. The shots of McGregor smoking in a dingy and derelict room before collapsing on the ground convey perfectly the self destructive nature of the Scottish rebels, displaying their characters effectively and preparing the audience for a challenging yet darkly comic story.
Fight Club – David Fincher
Insomniac Edward Nortan’s banal life routine is juxtaposed against cinematographic genius which, in an extremely short space of time, works to establish an in depth and fascinating character. It is my belief that the opening of this film is almost a film within itself, and is my favourite film opening of the bunch.