Top Ten Favorite Opening Sequences of All Time
Wow, that doesn’t sound like an ambitious title at all. It’s actually more like “ten of my favorite opening/title sequences that I can thing of right now in chronological order”, but that’s not really a catchy title. During the last couple days, after watching Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, I’ve been thinking about my favorite movie endings. Since those are difficult to discuss without spoilers, I thought I’d take a moment to mention a few of my favorite beginnings. I am going to post a clip for every movie I mention, unfortunately some of those are in really low quality, but it’s more “just in case” anyway.
Most, not all, of these movies are well-known and appreciated, but I’ll still mention a couple reasons why I love the way they start. As always: These are just some personal favorites, I’m not saying these are the best of all time or anything. The way I approached the selection was by looking at my favorite films and then favorite directors and try to remember their best films and how they start. Yes, I also cheated and used google to help me out a little. Other than that feel free to mention your favorites: That’s what the comment section is for. Thank you and enjoy (responsibly).
10. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
Citizen Kane is probably the first black & white film I ever saw. We had to watch it in a class in a communications and journalism class in middle school, because it’s considered the best film of all time. I was ready to hate the movie, my instinctive reaction to anything that is too popular, but immediately after the title of the film came up on the screen and Bernard Herrmann’s score kicked in I was taken by the film. Not only did it became one of my very favorites, but it started my passion for black & white cinematography. Just fantastic.
9. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
I probably don’t need to convince anyone that Ingmar Bergman is a genius, but if there are still some non believers out there: Watch The Seventh Seal. The iconic chess scene of this film was parodied and referenced ad nauseam throughout cinema history, most notably by one of the director’s biggest fan: Woody Allen. To me this is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. It just encompasses everything I love about cinema right there in a couple simple shots.
8. L’eclisse (1962, Michelangelo Antonioni)
There’s certainly a lot of great opening sequences to chose from with a director like Michelangelo Antonioni, who had equally, if not more, awesome and completely breathtaking endings. I’ll just go with L’eclisse because it starts with no dialogue and no score, the camera focussing more on the objects than the humans in the frame. Right there he establishes the relationship between Francisco Rabal and Monica Vitti‘s character, while of course also making a bold statement on materialism.
7. 8½ (1963, Federico Fellini)
Fellini’s self-indulgent masterpiece about a director that can’t seem to finish his movie, begins with a spectacular dream sequence that feels is both eerie and incredibly haunting. Naturally, the credit has to be shared with cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo who, hey what a coincidence, shot L’eclisse and other earlier Antonioni films. If you watch the whole sequence you’ll also see my favorite film shot of all time, but don’t stop there! Watch the whole movie. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to start your movie, but Stanley Kubrick sci-fi epic definitely has to be up there. It’s flawless. Perfection. Whether it was his “training” to prepare shooting the fake moon landing scenes or not: Doesn’t matter this is just the best way to begin your film. It’s simple. No need for big camera movements or anything outlandish. By the way if you’re a font fanatic and were wondering about the typeface of that beautiful, classy title: It’s Gill Sans.
5. Tapage nocturne aka Nocturnal Uproar (1979, Catherine Breillat)
J’ai mal à la tête parce que j’ai menti. Not sure if this movie “deserves” to be among the ranks of the great pictures I just mentioned, but it was what inspired me to write this piece. Besides it’s Catherine Breillat, she’s a great director I feel more people should check out. I love this opening title sequence because it’s mostly just Dominique Laffin looking back at the viewer with her pretty face. Oh, and what about that song? Tapage nocturne written by Serge Gainsbourg (yes, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s dad) and performed by Bijoux. I’m in love.
4. Der Himmel über Berlin aka Wings of Desire (1987, Wim Wenders)
The way the camera moves in this film is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It goes everywhere, it floats, it lingers and then it moves on. It’s almost as if only an angel could have filmed this, which seems apt, because this is a movie about two angels. Like with Citizen Kane when I first watched this film I was instantly taken. This movie also features one of my all time favorite title cards. It’s a stunning movie by the way, unfortunately I only found this bad-looking clip on YouTube, but the film itself is absolutely amazing.
3. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
Many people would say this is David Lynch’s best films, although I personally still prefer Inland Empire and Blue Velvet, but it’s like picking a favorite M&M, only with weird moody music and strangely beautiful visuals. Once again I have to apologize for the bad video quality here, but this sequence is to die for. It takes the viewer right to Mulholland Dr. and reminds me a little bit of one of Lynch’s own favorite films Sunset Blvd. in way it shoots the Hollywood Hills. It’s a great opening and it features all of Lynch’s stylistic trademarks.
2. Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
You knew this was coming, right? No, it’s not because of Scarlett Johansson’s lovely derrière (although I’m not complaining), but the scene that comes immediately after. The one where Bill Murray arrives in Tokyo to Girls by Death In Vegas playing softly in the background. The lights, the actor, the song, the city, the colors: Everything is perfect. Every time I watch this film I’m entranced from the get go. It’s a very immersive experience and the fact that it works so well is because Sofia establishes the rhythm and feel of the film from the start.
1. Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier)
Nothing can prepare you for the first time you see this scene. Not even Antichrist. Melancholia starts with an extreme slow-motion montage of Kirsten Dunst’s character and her visions of the end of the world. Meanwhile Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is playing and setting the tone for what’s undoubtedly the best film about the apocalypse. Those are just some of the most beautiful visual I’ve had the pleasure to feast my eyes upon in a movie theater and it’s just an overall overpowering experience especially if you watch it with the right sound system.
Excellent selection. I would have to think for a long time about a list like this. Love The Seventh Seal in particular – that movie is perfection.
Thank you, Anna! Yes, it really is perfection. Pure art. I guess I should revisit some of Bergman’s films that I watched when I wasn’t a fan yet (like Persona), I bet I’d love them even more now.
Seeing as I am a philistine I will ignore the Bergmans, Fellinis and Antonionis and say that the Scarlett Johansson derrière is the best of the lot! Haha
Haha! Well, your point is just as valid as mine. Can’t argue with it 🙂 What are some of your favorite opening scenes?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I’m not good at thinking of stuff off the top of my head, so I’ll be boring and say Goodfellas!
Not boring at all, that’s an excellent pick!
I’ll have to think of some more. Obviously a lot of Wes Anderson’s stuff is cool. But just the whole Goodfellas thing is classic…
“Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”!
It really is. Did you notice how The Wolf of Wall Street begins in sort of a similar way? Like Scorsese is comparing the gangsters to stockbrokers. I thought that was really interesting..
Oh totally Anderson’s opening sequences are fantastic! Can’t wait to see what he has done with The Grand Budapest Hotel 😀
Some excellent choices here, Melancholia is full of so many images that stick in the mind.
Great post, Davide!! Of the ones you posted, I liked the opening from 8 1/2 the best. It has motivated me to watch the entire film.
Glad to see Mullholland Drive on there. I’m not a huge David Lynch fan but I loved that opening sequence, too. And gah, why have I not seen Melancholia yet?!? It’s been sitting in my Netflix queue for ages!
You should consider submitting this post to Curnblog. It really is that good, and quite in line with the kind of stuff they usually post. http://curnblog.com
Wow, I’m overwhelmed! Thank you so much LV 😀
I’m so happy every time I can inspire someone to watch a movie. One of the main reasons why I blog is to promote the films I love.
I always enjoy discussing films with you in particular, because you bring a different point of view. So again: Many thanks 🙂
As I have said before the opening scene in 81/2 is definitely one of the best opening scenes of all time. I like the one in chungking express and 400 blows as well though. Nice post.
Oh! Both excellent, yes! Chunking Express would maybe be my #11 🙂