20. "Choose Life!"
The Movie: Trainspotting (1996)
The Opener: The film that set the sagging British film industry alight doesn’t just get off to a running start, but a running, shop-lifting, smack-shooting eruption: a rush of young, beautiful, heroin-soaked British talent set to Iggy Pop’s pounding 'Lust For Life' and that searingly nihilist voice-over.
19. Jacking In...
The Movie: The Matrix (1999)
The Opener: The burbling green-screen electronics and back-alley noir intrigue, but it’s Trinity’s graceful time-and-gravity-defying kick to the chops that makes us sit up and really pay attention...
"Holy gods, how did she do that? In leather? And, more to the point, will she do it again?" Masses of action freaks, computer geeks and moody metalheads are instantly hooked. Shame about the sequels.
18. Dead Before You Know It
The Movie: The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Opener: Wait! What’s Bruce Willis doing opposite a gruesomely emaciated Donnie Wahlberg? He acting! Which, as much as the Hitchockian sense of anxiety (furrowed brows, economical but intelligent camerawork, a screaming pretty lady) is what’s so unusual about the blistering home-invasion opener to M. Night Shyamalan’s twisty chiller.
17. New York I Love You
The Movie: Manhattan (1979)
The Opener: A swaggering, witty and outrageous love-letter voiceover from Woody Allen to the city he idolises ("Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat...")
The film stirs to life with the teasing, rising strain of Gershwin’s 'Rhapsody In Blue', with Woody's intro chatter propelling a quick-cut tour of the sights via knowingly arty, intellectualised black and white photography.
It’s a gleaming great tribute to the busiest city on Earth, Allen's ardour rising to a triumphant crescendo of romping music and blossoming fireworks reflected in the Hudson.
16. Instant Hit
The Movie: Narc (2002)
The Opener: READYSETGO an unrecognisable Jason Patric stumbles out of a crack den after an unnamed perp, vaulting fences in a frosty Detroit project.
The urgent handheld camera tumbles over chainlink fences, past screaming witnesses and finally to a playground, where a little girl is turned into a human shield and Patric’s stray bullet catches her pregnant mother, shockingly, in the stomach.I NEED HELP!’. Dirty, brutal and brilliant.
15. Midnight Feast
The Movie: Jaws (1975)
The Opener: We don’t get to see the shark – Spielberg saves that for much later – but Jaws’ bloody beach-party skinny-dip tells you everything you need to know about the film’s unique tone of popular horror within seconds...
The water doesn’t belong to us any more, and if you hear that music, you’re already dead.
14. Earning It
The Movie: The Departed (2006)
The Opener: “No-one gives it to you. You have to take it...” So says Jack Nicholson’s verging-on-pantomine mobster Frank Costello. And after 30 years of not winning an Oscar for Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and others, Martin Scorsese was probably thinking something similar.
And he did take it, with a gripping crime remake that doesn’t touch his best work – except for those first five minutes, when the sublimely sinister Nicholson voices his intro over the Stones’ Gimme Shelter.
Check out the image/lyric timing, it’s sublime - and the decade-spanning fast-forward narrative recalls the director’s masterful best.
13. Ass You Like It
The Movie: Lost In Translation (2003)
The Opener: Well, no - not gratuitous. The lingering shot of Scarlett Johansson’s dipping, curving, resting body in semi-translucent pants and t-shirt sums up the woozy, adrift, early-dawn alienation of Sofia Coppola’s film in a single, barely moving image.
12. Starting An Evolution
The Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Opener: An astonishingly accomplished and ambitious few minutes of cinema, both meticulous and grandstanding.
First, darkness and chanting, then the glorious choreography of the stars, and finally pre-sentient man, scrapping over bones (each ape a professional dancer trained for weeks), the monolith as brave, impenetrable metaphor for a spark of thought, then man’s first tool becoming his latest – from bone to satellite. Dizzying.
11. Rolling start
The Movie: Quantum Of Solace (2008)
The Opener: No ‘previously…’ or refresher course here. New Bond simply demands you keep up, blasting straight back into the complex end-of-play anger from Casino Royale. At 90 mph. In an Aston Martin. With a hostage in the back.
The tear-up chase sequence probably owes much to Bourne - the series you now can’t discuss Bond without mentioning, the yin to 007’s yang. But in terms of kicking ass and taking names, it beats the hell out of a misty-eyed flashback.
10. Back On Track
The Movie: Touch Of Evil (1958)
The Opener: What Orson Welles could have done to secure the admiration of Hollywood is a question for the ages. He gave them Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and they still ran him out of town.
He returned years later, though, with Touch Of Evil and one of the most intricate and flamboyant single-take opening sequences ever filmed... and they chopped the movie to pieces.
Moving from close-up to overhead crane, from dialogue to tracking shot, it had everything - just like Welles, And it’s a miniature masterpiece.
9. Cold Calling
The Movie: Scream (1996)
The Opener: Knowing, assured and keyed right in to its intended irony-junkie audience, Scream’s pre-credit moider is like a mini feature of its own.
It has is own star (mid-comeback Drew Barrymore), a tight, chilling story, and a really mean ending which tees up the gleeful slashing to come.
8. The Spying Game
The Movie: The Conversation (1973)
The Opener: Taking a break between Godfathers, Francis Ford Coppola delivers the '70s paranoid thriller to end all ‘70s paranoid thrillers - with a theme relevant to our current CCTV-dominated times.
Starting with a conversation - a couple strolling through San Francisco’s Union Park, and a slow electronic zoom to find them - the camera feels, post-Kennedy, post-King, like a sniper sight.
As the film unfolds, the words being recorded do have a killing power. The rest is an object lesson in cold, calculating construction - of watching and listening, and why every word we say could have fatal consequences.
7. Leaving Home
The Movie: 28 Weeks Later (2007)
The Opener: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s infection sequel has an absolutely thumping start, even if it can’t keep pace with Danny Boyle’s original over the long haul.
It’s all about the raw realities of survival, and watching it feels like being thrown into a bath of cold water – not just because Robert Carlyle is forced to flee his terrified, incredulous wife, but because that pained split-second look on his face convinces us all that we’d do the same.
6. Under The White Picket Fence
The Movie: Blue Velvet (1986)
The Opener: Having overstepped his bounds with Dune (1984), David Lynch retreated to home ground with a dual vision of Smalltown, USA. Lush green lawns and slow-motion smiles give an eerie sheen to his too-perfect vision of suburban America.
It’s at once idyllic and revolting, Lynch's camera probing beneath the surface as waving firemen and roses give way to clicking bugs, heart attacks... and an ear.
5. Rock Star
The Movie: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
The Opener: Timeless, peerless, iconic.
It's all about Indy’s humanity – he sets off traps, smiles with triumph, sags with relief, is betrayed twice and runs away from a massive rock with the same frantic fear the audience is feeling. And all, somehow, in under ten minutes.
4. "What doesn't kill you..."
The Movie: The Dark Knight (2008)
The Opener: Our introduction to The Joker reflects The Joker - mean and smart and sharp and always one step ahead.
A bank job, masks all round, and the crew are offing themselves one by one, like a row of falling dominoes.
Then, Joker’s first magic trick (the arrival of the bus) followed quickly by his second (removing his mask to reveal… another mask).
It’s tight and gripping and expertly put together, but like the film itself it’s also bursting with typically Chris Nolan-esque ideas (identity, the power of misdirection) to back up the streamlined style. Watch here.
3. Prepare For Boarding...
The Movie: Star Wars: Episode IV (1977)
The Opener: Past the Freudian Star Destroyer and the endlessly discussed gravity of that opening shot, the magic of Star Wars’ beginning is that it’s a bloody mess.
You don’t know who’s who, you can’t understand what those robots are on about, and the talk of diplomatic missions goes way over your head.
But it doesn’t matter at all, because the basic mechanics of George Lucas’s pulpy space Western are so immediate and graspable.
This is beyond story. This is blockbuster.
2. Hitting The Beach
The Movie: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Opener: Spielberg’s pummelling Ohama Beach landing drew a line under all existing war movies and simply said, "Let’s start again"...
It a shocking. thunderous onslaught of reality, a blast of freezing, dizzying, delirious noise, of zipping rifle rounds and cheap, meaningless death.
The film may later collapse into a self-justifying moral stupor, but in these desperate few minutes there’s no story, there are no characters - just men and a moment in history which was recreated more urgently and significantly than ever before.
1. "As far back as I can remember..."
The Movie: Goodfellas (1990)
The Opener: Like the gangsters Martin Scorsese’s blistering film portrays, Goodfellas' opening is funny, charming and, most of all, full of fast-moving menace (even the credits zoom by, suggesting the holding-onto of hats is required).
There are savage laughs to be had from the hellish roadside murder, and an irresistible rush to the surging ‘remember when’ of Henry Hill’s teenage years...
How did it come to this? How did that hunger for glamour and status end up in dead-of-night knifing and burial?
As ever with Scorsese, behind the sheen of respect, there’s always danger... As star Ray Liotta clunks shut the trunk and a trumpet blares, there's that shocking crash-zoom - as though Scorsese's camera is rushing him - and you - in a bar fight: BAM, BAM, BAM!
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