Six Movies Where the Intro Sequence is the Best Part

A good beginning is crucial to a movie. It has to introduce the world of the story, give you an idea of the tone it’ll be taking, and give you a reason to stay in your seat (or not change the channel, or shut your browser, or whatever). Star Wars. The Matrix. The Godfather. Apocalypse Now. The Dark Knight. Great movies, great openings. You were definitely sticking around for the rest of those.

Then again, there are movies where so much work goes into the opening scene that the rest of the movie pales in comparison. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s always a little curious when it happens. Like it did with these six movies…

Touch of Evil

The Scene:
In what has to be one of cinema’s most impressive long takes, Orson Welles shows us a bomb being placed into the trunk of a car, then follows the car through a crowded street, introducing characters and scenery along the way. As long takes go, this is one of the bigger ones I can think of. Not only is the shot impressive, but the scene builds on good old nuts-and-bolts filmmaking extremely well. A ticking time bomb is the very definition of cinema suspense, and this opener gets the most out of it.


The Rest:
After this scene, unfortunately, the movie goes downhill a bit. Other memorable highlights of the film include Charlton Heston as one of cinema’s least convincing Mexicans…

… and Orson Welles as a sort of Jabba the Hutt prototype.

“Wonkee chee sa crispa con Greedo?”

The rest of the movie ranges from fine to good. Welles is a consummate filmmaker, and on the technical side of things this picture is no different. Its plot, however, doesn’t stick with me like my favorites from the era. In short, it’s a somewhat lesser movie from one of cinema’s iconic figures,

But man does it open with a bang. Um… literally.

Star Trek

The Scene:
An alien menace. A murdered captain. A young officer, promoted in battle. George Kirk had a matter of minutes to save as many people as possible, and succeeded with flying colors. J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot opens in sensational fashion. A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth goes all-in for the ten minutes he has, and the result is the most emotional scene of the movie. It’s almost essential that the main title punches through when it does, since the opening scene feels a bit like a great self-contained short film.


The Rest:
Remember, just because the opening scene is the best part doesn’t mean the movie is bad. Star Trek is clever, energetic, and simply a blast to watch. The opening, however, simply functions on a different level. Nothing in the rest of the movie (like, say, the destruction of Vulcan) really ever gets to that emotional register again. Spock’s loss in the middle of the story is a downer, sure, but we don’t feel torn apart the way we do in the opening scene. In fact, that opener is strong enough that, when we meet Capt. Pike and hear of his admiration for Jim’s father, we understand why someone would admire the last ten minutes of Kirk’s life in the way he does.


The Scene:

Speaking of emotional openings… I mean, do I really have to say anything else here? The montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together makes the opening scene of Star Trek up there look like a Lifetime movie. And honestly, people forget how funny and touching the small scene before that is, too. Watching young Carl trying to figure out this new girl, simultaneously terrified of her and enraptured by her, is one of the great character beats of this movie.


The Rest:
Like Star Trek, there’s some great stuff sprinkled throughout Up’s runtime. Carl’s first ascent in the balloons, the ensuing storm, the incessant frustration of Russell… but again, none of it packs the wallop of that prologue. In fairness — and again in comparison to Star Trek — the opening serves its purpose by being so freakin’ good that you understand why Carl has such a problem creating a new life after Ellie’s ends.

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  1. I wanted to disagree with you on many of these purely because I like a lot of these movies and felt like you were going give out about all them except for their opening scenes but you didn’t. Nice article.

  2. I’m not sure if this qualifies, but the intro to The Phantom of the Opera where the insides of the opera goes from black and white to color is pretty damn impressive.

  3. This may be a completely seperate inventory but Inglourious Basterds had one of the most riveting opening scenes ever. I found the rest of the film frustrating in a way that I find a lot of Tarantino films frustrating… the man can put together some of the most amazing scenes ever recorded but often struggles to create a satisfying whole. I LIKED Inglourious Basterds but I LOVED the opening, the scene in the bar, just about every scene with Christoph Waltz… the tension was palpable in all of those scenes. Somehow the sum added up to less than the individual pieces.

    It could also be that I just find GROSSLY revisionist history to be extremely jarring.

  4. The Last Airbender. I wish I would’ve left the theater after the credits. I had so much hope after they did so well on the credits.
    Too bad it turned into one of the worst and most disappointing movies I have ever seen.

  5. two good action scenes does not make a great movie
    x-men 2 for all its polished effects is the first movie with small differences and suffers the from lack of character development and predictability

  6. I really liked Lord Of War, but I could see how others wouldn’t.

    Also, I’d like to add Belly to the list. Shitty movie, cool intro with Nas, DMX & black lights. You can find it on youtube, but I woudn’t recommend watching it past that.

    District B-13, maybe? Awesome chase scene, “meh” at best.

  7. I agree on all, except in Up, the scene where he leafs through his wife’s scrapbook at the end and finds her directive to “go and make your own adventure” is just as emotional, to me, as the intro

  8. The Rundown. Great opening scene where The Rock takes out a bunch of football players, and there was an Arnold cameo. The rest was OK, better than I thought it would be but the opening was the best part

  9. Eragon, and this is comparing it to the book. The opening scene is the closest the movie comes to the book, even though there’s still how many differences that really make one facepalm.

  10. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Brilliantly apocalyptic goddamn opening scene. The rest of the film is alright, but that opener really makes it for me.

  11. I’ve always believed the opening sequence for Absolute Beginners was tops. We follow the hero, Colin, into his flat, watch him deciding on shirts before the wall containing photos of his gf Suzette, she frowns on 2, then nods at 1. He puts it on & heads out into an incredibly lively Soho. The camera pulls back & we see incredibly choreographed groups of people swarming on the streets. This was pre-digital, so I’ve been told on good authority that director Julien Temple was really pushing the boundaries of camera technology to film this in 1 take.

    I do agree with you on the Star Trek re-boot. Truly riveting start!

  12. I’m gonna second “The Last Airbender”; although the intro was basically the live action version of the cartoon’s intro, it was the only part of that movie that didn’t make me want to shoot Shalamylan… out of a cannon… into the sun.

  13. @Charlie Ward: Not that I know your sister, but I think anyone who didn’t at least tear up for the opening sequence needs to be labelled a Grinch, and needs a heart enlargement operation.

    I should’ve known better than to click on the Up sequence. Though I could hold it back again, but time does NOT reduce the impact. Cried like a baby within the first three minuttes and didn’t stop until Ellie’s last message. That movie requires Kleenex Warnings.

    Personally I would also include Wall-E’s opening sequence. That dialogue free segment of Wall-E going about his day really put his isolation on display in a way that brought out the reasons why he did what he did in the rest of the film, which never really caught my heart the way the opening did.

  14. The first act of District 9 is great. Then it falls apart.

    And I agree with Up. The first 15 minutes is an emotional roller coaster and it’s hard to get past it.

  15. Zombieland – the opening sequence with Metallica blasting through is plain and simple awesome…the rest of the movie is great, yeah, but I could do with 5-6 min clips of slow mo zombie killing/escaping set to different fist pumping metal songs

  16. Ghost Ship. The rest of the film was pointless, but that opening sequence and the sheer audacity to kill off almost everyone in about ten seconds was fabulous.

  17. Just watched the into to the Rundown, and I thought I’d search “Rundown is one of the best itros ever”. I fully intended to watch Blade’s intro right after. Both on your list. Great article.

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