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Greatest opening shots


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#1 Dan Goulder

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Posted 19 May 2008 - 06:19 PM

Not being a fan of "greatest" lists, I'm breaking my own rule here by starting this topic. However, I, and I assume others as well, might be interested in seeing a list of the greatest opening shots of all time. These would be the ones that grab you right from the first frame.
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#2 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 19 May 2008 - 07:01 PM

Now that's funny:

I recently had the same idea about such a topic in my head. It was seeded after posting about my top five cinematographers here and earlier here, thinking about cinematographic language "milestones" here, being challenged to think about my top five female DoPs here, stating my most inspiring painter here, and thinking about how to define photography vis-à-vis cinematography - which matters when you have to think about one opening shot (!), not a sequence...

It actually became a headache after watching four specific films over a short period of time: namely Stanley's "Eyes wide shut", George A Romero's "Day of the Dead", "Lothringen!" by Straub-Huillet, and "Raiders of the lost Ark" by Spielberg-Lucas.

A great debate with friends ensued to discuss this issue. We went through our video archives, narrowed the list down alot, and it was far-ranging, from the eyecatching "Star Wars" to the powerful "The Shining", to the grandness of the 1952 "The Importance of Being Earnest", not to mention anything by John Ford... Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" in the French synchronisation has a great opening atmo and sets the mood! If it where about in-film shots, Martin Scorsese and Andrei Tarkovsky would fill the list... with Gus van Sant's "My own private Idaho" topping it.

The problematic bit was to concentrate on something that has greatness, and is not merely the best or most successful or most adequate or most poetic, most cinematic or sheer grandness-oozing opening shot. It had to be great in respect to what it symbolises, at least for me...


In the end, I came to a conclusion:

The greatest opening shot for me would indeed be from Stanley's "Eyes wide shut". It perfectly encapsulates the notion of the "Traumnovelle", symbolised in a Freudian metaphor what the film talks the viewer through; it sets the mood of the film, and transports Stanley's visualisation or 'percept' that he developed for the film perfectly.

The greatest opening sequence for me would be the first five minutes from George A Romero's "Day of the Dead". Just plain and simply great!


For my greatest closing shot and closing sequence, click here... ;)
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#3 Michael Waite

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Posted 19 May 2008 - 11:03 PM

An obvious, but worthy pick for me is the opening of Touch of Evil by Orson Welles. Famous for the long continuous take of a bomb being placed under a car that drives across the Mexican border & then explodes. Everyone cites it but for good reason - it is dynamic & thrilling & uses moving film to tell a story in a way that no other medium can.

Another memorable shot is the opening of A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick, with the slow pull back from the faces of the main characters to a wide shot of them in a futuristic bar.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 May 2008 - 11:16 PM

Many of Kubrick's movies have great opening and closing shots. "2001" has some of my favorites for both, especially the last shot of the Starchild.

I love the opening and closing shots of "Excalibur".
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#5 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 May 2008 - 11:30 PM

I like the opening shot of Road to Perdition, of Michael riding his bike against the crowd of workers. The first shot of Lost in translation is enjoyable, too. ;)

As far as final shots, I get a little chill every time during that last long pull out at the end of Brazil, the cut with the bleak ending.

Both the beginning and end shots of A Clockwork Orange are quite remarkable, in a very simple sort of way.

Edited by Chris Keth, 19 May 2008 - 11:31 PM.

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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 12:31 AM

I have to honestly say one of the most gorgeous opening shots I've ever seen was in The Astronaut Farmer opening credits. David manged to capture the incredible southwestern sky in a way few others have. It is magnificent. Apocalypse Now was also utterly amazing. American Graffiti, ummm, Star Wars for sure......BUT the BEST was Jaws :D When you can scare the Hell out of the audience in the first 5 minutes, you KNOW you got 'em. B)
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#7 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 12:48 AM

The opening shot of "Satantango" by Bela Tarr is ... memorable. I've lost count as to how many times I've watched it. I also like the opening sequence in "Forrest Gump" (feather floating down).
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#8 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 12:52 AM

Star Wars: A New Hope. It's still awesome when that star destroyer flies in from seemingly overhead.

The Godfather. That opening shot of Bonasera, so memorable.

Raging Bull. The slow mo, the smoke, the flashing of the photobulb (created by the DP himself), it set the tone for the rest of the film.
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#9 Ayz Waraich

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 09:49 AM

Children of Men has a brilliant opening shot.
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#10 John Holland

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 12:01 PM

A shot means one uncut shot , but how about pushing it about so a scene before the title ? "From Russia with Love " "Goldfinger " "Once upon a time in the West " ?
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#11 John Allen

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 01:03 PM

I can't think of my favorite off the top of my head, but I've got to say "Rebecca" (1940) had a great opening shot.
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#12 Rich Hibner

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 01:29 PM

Children of Men has a brilliant opening shot.


Amen and Saving Private Ryan

Edited by Rich Hibner, 20 May 2008 - 01:30 PM.

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#13 Ger Leonard

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 06:04 PM

Came across this blog a while back so when saw this post thought i'd share it with you.

http://blogs.suntime..._shots_project/

NOTE: we are talking opening shot here not opening sequence right? in truth talking about opening shots alone precludes some wonderful sequences .. Perhaps that would be a more useful topic..? Also opening credit sequences ..?

Anyway, the "opening shots" that really imprinted themselves on my psyche (at least the ones that are coming to mind now)

RATCATCHER lynne ramsey "a kid wrapping himself in a curtain. For some reason this connected to the fact he was going to die later, it looked kind of like a shroud. It was just a sense of something foreboding, which is what I wanted to do with the sound design as well. We used muted kids' voices, so it has this eerie atmosphere; but literally it's just a kid wrapping himself in the curtain. The image just stuck in my head and it felt right." (Gaurdian interview)

NIL BY MOUTH gary oldman. Ray Winstone ordering drinks in a bar, a palpable sense of impending violence.

SILENT NIGHT Carlos Reygadas. Sublime


THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY sergio leone
A vast empty Western landscape. The camera pans across it. Then the shot slides onto a sunburned, desperate face. The long shot has become a closeup without a cut, revealing that the landscape was not empty but occupied by a desperado very close to us.
In these opening frames, Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

LA DOLCE VITA Federico Fellini.. The hovering Christ statue suspended from a helicopter blessing the City ..

LOVES OF A BLONDE Milos Forman.. brash girl with guitar belting out tune to camera in this classic of czech new wave. Deceptively simple and pure..

THE NAKED KISS Sam Fuller . A woman beats the poop out of her drunk pimp with her purse. Jazz plays on the soundtrack, insane bebop. She's shot head on, swinging with the shoe; the first shot is her just pulling back and walloping the guy. Halfway through the fight, he grabs her hair, which all comes off; it's a wig, and her head is shaved.

NAKED Mike Leigh. As we hear a woman moaning in either pain or ecstasy, the handheld camera moves down a dark alley, shaking like an there's earthquake, and it stops at the single pool of light, where a man with his back to us has forced a woman against the wall, raping her..

HALLOWEEN John Carpenter. A four-minute single take that builds up to the brutal murder of a teenage girl in a quiet home in a quiet neighborhood by victim's 6 year old brother..

KISS ME DEADLY Robert Aldrich. Before any credit sequence, the film begins with a pair of naked feet running down the middle of a highway in the black of the night.

BLUE VELVET David Lynch. Shot of a blue sky as Bobby Vinton croons, ?Blue Velvet.? The camera pans to a white picket fence with roses in front.

Know i'm leaving out some that i'll regret later but these are all inspired and inspirational.
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#14 Dan Goulder

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Posted 20 May 2008 - 06:46 PM

NOTE: we are talking opening shot here not opening sequence right? in truth talking about opening shots alone precludes some wonderful sequences .. Perhaps that would be a more useful topic..? Also opening credit sequences ..?

Hey... We're flexible here. (insert standard happy face here)
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#15 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 21 May 2008 - 11:14 PM

Too many to ponder but a few that recently stick out to me:

The three minute opening zoom shot in The Conversation.

The Last Picture Show's slow pan of the vacant town with the wind blowing and leaves rustling.

The Deer Hunter. The frame within a frame of the town and factory which then moves in slowly, inviting you to come and see the people that live there. I'm not sure there is a more perfectly photographed film.
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#16 Mike Lary

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Posted 21 May 2008 - 11:33 PM

Last Tango in Paris.
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#17 Jamie Lewis

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Posted 22 May 2008 - 07:15 AM

25th Hour for opening shot and opening scene.

And the first non-stop shot in Russian Ark. :P

Edited by Jamie Lewis, 22 May 2008 - 07:16 AM.

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#18 boy yniguez

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 02:12 AM

AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD by werner herzog
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#19 Tom Lowe

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 09:49 AM

Somewhat recent films:

Boogie Nights --- long steadicam shot.

Revenge of the Sith --- that beautiful ship with the drum beats.
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#20 Alexander Browne

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 10:48 AM

The opening shot of Millenium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien) I find quite beautiful.
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