The best advice we can give horror movie makers out there is to grab your audience from the first second. Measured pacing is good for those worthwhile scares, but dawdling will lose less patient viewers' attention. Starting things off with a great opener is the perfect way to keep viewers invested, as well as get their adrenaline pumping.
Establishing a terrifying atmosphere early on is no easy feat. After all, you don't want to show all your cards before the game even really begins, do you? While we're discussing great opening scares, get ready to cover your eyes. What we've got for you below are ten of the scariest openers in horror. Just be aware there are spoilers, too.
10 Darkness Falls (2003)
Darkness Falls isn't exactly regarded as a horror classic. It's just one of many PG-13 scary movies that pervaded the 2000s. It plays on tropes and clichés like they're going out of style, and its execution is phoned in. This is a shame, because the opening act is so well handled.
The story begins in the past, with the protagonist, a young boy, coming face to face with his deepest fear. Heavy shadows, shallow breaths, and ominous hallways all add to a successful introduction to the admittedly creepy Tooth Fairy.
9 Ghost Ship (2002)
Another 2000s horror that banks on a stellar opening scene is Ghost Ship. Be that as it may, you will struggle to remember anything after the beginning of this maritime haunter. That's simply because the rest of the movie is unremarkable. The introduction, though, is brilliant.
Aboard an Italian ocean liner in 1962, the passengers dance on the deck as the entertainment performs. All of a sudden, a nearby spool snaps, and the wire within is whipped across the dance floor. Only one guest survives as everyone else is severed in half. You will be hard-pressed not to remember this one. The stellar special effects keep this grisly massacre firmly lodged in our memories.
8 Final Destination (2000)
Before Final Destination became a franchise where we knew the opening act contained a catastrophic event, the first movie was honestly startling. It caught us off guard and never let us go. In future entries, the disasters became more and more intricate. The innovation of the original stands out, though.
Alex and his classmates have boarded a flight to Paris, France. Before taking off, Alex has a visceral premonition of the plane exploding in mid-air. He then panics. This leads to Alex being ejected from the flight, along with other passengers. The plane finally blows up in the same manner as Alex had predicted.
7 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
The Twilight Zone has had a great influence on the way we tells stories. Most short-form horror with a punchy ending owes a debt to the iconic show. Without Rod Serling's classic anthology, we would struggle to convey terror in so little time. In the 1983 Twilight Zone film, we get a mix of tales that don't always scare, but the opener is what really sets the mood.
In the prologue, Albert Brooks' character picks up a hitchhiker played by Dan Aykroyd. As naturally funny as these actors are, they just aren't cutting the tension enough with their conversation. We are expecting something to happen. When it does, you can't help but be ready to enter the Twilight Zone.
6 The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski's The Ring is an almost faithful localization of Hideo Nakata's 1998 movie of the same name. It almost matches it beat-for-beat, with only a few changes to the story. One thing the remake thankfully did not leave out was the opening scene.
Two teenagers are home alone and goofing around. The subject of the cursed tape comes up, and then the phone rings after one of them claims to have watched the video. We're led downstairs to one of the teens answering the ominous phone call. It's not the supposed ghost coming to collect, though. From there, we come to learn that the curse is very much real and it's just claimed its latest victim. This cold open lacks a score, relying only on eerie silence. All the prolonged suspense ultimately crescendos into a breakneck, horrifying death sequence that you will never forget.
5 Jaws (1975)
Jaws made us scared of the ocean, but before Steven Spielberg unleashed this man-eating great white, sharks were relatively mysterious and fearsome creatures. However, Spielberg catapulted the shark into the collective consciousness. He gave people something new to fear.
At the start of Jaws, Chrissie goes for a night swim in the waters off Amity Island. With only the moonlight as a witness, she is then jerked across the water's surface before she's ultimately dragged to her death. This type of scene is fairly common nowadays (especially in creature features) but those movies have Jaws to thank for the inspiration. Is it truly a horror movie? That debate is still ongoing, but the terrifying an iconic intro is still as powerful as it ever was.
4 Halloween (1978)
You cannot make a slasher without giving us a strong opening scene. Otherwise, what's the point of your movie? We need to know the threat is there before diving into yet another reiteration of a story we all know by heart at this point.
In John Carpenter's Halloween, a teenage babysitter has an inkling that someone is watching her. She has no substantial proof, but she's right to trust her instincts. As she watches over her clients' kids, the babysitter is pitted against Michael Myers, a man who killed his sister years ago. As frightening as the whole movie is, Halloween seizes our attention from the beginning. Through only the eyes of an unseen party, we watch helplessly as a teenager is stabbed to death. Outside, the assailant is revealed to be a boy, whose face is emotionless.
3 The Hitcher (1986)
The protagonist proclaims "my mother told me never to do this" as he picks up a hitchhiker during his drive across the country. He should have listened to her.
All Jim wanted was some company to keep him awake. What he got was a villain whose sinister nature becomes more apparent as the tense situation plays out. The Hitcher is likened to a nightmare. There is so much subtext to this thriller, but you might not pick it up on the first watch because you're too consumed by insurmountable dread.
2 Scream (1996)
Very few new things can be said about Scream, a movie that has forever changed the scope of modern horror. Wes Craven single-handedly sparked interest in the genre with his send-up of slasher films. We might seem too jaded these days to appreciate something like Scream, but that opener is as powerful now as it was back then.
A teenager named Casey is at home by herself one night. She answers a call from someone who eventually admits he's watching her. Casey has no choice but to then engage in a cat-and-mouse game. When she fails to beat her tormentor, she is punished in the most gruesome way. While the Scream franchise is considered a parody of slashers, the very first kill in the whole series still scares the living daylights out of us.
1 When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Here it is. This 1979 crime thriller boasts what could be the most instrumental opening scene in all horror movies. When a Stranger Calls was a game-changer whose first twenty minutes left us reeling. What starts off as a simple night of babysitting ends up being a fight for survival for Jill. She answers the phone during the night, and the person on the other line asks her if she's checked on the children. This happens again; Jill is understandably spooked. Finally, the police trace the call and learn the caller is inside the house with Jill.
The other two acts of the film are nowhere as effective as the intro. Regardless, When a Stranger Calls is the go-to if you want to see the scariest opening ever in a horror movie.