The opening scene of a movie is crucial in setting the film's tone. Most movies try to start off with an exciting scene that introduces the main character or the story. However, some films kick it up a notch by adding a twist, subverting expectations and setting up for more surprises. The ones that do it best become icons.
Here are some of the most exciting, impressive scenes from film history. A movie's trailer gives an insight into what the film will be about, but sometimes the opening scene changes everything. Find out just how deep filmmakers are willing to go to create memories. These are ten of the most shocking opening scenes in movie history.
10 Finding Nemo
Fans expected Finding Nemo to feature a fun and silly story about a fish getting lost and his father trying to find him. However, the movie starts with an emotional scene most viewers were were not expecting from the Pixar films.
Marlin and his wife Coral were planning to start a family before a barracuda attack. Only Marlin and the single egg that Nemo hatches from survive this emotional opening. It's an important scene, explaining Marlin's overprotective attempts to keep Nemo safe while also making many viewers unexpectedly sob.
9 Citizen Kane
The artistry of Citizen Kane’s opening scene made it quite unique for the time. Dissolve editing is used here to show various shots of the Xanadu palace. A single light is shined to indicate that Charles Foster Kane is still alive while on his deathbed as we enter his room.
Kane is eventually shown gripping a snow globe before uttering "Rosebud" with his final breath and dropping it. The camera shows a reflection of his lifeless body as the nurse enters to discover his death. Viewers were introduced to the wild start as the main character dies and kicks off a mystery. The importance grew with the presentation of the death in this bold opening scene.
8 Star Wars
The first Star Wars film created a fascinating universe that set up the franchise for decades of relevance in pop culture. Fans fell in love with the story that clearly wasted no time with one of the most memorable opening scenes of all time.
Star Wars starts off with the infamous yellow text crawl explaining the film's backstory, an unusual device at the time. The scene shows a large Rebel spaceship closely followed by an immense Imperial Star Destroyer, crawling across the screen for what feels like minutes. We also get our first glimpses of Darth Vader and Princess Leia, kicking off the film with action unlike anything anyone had anticipated.
Jaws allowed its viewers to get lost in the terror quite early in the film. A girl named Chrissie starts the movie swimming after having a few drinks. Jaws wasted no time setting up the story of a killer shark tormenting Amity Island's residents. Chrissie's death came via amazing underwater camera work that never actually showed the shark. Camera shots from the shark’s POV and other angles added to the moment's horror and made Jaws unpredictable from the start.
This was especially potent at this point because the trope of an opening kill hadn't been invented yet. The first character on-screen was usually the film's protagonist as well. Chrissie's violent death beneath the waves told Jaws' audience there were a lot more shocks to come.
6 Iron Man
Iron Man was the first movie setting up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It set the tone for future films and set the groundwork for The Avengers' foundation. Tony Stark's character is introduced visiting Afghanistan to demonstrate new weapons from Stark Industries to the U.S. military.
The surprise comes when his convoy is attacked with Stark Industries' weapons. Tony is captured and held prisoner by a terrorist group, transforming the arrogant billionaire into a desperate prisoner. The trailers showed off Stark’s comedic side making this heavy opening an even bigger shock.
The international hit Suspiria found success in Italy as a supernatural horror film. Dario Argento started the film off with a wild opening scene. Lead character Suzy Bannon arrives at a German dance academy. However, another student Pat is seen running in horror in the same academy setting.
The audience knows something is after Pat and the mystery's tension builds. Pat believes she finds an escape in a friend’s apartment until the unseen figure finds her. The terrifying opening scene ends with Pat's brutal murder at the hands something that comes through a second-story window and brutally slashes her before throwing her through an enormous chromatic skylight. It ends with Pat hung at the top of the building as her friend perishes, skewered by falling glass.
Face/Off became one of the most successful films in the respective careers of both Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. The movie features Cage using advanced technology for a face transplant procedure to try to stop a bomb. It leads to the two switching identities in the ultimate mental chess game.
The opening scenes started Face/Off with pure emotion. Travolta’s character actually kills the son of Cage's character when trying to kill his father instead. The heartbreaking scene started the movie off with an emotional swerve no one was expecting.
3 The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight needed a fascinating opening scene to set the story they wanted to share. The Joker is the main villain of Batman as the movie starts with his crew all wearing clown masks. They look to pull off a heist at a popular bank with a set chain of command.
Each masked man kills the person beneath him in the totem pole before one final shot is made of the last survivor putting the money into a school bus. As the bus pulls away, the unmasking reveals the man beneath the clown mask was the Joker the entire time. This amazing sequence told viewers Heath Ledger’s performance was going to be something special.
Up was the movie that made viewers realize Pixar would take them on unexpected roller coaster rides of emotion. The opening scene features the beautiful story of Carl and Ellie falling in love. Their dream of traveling the world together is portrayed as their ultimate goal.
Things get emotional when hardships force them to use their savings before Ellie eventually passes away. Everyone in the theater just expected a fun movie about an old man flying in a house with balloons. Before getting that, we were all forced to "ugly cry" in the theater at the opening scene.
Wes Craven showcased his movie brilliance with the infamous opening scene of the horror movie Scream. Drew Barrymore was the biggest star in the film. Studios marketed her a lead actress in the advertising for the role of Casey.
Ghostface calls her with a few questions on his mind elevating from silly to scary. Casey gets killed in the opening scene showing following the mind games of Ghostface. Audiences were shocked at the major star biting the dust right away. Neve Campbell does a stellar job as the lead actress after her fellow big name was axed instantly.