March 18, 2015

The First and Final Frames of Famous Films Can Teach Us a Lot about Good Filmmaking

First and Final Frame of Her
A single frame is rarely more important than all of the others in a film, but the first and last can leave one hell of an impression.

In a brand new juxtapositional supercut from Jacob T. Swinney, the prolific video-essayist took 55 contemporary films and sandwiched the first and last few seconds of each against one another. The result is a serene study in how we perceive the meaning of images.

Here are the films in this piece in order of appearance.

  • The Tree of Life: 00:00
  • The Master: 00:09
  • Brokeback Mountain: 00:15
  • No Country for Old Men: 00:23
  • Her: 00:27
  • Blue Valentine: 00:30
  • Birdman: 00:34
  • Black Swan: 00:41
  • Gone Girl: 00:47
  • Kill Bill Vol. 2: 00:53
  • Punch-Drunk Love: 00:59
  • Silver Linings Playbook: 01:06
  • Taxi Driver: 01:11
  • Shutter Island: 01:20
  • Children of Men: 01:27
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin: 01:33
  • Funny Games (2007): 01:41
  • Fight Club: 01:47
  • 12 Years a Slave: 01:54
  • There Will be Blood: 01:59
  • The Godfather Part II: 02:05
  • Shame: 02:10
  • Never Let Me Go: 02:17
  • The Road: 02:21
  • Hunger: 02:27
  • Raging Bull: 02:31
  • Cabaret: 02:36
  • Before Sunrise: 02:42
  • Nebraska: 02:47
  • Frank: 02:54
  • Cast Away: 03:01
  • Somewhere: 03:06
  • Melancholia: 03:11
  • Morvern Callar: 03:18
  • Take this Waltz: 03:21
  • Buried: 03:25
  • Lord of War: 03:32
  • Cape Fear: 03:38
  • 12 Monkeys: 03:45
  • The World According to Garp: 03:50
  • Saving Private Ryan: 03:57
  • Poetry: 04:02
  • Solaris (1972): 04:05
  • Dr. Strangelove: 04:11
  • The Astronaut Farmer: 04:16
  • The Piano: 04:21
  • Inception: 04:26
  • Boyhood: 04:31
  • Whiplash: 04:37
  • Cloud Atlas: 04:43
  • Under the Skin: 04:47
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: 04:51
  • Gravity: 04:57
  • The Searchers: 05:03
  • The Usual Suspects: 05:23

If there's anything to be gleaned from this piece, it's that the first and last frames of a film can be incredibly impactful. Sometimes these frames can be purely representational of the journey that was just undertaken, as is the case with Nebraska12 Years a Slave, and Before Sunset. Sometimes they visually portray a significant change in the film's main character, like in Shame, The Godfather Part II, and Frank. Many choose to bookend their films with similar images, or images that are almost identical (Gone Girl is a great example). No matter how the first and final frames are used, they're almost always incredibly meaningful and somehow representational of the story being told and its themes.

What are some of your favorite first and final frame pairings throughout the history of cinema, and what makes them so meaningful? Share them with us down in the comments!     

Your Comment

19 Comments

To me it would be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It starts at extreme close up of Caesar's eyes and zooming out, where the overall look is cool color scheme. And it ends with wide shot of Caesar zooming in to extreme close up of Caesar's eyes, while overall look is warm color scheme.

March 18, 2015 at 10:52PM

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Yui Huan
Motion Graphic Artist
96

We laugh, we cry. we judge and we feel empathy for the people inside a box. We believe with skeptical eye, we enjoy even in fear. But what is more important in the end of every story is, we grow.

AHA! Take that epiphany!

March 18, 2015 at 11:07PM, Edited March 18, 11:07PM

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Edgar More
All
1156

Amazing!
Good Work.

March 18, 2015 at 11:52PM

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theuerweirich@me.com
Director of Fotography
336

Everything makes sense now!!!

March 19, 2015 at 1:36AM

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Max Ciesynski
Gaffer
566

I enjoyed this exercise in visual analysis but I think the music changes the tone of the imagery in a way that is somewhat insincere, due to the music's very specific and elegant tone. If watched in mute it gives a more technically accurate visual impression, I would venture to say, since watching it with the original sound couldn't really be done properly as they would be overlapping oddly. Just a thought.

Also, the strangely uncredited music was "Any Other Name" by Thomas Newman, in case anybody was wondering.

March 19, 2015 at 2:34AM

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Aaron Castillo
Director/DP/Graphic Designer/Animator/Musician
154

This is a great video essay. I teared up a little as I was watching because it brought me back to some wonderful movie experiences... God I love filmmaking!

March 19, 2015 at 10:47AM, Edited March 19, 10:47AM

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Chelsea Lupkin
Director / Director of Photography / Screenwriter
169

Amen... I love it. I will also admit that there have been movies and scenes that bring tears to my eyes and the fact that we can create the same emotions in the storied we can tell, I think is amazing... this makes me want to go out and film right now!

March 19, 2015 at 5:41PM

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Franklin Carpio
Filmmaker/Director/Editor
383

One of the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Great work. I have one more addition i.e first & last scene of Buckingham Palace of "Theory of everything".

March 19, 2015 at 1:47PM

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I have not seen a few of the movies (I know, I know) but this was pretty awesome. I'm always thinking of new ways of coming up with ideas for movies... and this made me think, what if i kinda reverse engineer and come up with the opening shot and the last shot... then try and fill in the blanks... Hopefully a good story will come of it.

March 19, 2015 at 5:45PM

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Franklin Carpio
Filmmaker/Director/Editor
383

Not trying to sound snarky, but how is that different than starting with a beginning and an ending? Seems to me that's usually the best way to start crafting a story.

March 19, 2015 at 9:30PM, Edited March 19, 9:30PM

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Andrew packer
Screen writer
100

Well I was just thinking visually. No story, just two shots and fill in the gaps from there. I'm not saying its the way to go, or that it can work, just something I would like to try out. Different approach

March 20, 2015 at 9:10AM

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Franklin Carpio
Filmmaker/Director/Editor
383

Most of the time with a good script, character and story arc you will get impactful images in the first and last frame. I never thought about it purposefully until now, but all the films I've done have powerful first and last shots that show the development of a character whether it's a mood, a setting, or composition.

March 20, 2015 at 6:45PM

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Brad Watts
Filmmaker/Creative Director - Redd Pen Media
366

While not the literal opening shot of Empire of the Sun (which is, I believe, a wide shot of Shanghai's waterfront), the opening image (Chinese coffins floating in Shanghai Harbor) and the closing image (Jim's wooden suitcase floating in Shanghai Harbor) is one of my favorite opening/closings to teach to my 7th grade film students.

March 20, 2015 at 10:10PM

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Daniel Hoskins
Film Teacher (middle school)
86

This is a great insight, and I love the use of American Beauty's score.

March 21, 2015 at 1:36PM

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Michael Willer
Director/Screenwriter
93

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March 22, 2015 at 4:22PM

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Dazzling video. Awesome that someone thought to put this together.

March 23, 2015 at 2:05AM, Edited March 23, 2:05AM

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Steve Yager
Filmmaker
381

even in interstellar the same,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5Ow_LhwIrQ

April 2, 2015 at 7:49AM

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subhakar tikkireddy
FilmMaker
127

The opening scene of top hats in a field in Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" and the final, revealing shot have always stood out to me as being one of the reasons in why that film is so masterful in crafting a story.

April 2, 2015 at 2:57PM

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Sean-Harrison Geer
Filmmaker
86

This was lovely!

April 22, 2015 at 5:57AM

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Matt Carter
VFX Artist / Director / DP / Writer / Composer / Alexa Owner
454

I found this tool that lets you extract frames from videos. Can't stop playing with it. Saved all my favorite movie frames from Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. It's called Anyframe. http://www.anyframe.net

March 29, 2016 at 11:17AM

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Mercury
74