I think we can all agree that when the rewriting process happens, we spend the most time changing the opening 10 pages of our feature film. We all know those are the pages where we can hook the reader, where we can promise them a fun romp and introduce them to characters they will remember for a lifetime.
From the scroll on Star Wars to the temple escape in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the best movie openings hook the audience right away. They give us a taste of the world, characters, and stakes. Sometimes, they even toss us right into the middle of the action and make us fend for ourselves.
Sure, we love three-act structure, but nothing beats a kick-ass opening. Whatever the case, movie openings are special. They’re a promise you make to the audience
Let’s take a look at some of the best movie openings of all time and see what they can teach us about our own screenplays.
The Best Movie Openings Of All Time
Let’s be clear: this is a subjective list that I complied. I wanted to include many genres, years, and lessons that you can incorporate in your own writing, especially if you’re writing along with me in the free screenwriting seminar.
Okay, let’s look at some of the best movie openings of all time and see what works.
First up, we need to decide whether or not we are in a computer simulation, because the opening of The Matrix bends everything we know about space and time.
What I love about this opening is that it’s full of mystery. Not only does it set up the powers you will have within the Matrix, but it also shows us the phones to get in and out (and the idea of the agents). It gets the movie going with excitement and gets us immediately wondering what the world has to offer.
What about a movie opening that serves as a bookend?
I love how Forrest Gump sets the scene. There’s a whimsy to it, and this one goes a little over the top with the theme. We’re going to follow Forrest as he blows through life, and so we open on a feather blowing to Forrest.
The feather also sets up the bookends of the story. It’s an easy way to introduce someone waiting for a bus.Too bad Forrest didn’t just drive, like the characters in Superbad.
Superbad is a raunchy comedy, and there’s no better way to open a movie than to set up the relationship between main characters.
We meet Seth and Evan and see that they spend ALL their time together. These are two guys who can talk about anything, except how much they are going to miss each other when they attend different colleges in the fall.
From raunchy teen comedy to classic adventure, Back to the Future also starts on the theme. Instead of having a boring alarm clock waking Marty up, it’s a series of clocks and it plays into time travel.
We also learn how close Marty and Doc are…and how eccentric Doc must be.
But what about a movie opening where your time is up?
Sunset Boulevard starts with the main character dead, floating in a pool.
What makes this one of the best movie openings of all time is that it set the bar high for mysteries. We get right into it: what could have made our main character die? This push thrusts us into the underground of Hollywood and carries us, via flashback, into the series of events that got us here.
What about another flashback that starts a movie? This time from A League of Their Own.
What’s great about this movie is that it leads with the importance of these players.
We open at the Hall of Fame and we know that these women got there. As they recognize one another, we flashback to show us how they got there.
As you can see, these kinds of openings are popular. They may feel played out today, but only because they’re built on this kind of pedigree.
Like the opening of Goodfellas.
Goodfellas’ opening seems innocuous. We have three guys in a car, but we quickly see them murder someone in a trunk, and then we flashback to how Henry Hill became a gangster.
As great as all these flashback opening are, we have to give it up to the grandfather of all of them.
The “rosebud” opening from Citizen Kane.
Citizen Kane was revolutionary in many ways, but beginning the film at the end of the story caused a stir at the time. What’s also fun is that it poses some tricky last words that an intrepid reporter must seek out.
This not only gives some direction for the flashback, but it also creates a mystery that the audience can follow. We’re also looking for “rosebud” clues.
But what about an opening that just straight-up drops the mic when it comes to introducing a simple problem?
I’m talking about my pick for the best movie opening of all time.
This movie opening is perfection. We know this is a movie about a shark that repeatedly attacks people on the beaches, so wy bury the lead?
This opening mounts the tension right from the start. We have an unseen killer on the loose. And it will show no mercy…
Summing Up The Best Movie Openings Of All Time
So that’s the list of some of the best movie openings of all time. Are there a few that you think could help readers with their screenplay journeys?
Put the ones I missed in the comments!
Hate some of the ones I loved? Tell me why!
Good luck securing a fantastic first ten pages and keep on writing!
I can’t wait to see what you think up next.