Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Movies are usually expensive and complicated things to produce. But there are a few
scenes that stand out in terms of their innovation or complexity and have had a lasting
impact on films and filmmaking because of the challenges they overcame, the unique
approach they took or simply how interesting they were to produce. These are just a few.
Rear Window (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock
With perhaps one of the most famous and brilliant opening film scenes of all time,
Hitchcock provides viewers a true example of masterful storytelling almost without any
words whatsoever. As the movie opens, we are introduced through a window to a the
neighbouring apartment buildings. The camera then slowly moves through the window
and out onto the ledge. People go about their business as the camera pans up and
down and left and right around the surrounding apartment buildings, giving you
glimpses through the apartment windows of each of the home’s inhabitants and their
You even learn who the protagonist is through a slow panning of the camera through his
apartment. Although Hitchcock’s camera shots were not particularly fancy; it was the
way with which he crafted them together that makes this opening scene special since
nothing like this had been done at the time. Even today, the combination of techniques
he used to capture this effect (long shots, high angle shots, pan shots, dolly shots)
remain some of the most powerful and foundational tools of storytelling through the
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
At the time of Stars Wars’ first movie, George Lucas wanted something so ambitious
that, technologically speaking, nobody was sure it could even be pulled off. But thanks
to some help from a film executive named Alan Ladd, Lucas was able to push ahead
with his vision. The movie was notoriously expensive and complicated, and the iconic
opening scene shows quite easily how possible this was.
As we enter the first scene we are thrown into a black backdrop of outer space.
Suddenly, what appears to be a large ship comes flying out of the screen only to be
shot at by lasers from an even larger, looming warship. This warship was, of course, the
iconic Star Destroyer. All these illusions of size and scale were the work of tiny models,
hand-made by the crew and used on small mini-sets also built by them. This combined
with all the special effects for the time; from lasers to explosions and optical illusions
made this opening scene an incredible technically difficult and memorable feat.
The Matrix (1999)
From the moment audiences saw the green tint of the Warner Brothers logo before the
opening scene even began it was very clear that this was going to be a different movie.
The Matrix had the good fortune of coming along at a perfect time in cinema, when
advanced computer graphics was really coming into its own and the films creators, the
Wachowski Brothers, wanted to bring true comic book style storytelling into the
The result was nothing short of film-making genius exemplified in the opening scene as
one of the movie’s protagonists, Trinity, combats and escapes the evil Agent Smith in
an action sequence of a kind never seen before! Groundbreaking graphics combined
with a dizzying array of camera angles and stylized shots take you right into the living
pages of a graphic novel and set the tone for the rest of this trail-blazing movie.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christopher Nolan has built a reputation for pushing his crew beyond the limits. He is
equally well-known for his daring experiments with practical effects and sets. In recent
years, one of the greatest and most challenging opening scenes surely came to us in
The Dark Knight Rises, which Nolan himself considers one of the best opening pieces
he has ever done. And if you are looking for a sequence which is not just a nightmare to
plan and execute but also one that takes well almost everything to a new level, here it
Bane’s crew hijacks a plane in flight, literally saws it in half while in the air, and
retrieves the bomb making scientist he is after without even breaking into a sweat! The
opening scene, shot with two actual flying airplanes and parachute jumpers, was shot in
a matter of days but took months to plan and rehearse for. It required special
permission from Scotland (where it was filmed). The plane fuselage that drops to the
ground in the opening scene was really dropped to the ground! And that’s about as
realistic and insane an ask of any crew!
What other technically challenging opening scenes do you think need mention here?