What Makes for a Great Opening Scene?

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Movies are often remembered best by their opening scenes. The greatest movies of all

time blend superb storytelling with memorable visuals and unforgettable characters.

And it is the opening minutes of a film that often make or break the viewer’s experience.

The ability to hook the viewer in the first couple of minutes is both a science and an art;

perhaps a bit more art than science! It takes a few key ingredients to capture people’s

imagination and attention with a meaningful scene which will resonate with them for

years to come.

They Engage Audiences Emotionally

People connect with things they can emotionally resonate with. An opening scene

becomes incredibly engaging and, often, unforgettable when it touches something deep

within. One franchise that has consistently excelled at beginning with a punch is the

James Bond series. So riveting, so predictably spectacular (in the best possible way!)

that audiences have come to revere them as legendary and the true archi - type of great


Is it the beauty of the exotic locations? Is it the odds attacked against Bond that make

the battle so intense? Or perhaps the endearing charm of the character known for his

composure in crisis that wows the audience? Whatever the combination, these factors

create a pithy emotional vibe that people readily respond to. And movies that can get

that recipe right have their audiences lapping it all up…and begging for more!

They Powerfully Introduce Key Characters

The Good The Bad The Ugly

One of the most powerful ways that opening scenes can hook viewers is by introducing

them to some of the most influential characters of the movie. Whether it’s the

protagonist; like the iconic dainty professor - bold adventurer Indiana Jones with the wild

opening sequence in The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) or the contrasting and highly defined

characters of the The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966); showing audiences whom they will

be making the journey with creates a powerful narrative that draws the viewer deep into

the film’s context and sets the stage for what is to unfold.

They Often Begin with Conflict

When the Dark Knight Rises (2012) opens with one of the most dramatic prologues to any

movie ever made, the feeling is one of tension, chaos, disruption and the almost

overwhelming sense of foreboding as the powerful enemy takes charge!

Conflict hastens the viewer to a point further in the journey of suspense and anticipation. There

is no slow build-up to the excitement. Without warning audiences are forced to come to

terms with the moment and quickly attempt to sort out what’s going on. Another

dramatic example that comes to mind is the intensely gruelling 23 minute and 12 million-

dollar opening of Saving Private Ryan (1998) during the infamous D-Day scene. To this day,

it remains one of the most iconic cinematic war scenes of all time, if not the most.

They Can Often Present a Self-Contained Chapter

Finally, another extremely effective way to open a movie is to provide an introduction

that is so good on its own that it could essentially be a self-contained miniature story.

This sort of opening is effective because it quickly invests viewers emotionally and

carries them through a brief story-arc that still fits within the broader narrative within just

a few minutes.

In mere minutes, they’ve been whisked off to some place far away, been presented a

problem, watched a character grapple with it, and seen them come to some sort of

resolution or cliffhanger.

The Matrix

The Matrix’s opening does this quite effectively, still maintaining the theme of the overall Matrix world while at the same time briefly telling an

intense mini-episode in which you are introduced to the graceful and deadly Trinity and the mysterious Agent Smith as he tries to apprehend her.

It’s never really an easy formula, and making an outstanding opening scene is a tricky

affair. The many who have achieved great opening sequences have done so by combining daring ideas, and great execution with the willingness to go beyond limits!

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