Lists Of Our Lifetime: Empire's Greatest Opening Scenes

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To kick off a year-long celebration of the last 25 years' cinematic highlights, we count down the top 25 movie intros since Empire magazine arrived in 1989. (NB: credit sequences not included.)


25 FLATLINERS (1990)
If you're making a film about students trying out death for kicks, there's no point going subtle. Tracking in over the ocean, we discover Kiefer Sutherland with a deliciously ironic line, "Today's a good day to die".

24 ALI (2001)
For pure filmmaking brio, Michael Mann assembles multiple threads into a dazzling montage-intro set to the beat of a fictionalised live performance of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come'.

From the reveal gag, to the snakes explanation, to River Phoenix's note-perfect Harrison Ford impression, to the circus train chase, to Sean Connery's (voice) intro as daddy Dr. Jones... It's the greatest episode of Young Indiana Jones ever made.

![Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-indiana-jones-last-crusade.jpg)   22 FINAL DESTINATION (2000)  

Your very worst flightmare made searingly real: the view from the inside of the exploding plane. And thus it established a whole new horror-sub-genre, where death itself is the stalker-slasher.

21 HEATHERS (1989)
Just three girls, idly playing croquet to 'Que Sera Sera'... Until their ball bonks violently off Winona Ryder's head, buried in the ground. Appropriately, deliciously subversive.

The mother of all comedy cameo-crammers: Tom Cruise as Austin, Gwyneth Paltrow as Dixie Normous, Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil, Danny DeVito as Mini-Me and Steven Spielberg as the director... of ‘Austinpussy'.

![The Social Network](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-the-social-network.jpg)   19 THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)  

For Aaron Sorkin's ripely foreshadowing dialogue, David Fincher's effective visuals (locked to that intense, verbal volley between Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg and his – fictional – girlfriend), delivering cinema's best dumping scene, and launching Rooney Mara's career.

A shocked coffee-shop crowd watches news of the world's youngest person dying on a TV screen... Uninterested, Clive Owen wanders outside... He stops to put some booze in his coffee and... BOOM! A sharp, shocking intro to not-distant-enough future Britain. (Plus, being shot by Alfonso Cuarón, it's all done in one long masterful, handheld take).

![Children Of Men](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-children-of-men.jpg)   17 MILLER'S CROSSING (1990)  

A tumbler. Ice. Whiskey. And a voiceover, thickly accented – punchy, Brooklynite: "I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character..." Eloquent and elegant, it's the finest opening in the Coens' career. And it's all about dialogue.

16 THE PLAYER (1992)
Altman's movie-industry satire presents Hollywood in a single, eight-minute tracking shot which takes in swift cameos (Buck Henry, Patricia Resnick, Alan Rudolph), passing in-jokes ("He set up the whole picture with that one tracking shot") and gets the plot rolling with a death-threat postcard.

15 CARLITO'S WAY (1993)
"Somebody's pullin' me close to the ground..." Carlito (Al Pacino) narrates his own final moments in mournful black-and-white, making the whole movie a flashback-before-your-eyes – one that is artfully prompted by a (colour) billboard inviting him to "Escape To Paradise".

![Lost In Translation](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-lost-in-translation.jpg)   14 LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)  

As testament to the allure of a single image: a shot of Scarlett Johansson's backside in gauzy pink knickers. The sound of traffic, a sigh, a snatch of music. It's barely titillating, more the evocation of a mood, or jetlag – for which Sofia Coppola took inspiration from painter John Kacere.

13 NARC (2002)
Joe Carnahan's sophomore pic slams straight in with a distressing, vicious gut-punch, a frantic handheld footchase which climaxes with it's ‘hero', Jason Patric, accidently shooting a pregnant woman. No cool crime theme music here; just the agonised screams of innocent bystanders.

12 GOLDENEYE (1995)
Of the two Martin Campbell Bond ‘reboot' intros in Empire's lifetime this wins, hands down, with Brosnan's slick old-schooler making his entrance with a spectacular bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam. That's how you stage a comeback after a six-year break...

![The Lion King](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-the-lion-king.jpg)   11 THE LION KING (1994)  

As a glorious celebration of the joys of old-school animation, this rousing musical number-cum-scenic montage – Circle Of Life – assembles all the animal population, from ants to elephants, of the Serengeti to bear witness to the new-born lion prince in a burst of purest majesty.

Jackie Brown

10 JACKIE BROWN (1997)
Tarantino's no slouch at first impacts, but his most assured is his least flashy: just Pam Grier's Jackie rushing to her gate through LAX airport, to Bobby Womack's magnificent Across 110th Street. All the drama and tension in Jackie's life is somehow here, boiled down into three-and-a-half glorious minutes.

Everyone knows the line ("As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster"), but it's all about the set-up, the tight zoom-in on Henry Hill's (Ray Liotta) face at the precise point where he's realised that life has to end: slamming the trunk lid of his car down on a corpse, freshly stabbed (by Joe Pesci's Tommy) and shot (by Robert De Niro's Jimmy). Cue Tony Bennett's 'Rags To Riches'.

Filmed with stark realism by Roger Michell, this brilliantly executed and edited sequence follows a group of strangers trying to aid a man and boy in peril thanks to a runaway hot air balloon, scuffed along the ground by a mercurial wind. Vitally, it plants the emotional seeds for the psychodrama to come.

Because it was the perfect bit of flamboyance with which to open this tearaway adaptation – a tracking shot that precedes gossip hound Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) arriving at an awards ceremony, as executed by Steadicam operator Larry McConkey while walking backwards.

![Four Weddings And A Funeral](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-four-weddings-and-a-funeral.jpg)   6 FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994)  

Transforming the idea of posh people swearing to a form of poetic expression, Richard Curtis' script opens with a glorious symphony of "fucks" (13) and concluding "bugger", as the oversleeping Hugh Grant and Charlotte Coleman rush themselves into gear, managing to arrive just after the bride at the first of the film's quartet of weddings.

The Matrix

5 THE MATRIX (1999)
One of the few, genuine "You ain't seen nothing like this before" openings in modern cinema, courtesy of the Wachowskis. Having dived through the centre of a code-green zero, we follow four cops bursting in on a leather-clad target (Carrie-Anne Moss). They try to cuff her, and then she does that thing: slick, noir kung fu served up with a balletic, bullet-time twist. The world stopped and spun, as did every head in the audience.

![The Dark Knight](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-the-dark-knight.jpg)   4 THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)  

Notable for being screened (in IMAX) half a year before the full film, the start of Christopher Nolan's second Batman film works as a self-contained (master)piece, its twisted bank heist revealing Heath Ledger's grungy take on The Joker. "Whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you stranger..."

![Up](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-up.jpg)   3 UP (2009)  

The story of an entire relationship, played out over decades, taking in childhood friendship, marriage, miscarriage, shelved dreams, death and grief – and mostly silent, too. Tears are jerked, hearts are broken, and we're only five minutes into an animated movie. Pixar at its peak.

![Scream](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-scream.jpg)   2 SCREAM (1996)  

"Do you like scary movies?" Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson couldn't have set up their slasher series in a smarter fashion than they do here: making their audience aware that they're aware of their awareness, and throwing in references to Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street, before slaughtering the cast's biggest name (Drew Barrymore) five minutes in – more psycho than Psycho.

![Trainspotting](/images/uploaded/greatest-opening-scenes-trainspotting.jpg)   1 TRAINSPOTTING (1996)  

Still rousing, still unforgettable, still era-defining: to the beat of Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life', as Ewan McGregor's Renton commences his acid litany on the spoils of the modern world, we watch a gang of shoplifters leg it away from lumbering store security, to which Danny Boyle then applies sublime cutaways introducing the gang: Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Tommy and Spud. By the time the narrative actually kicks in, you in the you know these guys, and Renton's wild dervish mantra concludes with the film's inverted philosophy: "Who needs reasons, when you've got herion?" Was it really 1996?