To grab an audience you have to start well, all the great films pull the audience in, you could argue that you need to grab them in the first 5 minutes or people may lose interest. Like writing, if I waffle on too long you won’t read the rest so without further blathering, here is my personal TOP 10 opening scenes in Steven Spielberg directed movies.
10. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
Spielberg’s first foray into the world of motion capture is occasionally forgotten when discussions around Spielberg’s most dynamic films arise. Unfairly labelled by some as an animated Indiana Jones film, The Adventures of Tintin packs enough of an individual punch with scenes of audacity bravado as to clearly stand on it’s own two feet. None more so then this cracking opening tracking shot as the camera follows the mischievous Aristidis Silk through an outdoor market. Shot largely from the ground up the camera stops on a street artist painting a portrait of a young man who’s back is to us. On completion the Artist shows his finished article, it’s Tintin as familiarised in Herge’s collection of stories. It’s the first of a number of lovely moments in a vastly underrated film.
9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
“Are we the first?…Are we the first to arrive?” Yes, I annoyingly shout this whenever I go to a friends or family members house for dinner etc, in my head it never gets old, however some of the invites have dried up over the years.
The opening scene of Close Encounters is packed full of mystery and red herrings (see the headlights come out of the dust) and sets the scene perfectly for the wonders that are to come. Subtle and made with practical effects, it hooks the audience straight into the story. Where did these planes come from? Why does the old man claim the sun came out at night and sang to him? Great stuff.
8. Always (1989)
A very brief moment here in one of Spielberg’s least appreciated films, but it is a moment of perfectly dexterous showmanship. Two sleepy fisherman whiling the hours away when in the background, entering the shot from above a seaplane making an unexpected landing. The plane disturbs the fishermen from their slumber but it’s breaking system doesn’t seem to be helping much. The camera stays transfixed as the plane stealthily approaches the stricken boat with its panicked occupants and just as the we the audience grip the corners of our seats as the Fishing boat is about to be made into two the plane lifts off, tickling the tops of the heads of the fishermen, who duly make a swift exit into the lake. You can watch the whole wondrous 55 seconds here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upPHSDqj5x0
7. Munich (2005)
Changing tone completely now, we have one of Spielberg’s most controversial films, Munich. Starting with opening titles that tell us “the following is based on real events” we are greeted by a group of men trying to scale a fence outside the Munich Olympic village. They are given a helping hand by a group of unwitting American athletes, all the while John Williams, tense heart beat of a score pounds away in the background and Janusz Kaminski’s bleak cinematography creates an atmosphere of incredible unease. We are then thrown into the middle of the terrorism plot as we watch them change clothes, load up their weapons and move to their targets apartments. It is nerve shredding tension that never lets up in the two and half hour running time that is perhaps Spielberg’s best kept secret.
6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Who doesn’t love a good origin story? Who loves them even more when they last no more than 10 minutes? Indiana Jones’s third adventure is just a fantastic film, it really is, it’s packed full of laughs, family bonding and adventure. None more so than this opening salvo that returns Indy to his childhood as a Boy Scout. The casting of Sean Connery is often talked about as a stroke of genius by Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas but do not underestimate the casting of the late River Phoenix as a younger version of Harrison Ford. His screen time may be very short but that introduction of the character, including the origins of his fear of snakes and the famous scar on his chin is beautifully put together.
I could have quite easily included all four Indiana Jones films opening scenes in this top 10 as they all start with a bang in one way or another, but I plumped for Last Crusade (and spoiler alert one other) because it gives Indy a little bit of backstory, and 10 minutes in we are already grinning from ear to ear.
5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I know what you are thinking, FIFTH???? Well, it’s only so low because strictly speaking it’s not the opening scene, which of course is the old man (who I won’t name in case hasn’t seen it yet) visiting the war cemetery.
Taking 25 days to shoot with over 1000 extras the Omaha Beach landing is the most visceral attack on the senses. With no accompanying score the audience are asked to dodge the bullets and mortars and they come whistling across the soundwaves as we catch glimpses of limbs being blown off, men being incinerated, men being mowed down by relentless machine guns. We want to look away, we want it to be over but we don’t.
Personally the for me, Spielberg’s greatest achievement with this scene is making the audience realise that these were not trained killers, they were ordinary men sent into an extraordinary/hellish world to try to defend their freedom. That first 25 minute is one hell of a History lesson and one that should never be dismissed as just entertainment.
4. Jaws (1975)
Dur-dum………Dur-dum……..Dur-dum. Ok if you’ve never seen Jaws, then why are you reading this blog? No only kidding, but if you’ve never seen Jaws you have been stood next to a body of water, where somebody, usually your dad has made the Dur-dum sound, and you know what that means, that your dad is implying there is a man eating shark in that water. It’s universal, it’s know globally, that’s the brilliance of it.
Now on the face of it, who wouldn’t take Chrissie up on her offer for a touch of skinny dipping, fortunately for Tom Cassidy, too many sherbet lemons meant that he missed out on a night time sea based frolic and Bruce therefore had to waltz in the waves with Chrissie alone, albeit a tad aggressively.
A lot of the success of Jaws was down to onset mechanical failures, proving once and for all that the things you can’t see are far scarier than those that you can, and this opening scene continues to terrify to this very day. A real stomper.
3. Bridge of Spies (2015)
I make no secret of my love of Bridge of Spies, I think it is a piece of immaculate film making that demonstrates that classical methods can still be effective. In an almost dialogue free game of cat and mouse the opening 10 minutes of Bridge of Spies, is a lesson in meticulousness and attention to detail that can be sadly lacking in the current age of quick cut superhero dominated cinema.
There is a quiet assurance on display here, a calmness to Mark Rylance that embodies his performance throughout. It’s one of Spielberg’s quieter opening scenes but it’s massively effective, who is the man? Why are they after him? It’s a quite wonderful opening to a wonderful film.
2. Minority Report (2002)
How do you explain a rather tricky concept to an audience without overdoing the exposition? Simple, show the entire process from start to finish in one nail biting, ass kicking 12 minute opening salvo. It worth pointing out that as slick as Spielberg is here, this is another Janusz Kaminski masterpiece. The saturated grey and blue tinge adds to the cold atmosphere of a man going through the personal turmoil of watching his life unravel as his adulterous wife is locked in the arms of her suave lover. Meanwhile, Det Anderson (Tom Cruise) pieces together the future crime, almost in balletic fashion as Schubert’s No8 Unfinished Symphony plays dauntingly over the action.
As the time ticks by we know already they are against the clock to prevent the crime, we are totally engaged from the get go. The arrival at the street the Mark’s live on a moment of pure beauty as the pre-crime officers descend on zip-wires onto the lush, green, parkland. The slight delay whilst Anderton confirms that Howard left the door open all add to the palatable tension.
It truly is a most wonderfully choreographed scene, it’s Spielberg at his most playful.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Quite possibly the greatest opening of any film, never mind a Spielberg film. It’s quite difficult to imagine now, but coming off the back of the disappointing 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark was considered a huge gamble by the studios involved. The Wonderkid had come unstuck with the commercial and critical failure of 1941. In order to start to rebuild his reputation, Spielberg has claimed that he has never been so prepared to make a film as he was for Raiders. Every scene had a storyboard, every minute detail was planned in advance, this film had to come in on budget and on schedule. He achieved both, with scene after scene of perfect action and adventure.
The opening scene has got everything, thrill, spills, gore even humour, note Indy’s face when he grabs the branch to prevent himself from falling into the Abyss, only for the branch to slightly give way, this was no superhero, this is was an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation etc.
If filmed today, this scene would have been edited within an inch of it’s life, imagine if you will Michael Bay shooting this opening scene, but thankfully Spielberg allows the scares and the claustrophobia to prevail, Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography and Norman Reynolds stunning production design instantly transports the audience into this hellish, booby trap ridden cavern.
Then the crowning glory, the rolling boulder, pure genius. The brilliance of Raiders is that as breathtakingly stunning this opening sequence is, it doesn’t peak here and keeps going for the next 100 or so minutes. The opening sequence isn’t even my favourite in the movie, I reserve that for the truck chase, but this is Spielberg at his most prepared, at his most free, at his most playful, he is here to entertain and boy does he ever. What a way to introduce you to one of Cinema’s most iconic heroes.
I dedicate this blog to commemorate the sad loss of Allen Daviau 14/6/42 – 15/4/20 – a true Spielberg legend in every way.
My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.
You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH
You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com