In simplest terms, stories have three components: beginning, middle, and end. The great stories captivate the audience with each scene and transition smoothly into the next act. However, the opening scene is crucial. This is where you have to convince the audience to stay around and pay attention. Opening scenes set the stage for what’s to come. Opening scenes explain the tone of the film and provide the basic blueprint as to where the story is going. Since the turn of the century, there have been a few standout opening scenes in films. Here are the five greatest opening scenes of 21st century films.
Inglourious Basterds – The Jew Hunter
No one on Planet Earth writes dialogue like Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino’s scenes are usually long, dialogue-driven conversations that are compelling, clever, and most of all, suspenseful. Tarantino’s unique style was put on full display in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds.
In the scene, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Mènochet) for housing a Jewish family, who are hiding under the floorboards. Landa has LaPadite in the palm of his hand the entire time. Landa knows that LaPadite is hiding something, but he elects to draw the conversation out and acts like a friend who will help another friend. The suspense and tension build with each sentence from Landa. LaPaditie is courageous for conversing Landa, but he stands no chance. Landa stalks his prey the entire scene and pounces at the end, massacring all but one of the family members. The scene established Landa as one of Tarantino’s best characters ever.
La La Land – Another Day In The Sun
A musical about two struggling artists in Los Angeles? Does that capture your attention? Without Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damien Chazelle attached to La La Land, I’m not sure if I would have gone out of my way to see this film. Thankfully, I did and left the theater full of raw emotion and inspiration.
The opening scene perfectly captures Los Angeles. The bumper to bumper traffic, the influx of struggling actors and artists looking for a break, and an over-the-top and theatrical dance number represents the dreams of so many in the city of angels. Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz’s opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” soars and jumpstarts La La Land to one of the best musicals of 21st century film.
The Social Network – You’re Breaking Up With Me?
Speaking of great screenwriters, when it comes to fast dialogue and complicated monologues, it’s hard to find a writer better than Aaron Sorkin. In the opening scene of The Social Network, Erica Albright breaks up with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University in 2003. In this seven-minute scene, the audience learns so much about the two characters in such a short time. Mark is witty, brash, and smug, but he’s a motivated genius who will eventually become one of the most powerful people in the world thanks to Facebook. However, at the end of the day, all he wants to do is impress Erica, but Erica sees right through his bullshit and that’s something that deeply effected Mark and motivated him throughout the rest of the film. Mark becomes both the hero and the villain in The Social Network and it all starts with a conversation in a pub.
Baby Driver – Opening Chase
Baby Driver is a fun film. It’s fast action sequences, a killer soundtrack, and lovable protagonist make this the perfect summer blockbuster. Director Edgar Wright didn’t reinvent the wheel by starting the film with a heist. However, Wright added a new interpretation as to how a heist thriller can open. Heists usually end in gunfire and violence. Baby Driver has both of those elements, and yet it’s so upbeat and uplifting that the violence takes a back seat to its joyfulness. The editing of this scene is superb along with the introduction of the lovable Baby (Ansel Elgort).
The Dark Knight – Bank Robbery / Joker Reveal
I believe my tweet says it all.
Let’s be honest. I’m only writing this article so I can geek out over The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the greatest comic book film of all time and it all starts out with the opening bank robbery scene. The Dark Knight was Nolan’s version of Heat with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It’s hard to find a director better with large set pieces and action sequences than Nolan. The suspense builds throughout the entire scene and climaxes with the reveal of the Joker (Heath Ledger). For my money, Ledger’s Joker is the best acting performance of the 21st century and top 10 of the last 50 years. There’s great acting, and then there’s Ledger. Enough said.
Honorable mention: Bank robbery in The Town, opening montage in No Country for Old Men, bank robberies in Hell or High Water, opening credits in Watchmen.
What’s your favorite opening scene of 21st century films? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.