12 Best Movie Opening Scenes That Will Hook You From The Start


  • A great opening scene hooks viewers and keeps them engaged throughout the movie, as seen in Star Wars, Sunset Boulevard, and others.
  • Different types of opening scenes can captivate audiences, such as high-octane action sequences or heart-wrenching montages, like in Scream and Up.
  • Memorable opening scenes establish important plot points and introduce key characters, like in Vertigo, Goldfinger, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They set the tone for the rest of the film and leave audiences wanting to see more.

Every great movie needs a great opening scene to hook viewers from the start. If a movie kicks off with a thrilling opening scene, then the audience is more likely to go along for the ride for the rest of the runtime. Star Wars opens with a plucky little Rebel ship being relentlessly pursued through space by a gigantic Imperial Star Destroyer. Sunset Boulevard opens with the body of Joe Gillis floating in the swimming pool of a lavish Hollywood mansion. After these openings have blown them away, audiences can’t wait to see what happens next.

There are a few different ways to hook the audience with an opening scene. Some movies kick off with a high-octane action sequence that promises more spectacle to come, like The Dark Knight’s opening bank heist or Raiders of the Lost Ark’s opening temple raid. Some opening sequences terrify the audience, like the murder at the beginning of Scream, or break their hearts, like the tearjerking montage at the beginning of Up. The best opening scenes have viewers captivated from the start.

RELATED: 10 Movies That Couldn’t Top Their Opening Scene

12 Scream

Drew Barrymore on the phone in the original Scream movie

Wes Craven’s subversive, self-aware slasher Scream opens with one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Drew Barrymore, being killed off within minutes. The scene is a satirical spoof of the opening of When a Stranger Calls, with a psychotic murderer terrorizing a young woman over the phone. Once the most famous actor in the movie has been killed in the opening frames, audiences have no idea what to expect for the remainder of the film – similar to the midpoint murder of A-lister Janet Leigh in Psycho.

11 Vertigo

Scottie dangling from a building in Vertigo

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo, often listed as one of the greatest films ever made, establishes Scottie’s debilitating titular condition from its opening scene. After a rooftop chase in which his partner falls to his death, Scottie’s condition worsens and he retires from the police force. This retirement kicks off the plot, as it frees up Scottie to take on the private-eye job that leads him to fall for Judy Barton. Vertigo’s opening rooftop chase gets the movie off to a thrilling start – and also introduces the dizzying camera trick that Hitchcock uses to visualize Scottie’s fear of heights.

10 Jaws

Chrissie swims in the ocean in Jaws

The perfect opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s nautical thriller Jaws sees a free-spirited partygoer going for a swim in the ocean and getting devoured by a 25-foot great white shark. This opening scene highlights what makes the suspense of the entire movie so palpable. Spielberg can terrify the audience without actually showing the shark on-screen. By showing its point-of-view and the shocking damage it does to people and objects on the surface of the water, Spielberg puts a frightening image of a shark in the audience’s minds.

9 Goldfinger

James Bond smokes a cigarette in Goldfinger

The third entry in the James Bond franchise, Goldfinger, introduced the now-iconic tradition of an action-packed cold open that draws audiences to the edge of their seat. The opening scene of Goldfinger still holds up as one of the Bond series’ greatest cold opens. In the explosive opening of Goldfinger, 007 blows up a drug laboratory in Latin America. Sean Connery reintroduces Bond with effortless charisma, casually smoking a cigarette in front of a huge explosion while everyone around him flees in terror.

8 Up

Carl and Ellie looking up at the sky on UP

Pixar’s Up opens with one of the most heartbreaking sequences in cinema history. It’s a montage of Carl Fredricksen’s life, from meeting his childhood sweetheart Ellie to marrying her to struggling to start a family to getting older until Ellie eventually gets sick and passes away before they can fulfill their lifelong dream of traveling to Paradise Falls. After this tearjerking opening montage, the audience identifies with Carl and wants to follow him on his adventure to finally visit Paradise Falls.

7 2001: A Space Odyssey

A Monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey

The majority of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi opus 2001: A Space Odyssey takes place in the distant future with human astronauts exploring the cosmos. But the prologue, “Dawn of Man,” takes a trip to the past to show how apes first evolved into humans. Kubrick theorizes that humanity was born when apes realized they could use violence to get what they want. Thanks to the presence of the Monolith, this is a delightfully trippy opening sequence that perfectly sets up the gonzo interstellar journey that audiences are about to take.

6 Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Screencap of Indiana Jones emerging from the smoke in Raiders of the Lost Ark's opening scene.

Indiana Jones is one of the most iconic characters ever put on film, and he got a pitch-perfect introduction in the unforgettable opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This scene sets up Indy’s side hustle as a treasure hunter as he sneaks into an ancient temple, nabs a precious artifact, and gets chased out of there by booby traps. From the rolling boulder to the chase through the jungle, this scene establishes the unique feel of an Indiana Jones action sequence, and tells audiences exactly who this character is.

5 Touch Of Evil

A car with a bomb in it in Touch of Evil

Orson Welles’ classic film noir Touch of Evil opens with one of the most memorable tracking shots ever filmed. A time bomb is planted in a car and Welles keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as he follows the car and plays a sustained ticking sound on the soundtrack. Throughout this unbearably tense opening scene, the audience is just waiting for the bomb to go off. This scene kicks off Welles’ tale of murder and corruption on an exciting note.

4 The Dark Knight

Joker in the opening scene of The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan began his love affair with IMAX film when he made The Dark Knight, and he immediately put that format to breathtaking use in the opening set-piece. The opening of The Dark Knight sees the Joker and his goons robbing a bank, only for the Joker to pick off his own henchmen one by one until he’s the last one standing. This instantly establishes Nolan’s vision for the Batman sequel: a reimagined version of Michael Mann’s Heat, arguably the greatest bank heist movie ever made, set in Gotham City.

3 Once Upon A Time In The West

Three gunslingers wait for Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

Sergio Leone’s mastery of the cinematic craft is on full display in the nail-biting opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West. The setup is simple: three gunslingers arrive at a train station and wait for their target’s train to pull in. But the way Leone frames each shot and carefully cuts between them keeps building suspense so that the audience can’t look away. The scene builds to an exhilarating climax as Charles Bronson’s “Harmonica” steps off the train, eyes up the hitmen, and guns them all down in quick succession.

2 Goodfellas

Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy, in Goodfellas opening scene

Martin Scorsese established the frenetic pacing of his mob movie masterpiece Goodfellas from the opening scene. Scorsese’s biopic of mafioso Henry Hill opens in media res, with Henry and his two closest cohorts, Jimmy and Tommy, driving out to the woods to dispose of made man Billy Batts’ corpse – only to find that he’s not quite dead yet. The scene instantly sets the dark tone and chaotic energy for the movie that will follow, and it’s beautifully punctuated by Scorsese’s ironic use of Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” on the soundtrack.

1 Inglourious Basterds

Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds.

Christoph Waltz could’ve earned his Oscar for playing Col. Hans Landa, the villain of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, with the opening scene alone. In the opening scene, Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer to determine if he’s harboring Jewish refugees. Tarantino uses Hitchcock’s bomb-under-the-table technique to build tension. Early in the scene, the camera pans under the floorboards to show Jewish refugees hiding and desperately trying to stay quiet. From that point on, it’s only a matter of time before Landa learns the farmer’s secret – and it keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.

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