Last year I took on one of my favorite ‘The 4’ subjects which was Final Scenes. After the response I received from that topic, I figured it would only be natural to discuss the scene that sets the tone for the entire movie. An introduction that instantly hooks you and becomes of scene of movie legend. They are the most memorable movie opens of all time and I’ve compiled my list of four. So let’s get to it and I’m sure the first selection will annoy the fools that dismiss the art of cinematic animation.
The Lion King (1994)
When you hear that inaudible tribal chant “Nants Ingonyama Bagithi Babaknow” (I had to look it up. I usually make up my own words.), you immediately think of the opening of the greatest Disney film (Yeah, that’s right. I said it!) of all time. The Lion King opens with the African sun rising to the “Circle of Life” in such a simple, but beautiful way. The audience sees a safari of animals from tiny ants to lumbering elephants descending onto Pride Rock to see Simba’s big unveiling. The animation is georgous with beautiful cinematography of landscapes covered with the herds of the pride lands. Some with silly “cartoon bias” may knock this selection, but everyone remembers the song and the famous scene in which Rafiki raises Simba in the air for all the world to see. The opening scene has been parodied, duplicated and celebrated for the last twenty years. The opening scene of The Lion King is engraved into our pop culture psyche which earns it a place on this list.
Jaws starts so simple. Just the sound of cello making a sound. “Duuun dun duuun”. Then we get an underwater view of our predator which leads to our beach party with Chrissie Watkins and her male suitor. Chrissie decides to go skinny dipping at night while her new friend passes out on the beach. Lucky for him, because the audience gets to witness the most terrifying opening scene in movie history (Sorry Scream fans). We see the POV of the Great White Shark as it moves closer and closer to the unsuspecting blonde. Then it happens. Just a simple jerk underwater. Then all Hell breaks loose. Chrissie screams and is dragged all over the place pleading for her life until she is pulled underwater. Then it’s just complete silence with only the sound of the buoy bell. The opening scene set the tone of Jaws and had everyone making the decision to never go into the ocean again. Jaws created the summer blockbuster, inspired a generation of filmmakers and also completely destroyed the beach tourism industry in the late 1970s. All of this cultural impact started with a drunk girl who decided to take a naked swim in the opening scene.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Here’s the wild card of the bunch. In less than twelve minutes, Raising Arizona sets up the whole plot of the film with a witty, quirky and fast paced prologue that gives the audience all the vital info they need for H.I. and Ed’s kidnapping comedy. Character and story development like this can burn up valuable running time, but the Coen brothers manage to give the story of how the odd couple met and what brought them to this desperate place in life before the opening credits even hit the screen. This menagerie of scenes depicting the wild escapades of inmate McDunnough are played over Carter Burwell’s catchy banjo tune “Way Out There”. By the time the opening sequence is over we are all set to watch the childless couple attempt to steal one of the Arizona quints. The way the Coens tell their story in a short, smart and fast paced manner that should be taught in all film schools.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
If there is a number one on this list, Raiders of the Lost Ark is it. Director Steven Spielberg shows he can master an opening scene landing twice (Jaws) on this particular list. To give even more props to Spielberg, I’m probably going to catch heat for omitting Saving Private Ryan from this group. Raiders introduces one of our greatest movie heroes of all time Indiana Jones in awesome cinematic fashion. There are whips, booby traps and golden idols Dr. Jones wants to get his hands on. What’s great about the opening scene from Raiders is we get what our hero is all about in a matter of minutes with hardly saying a word. Indy has brawn, brains and by the way he hates snakes. Plus who could forget the giant boulder tumbling towards Dr. Jones in the ancient ruin. Raiders of the Lost Ark also earns another honorable distinction. It has a place on this ‘The 4’, as well as ‘The 4: Final Scenes‘. Spielberg sure does know how to bookend a film.