Home > Editing, Movies > Hook them Early: The Importance of an Opening Scene

Hook them Early: The Importance of an Opening Scene

One of the most important moments in film is the opening scene. Ending scenes, plot twists and other elements all leave the lasting impression, but you only get one opportunity to hook an audience. If you don’t grab them with your opening scene, then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.

But it’s important to make sure that the opening is dynamic as well. If this scene is only a hook, then the audience doesn’t become engaged with the characters or story and you’re starting from square one the instant the scene ends.

Poster for Bridesmaids (2011)

By looking at Bridesmaids (2011), we can see a fantastic execution of an opening scene. I will try to avoid spoilers, but by choosing this style of scene to open the film, Bridesmaids tells us several things about the film itself. We learn Annie (Kristen Wiig) never seems to get what she wants. We learn the most important man in her life is a self-obsessed misogynist. We learn that the type of humor in this film will not appeal only to women, much to the delight of the men in the audience. All of this comes to us while still hooking the audience with a hilarious opening scene.

Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids

If you want to look back further, we can find several examples of excellent opening scenes.

A lot of people forget what began the recent trend of superhero movies. Early films like X-Men (2000) generally get the credit, but you can trace it back further to the success of a little Marvel film called Blade (1998). Blade was also home to an excellent opening scene.

By watching this scene we learn the entire premise of the film. There is a vampire menace, and they are luring humans to their deaths. The only person that can protect the humans is Blade (Wesley Snipes). It also sets up the action style coming in this film. While the intro isn’t an in depth character study as in Bridesmaids, the opening from Blade sets up the actioner nicely.

One of the most famous examples of an opening scene is possibly the least informative as to the nature of the film. When Quentin Tarantino broke onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs (1992), he introduced Hollywood and the world to a new style of dialogue. Instead of traditional exposition, Tarantino had his characters discuss a completely unrelated issue in the opening scene. What resulted is a film conversation still remembered to this day.

[NOTE: I am aware the above video is having trouble playing on iOS devices, unfortunately it is the best version of the opening I was able to find.]

Tarantino’s opening offers a glimpse not into the lives of the characters, but into the psyche. The conversation about Madonna’s Like A Virgin (1984) shows us the characters varying ways of interpreting the world. When Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) refuses to tip the waitress, we learn that he is a selfish man who is not afraid to put his well-being ahead of others. This theme plays out when Mr. Pink runs out with the diamonds at the end of the film, a last ditch effort to save himself.

What are some of your favorite opening scenes? What scenes fell flat, despite being attached to good movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Editing, Movies
  1. John Calvaresi
    August 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Just about every question that anyone can ask about a favorite “anything” for me, when it come to movies can be answered with one title….”Usual Suspects”…
    In my opinion maybe the greatest screenplay of all time starts with a very eerie first scene that pulls you right into the mood and intrigue of what takes place throughout the rest of the movie. It turns out that the first scene becomes a very integral part of the overall plot and the way it all fits together so seamlessly with an ending that is without equal in it’s surprise, can be described in no other way but sheer genius.

  2. Diana Black
    August 23, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Thanks Zac,
    I am an emerging screenwriter and studying film studies – found this very informative
    Best wishes
    Diana Black

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