Movies, in general, have to grip the audience from the get-go in order for viewers to enjoy it. Naturally, the best way to do this is to start the film with a great opening scene that will intrigue viewers and leave them wanting more. Opening scenes should be a taste of things to come throughout the rest of the film.
However, with some films, the audience might as well stop the film right after its opening scene, because it does not necessarily get any better. Some opening scenes get audiences excited for the film they have just started to watch, only to be wanting more from something that simply cannot deliver. Quite simply, the opening scenes are the best parts of these films.
The beginning of these films are exhilarating and captivating, reeling in the audience for a great film. Unfortunately, these films simply peaked way too early and the remainder of these films are nothing special at all.
1. Cliffhanger (Renny Harlin, 1993)
The impressive Rocky Mountains (although in reality they are the Cortina d’Ampezzo-Dolomites Mountains in Italy) made for a great, foreboding setting for an action movie. The mountains are high up in the sky and it’s quite a long way down. While there are mountain climbing professionals who climb these mountains for a living, accidents can still happen.
The sight of those huge mountains can send a chill down one’s spine at how scary they look in Cliffhanger. After climbing one of the aforementioned mountains, Sarah’s (Michelle Joyner) harness comes loose when trying to slide from the mountain and into the helicopter.
The shot above Joyner showing how far down she will fall, and the terror in her eyes and those of the other actors, make it seem incredibly real. Add some dramatic music to a situation when a woman’s life is literally in Gabe’s (Sylvester Stallone) hands, and once she actually does fall, there is no hope for her.
What follows is a group of thieves accidentally crashing into the mountains after an aerial heist, and they have lost their bounty mid-air. Gabe gets stuck in the middle of it all and has to fight these criminals who are certain to kill him afterwards anyway. While there are some impressive action scenes in “Cliffhanger”, all the overacting throughout the film, especially with Qualen’s (John Lithgow) weird attempt at a British accent, makes it hard to take Cliffhanger seriously.
There is also a scene where Gabe goes into icy water and takes off his shirt, which would surely cause him to freeze to death. There is little doubt that this was done just to show off Stallone’s muscular physique.
2. The Informers (Gregor Jordan, 2008)
The Informers is based on a collection of interconnected short stories written by author Bret Easton Ellis, which is why there are various plots in the film. One key difference between the book and the film is the lack of acclaim that the film received, and it is understandable.
However, the film started off well, with a pumping 80’s party song that sets the tale of reckless youth and the ’80s Los Angeles setting. There is a lively party with sex, drugs, and a car crash that kills someone, which puts a sudden halt on all the fun. That sums up the film for the most part; being young is one big party until the harsh realities of life and death happen.
After this scene, the film is slow and dense. The Informers depicts the misery and apathy of both young and middle-aged rich people who have become complete narcissists. Although this was never meant to be a lively party movie, it isn’t a deep film, either.
3. Signs (M. Night Shyamalan, 2002)
Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a very mixed career, from making Oscar-nominated films to making pure dreck. In between the two extremes, he made Signs, an alien invasion film starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.
The film sets itself up well at the beginning, with a slow introduction to Gibson’s character, Graham Hess, waking up in the morning, until he hears his daughter screaming. Upon inspection, he realises his crops have an alien symbol shaped into them, which is the beginning of aliens stalking his family and their invasion of Earth.
The opening scene is great because there is very little revealed, but so much is said about Hess’s life, or lack thereof. The daughter’s scream comes out of nowhere, upsetting the earlier calm silence, which is a signifier that the protagonist’s world is literally about to change. However, the rest of the film is pretty slow and its logic is flawed, such as aliens who can travel through space but are not able to knock down wood.
4. Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, 2010)
During the 2000s, Clint Eastwood had a string of highly successful movies, with the likes of Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, Gran Torino, and others. His 2010 supernatural drama, Hereafter, was the dud of the bunch. It did not have the same commercial or critical impact of Eastwood’s previous films.
Despite its overall lackluster feel, the opening scene of Hereafter is certainly well made. The film begins in Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit destroyed the region and killed many people. It is gripping and sad to see so much destruction and so many lives taken, especially as this event actually happened. Marie (played by Cecile de France) gets swept up in the water and actually drowns, but she comes back to life.
The rest of the film details what happens to Marie and the other protagonists, who have experiences with the afterlife. Overall, Hereafter is a forgettable drama about grief and the supernatural, a weak point in Eastwood’s otherwise strong directorial career.
5. Narc (Joe Carnahan, 2002)
Narc received plenty of acclaim upon its release for its gritty depiction of what police officers must do when working undercover. While it certainly was not a bad film, it has since been forgotten, as it is ultimately a pretty standard cop drama. However, its opening scene is very tense, gritty, and fast-paced where everything happens all at once.
The audience gets thrown into a situation where an undercover cop is chasing a criminal on foot, without any context to what happened beforehand. The look of terror and the gargling from the first victim is gross and disturbing. When the criminal takes a toddler hostage, the cop guns down the perp, but accidently shoots the toddler’s pregnant mother; it is very bloody, and the screams are powerful. This senseless violence foreshadows the rest of the film.
6. American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
American Sniper received a lot of controversy and Oscar buzz when it was initially released for its depiction of American soldiers fighting in Iraq. Despite its success, it seems that its opening scene is the only memorable moment of the film.
It is a tense scene where the protagonist has to decide whether he should shoot a woman and her child, who are potentially carrying a bomb that will kill his fellow soldiers. It is a nasty dilemma where no mistakes can be made. His advisers are telling him to shoot, but he feels conflicted.
The film then cuts to the protagonist’s childhood and leads us onto his journey into the military. While the outcome of the opening scene is revealed later in the film, it is very brief. The rest of the film is a pretty standard and forgettable by-the-numbers military drama where the protagonist is conflicted between doing his duty and having to kill people.
7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
Based on an acclaimed book by notorious journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an account of the journalist’s drug-fueled time in America’s Sin City in the early 1970s.
The film kicks off with a promising opening scene where two men are driving through the desert with a car full of drugs, and how the men leave a restaurant without paying. The fast paced ’70s rock music and the speeding car set up both the fast pace and the feel of the decade in which the film is set.
Combining the wacky acting of Johnny Depp and the bizarre yet beautiful work of director Terry Gilliam should make for a fascinating film, and at times it succeeds. But after awhile, the film becomes boring, as it has no plot and is just about the two men being stoned and acting outrageous for the sake of being outrageous.
8. Toy Soldiers (Daniel Petrie Jr., 1991)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were a lot of Die Hard clones that tried to emulate that blockbuster’s premise of terrorists taking over a building and holding their captives hostage, while one man or a small group would sneakily go around the building to fight the bad guys. Toy Soldiers was more or less a teenage version of Die Hard set in a boarding school. While it is an entertaining film, it is mostly forgettable. However, its opening scene is quite memorable.
Starting with a hostage situation in a Colombian courthouse that’s been taken over by terrorists, the violence and intensity of the situation is very strong. When the terrorist leader learns that his drug kingpin father has been transferred to the United States, he no longer has any need for his current hostages and kills some of them.
The terrorists escape in a helicopter, but then throw a judge from a very high distance, showing how far he has to fall to his death. Toy Soldiers then cuts to the boarding school where more action happens throughout the film, but the opening scene is easily the film’s most memorable scene.
9. XXX (Rob Cohen, 2002)
XXX opens with a foot chase scene of a NSA agent whose cover has been blown, and is thus chased down by the film’s villains. The agent tries to hide amongst the crowd of heavy metal fans in a nightclub, but the villains assassinate him, without any of the crowd knowing a murder just happened in front of them.
The above description may not sound like much, but what makes it stand out is the beautiful Prague scenery and the band Rammstein play their intense metal song “Feuer Frei!”, and there are flames on the stage to add to the drama. The song is played loud and fast, contributing to the tense atmosphere. Much of this scene’s energy and impact is thanks to this song.
While the film has plenty of car chases and actions scenes throughout its duration, it is a fairly typical and cheesy early 2000s action film where the acting and dialogue are cringeworthy at times. (One such line: “Think PlayStation!”)
10. Super Troopers (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2001)
Super Troopers has grown a cult following ever since its release in 2001, and a sequel is currently in the making. The film depicts a bunch of slacker smart-ass cops who cause both themselves and the general public trouble, all in the name of upholding the law and having a good laugh while doing so.
The opening scene really captures this idea well, with the cops arresting a few young men for possessing drugs (one of whom is experiencing a major drug trip), and then chasing a speeding driver who is one of the members of the aforementioned group, who does all of this for a prank.
It is a funny introduction, but the film becomes silly, meandering, aimless, and even boring after awhile. There is very little plot in Super Troopers. The opening scene set up the film to be hilarious, but the antics of these silly cops become tiresome very quickly.
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Monday 6 March 2017