15 Unforgettable Opening Scenes From Otherwise Forgettable Movies
Bane, car chases and vampire erotica. Let's review.
Thirty-five years ago this week, an erotic vampire epic starring David Bowie and Susan Sarandon called The Hunger hit theaters.
It was utterly forgettable. So why are we talking about it?
Because it featured one of the more memorable opening sequences of all time, a nightmarish episode involving goth rockers Bauhaus, feral monkeys and death by ankh pendant.
Which prompted a discussion at InsideHook HQ: What otherwise mediocre movies do you remember fondly for their brilliant opening salvos?
From hijackings to car chases to the only time you’ll ever see Times Square entirely devoid of people, here are the 15 we deemed worthy of recording for posterity.
The Hunger (1983)
The forgettable: Visually, it’s a stunner (this is a Tony Scott film), and the hookup between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve is certainly memorable. Having an existential David Bowie in a film never hurt, either, but the pseudo-science and ambiguous ending kind of spoil what could have been a bloody good time.
The unforgettable: The opening credit sequence features goth legends Bauhaus — singer Peter Murphy is nearly a vampire bat already as is — snarling through “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in a neon New York nightclub where two cool and collected power vamps (Bowie and Deneuve) seduce a young couple. From there, it’s a barrage of strobe lights, sunglasses at night and death by ankh pendant, interspersed with quick cuts of two monkeys screeching and clawing at each other, because why not?
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
The forgettable: Mr. Steal Your Girl (Daniel LaRusso) and Sensai Miyagi are back at it again, now in Japan. The writers didn’t want to mess with success, so they repurposed the original plot in Miyagi’s hometown. The Cobra Kai standin is a rival named Sato and his nephew Chozen, Daniel’s damsel in distress is the niece of Miyagi’s old flame, and the crane technique is now the drum technique.
The unforgettable: In part one, we get a taste of Miyagi’s chops (heh), but he never faces a formidable opponent; though he does have a tense standoff with Cobra Kai leader John Kreese that never materializes … until this opening. The movie picks up where the first left off, with Daniel and Miyagi walking out of the tournament to find Kreese smashing Johnny’s second place trophy then putting him in a chokehold. You know what that means: it’s Miyagi time. The creators would have been better off slapping this (literally) bloody bareknuckle brawl on the end of the first movie and calling it quits.
The forgettable: The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story is the director’s most personal film, but disappointingly falls short of sticking. Because even though Spike Lee’s messages about race in America are arguably more urgent than ever, Crooklyn is marred with a pastiche too on-the-nose and a lack of progressive storytelling, resulting in a movie of scattered vignettes — some memorable, the majority of them not.
The unforgettable: There’s no arguing that Lee is a master at turning the lens on the African-American experience. The point is best exemplified in Crooklyn’s epic title sequence, a loving homage to summer in 1970s-era Bed-Stuy Brooklyn through sweeping shots of the neighborhood’s beautiful brownstones and children playing bygone street games. Butter it all up with the perfect Stylistics song, and it’s an opening scene nothing short of iconic. Also unforgettable: the RuPaul bodega sketch.
The Forgettable: Hype Williams is an excellent music video director. From Craig Mack & Biggie’s gritty, B&W “Flava in Ya Ear” to Busta Rhymes’s gonzo “Gimme Some More” to Jay-Z’s yacht-twerk bacchanaal “Big Pimpin,” the guy’s responsible for many of the era’s biggest bangers. And thus it’s understandable that he got the greenlight to direct an entire feature film starring several of his hip-hop cronies. But what he delivered was a rambling, incoherent, abominably acted lesson in the perils of stepping too far outside of one’s lane, but damnit if the first three minutes won’t stick with you for life.
The Unforgettable: No one on earth but Hype could have conceived of an opening sequence that is so music video cool: a sensuous, slow-motion nightclub robbery in which black lights illuminate Nas and DMX’s eyes like vampires, all set to a haunting acapella version of Soul II Soul’s 1989 R&B smash “Back to Life.”
The forgettable: Magnolia is, for this Paul Thomas Anderson superfan, the film where he first realized his signature auteur style: narrative takes a backseat to tension and ambience, with rapid-fire editing and a relentless score working in lockstep to make viewers squirm in their seats. The issue? Every character in the massive ensemble cast is mired in his/her own personal melodrama, and their paths cross all-too-serendipitously as the film nears its leaden-handed climax. (Did we really need the frogs?)
The unforgettable: The film opens with three voiceover-narrated vignettes intended to establish the notion that sometimes chance occurrences in life seem stranger than fiction. They are funny, inventive and concise — three qualities the rest of the film too often lacks.
Way of the Gun (2000)
The forgettable: The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie made his directorial debut with this cross-border crime thriller, which mixes unsympathetic characters, over-the-top dialogue and ridiculous amounts of gun violence (plus, a running gag on cell phones that’s kind of funny). It’s very much a product of the Pulp Fiction era, albeit coming at the tail end. And Ryan Phillippe, as an actor, has always been quite the JAG.
The unforgettable: “She’s got a a big mouth but she’s not kidding. I’m gonna whip you silly and f*ck you stupid. You wanna do the man dance?” The standoff between protagonists/unrepentant assholes Phillippe and Benicio del Toro and a frazzled couple outside of a club is the most un-PC, could-never-be-filmed-in-2018 moment in film history. That said, Sarah Silverman’s “buffet” of swear words is glorious. And unprintable.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
The forgettable: An adaptation of a 1997 Spanish film (Abre Los Ojos), with Tom Cruise playing a wealthy Manhattanite left horribly disfigured by an accident and Penelope Cruz reprising her role as his love interest. The twist: it’s all a dream, because — as we learn in a third-quarter reveal — Cruise actually decided to be cryogenically frozen in a lucid-dreaming state after his accident. It’s “highbrow” sci-fi at its worst, with too few scenes of action or genuine fun around to bolster the convoluted plot.
The unforgettable: Tom Cruise piloting ‘62 Ferrari 250 GTO through the streets of New York and into Times Square with Radiohead’s immaculate “Everything in Its Right Place” backing. The catch being that there is literally NO ONE anywhere to be seen, an effect that was accomplished the old-fashioned way: by greasing the palms of the City so they could shoot uninterrupted for three hours one morning.
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
The forgettable: Meet Patrick Bateman’s baby brother Sean (James van der Beek), detached BMOC at a New England liberal arts school. Meet his equally disenchanted paramours Lauren and Paul (Shannyn Sossamon and Ian Somerhalder). Watch them be sad and maudlin and aimlessly navigate a world that is essentially Patrick’s New York mapped onto a college campus.
The unforgettable: Roger Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction, teases us with an epic opening sequence in his studio debut as a director. We are introduced to Sean, Lauren and Paul at a rollicking off-campus party, with a fluid camera that snakes through the house and occasionally hits the rewind button to backtrack and retell things from a different point of view. It’s American Pie meets Rashomon.
The forgettable: The tale of the Trojan War acted out by Hollywood’s hunkiest. Triumphant scenes here and there make for fond memories throughout this three-hour epic, but a recent rewatching unveiled cringe-worthy dialogue (from pre-Game of Thrones David Benioff) and a lack substance in adapting Homer’s source material.
The unforgettable: One of the aforementioned triumphs, undeniably among the canon of great action sequences, is Achilles’ opening battle scene. The legendary warrior, played by a swole Brad Pitt, is called on by King Agamemnon to fight the best of Triopas of Thessaly’s army — a single combat match in lieu of a war between thousands. His opponent? A Goliath lite named Boagrius. The scene begins with one of the movie’s best exchanges, a young boy admitting that he wouldn’t want to fight this titan, with Achilles responding, “That’s why no one will remember your name.” It ends with Achilles taking Boagrius down in less than 30 seconds with a move that has been copied in other shows and is so potent it makes people forgive the many faults in the film.
The forgettable: Hancock catches Will Smith at his mid-2000s apex, having just rattled off I, Robot, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend. Here, he’s a burned-out alcoholic with superpowers who can’t save someone without harming a bunch of other people. Enter Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a PR expert who believes he can fix Hancock’s image. But what could’ve been an excellent satire of the downsides of having a local superhero (insofar as every superhero rescue causes untellable damage to public infrastructure and innocent bystanders) doesn’t really play to its strengths, opting for genre mainstays (redemption, heroics, pyrotechnics) over humor or meta commentary.
The unforgettable: All that being said, what a cold open. Wearing dark shades and a ratty beanie, Hancock wakes up on a bench to some snot-nosed kid pointing out that there’s a gun battle happening on the freeway … and Hancock should probably do something about it. A swig of whiskey later, Hancock lurches into the air, whiskey bottle and Ludacris’s “Move Bitch” in tow. It’s an unexpected scene that adds bombast and a sense of humor to a genre that was still rooted in cartoonish self-seriousness at the time.
The forgettable: In your correspondent’s opinion, Guy Ritchie straight up phoned in his fourth Britmob effort, and it shows. No amount of stylish camerawork can hide the fact that the story is exceptionally lazy and predictable compared to Ritchie’s previous efforts, and the noticeable absence of his signature punchy, über-quotable dialogue means that the formidable talents of several top-shelf actors went grossly underutilized (poor Idris Elba). And then there’s the whole super homophobic plotline around Tom Hardy’s character “Handsome Bob” being secretly gay, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
The Unforgettable: It’s not really that the opening scene of RocknRolla is so memorable, per se, it’s just that it showed so much promise — a kickass blues riff as Mark Strong delivers a posh gangster voiceover, a Bansky-stencil lineup of the aforementioned absolutely bananas cast, and an intro to our two lovable geezer protags plus a nice little setup re: the shady underbelly of London real-estate. And then the f*cking movie happens.
The Other Guys (2010)
The forgettable: The Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg send-up of buddy cop films is fine, though the second half is pretty laughless and Ferrell’s more timid side dominates (a brief flashback to the character’s college pimp days notwithstanding). The more confident and buffoonish the comedian is, the more we tend to like him (see Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, “Bitch Hunter”).
The unforgettable: “New York City, there’s a fine line between law and chaos,” narrator Ice-T warns. Suddenly, Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson are careering through the city in a hail of bullets and runaway buses, dropping nonsensical one liners (“Can someone call 9-1-holy shit?”) along the way. It’s all the stupidity and glory of Lethal Weapon, Speed and The Fast and the Furious, at the same time.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The forgettable: Was the Dark Knight Rises a bad movie? No. Was it a disappointing follow-up to one of the greatest superhero movies ever made? Yes. As great an actor as Tom Hardy is, matching Heath Ledger’s final performance was always going to be a tall task, especially considering he dons a mask the entire movie. Overall, an entertaining flick, but one that will always live in the shadow of its predecessor.
The unforgettable: What a way to introduce a villain. Bane gets himself intentionally captured in order to hijack a plane (in midair!) housing a world-class scientist whose assistance he requires. Bane’s gravitas and intellect are evident from the first shot, as is the absolute command he holds over his cultish minions. Combine this with soaring mountain vistas and a feeling of antigravity elicited by some expert camera work, and you get a scene that is both aesthetically pleasing and badass as all get out.
The forgettable: Spectre rolls out one of those audacious plots that necessitates a Wikipedia visit post-watch. Geographically, it’s all over the place: Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangier, London. And narratively, as well: Bond chases down an unauthorized mission and picks up a token Bond girl and a whole bunch of bruises along the way. It’s an entertaining film, but one that came on the heels of the immaculate Skyfall, and tries to do too much for that reason. Not to mention, there’s a strange familial history between Bond and nemesis Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) which feels as slapped on as this closing sentence.
The unforgettable: Sometimes you’re sitting in a theater and get an opening so good you forget to unwrap your candy. Bond is Mexico City-bound on Día de Muertos to foil a bombing plot. An unsuccessful assassination attempt results in an iconic chase scene culminating with a helicopter fight over Zócalo, the city’s main plaza. The “James Bond Theme” trumpets in as Bond eases the chopper toward a smoggy Mexico City horizon, mission accomplished.
Baby Driver (2017)
The forgettable: A young getaway driver with bad hearing and a love for music is forced to work for a crime boss in order to pay off his debts. But every lead player reads like a caricature of an actual criminal, and the bank-heist-as-musical gambit ultimately falls short on both those aspects.
The Unforgettable: What makes the opener so great (and where the rest of the movie falls short) is that there is no dialogue — just a well choreographed chase scene set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It’s a successful getaway that, while slightly over the top, serves to introduce you to the fact that this driver can subvert legions of cops on command.
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