Absolute Beginners

Cinema's Most Memorable Opening Shots

In honor of the opening scene of El Monte, photographer Yelena Yemhcuk’s dreamlike new fashion film premiered exclusively today on NOWNESS, we take a look at some movies that had us at “hello.”

, Federico Fellini, 1963

The great, anxiety-dream beginning of Fellini’s magnum opus, which opens in the midst of an epic traffic jam and ends with Marcello Mastroianni as a kite flying high above the sea, is echoed in Yemchuk’s new film. The opening of the great director’s previous success, La Dolce Vita, also deserves a mention: Mastroianni is in the sky again, this time in a helicopter taking a statue across Rome to the Pope.

Soy Cuba, Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964

The opening of this forgotten 1964 masterpiece inspired Paul Thomas Anderson's poolside scene in Boogie Nights: the camera takes in a beauty contest on the rooftop of a luxury hotel in Havana, scales down the side of the building to circle around holiday-makers sipping cocktails and playing poker, and then plunges into a swimming pool, all in one take.

The Player, Robert Altman, 1992

Do they teach anything else beside this marathon opening shot in film schools anymore? Altman’s classic one-take on a studio lot involves hundreds of characters as it floats around a working film studio eavesdropping on myriad conversations. It has inspired plenty of imitators, but remains one of the best of its kind.

A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, 1971

From the moment the camera frames the bowler hat and mascara in the milk bar, it’s clear we’re in for a classic Kubrick nightmare. The director’s dolly shot and Malcom McDowell’s terrifying voiceover get a little of the old ultra-violence started. 

Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón, 2006

Cuarón's opening to his adaptation of the dystopian thriller by P.D. James shocks you out of your senses. All is well and good as a disheveled Clive Owen grabs his coffee... and then boom.

Don't Look Now, Nicolas Roeg, 1973

The famous sex scene in Don't Look Now between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland made headlines on the film's release, but it's the opening scene of Roeg's Venice-set horror that sets up the water and breaking glass motifs, leaving us with the indelible image of a child's red raincoat.

There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

A full 20 minutes passes before anyone speaks, but watching silver prospector Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis chaneling John Huston) discover the sticky black substance that will make his––and America's––fortune is thrillingly scored by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, and it's a fittingly epic opening to this adaptation of Upton Sinclair's book, Oil!

Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone, 1968

Waiting has never been more rewarding as Leone gathers together his group of hoods to greet a train in the dusty chaparral. The flight pattern of a fly will have you on tenterhooks.

Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Hitchcock’s glorious chase scene, beautifully backdropped by the San Francisco skyline, is a lesson in film economy and dramatic camera work. Within the first minute we learn that Jimmy Stewart is terrified of heights, and are treated to a new toy Hitch invented specially for the film: the “zolly” cam (AKA the dolly zoom, AKA “The Vertigo Effect”). 


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  • Pixelwhore
    You guys missed a few like TOUCH OF EVIL to name a few.

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