15 Iconic Opening Frames in Films

Kevin Polowy
Senior Editor
July 11, 2014

In film as in life, first impressions are everything. Opening this weekend, Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making coming-of-age film Boyhood is being a hailed a masterpiece, and from the very first moment, the director grabs audiences by the heartstrings. The first shot homes in on the face of the pre-pubescent boy (Ellar Coltrane) we’ll see grow into a fully formed college student over the course of the film, immediately bringing audiences aboard the journey as they take in his face in all its complexity.

Here’s some of the other greatest opening frames in movie history; moments that got their stories running from their very first frame. Click through them all here. 

Blade Runner (1982)
Our first look at Los Angeles circa 2019 is a bleak hellscape, with fiery explosions bursting upward into the nighttime sky. Welcome to dystopia. 

Citizen Kane (1941)
The meaning behind Orson Welles’ use of the “No Trespassing” sign has been analyzed to death for eons. Should we have all let Charles Foster Kane (and other late greats) just rest in peace?

Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater is no stranger to great openings. Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” perfectly sets the movie in gear.

Do the Right Thing (1989)
The title for a YouTube video of Rosie Perez’s fly girl moves over Public Enemy beats: “The Greatest Opening Credits in Movie History.” Hard to argue. 

Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick placed a country ballad over a head-shaving montage to set the perfect tone for this hard-hitting Vietnam film.

The Godfather (1972)
“I believe in America.” It’s a cryptic voice over blackness until the determined face of Bonasera emerges. “America has made my fortune.” We’re hooked – and we haven’t even seen Don Corleone yet.

Goodfellas (1990)
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) does not use his turn signal when changing lanes in the opening to this modern mob classic. That will be the pettiest crime he commits over the next 146 minutes. 

Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola got audiences right off the bat with this “artfully” positioned long shot of Scarlett Johansson’s derriere.  

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg’s first Indiana Jones adventure was one of the earliest films to blend its studio logo with actual film content, dissolving ‘Paramount Peak’ into a Peruvian mountain. 

Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock literally raises the curtains during the opening credits before a slow zoom take moves us into the courtyard Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart) will watch over. 

The Searchers (1956)
The famous opening scene to this John Ford Western is symmetrical to the ending scene: First we see Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) come in from the wilderness. Then, when his journey is complete we ride back out, leaving the safety of home behind.

The Sound of Music (1965)
The hills came alive with music pretty much immediately in this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. 

Star Wars (1977)
You know you’re in a galaxy far, far away when an Alderaanian cruiser is chased by an Imperial Star Destroyer over Tatooine. 

Taxi Driver (1976)
As in Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese introduces us to his principal character via his automobile, with Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) emerging through a cloud of smoke. Bickle up. 

Vertigo (1958)
Perhaps the most iconic of all iconic opening shots is the ultra-closeup of a woman’s face during the Saul Bass-designed opening credits. Suddenly, the eyeballs shift to the right, and no matter how beautiful, nothing will feel safe again.