The Lion King (1994)
This one nearly didn’t make the list because… well to be honest, I almost forgot. The Lion King stage show has overshadowed the film somewhat over the past couple of years, and for good reason – it is fantastic.
The opening to the stage show is enough to turn any black hearted man into a Disney loving kid but it is easy to forget where the inspiration for that opening derives from. The movie version still holds up fantastically well, even in this computer generated, special effects laden world.
The opening to the film is so iconic that you still see parodies and nods to it all over social media and television. Damn, I Simbaed my daughter when she was born. And I double dare you not to sing along to the Circle of Life by the time it gets to its chorus.
The Matrix (1999)
I’ve recently re-watched The Matrix and I was shocked at how well this atomic bomb of a film stood the test of time. People forget how much The Matrix changed things. Science fiction films were never the same again – meaning they were cool – and the action film genre was given its biggest wakeup call since Terminator 2. It is simply an extraordinary film from start to finish. And what a start…
It is so hard to overstate just how refreshing this opening was, and to an extent still is. The audience should have known that they were about to see a ground-breaking film when the first thing of note to happen on screen was a gorgeous woman kicking some serious ass in a wonderfully choreographed scene. And then the chase scene that followed was as if it was taken from James Cameron’s Terminator films themselves.
In a short space of time this opening scene introduces some of the most important elements to the film’s world – the agents, the different gravitational rules of The Matrix and the phones.
The opening is an example of action cinema at its very finest.
Casino Royale (2006)
For me, Casino Royale is the best Bond film I’ve ever seen. I grew up on the Bond films, I was hooked after my father introduced Goldfinger to me at an early age. My pa and I watched many of the movies together – we laughed together, we grinned together and we recited the lines together. But you’d be a fool if you didn’t believe that somewhere during Pierce Brosnan’s iconic run the franchise grew stale.
But Casino Royale dragged Bond kicking and screaming to the 2000 – gone were the excessive puns, the uber campness and the over the top gadgets – and in came the realism ushered in by Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne and other post-9/11 influences. And this change is seen in Royale’s very first scene.
The opening is wonderful for one reason – it makes you understand one thing about Bond that the other films failed to demonstrate – it shows that James Bond is a very dangerous man. And I mean fucking brutal. In the space of just four minutes we see Bond murder someone with his bare hands… and then he murders a station chief with ruthless abandonment.
It is a brutally clinical scene and brutally simple but that doesn’t lessen its impact.
I could cheat and talk about the following chase scene, but there is no need – the first five minutes are enough.
(To be continued)