Opening shots can tell a lot about your film. It is an introduction to your film, so think carefully how you want to introduce it to your audience.

(check out this video I specifically made for the article):

Your first shot must grab people’s attention and make them watch your film. Some directors are just so good at it. They know how to set the frame and how to introduce the main character – they know the importance of opening shots. If you want to learn the trick behind those opening shots, keep reading this article.

I have selected some of the best opening shots and the elements that make them stand out from the rest. Here are the 5 best opening shots:

  1. Apocalypse Now – Confusion

This film goes without saying. Not only it has one of the best opening shots but also one of the best editing techniques ever used in film history. The very first shot introduces us to the location which is a wide-open jungle. The shot feels calm up until the point where you spot the helicopter. This is the moment when the audience gets very interested as they want to know what is going to happen. Then it gets obvious that this is a war zone but the calm background music makes it very confusing. This confusion grabs the attention of the viewer and they want to keep watching the film from the very beginning.

      2. Gravity – Long take

Gravity has the most beautiful shots of space as well as some of the longest! The opening shot is around 13 minutes and this is the trick. Despite the fact that everything in Gravity was filmed in a studio, the long take gives more reality to the scene. Everything feels real; there are no cuts, just a pure shot. All that’s left is to enjoy the performance of the main two characters played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

     3. Dunkirk – Placing right in the middle

Dunkirk has been acclaimed as one of the best war films ever made. In the opening shot, Christopher Nolan immediately introduces us to the events of the film by placing us right in the middle of them. We are in the middle of the street with 5 men in uniforms. This hooks the viewer as they want to know more about the film: what is happening, what are they doing, what will happen, etc.

     4. Whiplash – Introducing a character 

This opening shot is a good example of how you have to introduce your character. Damien Chazzelle puts his character, Andrew Neeman, right in the centre of the frame which suggests that he is a protagonist. Then, the camera starts slowly getting closer to the character as we see him playing the drums. Everything about this shot is very well done, including the lighting. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Whiplash was Damien’s second feature.

     5. Hugo – VFX

The opening shot of the film starts with an antique clock mechanism which then slowly changes to The Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This beautiful shot shows Martin Scorsese’s very unique perspective and hooks us up until the very end of the film. It seems like it was the hardest shot to make which is partially true: in this article, you can read how VFX crew worked on snow effect in the first shot.

Want to learn more about film directing? Check out our Let Me Direct masterclass by Simon Hunter who directed ‘Edie’ film. Raindance Members get 20% off this course.

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About 

Botagoz Koshim (or just Bota) is an intern at Raindance, currently studying BA (Hons) Film Production at the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey.
Bota is a freelance photographer and a film editor, previously worked on student films and short documentaries.
She is an absolute Potterhead and loves talking about astronomy. Follow her on social media and do not forget to say 'hi' 🙂

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