From Hitchcock to Watchmen: See the 50 Greatest Movie Opening Sequences

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James Stewart and Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo

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The Oscars may be days away, but we’re years yet from one of the little gold men going to best opening sequence.

If IFC had their way, that would surely change, as they’ve gone to quite some trouble to rank the top 50 opening sequences in movie history. As they eloquently put it, “At their best, opening title sequences operate on the level of pure cinema, translating a movie’s ideas into pure poetic imagery.”

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And there’s certainly merit to what they’re doing, though you feel that in the interests of fairness, an accompanying gallery to reward the excellent efforts in TV wouldn’t be amiss either (The Sopranos, Mad Men and Big Love to name just three).

But we digress. The all-important top 10 finds the likes of Watchmen at number eight (a sequence so good it eclipses the rest of the film), Raging Bull at seven (that black and white shadowboxing never gets dull) and arguably the greatest of the James Bond films, Goldfinger, at five.

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As for the top three, David Fincher, who is favorite to pick up a first Best Director Oscar for The Social Network this weekend, comes in at three with Se7en, which isn’t just visually arresting but utilizes Trent Reznor’s haunting music (a point worth making as the pair worked together again on The Social Network). At two is Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, which was radically and thrillingly ahead of its time in 1964. The stirring opening chord and the Beatles running away from a mob of screaming girls set the tone for effectively the entire genre that would become the music video and is indeed worthy of such a high place.

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But the top spot goes to Alfred Hitchcock for Vertigo. He assembled a dream team of Saul Bass to oversee the sequence and had Bernard Hermann score it. In a nutshell, it’s the movie distilled into the opening: it begins on a woman’s face, with the camera moving from the lips to the eyes, with the not so subtle subtext screaming out that, “you’re about to watch a movie about voyeurism!” The Spirograph images and strings signify the uncertainty that is to follow but what is certain is this: the viewer is instantly hooked and won’t be going anywhere. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to and credit is finally being paid to the opening credits.