The first shot in a film may not be the flashiest, but it’s packed full of vital information for viewers. In this post, we’re going to explore some powerful opening shots in cinema, and how to create them in your own films.

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Create Powerful Opening Shots

Why Opening Shots Matter

Opening shots tell us everything

To start us off, watch this video from the folks at Now You See It on famous opening shots.

The first impression you get when meeting someone can be compelling, boring, or even strange, but most importantly it gives you an idea of who that person is and where the conversation will be going.

So of course, directors must work hard to make their first impression count. The opening shot of a film is the audience’s initial entry into the world and an important first step in conveying the story’s main ideas, themes, character arcs, and perspective.

Let’s jump in.


1. Opening Shot of 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey starts with a bang as big as the big bang

What does this awe-inspiring opening shot say to you? 

  • The sun, a symbol of life, dawns upon earth. The story is about life on earth, and we’re about to watch the dawn of man.
  • Our POV is that of outsider looking in from space, as if we’re studying mankind.
  • The epic music adds weight to this major milestone in civilization.


2. Opening Shot of Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook Opening

As epic as 2001: A Space Odyssey may be, you can still achieve a similar impact on a personal scale. In Silver Linings Playbook, the opening shot packs just as much punch, but it’s subtle.

  • The camera moves toward our protagonist. This movie is about him.
  • The camera eases toward his head. This story is about what’s going on in his head.
  • Our protagonist is facing away. He’s guarded, and going in the wrong direction.


3. Opening Shot of Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Similar to Silver Linings Playbook, the opening shot of Little Miss Sunshine is of a single character. However, in this case, we face the protagonist, Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin), straight on for totally different effect.

  • Olive watches a broadcast with wide-eyed optimism. We quickly learn that this is a movie about dreams.
  • Olive watches a beauty pageant. This is about the pursuit of superficial dreams.
  • Miss Louisiana is reflected on her glasses. Olive envisions herself as Miss Louisiana.


4. Opening Shot of The Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs - Opening Titles

The opening shot of The Silence of the Lambs is jam-packed with narrative content. Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, an underdog FBI cadet who wants to prove herself. What does this shot say to you?

  • Clarice pulls herself up a hill. This story is about Clarice pulling herself out of struggle.
  • Clarice is alone. In the film, she will need to overcome her greatest hurdles alone.
  • The unused rope next to Clarice indicates she’s either the first or the last to get this far.
  • When she reaches the top, birds take off, representing freedom and achievement.

Note that the motif of flight used throughout the film is given special attention in this scene.

The Silence of the Lambs — Fly fly fly


Back to You...

While there’s no magic formula to an opening shot, directors must inevitably ask themselves how to introduce their stories.

Should the opening shot be of a character like Silver Linings Playbook or Little Miss Sunshine?

Or a wide establishing landscape like in 2001: A Space Odyssey or No Country for Old Men?

Or perhaps a thematic prop, like the computer screen in the The Matrix?

The Matrix - Opening Scene

There’s really no wrong answer. If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than your favorite films. For more, check out Roger Ebert’s compilation of opening shots.

up next

Create Striking First and Final Frames

We hope you enjoyed this discussion of opening shots and how they set the tone of the film. You know what is just as important as your opening shot? Your final shot! Check out our sister article on first and final frames where we compare the the first and final shots of popular films in split view.

Did we miss anything? Let us know some of your favorite openings in the comments below!

Up Next: First and Final Frames →
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  • An award-­winning Producer and acclaimed Director, Kelsea has jump­started bands’ careers with her viral music videos. As a Freelance Production Coordinator and Assistant Director, Kelsea continuously works on multiple major Feature Films, Music Videos, and Commercial projects across the globe. She is the Creative Director at Affirmats, a popular brand of yoga mats, where Kelsea heads the production of photo shoots and videos for the company.

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