I don’t mean opening credits. There are some truly great examples for those – “Seven” rightfully being cited as one of the best of all time – but that’s not what I’m after.
Staying with “Seven” though: Remember the scene before the opening credits? The one at the crime scene? Probably not. (I do, but only because I’ve seen the film a dozen times. Putting four commentary tracks on a DVD is a good way to ensure I’ll watch it at least five times.)
Anyway, that scene before the “Closer” remix starts playing and John Doe starts his scrap-book collection, that’s the opening scene. The pre-credits scene.
Now, not all movies have pre-credits scenes. Take another David Fincher movie, “Fight Club.” There’s a great credits sequence (taking the viewer all the way from the fear center of the narrator’s brain to the end of the gun forced into his mouth) that segues right into what I consider the first scene of the movie. So while it’s not the first thing we see when the movie starts, for this list’s purpose, it’s the opening scene.
Of course most movies don’t have elaborate opening credits like that at all. In that case it should be even easier to define what the opening scene is. The first scene. Maybe the first scene after the title card.
When in doubt, go where the action is. The opening scene of “Groundhog Day” is, of course, not the shots of clouds set to cheesy 90s rock music. It’s the scene of Phil Connors presenting the weather forecast, obviously.
I hope this clears things up. I’m not decided on my Top 5, yet, though I do have a few ideas – none if them mentioned here. Share your favorite opening scenes in the comments! And then we should have our lists by, let’s say, the weekend.