We love when films take us and pull us in the minute the cameras start rolling, and there’s no better way to do that with some mind bendingly good opening lines. It’s the filmmakers first opportunity to establish everything about the movie. It will define the character, world, and situation, and is where the audience finally gets to begin forming their opinion of what you’ve made. A bad line means some people will turn off the movie or walk out of the theater. An average line doesn’t have much of an effect on anyone. But a great one cements your movie as one of the greatest in the world.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
Henry Hill is easily one of our favorite movie characters of all time, and his opening line in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas not only perfectly kicks off the rest of the film, but is simply badass. If you’ve seen the movie, you know this scene opens with Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy DeVito, and Robert De Niro’s Character, James Conway, killing a guy in the trunk of the car. As Hill closes the trunk, his face looking solemn and blank, his voice can be heard over the action. It’s the perfect setup to a nearly perfect movie.
“What came first? The music, or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos. Like some kind of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
Aside from High Fidelity being one of our all-time favorite films, and Rob Gordon (John Cusack) being one of our all-time favorite characters, his opening lines in the film are nothing short of masterful. They describe why all good music is born of heartache, and why all good men eventually know it well. Not only does it properly set the mood for the film, it also sets the mood for many of our young lives. For that, we’re forever grateful. Oh, by the way… Misery came first. Watch
“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars , compact disc players and electrical tin openers…”
Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Trainspotting is one of those films we just never get tired of watching. Of all the wild and ridiculous occurrences throughout that we absolutely love, none whatsoever top the film’s opening scene, and Renton’s (The film’s protagonist, played by none other than Ewan McGregor) opening monologue about the mundanity of everyday life. His statement is obviously contradictory to the film’s premise (and the Iggy Pop song playing in the background), and that’s what makes it so perfect. Life isn’t about your big fancy television set or your comfortable office job; it’s about getting out there and living, even if it sometimes means making bad choices.
“Be seated. Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
—General George S. Patton, Jr.
George S. Patton Jr. was one of those dudes whose words—and actions—were so incredibly badass that we feel it necessary to regularly remind ourselves he was, in fact, a real person. The 1970 film Patton is based on the exploits of his life and is actually a toned down version. It’s only fitting, then, that the film opens with one of Patton’s most famous speeches, which he gave on May 31, 1944, to the U.S. 6th Armored Division, just days before they would hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. The speech is brilliant, and George C. Scott’s delivery is really what brings it all together.
“Listen, here’s the thing… If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
Another excellent opening line to an excellent movie, Rounders is about an underground poker player who leaves the gambling life behind him for law school, only to be sucked in when a friend gets himself caught up in a jam. Mike McDermott’s (Matt Damon) opening line about being the sucker at the table is one of those prophetic nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to most aspects of our everyday lives, and it’s a quote we’ve lived by since the movie’s release 20 years ago.
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.”
Of all the badass things a guy could say, this is easily one of the most egotistically badass. Another classic Scorsese film, The Departed is about a web of lies and deceit among a Boston mobster, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and various law enforcement agencies. The film opens with this line, spoken by Costello. It’s short, it’s sweet, but it’s exactly the kind of insane confidence we’d expect from a guy whose character was loosely based on real-life Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
We’ll admit that this one is a bit of a cheat, only because the coolness comes more from what the line’s come to represent than what the actual words mean. Since the movie’s release, the words have become a legendary piece of the American cultural fabric. They are, of course, the opening lines spoken by Johnny Depp as famous American journalist and writer Raoul Duke, Hunter S. Thompson’s fictional foil, in the Hollywood adaption of Thompson’s famous novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for an uncertain period of time, it’s difficult not to smile at the mere utterance of them, because of what they’ve come to represent.
The Big Lebowski
“Way out west… There was this fella that I wanna tell ya about. Goes by the name of Jeff Lebowski. Least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. See, this Lebowski, he called himself, ‘The Dude.”
The Dude represents everything a good man ought to be. He’s calm and cool (sort of). He can’t be bothered with life’s petty bull shit (sort of). He has a plan (eh, debatable), he can commit (not really), and he can bowl damn well (for certain). These opening lines, spoken by “The Stranger” (Sam Elliott) in the film’s opening scene, both set the backdrop for the excellent film ahead, but are also just downright cool. The way they set the audience up to understand who, exactly, Lebowski is, and why we should all strive to be more like him, make them some of the best opening lines in cinema history.