3x3: bad opening shots in movies

We discuss our favorite worst opening shots in movies at the 1:01 mark of the Qt3 Movie Podcast of A Monster Calls.

Kelly Wand
3. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
2. Speed 2: Cruise Control

  1. Snakes on a Plane

3. Clerks
2. House of Games

  1. Melancholia

Tom Chick
3. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
2. Mad Max: Fury Road

  1. Jaws

What are your favorite bad opening shots in movies? And please keep in mind, these are not opening scenes but rather opening shots.

Listen to the show to hear us go on about our choices, and to hear Tom read a bunch of listener picks. Send in your pics for the next topic to [email protected].

My picks:





Wow. I found this topic impossible . . . for me. I remember opening shots that I thought were great, but the lousy or mediocre ones just get consigned to the musty junkheap in my mind’s attic. How Dingus remembered those scenes from Clerks and House of Games is beyond me.

Same. I was racking my brains during the podcast, and while I agree with the Star Wars pick, I couldn’t come up with anything else.

Oh man, I can’t wait to hear Tom’s explanation for this choice, because that spaceship being pursued by an impearial destroyer that just dwarfs it is a great opening shot, setting the stage for the conflict to come with purely visual storytelling.

Yeah, I agree. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the classic opening shots in movie history. Wonderfully satirized in the Family Guy verion btw.

Isn’t the opening shot just space though? Then it pans down…

Its space followed by moon, followed by bigger moon, followed by planet - pan ends… followed by big space ship enters frame, followed by enormous spaceship that never ends entering frame.

The whole pan from stars to star destroyer entrance is like 15-20 seconds.

OK, so I listened to that portion of the podcast and Tom considers the opening text crawl to be the “opening shot.” I think that’s really stretching the defintion of opening “shot,” but be that as it may, I still disagree with him. First, remember that Star Wars was, in large part, an homage to the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers Saturday morning serials of yesteryear. Those episodes customarily began with exactly that type of scene-setting text crawl. So there’s that. More importantly, I think the text crawl did just what it was supposed to do: Set the scene. Without it, you would have been wondering why that great big nasty space ship was chasing that poor little cute space ship.

Uh, a big dude in a black cape arrives very shortly to explain just that. There is nothing in the text crawl that the movie doesn’t tell you pretty quickly. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t write WORDS in all capital LETTERS for no good reason, comic-book STYLE.


Sorry guys, I’m new and didn’t realize there was a 3x3 thread, so forgive me when i paste my comment from the podcast thread. This time with the added benefit of a screenshot in all its glorious, unsubtle artistry:

Regarding terrible opening shots, one example that instantly irked me is the beginning of Killing Them Softly. Through a dark tunnel, the camera slowly pushes in on a derelict urban space that would make the Wire’s Baltimore appear downright cheerful, while downtrodden podcast favourite Scoot McNairy drags himself towards all this decay, trash blowing in the wind. If that isn’t sufficiently on the nose for you, Andrew Dominik hits you over the head with the accompanying audio: Obama giving a hopeful campaign speech on the state of America.

At least the shot lets you know directly that you are in for some heavy handed commentary and is perfectly bookended by Brad Pitt’s equally terrible closing line: “America isn’t a country, it’s a business. Now fucking pay me.” Ouch.

I suppose it’s a nice counterpoint to Dingus’ Clerks pick, since this one is decidedly not random and loaded with so much artistic purpose that it hurts.

Vader doesn’t provide all the context, but the text crawl is much better than “for no good reason” for a few other reasons:

  1. As I said in my earlier post, it’s a perfect homage to the Saturday morning serials that inspired the movie;
  2. It’s accompanied by our introduction to one greatest symphonic scores in the history of cinema; and
  3. What Lucas does with the crawl is wonderful. We see the entire block of text fade up into space, followed by the camera panning down through space unitl we see the planet and the fleeing rebel ship. 40 years later, it’s easy to be jaded about it, but when I first saw it, my reaction was on the order of “Holy Fucking Shit!”

One other point: You’re being pretty arbitrary about what qualifies as the “opening shot” aren’t you? If the text crawl qualifies as a “shot,” I would argue that so does the block “STAR WARS” that flies in from behind the camera accompanied by that symphonic thunderclap and then fades into the disctance. In which case, that’s one of the greatest “opening shots” of all.

I think by Tom’s math the opening shot is actually “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

I think that technically that would be considered an “intertitle” or “title card” rather than a “shot.”

Jason, I get that you think the crawl is SUPERCOOL. But I repeat: there is no information in the crawl that we need. It’s George Lucas sitting down to tell you about his D&D campaign. Without DePalma’s re-write, it would have gone on even longer and more pointlessly.

But, yeah, that’s how old serials used to work. Some of them were silent, so maybe Star Wars shouldn’t have had sound.

Those are the credits.


Well, there’s some leeway, but the point is that it’s distinct from opening scenes or sequences. The most common definition would be whatever you see before the first cut. In that a shot is one uninterrupted instance of footage? Seemed pretty clear to me, but a bunch of people sent in opening scenes, so maybe not.

But there’s no cut in Star Wars until after the Star Destroyer has passed.


Tom’s right. “Shot” is clearly defined in film parlance. It’s the amount of film that unfolds before a cut or fade or dissolve, or the virtual/animated facsimile thereof. The only ambiguity I can think of is whether a title sequence counts as ‘shots,’ but if it’s a standalone sequence rather than titles superimposed on the action, I’d say it doesn’t.

edit: There are also cases in which multiple shots are stitched together seamlessly (or quasi-seamlessly) in order to look like a single shot (think Birdman, or Rope). In such cases it might be useful to draw a distinction between the shots as the filmmakers set them up in production, versus what we are meant to perceive on the screen. It does feel a bit weird to say that Birdman only has one shot, but grammatically that is pretty much what’s going on.

Bella: I didn’t see Killing Them Softly but that shot looks like a direct crib from John Ford’s The Searchers, which is one of the great opening shots of all time. But there’s kind of a tradition of ripping off that shot – Spielberg did it to nice effect in Saving Private Ryan when Ma Ryan gets the bad news.

I love Bella’s pick for her indignity that it’s so on the nose. :) But that has me wondering what he used for the opening shot in Assassination of Jesse James.

Good catch on The Searchers parallel, Gordo. Is that the opening of The Searchers as well? I thought the final shot was Ethan in the doorway, but it might be a bookend to the beginning. And, yeah, iconic. Reminds me of all the times directors think they’re being clever cribbing Kubrick’s shot of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, shot from below while he’s leaning his head against the door. If I had a nickel for every dopey horror movie that did that.


The text crawl is not the opening shot, but it’s in the opening shot. The background of stars establishes the continuity. There is no cut away from those stars after the titles recede, just a tilt down (“pan” refers to horizontal camera movement, “tilt” to vertical, if I may be film-terminology-cop for a moment). So it’s all the same shot. An effects shot that was composited in various ways, but the total effect is of a single continuous shot.

Tom, not sure I understand you, but are you saying you don’t like the crawl because it doesn’t give useful exposition? Who cares? The crawl as visual element is the point, not the text it contains, which merely has to be in tune with what we’re seeing, not particularly informational.