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The Best Opening Scenes In Sci-Fi Movies

Science fiction films tell some of the most exciting stories that cinema has to offer. The genre expands our minds and takes us to places we've never even imagined. Sci-fi can send us back in time, put us on the moon, or introduce us to all sorts of creatures like robots, aliens, and dinosaurs. But while a sci-fi movie needs to push boundaries and have a compelling story, it also needs a killer opening scene. 

What good is your tale of stranded astronauts or evil A.I. if the first few minutes of the movie are totally boring? To draw us in, a film needs to set the stakes right off the bat. It needs to prod our imagination, play with our curiosity, and make us wonder what will happen next. Whether they make us laugh, cry, or stare in awe, these are the best opening scenes in sci-fi movies.

2001: A Space Odyssey - The celestial bodies align

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is full of moments that have permeated pop culture. There's the mysterious Star Child, the legendary match cut, and the murderous HAL refusing to open the pod bay doors. And right up there with all those iconic scenes is the opening sequence where the celestial bodies align.

The shot opens on the dark side of the moon, and the camera slowly pans up, revealing the Earth shrouded in the darkness of space. But then the sun begins to rise on the far side of the world, illuminating the entire shot. The grandeur of the universe is on display, but what really sells the moment is the booming, bombastic music. Kubrick famously chose to score the film with classical compositoins, and here he uses "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss. And without that song to punctuate the scene, the opening just wouldn't have worked.

Believe it or not, Kubrick originally intended to use a completely original score for the film, one written by Alex North. North had composed music for films like Spartacus and A Streetcar Named Desire, but his score for 2001 just wasn't working, so Kubrick decided to get classical. And by using a piece written in 1896 for a film released in 1968, Kubrick created an opening that's become absolutely timeless.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - Getting left behind

Steven Spielberg knows how to start a movie. From Jaws to Raiders of the Lost Ark, his openings grab you by the collar and never let go. The first few minutes of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial are no exception. This 1982 classic starts with a spaceship parked in a foggy California forest. Its adorable crew is waddling through the woods, collecting plants. They're intergalactic botanists having the time of their lives among the redwoods. That's especially true for E.T., who's wandered away from his buddies to find the perfect sapling.

The peaceful scene is shattered when a bunch of scary scientists roll up in their oversized trucks. These guys tower over E.T., and he watches in terror as they hustle by him, with their blinding flashlights and jangling keys. Suddenly, they spot E.T., and the terrified alien takes off running, with the humans in hot pursuit. This boy is booking it, desperately trying to get back to the ship before it takes off. But E.T.'s buddies are forced to take flight before our hero arrives, leaving a frightened alien behind. With John Williams' score driving the emotions home, the scene starts all wondrous, takes an intense left turn, and leaves us feeling sad and scared for this little guy. Crazier still, there's barely any dialogue in this entire sequence, but we're glued to the screen anyway, proving Spielberg is a master when it comes to kicking off movies.

Jurassic Park - Shoot her!

The opening of Jurassic Park isn't messing around. The movie starts with something huge moving through a clump of trees. We know dinosaurs are going to show up soon, so maybe it's a T-rex? Well, not so fast. Instead, it's a forklift rolling through the jungle, carrying a massive cage with something angry inside.

Inside that cage is the baddest dino in the entire film: a velociraptor. It's smart, sadistic, and it keeps on shrieking, but we don't really see it until the end of the film. Here, we only get glimpses of its massive claw and reptilian eyes. That only makes it scarier when the Jurassic Park crew — armed to the teeth — tries to move the creature from its cage to a fortified pen. If anybody slips up, there's going to be human meat on the menu.  

Naturally, that's when disaster strikes. As the cage door opens, the raptor snags an unlucky dude by the legs, hoping for a midnight snack. Springing into action, game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) grabs the man by the torso and finds himself in a tug-of-war with the raptor. As Muldoon shouts for his crew to shoot the beast, we watch in slo-mo as the man's fingers slip through Muldoon's hand, signalling that very bad things are happening in that cage. Sure, the slow motion and some of those close-ups are a bit melodramatic, but it's still incredibly effective and perfectly sums up the theme of the movie: screw around with nature and you'll wind up dino dinner.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Running from the living and the dead

Mad Max: Fury Road is one big car chase that never lets off the accelerator, and the action starts in the very first scene. Bearded and bedraggled, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is standing in the desert, chomping on mutant lizards and trying to ignore the voices in his head. "It was hard to know who was more crazy," Max monologues, "me or everyone else."

Suddenly, he hops into his car and peels off into the desert. Seconds later, an army of War Boys roar by in their tricked-out vehicles. The painted warriors capture Max and drag him back to their hellish citadel, where they shave his head and tattoo his back. But before they can brand him as their slave, Max makes a last-ditch escape attempt. The scene plays out like a nightmare — Max is lost in a labyrinth, the War Boys are like monstrous ghouls, and every time Max turns a corner, he's confronted by visions of the people he couldn't save.

Finally, Max makes a mad leap to freedom, but it's all for naught. The freakish, flailing War Boys drag him back inside, and the movie hard cuts to the title card. If we didn't know any better, we'd say this was a horror flick. But in just a few seconds, we know everything we need to about Max. He's a man haunted by the dead and hunted by the living, and thanks to that frenetic opening scene, we're buckled in and ready for this crazy road trip.

The Matrix - Meet Trinity

Everything about The Matrix is pretty much perfect, from the characters and kung-fu to the philosophical concepts. That goes double for the opening scene. It starts with a wall of digital green text and a mysterious phone call about someone called "The One." That's when we cut to a group of cops working their way through a dank apartment complex, ready to arrest the leather-clad Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). But when they tell her to raise her hands, Trinity turns into Bruce Lee.

The camera freezes as Trinity leaps into the air and delivers a front kick that sends a cop flying. She then runs off walls and kills everybody in the room. But while mere mortals can't stand up to her martial arts skills, even Trinity gets freaked out when the Agents arrive. With their dark glasses and monotone voices, there's something unusual about these guys. And unlike the police, they can match Trinity's superhuman abilities. When she makes an impossible jump from rooftop to rooftop, an Agent follows with the greatest of ease, leaving a group of stunned cops behind.

And then, just adding to the craziness, Trinity escapes by disappearing into a payphone. It's a thrilling opening scene with so many mysteries. Who are these people? What's the deal with their super ninja powers? And who is "The One?" By the time the intro is over, we're ready to take the red pill and find out what's really going on.

The Prestige - Anatomy of a magic trick

The Prestige opens with one of the most enigmatic images in sci-fi history: a forest floor littered with top hats. Naturally, we want to know what they're doing in the middle of the woods. When a voice asks if we're watching closely, the answer is definitely yes.

Then, the silk hats disappear are replaced with the iconic voice of Michael Caine, giving us magic lesson. According to Caine, there are three key parts in any good magic trick: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. But while he tells us how to wow an audience, we watch in horror as Hugh Jackman meets a watery fate. Under Caine's narration, the film cuts back and forth between two magic acts. In one, a kindly old man (Caine) makes a canary disappear to the delight of a little girl. In the second, a rapt audience watches as the Great Danton (Jackman) steps into a Frankensteinian machine... and vanishes.

The audience is baffled, except for one curious spectator (Christian Bale) who's stepped backstage to discover the secret. There, he watches Danton fall through a trapdoor, into an ominous water tank. The lid swings shut, and Danton is trapped inside, screaming underwater. Bale's character just watches as the Great Danton drowns. So what's the deal with all those hats? Why was there a water tank beneath the stage? And why is Bale treating the magician so cruelly? Like any good magic trick, the opening scene shows us something extraordinary, and makes us wonder what's coming next.

Signs - Something scary in the corn

While the ending of Signs is much maligned, the opening perfectly sets up the film's eerie tone. This alien invasion flick starts with a shot of a peaceful farm. The sun is shining. The grasshoppers are chirping. It should feel like a wonderful day... but something is off. And Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) knows it. He pops into frame, Pulp Fiction-style, waking from a bad dream. Things only get weirder when he hears his daughter screaming outside. This is not a good way to start the day.

The confused dad and his concerned brother (Joaquin Phoenix) rush into the farmyard, looking for the source of the screams. The two men plunge into a cornfield, rushing down an empty row until they find the little girl (Abigail Breslin) standing in a daze. She think she's still dreaming, and honestly, the scene has the feeling of an incredibly eerie nightmare. This little girl isn't the only kid in the corn, either. Her older brother (Rory Culkin) is just a few feet ahead, staring into the field and whispering creepy things like, "I think God did it."

And what did God do? That's when Graham notices something huge has trampled down massive swathes of corn without breaking a single stalk. As the camera pulls back, we see his field is full of circles of flattened corn, creating a massive, otherworldly shape. It's a crop circle — evidence of aliens lurking about — and as Graham stares in bewilderment, we know this is a sign of bad things to come.  

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - The Kobayashi Maru

What do you do when you're trapped in a no-win situation? That's the question posed in the first few minutes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the opening of this 1982 classic, we're reintroduced to beloved characters from the TV show like Spock and Uhura. However, Kirk isn't calling the shots this time. There's a new captain on the Enterprise, Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley), and she finds herself in quite the conundrum when she receives a distress signal from the Kobayashi Maru.

The ship is stranded in the neutral zone, a space border separating the Federation and the Klingon Empire. If Saavik flies into the buffer, the Klingons will attack. But there are hundreds of people aboard the Kobayashi Maru, and if Saavik doesn't help, they'll all die. So Saavik decides to save some lives, but the moment she breaks the treaty, the Klingons blow the Enterprise to kingdom come, seemingly killing everyone aboard.

That's when a wall inside the Enterprise slides back to reveal a dramatically-lit Kirk (William Shatner). He reveals to the audience that this isn't really the Enterprise and there is no Kobayashi Maru. And all those dead characters? They're perfectly fine. The whole thing was a training exercise to test up-and-coming Starfleet officers by putting them in no-win scenarios. It's a dramatic opening and brilliantly foreshadows the impossible scenario Kirk will find himself in later on. 

In addition to setting the stakes, the opening fooled fans who'd learned that Spock was supposed to die in the film. By fake-killing him in the first few minutes, the filmmakers tricked Trekkies into thinking the Spock death rumors were exaggerated before breaking their hearts for real in the film's final act.

Star Wars - You can't outrun the Empire

Before the movie proper even starts, Star Wars lets you know something special is going on. There's that iconic title card that reads, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," followed immediately by John Williams' triumphant score and a title crawl harkening back to Flash Gordon serials. Even though George Lucas was borrowing techniques from much earlier films, it was completely fresh to 1970s audiences, but he wasn't done wowing the crowds just yet. 

In the film's first real shot, Lucas put his incredible visual storytelling skills on display. We see a tiny Rebel ship, flying overhead as fast as it can, trying to escape the Empire's Star Destroyer. While the Rebel vessel just whizzes on by, the Star Destroyer is so massive that it takes nearly ten seconds for the entire ship to enter the frame. The symbolism here is simple and smart: the Rebel Alliance is tiny and outmatched, while the Empire is absolutely enormous. It's David and Goliath in space, and the odds are stacked against our heroes. No matter how hard you try, you can't outrun the Empire.

The Thing - Dog day afternoon

A strong opening scene should make a moviegoer ask, "What's going on here, and what will happen next?" And The Thing gets us asking questions from the very first frame. After we witness a UFO heading for Earth, the movie cuts to the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. As the synthy score sets the mood, we see a helicopter cutting through the sky. The men inside are on the lookout, searching for something in the snow... and that's when we see what they're chasing.

Down below, a husky is running for its life, with the helicopter in pursuit. Stranger still, the man in the chopper starts firing at the mutt with a machine gun. Obviously, most people don't go flying around trying to pick off puppies. In fact, if we didn't know any better, we'd say this guy was some sort of monster. But maybe it isn't the human who's acting like an alien. What would inspire someone to grab a gun and go hunting huskies? Perhaps there's more to this dog than meets the eye. As it flees to a nearby base, we're sitting on the edge of our seat, intrigued and terrified to see what will happen with this creepy canine.

Total Recall - Arnold takes a tumble

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall really wants to screw with your mind. The film plays with the concept of memory and makes us question what's real and what's all in Arnold Schwarzenegger's head. The opening sequence is no exception — is it a dream or a memory? Whatever's going on, it's pretty freaky and involves a lot of loud Schwarzenegger noises.

It starts on the planet Mars. It's red and dusty and completely barren, except for two humans walking along a ridge. Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) and a mysterious woman (Rachel Ticotin) are admiring the view and holding hands, clearly a couple on some sort of space vacation. But the fun comes to a halt when the ground gives way, and Quaid tumbles down into the valley below.

On his way down, Quaid's helmet hits a rock, cracking his visor and exposing him to the unfriendly Martian elements. And that's when the grotesque special effects kick in. As Arnold screams in pain, his tongue starts swelling and his eyes pop out of his head. They grow red and disgusting and gigantic, and it looks like they're about to burst, when suddenly Douglas wakes from his "dream." It's an unsettling beginning to a mysterious film, and one that's provided nightmare fuel for countless sci-fi fans.

The World's End - Gary King's glory days

Directed by Edgar Wright, The World's End starts in the glorious days of yesteryear, as Gary King (Simon Pegg) waxes lyrical about the best moment of his life. It was 1990, back when Gary was king of his high school. And one fateful night, Gary and his mates set off on a drunken adventure in their hometown of Newton Haven.

The plan is to have an epic pub crawl. Along the way, they pick up girls, get into brawls, and revel in their youth. And in true Edgar Wright fashion, this four-minute prologue sets up everything that will happen to Gary and his buddies when they return to Newton Haven as adults. It foreshadows everything from little details (like Nick Frost's fighting style) to major plot points (like when certain characters will die later on). And if you're watching closely, you can even spot a UFO flying in the distance, signalling the arrival of the villainous Network.

It's all brilliant and fun... until the past meets the present, and we see modern-day Gary telling his story at rehab. Suddenly, Gary becomes a much more depressing figure. He's an alcoholic who peaked as a teen, and now he's desperate to relieve that pub crawl and get wasted yet again. Like the film itself, the opening walks a line between happy and heartbreaking, and perfectly lays out all the drunken chaos to come.