It's been only five years since Pixar released "Up" (on May 29, 2009), but many critics are already eager to enshrine it in the pantheon of great movie opening sequences. After all, the cartoon's prologue -- a nearly wordless montage that covers Carl and Ellie's courtship, marriage, broken dreams of adventure and family, and old age, ending with a final effort toward taking their dream voyage that's thwarted by Ellie's death. It's a heartbreakingly bittersweet sequence that's both an effective demonstration of the power of pure visual storytelling and a tidy reminder of the film's theme: as long as you're above ground, it's never too late to make your dreams come true.
What makes a great opening sequence? Modern Hollywood thinks an opener needs to be grabby and startling, lest the audience lose interest. Critics tend to like openers that show off the director's prowess, though not every movie with a flashy opening can live up to the promise of the first few minutes. (Case in point: Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes" and "Bonfire of the Vanities," both of which are all downhill after their brilliant tracking-shot first scenes.)
So let's agree that an opening should be memorable, should give a sense or at least a hint of what's to come, and should effectively tell a satisfying shorter story while leaving viewers wanting more. In other words, it should work quickly to immerse us in the world of the movie.
It's a measure of the "Up" opener's effectiveness that we placed it high on the list above of the 40 greatest movie opening sequences of all time. Read on and see if you agree with our choices, or if there are some missing that you would have included.
So much for the prologue. Here, now, comes the main event.