The 10 Best Opening Lines In Film History Source:

In any story, the opening line is perhaps the most important. When used correctly, it can hook the audience, raise an intriguing question or issue, hint at what is to come, set the tone and introduce us to the world contained within the film. Sometimes this line is delivered by an omnipotent narrator, whilst often it is delivered by the film’s protagonist. There have been many iconic opening lines in cinematic history, and some of these have introduced us to the greatest stories ever told. Today, we are taking a look at the 10 greatest lines in film history.

**Warning: Some of these scenes have NSFW language or imagery**

10. The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

Often overlooked, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a compelling story where nothing is quite as it seems. In the opening of the film, this intriguing line is delivered by Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) before John Cutter (Michael Caine) explains how there are three parts to every magic trick. This question is not directed at the other characters, but instead it is directed at us, the audience. This is typically a question that a magician asks before performing a trick, and it is no different here, but there is something chilling about the way it is delivered. The story is all about deception and this keeps you on your toes throughout the film, which follows two rival magicians in London at the end of the 19th century who are tying to outdo each other. Much like a magic trick, it demands repeat viewings.

9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drug began to take hold.”

These words perfectly set the tone and atmosphere for the film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You know that from this moment on, things are going to get very strange and they do not let up until the credits roll some 120 minutes later. Following this brilliant opening line, we see Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) then hurtling through the Nevada desert and Duke, the narrator, continues a manic and rambling monologue as he begins to hallucinate bats screeching around the car. He then reels off the astonishing amount of drugs that they are carrying in the car, and it is clear that this is going to be a wacky and surreal ride.

8. High Fidelity

“What came first, the music or the misery?”

A chicken and the egg type question for the self-pitying type, this opening to the 2000 comedy drama High Fidelity (based on the novel of the same name) introduces us to the protagonist of the film, Rob Gordon (John Cusack). Likeable and smart yet selfish, flawed and overly introspective, he is a music lover who has gone through a string of bad relationships. This opening line and question precedes a monologue about how nobody minds their kids listening to thousands of songs about heartbreak, before then asking “did I listen to pop music because I was so miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Through his observations of music, we then peer into the window of his life as he looks up his old partners to see where he keeps on going wrong.

7. American Beauty

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life; I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I’m dead already.”

An incredible exploration of suburbia, American Beauty follows the life of Lester Burnham who is middle-aged, middle class and fed up with his life. This brilliant opening line introduces us to Lester, but it is also spoken by Lester as an omnipotent narrator. We instantly are intrigued by this odd statement, and of course are already asking questions about his death. It also reflects how unhappy he is with his current way of life, despite living in a very nice home in a nice neighborhood. From this moment, we know that change is afoot for Lester Burnham.

6. The Seventh Seal

“Who are you?” “I am Death.”

A chilling opening exchange which immediately hooks the audience, this perfectly establishes the tone for the brilliant allegorical Swedish drama The Seventh Seal, both written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. The film follows the story of a medieval knight in Sweden during the Black Death, and after encountering Death at the beginning of the story, who has come to take his life, he plays a game of chess with the personification of Death. The opening line establishes the confrontation between the two which is also reflected in the high stakes game of chess, which sees the knight reflect on life, death and the existence of god. It is a stunning, thought-provoking and fascinating story which is now considered a classic of world cinema, and this is established from the very beginning with an iconic introduction and chilling opening line.

5. Citizen Kane


One word that generates all kinds of questions and drives the entire plot, this is the first word we hear in the 1941 masterpiece that is Citizen Kane. Although it is the opening line, it is also Charles Foster Kane’s last word as he lies on his deathbed. He utters this, and the snow globe he was holding then slips to the floor and shatters. Both the audience and the media in the film begin desperately trying to figure out what this word means, and no amount of interviewing or digging into his past seems to uncover any answers. We learn everything there is to know about Charles Foster Kane through Jerry Thompson’s investigation into the mystery, and he even concludes that it will forever remain an enigma. We (the audience) finally get an answer at the film’s end for a satisfying conclusion to one of the all-time great stories.

4. Patton

“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.”

An epic biographical drama about U.S. General George S. Patton during WWII, this famous opening monologue and the image of him delivering it in front of a giant American flag is iconic. This opening quote is just the start of the rousing speech, but it establishes Patton (brilliantly played by George C. Scott) as a powerful leader and encapsulates his unflinching approach to war. You immediately understand his character and it sets the tone for the rest of the film. Patton would pick up seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), and the iconic opening scene is a huge reason for its success. For the scene, Patton’s actual words had to be toned down to avoid an R rating.

3. Trainspotting

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f—cking big television… I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

This quote has been drastically shortened, and for full effect you need to hear the complete monologue, but it still brilliantly sets the tone for Danny Boyle’s brutal, nauseating, dark and at times hilarious black comedy Trainspotting. This is all told at blistering speed by Ewan McGregor as we see his character, Mark “Rent Boy” Renton, fleeing the police before we are introduced to his circle of friends with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” accompanying the frantic start. The film has become an important piece of British culture for its portrayal of heroin users in Edinburgh in the ’90s, and this opening monologue is widely praised and still quoted today.

2. Goodfellas

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Easily one of the greatest films of all time, this opening line has become famous and one of the most quoted movie lines. Spoken by Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), this opening quote somewhat chillingly tells the audience that the mob life that this character lives in was not something he fell into, and instead something that he chose. Instead of looking up to respectable role models, Henry Hill idolized criminals and worked hard to rise through the ranks. Prior to this delivering this line, we see Hill and two other mobsters brutally kill another mobster they have in the trunk. This, along with the famous line, show us that this was the life he wanted and we know that what we are about to see is going to be a dark and gritty look at this character’s rise.

1. Stand By Me

“I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.”

With this short opening sentence, a million questions are generated and the audience is immediately hooked. The film, based on Steven King’s novella titled The Body, follows the story of four boys who live in Oregon as they hike across the countryside to find the dead body of a missing child. This is all told by one of the boys, Gordie Lachance, when he is much older and working as an author. It is a fantastic yet slightly dark coming of age film, and the tone for the movie is set perfectly with this intriguing opening line. Seeing a dead body for the first time is a harrowing experience and makes you consider your own mortality, which is a huge part of becoming an adult. This is all perfectly encapsulated in this brilliant opening line.

Jonny Hughes

Jonny Hughes

Jonny Hughes has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2015.