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Some horror movies, like psychology, Extraterrestrialand the brilliant– like to take things slowly, gradually introducing their characters and world before triggering the real scares.
But for most horror films, the opposite approach is taken: grab the audience’s attention immediately with a terrifying opening scene that introduces menace and sets the tone for what’s to come.
Neither method is better than the other, but the immediate method makes a bigger impression on the audience from the start.
Here are our picks for the greatest horror movie opening scenes and intros that made their point, left us wanting more, and ultimately stuck with us all these years later.
In 2013, James Wan Conspiracy took the world by storm. Its masterful direction, charming leads, and spooky atmosphere impressed both critics and audiences, leading to one of the most successful horror movie franchises in history.
And it all started with a close-up of a scary doll’s eye.
The opening scene of Conspiracy tells the story of how paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren came into possession of Annabelle, a seemingly haunted doll.
And in just six minutes, this movie managed to keep audiences hooked while introducing us to one of the most iconic horror icons of the 21st century.
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In Hollywood, redo any cinema is a delicate business. Remaking a seminal classic like George A. Romero dawn of the dead? It’s downright dangerous. Done without precaution, such an attempt could lead to critical panning, financial disaster and professional suicide.
Luckily, the opening scene from 2004 dawn of the dead proved that this movie wasn’t going to be one of the countless throwaway horror movie remakes that plagued the early 2000s.
Widely considered Zack Snyder’s best film, dawn of the dead begins in an idyllic suburban neighborhood with an ER nurse named Anna leading a perfectly normal life, until a little zombified girl invades her home and turns her husband into a flesh-eating zombie.
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Who would have thought that Officethe lovable Jim Halpert would direct one of the best horror films of the 21st century?
In 2018, John Krasinski surprised everyone by coming out A silent placea clever and scary post-apocalyptic film that grabbed everyone’s attention with its devastating opening scene.
In the first ten minutes, Krasinski brilliantly ushers us into the ruined world of our protagonists, the Abbot family, as they silently scavenge for supplies in a deserted town. They are afraid of making noise.
So when the youngest son secretly sweeps up a toy rocket, we all know what’s going to happen, but it’s still shocking to see it on screen. It’s an effective and emotionally devastating intro sequence that makes one thing clear: no one is safe in this world.
Related: The Greatest No-Skip Horror Movies
7. It (2017)
Stephen King’s 2017 adaptation This had big (clown) shoes to fill after the 1990 miniseries traumatized an entire generation with Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Fortunately, 2017 This rose to the task from the start. The film begins with six-year-old Georgie going out to play in the rain with a paper boat that her older brother Bill made for her.
When her boat falls into a sewer, Georgie meets Pennywise, who offers to give her back her boat. The clown convinces Georgie to come closer, then rips his arm off and drags him into the sewers, traumatizing a new generation of moviegoers.
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It follows is a clever and wickedly original horror film about a young woman cursed by a supernatural entity that is always following her, slowly closing the distance to kill her.
The film begins in a seemingly normal neighborhood, with a frightened young woman running away from something we cannot see. She drives to the beach and tearfully says goodbye to her father on the phone. Seconds later, we see that she has been brutally murdered.
We don’t know how it happened or who did it, but now we know why she was so scared. It’s a disturbing opening scene that leaves the audience intrigued and wanting more.
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Even if you’ve never seen When a stranger calls, you probably know this scene. A babysitter receives a call from a stranger asking if she has been watching the children.
Assuming it’s a prank, she hangs up and pays no attention. However, when the stranger keeps calling, she grows increasingly nervous – and when she finally contacts the police, they inform her that the calls are from inside the house.
It’s one of the most famous twists in horror cinema, but what many people don’t know is that the entire sequence takes place within the first twenty minutes of the film. The rest of the movie is a little disappointing.
Still, that iconic opening scene remains a classic all these decades later, which goes to show just how effective it was.
All Final destination The film begins the same way: the main character has a vision of a terrible accident that kills a lot of people.
Whether it’s a plane crash, a roller coaster crash, or a race track tragedy, the Final destination the franchise always manages to entertain, surprise, and outdo each film with the creative kills.
But the best opening scene remains that of Final Destination 2which involves a chaotic road accident caused by a logging truck.
Not only does this footage remind us of how quickly a normal car ride can end in tragedy, everyone who watched it felt at least a little scared of driving behind logging trucks.
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The opening scene from the original Scream is legendary for several reasons: the witty dialogue, the masterful direction by Wes Craven, the chilling atmosphere, but above all, the iconic performance by Drew Barrymore.
When Scream first released, Drew Barrymore was a renowned actress who was marketed as the film’s main protagonist. Nobody expected her to die in the opening scene of the film!
It’s something that no other horror movie had ever done. Even Alfred Hitchcock’s psychology allowed its star, Janet Leigh, to live past the 45-minute mark before she was unexpectedly stabbed to death in the shower.
The first 13 minutes of Scream elevated the film and turned it into a horror movie legend, so much so that it inspired many films to try and emulate it, but none ever came close.
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It’s only fitting that the film that revolutionized the horror genre also offers a masterclass in how to start a horror movie: with an opening scene that leaves audiences both terrified and begging for more.
Halloween begins with a brilliantly executed long take from the killer’s perspective. We follow him as he grabs a knife from the kitchen, puts on a clown mask, and brutally murders a young woman sitting alone in her bedroom.
Then the shocking twist comes: the killer turns out to be a six-year-old boy named Michael, who has just murdered his older sister.
In just five minutes, we’re introduced to one of the most iconic, influential and relentless horror movie villains of all time in Michael Myers. There is no sympathetic story or reasonable motive behind his actions other than the fact that he is pure evil.
Related: The Best Horror Movie Villains Of All Time, Ranked
1. Jaws (1975)
The opening scene of Jaws alone scares millions of people facing the ocean. Its influence and effectiveness cannot be overstated, which is why it’s the best horror movie opening scene in history.
Steven Spielberg’s direction, John Williams’ score, and Susan Backlinie’s acting came together so beautifully that this film gave the sharks a terrible reputation, one that has yet to be shaken.
Jaws begins with a young woman named Chrissy who sneaks away from a beach party to go skinny dipping in the ocean, where she is suddenly attacked by a great white shark.
Due to the film’s infamously hellish production with malfunctioning mechanical sharks, we never see the beast in the opening scene, but that makes it even scarier.
Jaws forces us to piece it all together using our imaginations, and it’s scarier than anything we could see on screen. Nothing is scarier than the unknown.