“You only have one chance to make a first impression.”
Oh Stanko, could you start this blog with a cheesier cliché? Probably not.
Regardless, an initial introduction to a character in any movie can be a pivotal, iconic and most memorable event. This goes for any genre. A serial killer slashing into the scene in a horror hit. An action hero peeling in a car to save the day. A charismatic criminal unveiling his mask. A hunk of a man walking on the beach or a star singer grabbing the microphone. A great character reveal can set a tone for the entirety of a movie, and there are countless of fantastic examples to pick from.
This is an evolving list and one that is surely up to debate for anyone taking to time to read this (thank you and feel free to share). Below are my top five character introductions in movies that I have seen.
Harry Lime – The Third Man (1949)
Oh that face. That smirk. That air of mischief and confidence. All is put together perfectly in The Third Man. There is nothing fancy about the introduction of Harry Lime. Merely lighting, a slight zoom, and fantastic acting. Orson Welles nails it.
What I love most about Harry Lime’s exposition is its simplicity. There are no special effects in this. It’s just smart film making and mixing the right ingredients. There is a trend to have the new character fill the screen when first being introduced. You’ll notice it as you go down the list here, and among the top five I have comprised, this may be the most-subtle of them all. But a small act can go a long way.
Xenomorph – Alien (1979)
Who says introductions just need to be for humans?? Not this guy!
I love all the stories behind this scene. Alien director Ridley Scott hid the true impact of this scene from all the actors and actresses. He wanted a true sense of fear and he felt it needed to be as genuine as possible.
Veronica Cartwright, who plays Lambert in the movie, famously passed out when the cameras stopped rolling just after the explosion. She is quoted saying: “We read the script. They showed us a mock-up, but they didn’t show how it was going to work. They just said, ‘Its head will move and it’s going to have teeth.”
All the script said was “This thing emerges.”
How awesome is that?? They were stuffing real animal organs along with the fake blood to get the full effect. This reveal is one of the best ever, stealing the show and ensuring that Alien is one of the best science fiction horror movies.
James Bond – Dr. No (1962)
I mean it is iconic. “Bond. James Bond.”
This one should really be self-explanatory. It is the most iconic line from one of the longest running and most successful movie franchises. Sean Connery…ahem excuse me…Sir Sean Connery lends his trademark accent and cements himself in cinematic lore forever.
Also, the irony of the first line introducing him being “I admire your luck…Mister?” James Bond has to be one of the luckiest action heroes of all-time right? With all of insane stunts and near-death experiences, is there anyone who can contend with him?
Little extra tid-bit here, but the “Bond” delivery comes from the most recent British MI6 spy portrayer, Daniel Craig. At the end of Casino Royale, his casual strut and you-done-f’d-up sir strut is a perfect lead-in to the final line of the movie.
Darth Vader – Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Was there ever a doubt? Well yes maybe. But an entrance that introduces one of the most iconic movie bad guys in history while also setting a benchmark for generations of fans to come has to make the mark. Not to mention that I grew up on Star Wars and I could not forgive myself if I didn’t include it.
The entire opening minutes, with the pronounced mechanical whirring and then eventual smoke and sparks. I wish I could be there back in 1977 when this first came out to be part of the frenzy. I want to know what it was like when audiences first heard the melancholic deep breathing of Darth Vader.
You see the master of the dark side emerge from darkness into a scene of white, surrounded by his storm troopers. He is filling the screen, making his ominous presence known while just observing the work his minions have done. Hands on hips, cape flapping…to moments later choking a rebel officer with disturbing ease and chucking him against the wall.
Also, major credit to composer John Williams for his score on this one. All of these big introductions have a strong musical cue, and this one stands up to me as well as any.
In an odd twist, this scene is only accented by a more recent Star Wars adventure. What Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did in its final moments really ampliphy the terror of what the rebel soldiers must have been thinking. I wasn’t expecting it when I first saw Rogue One, but when it happened, holy crap I went nuts in my seat.
Hannibal Lecter – Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
The idea of Hannibal Lecter standing still and observing Clarice Starling like an all-knowing evil computer came directly from Anthony Hopkins himself. After walking through the energetic horror-filled hallway down to the final cell, Clarice is met face-to-face with the evilest of the criminals just digging daggers into her soul.
Lecter is standing like Dracula, stalking his prey and sniffing the blood…or in this case skin cream.
Also, as I mentioned before, when Lecter just stalks toward the camera and we have the close-ups on the eyes. The slight head lean forward…taking every inch of space he can. That angle remains the same for the next minutes as he dissects Clarice…only differing on one cut where they both share the screen. Then there is the medium shot, just chest high, and that is only when the topic of conversation goes back to Jack Crawford and not the FBI trainee.
The dance of words and direct clash of ethos comes to a head with Lecter just burying Clarice with a diagnosis that would send my digging a ditch to tim-buck-too.
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans, and a nice chianti.”
The iconic line is followed the unforgettable suckling noise. The sucking blare Hopkins makes is taken from Bela Lugosi’s Dracula…very much like the way he was perched like an attentive bat, only right side up, when Clarice enters Lecter’s frame of reference.
There are obviously some that I have omitted from my top-five. I have a rather long list of honorable mentions…not in any particular order.
Also a friendly reminder that if you don’t see an introduction you think it warranted; I only selected from the movies that I have personally seen. If I haven’t seen it, then it doesn’t count.
Let me know what you think, if I missed any or what your favorites are!
One other thing…I noticed I don’t have any females in the choices. I really tried to rack my brain but nothing seemed to come loose. I am 110% confident I am missing at least a few, so please enlighten my forgetting memory. Also no westerns…