Horror movies are great, and sometimes horror movie openings serve as the best part of the film. Some openings set the stage for the rest of the film while others make you wish the whole film was the opening scene. So, I’ve put some of the best horror movie openings all together, in one place. While the movies might not be anything worth writing home about, binge-watching the first five to 10 minutes of these 13 films is highly recommended.
Ghost Ship is definitely a bad movie but in those good, campy sort of ways. In a remote region of the Bering Sea, a boat salvage crew discovers the eerie remains of a grand passenger liner thought to be lost for more than 40 years. But once onboard the eerie, cavernous ship, the crew find that the decaying vessel is anything but deserted. While the movie itself is a hodgepodge of supernatural motivations, the opening sequence is brutal and one of the best I’ve seen. It is also one that is much more interesting than the rest of the film. Dancing on the deck, an unaccompanied minor is surrounded by horror as a group of the salvage crew kills every one of the passengers. The best kill? A razor wire that cuts down an entire dance-floor.
Ghost Ship is available on Netflix.
I will not admit that Resident Evil is a bad movie. While it deviated from the source material by creating a new main character and focus, the film got many of the games iconic mechanics right. But most of all, the rest of the film holds up to the complete terror that builds in the cold open. Peoples’ daily lives are disrupted when the facility they work in begins a murderous shut-down protocol when a vial of the T-virus is broken and escapes into the facility’s air vents.
28 Weeks Later
28 Weeks Later is a rollercoaster and it’s all thanks to the audience not being able to really trust our main character, Don. Six months after the original epidemic, the rage virus has all but annihilated the population of the British Isles and the film opens on Don, his family, and s-tier zombie speed (yes, they’re not technically dead but this isn’t the time for THE debate). When we watch horror movies, especially when a family is involved, the father is often the one to sacrifice himself to save them all. 28 Weeks Later breaks that mold. Instead, Don abandons his family and leads the zombies on a chase that results in amazing over the shoulder camera shots, a kill with a boat motor, and a gut-wrenching opening to a solid horror film.
Get Out hits hard and a lot of the power of the film comes from writer-director Jordan Peele’s ability to merge real-life fears with horror movie tropes. While the idea of being stalked in a neighborhood and kidnapped is common in the genre, by blending the elements of race into the situation in a time where Black men walking through a community are in danger from the authorities, homeowners, and regular creeps alike, the terror is kicked up to 110% right from the start of the film. Walking through a neighborhood, a man looks behind him, commenting on his fear to his girlfriend on the phone, right before he’s kidnapped by a mysterious man dressed as a knight. All the while the music of “Run Rabbit Run” plays in the background. It’s unnerving, it’s terrifying, and it hits Peele’s audience hard.
Get Out is available on VOD.
Cube is a cult classic and uses its opening scene as an important part exposition by showing and not telling the audience the intricacies of the Cube and the game that the rest of the film is predicated on. It also serves as a tension builder. When each member of the cast drops down into a new room you can’t help but wait for the slice and dice, making every movement anxious for the audience.
Cube is available on Netflix.
It Follows hits hard, especially for a film that is essentially about an STD that haunts you and kills you violently. An instant classic, the film’s opening brutally sets the stakes without explicitly explaining what it all means. While it serves to show the violence of the specter, it doesn’t tell you the narrative of the film, instead opting to show you a mutilated body as a sign of what’s to come.
It Follows is available on Netflix.
Krampus is absolutely the best Christmas movie. It has a moral at the center that works for those who love the winter holiday while also showcasing all the reasons why people dislike it and this all starts in the opening. Set to Christmas staple “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” the opening is a Black Friday doorbuster sale with fighting parents, crying children, and violent security guards. This cold open hilariously sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Slowed down, we’re introduced to the youngest Engel child and our protagonist, Max, fighting another kid in the center of Mucho Mart while participating in the Nativity play.
Krampus is available on VOD.
I’ve actually never gone skinny dipping and a lot of it has to do with the opening of Jaws. The film about a killer great white shark terrorizing a coastal town is one of the most influential horror films on the list. This is not only because it made all of us think twice before swimming but also because it directly led to an increase in shark hunting and the subsequent endangerment of many shark species. That said, Jaws’ opening scene offers up a relaxing scene of a beach bonfire until a giant shark disrupts the peace.
Jaws is available on Netflix.
While others on this list used their cold openings to visually show you the rules of the film they opened, The Ring is all about telling you the rules, spelling them out in the first few minutes. Focused on two high school girls just hanging out, they not only show us the result of watching the mysterious videotape but really spell out the film’s mechanics for the audience.The reason this opening sits as one of the best is because it tells the audience everything they need to know while also delivering a good scare.
The Ring is available on VOD.
Trick r’ Treat
Trick ‘r Treat is the quintessential Halloween movie. As an anthology, the film focuses on establishing Halloween folklore and showcasing what happens when people don’t follow the well-laid out rules of the holiday. In the opening, we see one event in which a woman is decorating, dismisses the Jack-o-lantern rule, and pays the price. Trick r’ Treat is one of my favorite horror anthologies and a lot of it comes from the opening which also introduces us to the costumed little terror that winds up at all the death scenes.
Trick ‘r Treat is available on VOD.
Using the first-person perspective to allow the audience to view the world from a killer’s eyes is terrifying, but John Carpenter’s original Halloween took this to the next level by revealing the man behind the bask to actually be a child in a Halloween costume. As he walked through the house, murdering his family, Micheal Myer’s identity as a cold and silent killer is established, making the rest of the film all the more terrifying as he stalks babysitters as an adult.
Halloween is available on Shudder.
The Stepfather (1976)
When we think about iconic openers, The Stepfather (1976) tends to slip through the cracks. In the film, Jerry Blake is a family man, but he happens to have a series of families over the years, with each one on the receiving end of his murderous ways. The film circles around his newest target, a lovely widow named Susan and her headstrong daughter, Stephanie. However, Stephanie begins to suspect that there’s something wrong with the seemingly well-adjusted Jerry. The reason The Stepfather works is that we see the gruesome result of Jerry’s murderous patterns at the very beginning of the episode as well as his complete apathy towards the situation. As he cleans himself up, putting on a new identity, we know what fate awaits his new family which makes all of his actions even more tense for the audience. Plus, it may be one of the only entries on the list that can rival Ghost Ship in the amount of blood showcased.
The Stepfather is available on VOD.
The most iconic of iconic, Wes Craven’s Scream did something surprising: kill its top-billed star in the opening of the film. Throwing away a beloved actress in the opening subverted everything that the audience expected at the time of the film’s release. While the focus of Scream is Sydney Prescott and her friends running from a killer, the cold open works as a short film and can stand on its own. Bringing back to life the “call is coming from inside the house” trope and creating its own phone call trope when Casey Becker gets a creepy call while home alone.”What’s your favorite scary movie?” is the line that goes down in horror history and Casey’s brutal death is one that caps off the opening that functions as a three-act vignette as well as a horror movie opening.
Scream is available on Netflix.
DO you have a favorite horror movie opening scene that isn’t on this list? Let us know in the comments.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.