This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
One thing that unites all of cinema’s most iconic characters is that they were able to make a memorable first impression. Whether it’s bursting onto the scene in a flurry of noise or slowly skulking their way into shot, there’s a fine art to ensuring a character makes an instant impact on screen. An iconic entrance is not just about a momentary impact however, it can also emphasize a character’s importance and help to cement their influence over the rest of the movie.
There are any number of contributory factors that can be blended together in order to make an entrance truly memorable. These include the accompanying music, the choice of camera shot, the pre-emptive build-up or even just the sheer charismatic power of the actor involved. Here in this list we’ve sort to rank the most iconic movie entrances of all time in terms of how this cinematic blend is best utilised in order to mark a character’s arrival into a film.
This is an area which filmmakers have excelled over the years, so it was ultimately tough to select just 25 examples. Honorary mentions must therefore go to Blade’s awesome opening bloodbath, Batman’s introductory alleyway swoop, Buzz Lightyear’s bold bedroom arrival, Sugar Kane’s eye-catching sashay, Norman Bates’ shocking reveal, Dr. Frank N. Furter’s unforgettable grand entrance and Mary Poppins’ practically perfect descent from on high.
25. Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)
Kubrick’s masterpiece opens with a close-up of Malcolm McDowell’s smirking young thug, his piercing blue eyes burrowing into the camera and demanding its focus. As the camera slowly zooms out, revealing Alex’s unconventional get up including bowler hat and solitary false eyelash, the rest of the obscure room surrounding him is also revealed to us. The slow reveal of Alex and his droogs is devastatingly effective as the malevolent twinkle in Alex’s eye, coupled with his unbreakable gaze and the hypnotic voiceover from Malcolm McDowell, makes it clear that this is a young man to fear. Never before has a sip of milk felt so menacing.
24. Jessica Rabbit (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
Part of growing up involves developing hugely inappropriate crushes on animated characters. If you turn round to me now and say you never had one, I simply won’t believe you. Maybe it was on a grown up Simba in The Lion King, maybe it was that female mouse in Chip And Dale Rescue Rangers. Whoever it was, in retrospect it remains highly questionable.
However, one animated character who it actually seems surprisingly sensible to have developed a crush on as an adolescent is the beautiful Jessica Rabbit. Voiced with sultry perfection by Kathleen Turner (though the singing voice was actually Amy Irving), Jessica’s big entrance sees her saunter on to the stage in a rowdy nightclub and instantly captivate her audience thanks in no small part to her stunning looks. Yes, Jessica is a cartoon, and yes she is designed to be overly sexual and alluring, but that doesn’t make her entrance and rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” any less iconic. Remember, she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.
23. Harmonica (Once Upon A Time In The West)
The Western as a genre has long excelled at the art of the memorable introduction, from John Wayne’s Ringo Kid in Stagecoach to Clint Eastwood’s ice cool Blondie in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. However, arguably the finest of them all is “Harmonica” in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West. Played with typical stony-faced toughness by Charles Bronson, Harmonica takes an age to arrive, but when he does, it’s truly worth the wait.
The movie opens with three outlaws awaiting Harmonica’s arrival at a remote train station. Leone expertly builds tension as we see these three cowboys patiently waiting for their target, with only seemingly insignificant diegetic noises, such as a creaking wind gauge, cracked knuckles and the buzz of a fly punctuating the silence. When our hero finally arrives on the deserted platform, he’s hopelessly outnumbered three to one. After he enquires whether these hoodlums brought any transport for him, he’s told “looks like we’re shy one horse.” To which he shakes his head and delivers the killer retort “you brought two too many” before taking out all three in quick succession. What a badass.
22. Gilda (Gilda)
A vintage character introduction here, straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In Charles Victor’s revered film noir, Rita Hayworth plays the titular character, a mysterious beauty who spells bad news for the various men in her life. Her introduction comes about 20 minutes in to the film when her wealthy husband brings his new young right-hand man to their hotel room. The resulting back-and-forth between the pair is pure noir gold. “Gilda, are you decent?” she is asked. With a sensual toss of the hair and a flirtatious smile on her lips that suggests she’s anything but, she replies “Me? Sure, I’m decent.” Right away, Gilda is painted as a captivating woman who can effortlessly tie men around her little finger. It’s the ultimate iconic femme-fatale entrance.
21. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard Of Oz)
There are several pretty impressive entrances in this beloved 1939 Technicolor classic, including Miss Gulch’s unwelcome arrival at the farm and the unveiling of the fraudulent Oz himself. However the ultimate statement of intent comes from the green-faced terror, the Wicked Witch of the West. This grotesque, cackling spectre arrives in an actual puff of smoke, which is pretty much what appears under the dictionary definition of “making a grand entrance.” Arriving just as the munchkins are rather unceremoniously celebrating her sister’s death, the fear and terror she instils in those around her perfectly sets up her character as someone to be feared at every turn.
20. Honey Ryder (Dr. No)
This is the Bond Girl entrance to which all other Bond girl entrances are compared. It’s also a Bond Girl entrance so good they tried to recreate it two more times, with both Halle Berry and Daniel Craig himself offering their own take on a classic. It’s a very straight-forward introduction that simply sees Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder emerge from the shimmering ocean with seashells in hand, singing to herself and bathed in sunlight. Ryder is a vision of beauty in that iconic white bikini and it’s a moment that seared itself into the minds of everyone who’s ever seen the movie.
Andress may not have been the strongest actress and her voiced was ultimately dubbed by someone else, but given her function here is to be a beautiful local who captures Bond’s attention immediately, she pretty much knocks it out of the park.
19. John Doe (Seven)
The spectre of John Doe looms large over proceedings throughout David Fincher’s exceptional thriller. His gruesome crimes are escalating out of control and detectives Somerset and Mills are increasingly desperate to nail their man. What they and us as viewers don’t expect however is for their man to actually turn himself in. Kevin Spacey’s character simply walks calmly into the police station, his shirt flecked with blood, and after failing to get Mills’ attention using his indoor voice he spreads his arms and booms out “DETECTIVE!!!!!!! You’re looking for me?” Spacey’s calm demeanour is what makes Doe’s entry so creepy here. The emotionless look on his face only hints at the horrors still left to uncover and confirms to us all that he’s no ordinary serial killer.
18. Jack Sparrow (Pirates Of The Caribbean)
In the first Pirates movie, before his character became a fairly grating self-parody, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow was a swashbuckling loveable rogue who was genuinely enjoyable to watch on screen. He makes quite the entrance too, stood atop of his ship’s mast, his hair flapping in the sea breeze as he pulls into port, at first looking every bit the impressive and dashing outlaw. It’s only once the camera angle changes and we realize he is clinging to the remains of a sinking ship and he’s a far more of a shambolic pirate than we perhaps first thought. However, his perfectly timed step ashore did also show that while he may be far from perfect, he does it all with a definite sense of style.
17. The Alien (Alien)
Our first but by no means last non-human addition to this list comes from Ridley Scott’s landmark sci-fi classic. It’s a truly unforgettable moment that marked the debut on screen of the deadly xenomorph. As Kane (John Hurt) lies convulsing on the Nostromo’s mess room table, tension builds as we wait to see the cause of his anguish. Suddenly, after an initial splatter of blood, a small xenomorph erupts violently through Kane’s chest, teeth snarling and caked in blood.
It can still cause you to jump even now, so one can only begin to imagine the shock involved in seeing this afresh in 1979. By all accounts the cast themselves were all fairly shocked by this startling entrance too as Scott kept them largely in the dark over what was planned, ensuring their reactions on camera were genuine. For the viewer it sets the tone perfectly for the horrors to follow as we realise the true savage nature of this strange creature the crew are now facing.
16. Trinity (The Matrix)
When the Wachowskis’ seminal 1999 sci-fi movie begins, the exact nature of what the matrix is has not been made clear. All we know is that a group of foolhardy cops are steaming in to try and arrest an as yet unknown female assailant. When an arriving special agent informs the police captain that “your men are already dead,” we know some cool stuff is about to go down.
As the policemen close in on a leather-clad young woman sat calmly at a table with her back to the door, it’s a brief moment of calm before all hell suddenly breaks loose. Springing up from her seat, Carrie Anne Moss’ Trinity seemingly defies physics as she runs up walls, dodges bullets and generally kicks ass. This includes the famous “crane kick” captured in glorious detail thanks to the unique bullet-time camera style perfected for the movie. As the camera whirls around and we see Trinity frozen in mid-air, all set to kick seven shades out of a poor unsuspecting police officer, it becomes clear to the audience that a new and exciting type of sci-fi movie was about to unfold.
15. Tina Carlyle (The Mask)
What Gilda was to the 1940s, Honey Ryder was to the 1960s and Lisa from Weird Science was to the 1980s, Tina Carlyle was to the 1990s. Her introduction in The Mask proved so iconic, it effectively kick-started Cameron Diaz’s Hollywood career and embedded itself firmly in to the minds of pretty much everyone of a certain age. As Jim Carrey’s Stanley Ipkiss is busy timidly going about his day at work, in walks Diaz’s Tina from the storm outside, a vision in a stunning red dress that the camera takes its time to show in all its glory. With a sensational toss of her blonde hair, she strides over to Stanley and his tongue-tied reaction appears entirely understandable.
This was an entrance that not only neatly introduced an intriguing character into the movie’s mix, but also immediately created a new star.
14. T-Rex (Jurassic Park)
There are several great introductions in Spielberg’s dino caper, including our first glorious glimpse of a friendly brachiosaur and our first equally glorious glimpse of Jeff Goldblum’s bare chest. However the film’s finest moment is the unforgettable arrival of the ultimate predator, the T-Rex. Spielberg builds the tension perfectly and it’s the slow build up to the creature’s reveal that makes the T-Rex’s eventual appearance all the more powerful. From the rippling water and dismembered goat to that unforgettable roar, we are already terrified of this creature before we’ve even seen it.
When it does finally arrive, the T-Rex stormed on to the screen and immediately imposed its status as the apex predator of the Jurassic world. The rest of the film is then played out with the unsettling knowledge that this hulking death machine is out there somewhere, waiting to strike.
13. Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds)
Tarantino has a great knack for delivering memorable character introductions. Prime examples include Vincent and Jules discussing the little differences between Europe and America in Pulp Fiction, as well as the first look at each member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill. However, arguably his finest character introduction to date came in his World War II adventure in the shape of Christoph Waltz’ Colonel Hans Landa.
Landa is a sickeningly upbeat villain whose cheery demeanour belies his sickening motives. At the film’s outset, he arrives at a remote French dairy farm on the hunt for a missing Jewish family. He’s disarmingly polite and friendly, in a manner which only elevates the tension more. As he works his will on the poor farmer Perrier La Padite, it’s almost inevitable that he will get his way eventually. When he does finally get the information he requires, the brutal consequences are unforgettable and Landa’s villainous status is firmly established.
12. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was blessed with more than its fair share of memorable bad guys, but it was Heath Ledger’s phenomenal turn as The Joker which made by far the biggest impression. Our introduction to Ledger’s fresh take on a classic villain begins with a masked stooge being picked up on their way to a bank heist. As the heist unfolds, its perpetrators reveal the plans of the mysterious “Joker” who put the heist together and it becomes clear he has ordered them all to kill each other in turn. Eventually there’s only one goon left and after the bank manager unwisely decides to take shots at him, the robber shuffles over, leans in close and while muttering the immortal line “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger,” he whips off his clown mask to reveal that distinctive painted-on clown face beneath.
With this innovative entrance, a mesmerising and unpredictable criminal mastermind was born and as he promptly makes a quick getaway aboard a school bus, he leaves chaos trailing in his wake.
11. Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory)
Prior to his introduction, the elusive Willy Wonka is painted as something of a chocolate magnate mystery by Charlie and his family. As a result, when the big reveal finally arrives, it appears almost underwhelming at first as the gathered crowds witness what appears to be a peculiarly dressed old man shuffling towards them down a red carpet, resting on his cane and struggling for balance. Finally the man stops, teeters forwards and appears to fall, only at the last minute to turn it into a perfect forward roll coupled with a sprightly leap and a beaming smile. Gene Wilder’s slapstick-shtick here also makes an important point about Wonka’s character, specifically that things are never quite what they seem. He may be partially letting us in to his own secretive world, but that doesn’t meant he won’t keep a few tricks up his sleeve.
10. Tony Manero (Saturday Night Fever)
And like that, you are now humming the theme song in your head, your article reading no doubt now laced with a certain cocksure swagger. Tony Manero’s introduction at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever is not only one of the most ’70s things ever to happen, it’s also one of cinema’s coolest character introductions. At first we just see a pair of shoes striding their way down a city street, before finally the camera pans up and shows John Travolta in all his ’70s splendour, red shirt, leather jacket and gold chain firmly in place. Manero has a truly impressive strut that oozes bravado and confidence with every step. The Bee Gees’ disco classic pounding along in the background is the perfect soundtrack to Tony’s walk and their lyric has never felt more apt: “Well you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk…”
9. T-800 (The Terminator)
The entrance of Arnie’s T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day is undeniably pretty cool, but it’s his introduction in the 1984 original that makes the biggest impact. While the former’s arrival in T2 is played partly for laughs, the T-800 enters The Terminator with no such frills.
Emerging after a flash of lightening in the dead of night, a muscular brute of a figure slowly stands up from a crouch to reveal his full imposing stature in all its naked glory. Arnie’s in his Adonis-like prime here, rippling with muscles and towering over puny normal sized men. After being accosted by three foolhardy street toughs (memorably including a blue-haired Bill Paxton), the T-800 replies with a curt “your clothes….give them to me. Now!” When he doesn’t get the reaction he required, the Terminator shows no mercy and rips the beating heart right out of one of their chests.
Arnie’s lack of acting range at this stage of his career actually works in his favor and this emotionless mass of a man comes across as a truly fearless and terrifying force to be reckoned with.
8. Harry Lime (The Third Man)
Orson Welles’ Harry Lime is conspicuous by his absence for the majority of Carol Reed’s thrilling film noir, and is in fact thought to be dead by those closest to him. The film’s focus is instead on Lime’s pal Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), who arrives in post-War Vienna trying to decipher what happened to his old friend.
When Holly fears he is being followed one night as he wanders the city’s dark backstreets, he resorts to turning and shouting out to the shadows behind him. When a nearby resident switches a light on unexpectedly, it filters out on to the street and captures the smirking face of none other than Lime himself. Lime stands there a picture of smugness, showing complete disregard for the trouble he may have caused, before duly slinking off into the Vienna night. It’s not only a wonderfully shot scene, the framing and lighting utterly perfect, but also bolstered by Welles’ sheer natural charisma. His character, seemingly back from the dead, stands there unfazed and thoroughly enjoying himself despite the chaos he has caused.
7. Rick Blaine (Casablanca)
As with many other characters on this list, talk of Rick Blaine dominates proceedings in Casablanca long before he actually appears on screen. We hear Captain Renault explain to his esteemed Nazi visitors that “everyone comes to Rick’s,” while head waiter Carl is apologetically explaining to some well-to-do visitors that Mr. Blaine never drinks with his customers. Already, he’s something of an enigma in our minds.
Our first glimpse of this influential character comes as a cheque advancing 1000 francs makes its way through a bustling club and arrives at the table of an unseen figure, which he duly signs off with a striking “OK….Rick”. The camera zooms out to show a sombre faced Humphrey Bogart, resplendent in a white tuxedo, dragging on a cigarette, nursing a glass of liquor, surrounded by smoke and engrossed in a lonely game of chess. Solitary and silent, he watches over his domain, clearly the centre point of this entire story. Few other characters make appearing instantly cool look this effortless.
6. James Bond (Dr. No)
James Bond has always known how to make an entrance and it usually involves a cold-blooded murder, a pithy quip and a flashy getaway. However in terms of memorable entrances, he really set the bar pretty high with his first movie appearance in Dr. No. This was an introduction so iconic it also went on to become one of the most recognised movie quotes of all time.
The scene begins at an opulent gambling establishment as a series of camera angles gives us tiny glimpse of a man currently playing a round of cards against a wealthy female rival. After claiming a daring victory, the unseen figure says to the lady “I admire your courage, Miss….?” To which she replies, “Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?” And at that, the camera reveals Sean Connery in all his tuxedoed magnificence, suave, debonair and handsome as ever as he lights his cigarette with style and mutters those immortal words: “Bond, James Bond.”
5. Sherif Ali (Lawrence Of Arabia)
Lawrence Of Arabia is a movie blessed with countless wonderful scenes, but perhaps the most famous of all sees Omar Sharif’s Sherif Ali make his grand entrance. As T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and his guide sit at a water hole in the sweltering desert, a black speck appears on the horizon and through the simmering heat haze begins to draw closer, emerging like a mirage from the stark landscape.
Slowly but surely this tiny speck grows larger and takes the shape of a lone black-clad figure on a horse. When this mysterious rider finally arrives at our hero, he promptly shoots Lawrence’s guide dead. It’s a brutal act born of a long-standing tribal rivalry that introduces Ali to us in a telling and unforgiving manner. The spectacular widescreen vista used by director David Lean adds to the majesty of the scene, the gradual pace of his arrival amplifying the mystery surrounding Ali’s character and increasing the impact of his nonchalant act of vengeance.
4. Quint (Jaws)
I could easily have also included the first full sighting of Bruce the shark in this list, as the moment when he suddenly emerges from the depths still provides quite the shock no matter how real he may actually look. However, the best entrance scene in Jaws definitely belongs to Robert Shaw’s grizzled old seadog Quint.
During a meeting of the great and good of Amity where they are debating the possibility of closing the town’s beaches, there’s disagreement between the Mayor and Police Chief Brody over what needs to be done. That’s when the ear-splitting sound of nails down a chalkboard suddenly draws everybody’s attention. Cut to a smiling Quint, sat calmly at the back of the room, who gruffly offers his services to rid the town of their shark problem. “Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy.” He immediately has the room in the palm of his hand while also making it extremely clear that he is only one suitably qualified to take this shark down. Thanks to this introduction, you have absolutely no problem believing that this is the case.
Quint’s closing statement then acts as a telling exclamation point for the whole sorry situation: “I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.” Everything you need to know about Quint and the task that awaits him is laid out in these few short minutes.
3. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence Of The Lambs)
Never before has a man acting extremely calm and polite been so utterly terrifying. Anthony Hopkins’ turn as serial killer Hannibal Lecter is an absolute acting masterclass from start to finish and his opening scene is perhaps the character’s defining moment.
After Jodie Foster’s Clarice has run the gauntlet of horrendous inmates at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the final inmate appears relatively stable at first glance. As Clarice arrives at Lecter’s cell, he smiles warmly and is extremely polite and cordial. However there’s a hint of menace in every measured reply he gives. Even his request for Clarice to step forward (“Closer, please. Clo…ser”) is incredibly unnerving. We very soon realize that his piercing stare is masking an insanity that you are just waiting to see bubble over. It’s perhaps though his chilling observation of a census taker that once tried to test him that hits hardest. His unapologetic comment “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” followed by that demented slurping noise, is the stuff of nightmares. Right away, Lecter is shown to be both fiercely intelligent and charming, but also utterly insane. A chilling combination.
2. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
A character as iconic as Darth Vader deserves an equally iconic entrance. As a smoke-filled corridor lies in recovery following the shoot-out that just raged inside it, Stormtroopers flood in and promptly make way for the arrival of their apparent leader. When he does arrive, he makes quite the lasting impression. Head to toe in black and towering over his minions, this striking figure simply strides confidently down the hallway, his cape billowing behind him and a startling mask covering his face. That unforgettable mask adds volumes to Vader’s chilling emotionless façade and not being able to read his face only makes him that bit more imposing.
In many ways this entrance is deceptively simple, after all, a character merely walking confidently into a corridor doesn’t sound like much on paper. However, so many little elements add up to make this entrance so memorable. It’s everything from the wheeze of his breathing apparatus, the smoke still lingering in the air, the casual glance he gives towards the dead rebel soldiers and the impact of John Williams’ timeless score (though note the Imperial March itself didn’t actually arrive until Empire). It all combines together to powerfully drill home just how threatening and downright villainous this character truly is. Immediately he’s a harbinger of doom looming large over the entire story.
1. Indiana Jones (Raiders Of The Lost Ark)
The entire opening sequence of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, from the moment the Paramount logo dissolves into a South American jungle peak right up to Indy’s daring sea-plane escape, is pure cinematic gold. Nestled in at the start of it all though is the introduction of Indiana Jones himself, an unforgettable scene in its own right and a moment of quintessential Spielbergian cinema.
To begin with, all we see is a faceless adventurer leading a patrol of men into the depths of the jungle, with brief glimpses of fedora and whip the only clues as to his identity. As the group come to a halt, one of his companions reaches for a gun and takes aim at our hero. His back still turned, the adventurer senses danger and reacts in an instant, using his whip to summarily disarm the turncoat. As the assailant flees back into the jungle, a thoroughly unflustered Indiana Jones emerges from the shadows and steps forward in to the light, revealing himself to the world for the first time. By the time that Indy’s ruggedly handsome face is finally shown, he’s already firmly established as a fearless explorer and a man thoroughly unfazed by either the jungle or the threat of murder. His ice-cool reaction paints him not only as a man you definitively want on your side in a scrape, but also one you know you are going to root for.
After his initial introduction, Indy goes on to dodge poisoned arrows, leap giant chasms, flee huge boulders and outlast unscrupulous guides, all before making a final getaway from a band of rampaging natives. After his big reveal and this first mini-adventure, Indy is decisively positioned as the ultimate intrepid hero who you can’t help but want to see more of.