Opening Shots of the Top 20 RoI Movies

So for my (2016) PhD, I studied the heck out of the Top & Bottom 20 RoI movies…

But – loads of the stuff, I couldn’t even fit in to, the 100,000-word-limit of the PhD Dissertation… So:

Here is just one of: those things…

(This is helpful to moviemakers & screenwriters, academic film researchers, and other random folks… It certainly helps my screenwriting/filmmaking students, according to: them.)

Truth be told – I wrote an 888-page (162,000 words) book, The Science of Story: A StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual, but – haven’t gotten around to publishing it…

This seems to be the proposed cover-art I had in mind, when I wrote it…

Anyway – so, this (below) is me, copy/pasting a chapter (i.e., “Part 21“) from that book-manuscript.

I use it as a Teaching Aid, in: screenwriting/filmmaking…

Velikovsky / The Science of StoryAlity – Page 823

PART 21 – Opening Shots – of the Top 20 RoI Movies

Included here are the (1) Opening Shots, and, (2) first shot of a / the Hero, and (3) first shot of a/the Villain… of the top 20 RoI movies.

These Shots are very useful study-material for Writers/Filmmakers considering / comparing what their film’s own Opening Shot maybe could / should be – and, How (in what setting/scenario) to introduce, the hero/s – and also, villain/s…

I mean; you don’t have to copy them exactly; it’s just very good to see what has worked well in the past. In: the top 20 RoI movies.

Also – Here are some Findings from my own study of these shots, from the top 20 RoI movies: (this is the sort of thing that wouldn’t fit into the PhD Dissertation… but is still very interesting and useful to know, as a screenwriter / filmmaker…)

  • Note that – only 6/20 films feature the Hero in the Opening Shot…(!)
  • Note that – in 7/20 cases, the Villain is shown, before the hero…(!)
  • Note that – only 13/20 films begin with traditional `Exterior Establishing shots’…(!)
  • Note also – just how many of these Hero Intro shots have vehicles. (I am not telling you the answer, you will have to count them, for yourself.)

And yet – despite (or – wait, because of?) all of that – these were all top 20 RoI movies…!

(Note also that, technically, the heroes are not the protagonists, as – the Villains are actually the protagonists, in the Top 20 films. The villains/bad guys “get the story rolling” – by causing a problem that the hero then has to solve… So, the hero is re-active, not pro-active. So – maybe the heroes in the top 20 RoI movies are… `re-tagonists’. Short for Reactagonists.) I like making up new words.

[Like say – “Writeur Theory” [as opposed to Auteur Theory]. Or see my PhD, for more on Writeur Theory – JTV]

Anyway – on with the Show.

And, Tell.

Here is a Table, that shows Locations where we first see: the Heroes and Villains. I shall call it: Table 1. Or: “Wodewick” for short, as we are on friendly terms, this Table and I.

1.     Introduction of the Hero – and Villain – in the Top 20 Highest-RoI Films






1 Paranormal Activity Home Hero’s home
2 Mad Max Work At “work”/town
3 The Blair Witch Project Home Mary’s home
4 El Mariachi Home (the road) Moco’s Home
5 Night of the Living Dead On the road Home (cemetery)
6 Rocky Work (boxing ring) Work (street)
7 Halloween Home Home young / Home – older
8 American Graffiti Home-away-from-home Cruising “The Strip”
9 Clerks Home Work
10 Once Work (busking) Home
11 Napoleon Dynamite Home School
12 Open Water Home Home (sharks: Ocean)
13 Friday the 13th Work The Camp
14 Saw “The Room” Home
15 Primer Work (Aaron’s home) Work/home
16 The Evil Dead On the road Home
17 ET: The Extra-Terrestrial Home Work
18 The Full Monty Ex-work Work
19 Star Wars Work Work
20 My Big Fat Greek Wedding Work Home

Table 1 – Locations of Heroes’ and Villains’ first appearances, in the Top 20 RoI Movies

Q: What does all this: mean-?

A: That the heroes (and villains) are predominantly introduced: at their home – or – work (or – both at once). For more detail, see:

Characteristics of the Top 20 RoI Movie Stories

in these posts, if you like that sort of thing:

StoryAlity Theory:

  1. StoryAlity #50 – The StoryAlity Screenplay Syntagm
  2. StoryAlity #51 – The Universal Story Structure – and Story Memes – of the Top 20 RoI Films
  3. StoryAlity #52 – The Golden Ratio / The Golden Spiral / The Fibonacci Sequence
  4. StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist
  5. StoryAlity #54 – StoryAlity Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI Films
  6. StoryAlity #55 – Patterns In The Top 20 RoI (Return On Investment) Films: On Frequency
  7. StoryAlity #56 – Patterns in the Top 20 RoI Films: # of Scenes vs Film Duration/Screenplay Length – and: Elliot Waves
  8. StoryAlity #57 – What Are The Biggest-Money-Loser Movies (based on Return-On-Investment)… Doing Wrong?
  9. StoryAlity #58 – The StoryAlity Theory – applied to: some `Great Flicks
  10. StoryAlity #59 – Examining the Loglines of the Top 20 RoI Films
  11. StoryAlity #60 – On Character and Story – in the Top 20 RoI Films
  12. StoryAlity #60A – Exposition scenes in the Top 20 RoI Movies
  13. StoryAlity #61 – On The Storyality Probability Calculus – and the Principle of Induction
  14. StoryAlity #62 – Do Film Critics Matter?
  15. StoryAlity #150 – Key Findings – from The StoryAlity PhD on High-RoI Movies

On with the Opening Shots – for, comparative academical study purposes.

Also – even for actual screenwriters/filmmakers. Or both (academic: filmmakers).

1.     Paranormal Activity (2009)

Opening shot

(Establishing: Micah & Katie’s house. And that Micah’s got a new video camera)


First shot of: Micah (hero)



Katie’s keys, on the floor (i.e.: evidence of: the Demon / The Villain)

(The demon is: invisible… unless you count the footprints in the talc…)

But all of life is doing science.

(Having expectations/theories; finding evidence, and, concluding: Conclusions, etc.)

2.     Mad Max (1980)

Opening shot

(Great Establishing Shot! A lot of information being communicated, here.)


First shot of Max Rockatansky (hero)

(Even though: [sing it] “We don’t need another hero… We don’t need to find the-” etc)


The Toecutter (the main: Villain)

3.     The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Opening shot – also, the first shot of: Heather!

Has some obvious similarities to Paranormal Activity, being also a: Found Footage Supernatural Horror Film.


Josh (intro shot)


Mary Brown “intro” shot (aka…”the” Blair Witch…)

(…Or, IS she…?)

4.     El Mariachi (1993)

Opening Shot

(Also a lot of establishing info being transmitted to the viewer, here. Note also: Rodriguez used a single zoom lens – and din’t record location sound, to save time on set. Though it added time in sound recording/ADR, etc)


First shot – El Moco (the Villain / mob boss)

…also, an out-of-focus, female, gluteus maximus)

Politically-Correct Q: Is it ever okay to sexually objectify female anatomy, like this?

A1: Only if you’re portraying a mob boss, called El Moco, in a top 20 RoI movie. But, see also Darwin’s Sexual Selection theory, in: Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).

A2: No, never.

A3: See: the minefield caused by Sexual Selection. I blame: Evolution. And especially, those fish, 385 mya. But we can re-engineer the human race now, thanks to CRISPR.

First shot – the Mariachi (musician), hitch-hiking.

Note: the thumb is up, the universal nonverbal sign of: hitch-hiking – or else, “All good/yep/okay”; depends a lot on context. But, this is another PhD, for another time. (NB – Pls don’t ever use: Semiotics. Or, S.L.A.B. Theory. Nobody needs it. Sheesh. It’s called “Semiotics: a Science of Signs” – but is not even: a Science… Use: consilience instead.)

5.     Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Opening shot

(Awesome. Now that’s how you do an opening shot. Well, that’s one way.)


First shot of: Barbra and John


First shot of: first “ghoul”

(this was 1968, kinda before the word “zombie” was too ghoul for school)


6.     Rocky (1976)

Opening shot

(Note both Rocky and Star Wars open with a literal fanfare on the soundtrack. That’s showbiz!)


First shot of Rocky Balboa

(hmmm… all seems a bit homoerotic, now I see it again)

Q: Is it ever okay to…er, homo-eroticize: stuff? Isn’t this just as bad as #MeToo?

A: I dunno? I can’t really be bothered thinking/caring about it right now. Someone can write a PhD on it, but am not sure I’d care to read it. Still, that’s just me. Either way this is a pretty cool opening shot. Dig the ZOOM OUT. Kubrick would love it.

Anyway back to Rocky:

First shot of Apollo Creed (Villain)

(because, we first see him on the TV, right? In the Bar.)

Ooh, see, this is interesting. How many Villain Intro’s in Top 20 RoI movies are: on a TV-? Maybe you can count: The Full Monty.

7.     Halloween (1978)

Opening shot

(omg – what a ball-tearer of an Opening Sequence for a movie…?

And those Opening Titles! And – that music! …Ay caramba. …BAAAAAM!!!)


First shot of Michael Myers – when young (1963)


First shot of Michael – present day (1978)


First shot of: Laurie (the hero-ine.)


8.     American Graffiti (1973)

Opening shot

Lots of information being communicated here.


First shot of: Curt


First shot – “The Pharaohs” gang (the 3 `bad/tough guys’ at the front)

I mean: the real “villain” is Time, and adulthood, and growing up, right..? But, I digress.

9.     Clerks (1994)

Opening shot

(squeeeee!!! who doesn’t love: cute puppies?!

A: Cats, mostly.)

See: Ev Psych.

Hey look at you, doing consilience and all… (e.g. Ev Psych, CogSci, etc)


First shot of Dante (falling out of the wardrobe).


Must be a: Comedy.


First shot of The Chewlie’s Gum Rep.

(One of the many villains in this; the store’s customers are usually the Villains, in this one.

See, even that’s: Funny.)

10.                        Once  (2007)

Opening shot – also first shot of the “Guy”

(he doesn’t really have a name)


First shot – the “Girl”

(she doesn’t really have a name…

Boy-howdy, the Ev Psych is rightinyaface, in this one…

You could call them: the Male, and the Female.

Or: XY and XX.

Man, bet Geoffrey Miller would have a field day with this one.)


First shot of: Catherine (a Villain, i.e. Guy’s ex-wife… She cheated on him. See: Mating Problems & Sexual Jealousy, etc – within: Evolutionary Psychology.)


11.                        Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Opening shot – first shot of: Napoleon

Funny. Must be: a Comedy.


First shot of – a guy [a villain] who sits next to Napoleon, in class

(& who also smooshes Napoleon’s Tater-Tots, so: a Villain)


First shot – of, Don and some of the jocks (more: Villains)

And – Hey, wow – look at the pastel color-palette in this movie…!

(Or, don’t? But – think about The [Evolutionary] Psychology of Color, anyway.

And, don’t use Semiotics. Ever.

Use: Consilience, and Ev Psych, CogSci, etc).

12.                        Open Water             (2004)

Opening shot

(Yes; it was loosely “based on true events”, but – it’s not like they got the rights to the true story or anything. It also all just makes it: scarier… More: “real”.)

First shot of Daniel 


First shot of Susan

Ironically, this couple are so annoying, you kinda wanna see them get eaten by sharks…


First shot of: one of the Villains

(See Ev Psych. Things in nature that wanna eat you, are generally considered: Villains)

13.                        Friday the 13th (1980)

Opening shot

(Sometimes, you gotta “set the scene” with subtitles. This is technically a Flashback.)


First shot of Alice (one of the: good guys; it’s an ensemble piece)


First shot of Mrs Voorhees

(I didn’t `count’: POV shots… i.e., ki ki ki ma ma ma…)

Which is short for: “Kill Kill Kill – Mother Mother Mother”… etc

14.                        Saw (2004)

Opening shot

oooh, spooky. Must be a Horror film.


First shot of Adam


First shot of Jigsaw


15.                        Primer (2004)

Opening shot

Dig the futuristic feel of this shot. Took me a while to figure out, it’s a garage door.


First shot of Abe and Aaron (& the other 2 guys)


First shot of: Aaron’s double (due to: the time-travel)

(There are more Villains than this, but – this is at least one good, strong, clear, villain in it)

16.                        The Evil Dead (1983)

Opening Shot

(This hand-held tracking shot is legendary…

Dig the META. Mood, Emotion, Tone, Atmosphere)

First shot of: Ash (let’s say, he’s the: hero)


First shot of Cheryl – when possessed by The Evil Dead (so; a villain, at this point)

17.                        ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Opening Shot

(Dig the M.E.T.A. Mood, Emotion, Tone, & Atmosphere…)


First shot of “Keys” (a Villain)


First shot of: Elliot (…playing D&D)

(…Stranger Things, anyone?)

Creativity: Combine 2 (or more) “old” things – to get a “new” one, and, it works.

18.                        The Full Monty (1997)

Opening shot – “Sheffield” promotional film 

Opening shot – actual Sheffield steel mill (25 years later: Present Day)

First shot of: Gaz (hero)


First shot of Mandy (Gaz’s ex-wife: villain)

So, this one – in a way – is a lot like Once, in that, the ex-wife is set up as: a Villain / Antagonist of sorts, in the narrative.

More: Ev Psych and Mating/Child Rearing problems…!

I guess these are fairly Universal Themes, well for 39% of people anyway – given 39% of marriages end in divorce or separation.

Still, on the bright side: Love, Happiness, etc.

Note: Neuroscience suggests, this GIF isn’t totally accurate, but still. Source: Imgur (2016)


19.                        Star Wars (1977)

Opening Shot

(…if, you don’t count the opening text scroll, from: Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers)

First shot of Luke Starkiller, I mean Skywalker… (hero)


First shot of: The Grand Moff Tarkin (villain)

(…what is a “Moff” anyway?)

You could also have Darth as the main villain. (Or, not. He answers to the Moff).

20.                        My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Opening Shot

(Note use of weather & night for: META…)


First shot of Toula

(Looking very much, the Ugly Duckling/Pygmalion… What would Ev Psych say?)


First shot of Gus, Maria, & the family (some of the Villains: as, they are racist / xenophobic / against Toula marrying a non-Greek husband. Still; funny.)

And, no – I couldn’t find it in myself to add in the Shots from The Devil Inside, even though it’s a top 20 RoI movie. …I just hate it, too much…? You can go study that one, yourself.

So – as screen storytellers, we can learn a lot about Opening Shots, and, Intro shots of Heroes and Villains – by studying – and comparing – all of these shots from the Top 20 RoI movies…

So – a Q for filmmaking students:

So – what will your first Opening Shot be,

in your Top 20 RoI story/screenplay/movie?

And Why?

And – What do Opening Shots “need” to do?

Some things they can do, include:

  1. Establish the story Setting – Time, and Place. (Use subtitles, if need be!)
  2. Establish the M.E.T.A. (Mood, Emotion, Tone, & Atmosphere) of the story. (Yes; I know that acronym isn’t what meta usually means…)
  3. The above (M.E.T.A.) includes: Show us, The Genre!
  4. Could even be – a visual symbolic / thematic metaphor for the whole story, except the Top 20 RoI movies usually don’t do that – they usually do it at the 14% mark… Go figure.
  5. Introduce your heroes. Or – villains. Or even both. Or, neither. See the above Opening Shots. Q: How many of the top 20 RoI movies, include Heroes – and/or Villains – in, their actual Opening Shot?
  6. Could even just: Establish character (e.g.: Get us to like: the hero), maybe even with: a cute puppy. (Squeeeeeee!) …Note…Oldest Ev Psych trick, inna book: Give the hero a dog (or even better, a PUPPY) and we gotta love him. As `Raging Bull’ once yelled: “I GOT NO CHOICE-!!!” …So, it’s a cliche for a good reason (i.e.: the ole: “give the hero: a dog!”). But – as Sam Goldfish said: “What we need around here are some new cliches!” (Specifically – new, useful and surprising, i.e. creative ones!) 
  7. Or – Your Opening Shot could even do: something else, altogether!
  8. Also, sometimes, the Opening Title Sequence is really, the opening shot…! (…It’s sometimes: complex, subtle, and nuanced.)

Hey, also – by comparison – have a look at the opening shots of Kubrick’s masterpieces. Like say: Full Metal Jacket, 2001, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, etc.


At any rate, hopefully this is: helpful.

(As I say – it sure helps my screenwriting/filmmaking students, anyway.)

Here are some random videos that are interesting, along similar lines.

Opening Shots Tell Us Everything


CineFix’s Top 10 Best Opening Shots of All Time



WatchMojo’s Top 10 Opening Credit Sequences in Movies

* All images, (c) their original/current copyright holders. Used here, under Fair Use for Education.

~Thanks for reading!

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie & Transmedia & Cultural Artifact Researcher
& Evolutionary Systems Theorist 
& Transmedia Writer-Director-Producer: Movies, Games, TV, Theatre, Books, Comics
& Whatever else I’m up to…
Some of the above is (probably; knowing me) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral dissertation: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, screen-media-making and creativity researchers.
For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky 
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter, and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild.
For more of his Transmedia Writing stuff, see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema: A comparative study of the top 20 Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies and the Doxa of Screenwriting’. PhD Thesis, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia.


(A random short film I found: interesting.)



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