Just like it is the case in real life, the first impression of an individual is crucial in film. Whether it’s a hero, a villain, or any other character, it is vital that his or her first appearance in a story makes an impact. This is because it can either make or break a character for the audience.
The greatest character introductions say vital things about the character and the film as a whole. Whether this is through big fight scenes or detailed character studies, the best introductions linger in the memory and strengthen the character.
Not every character introduction wows the audiences or leaves a lasting impression. However, there are quite a few that do. Let us take a look at some.
The Joker, The Dark Knight (2008)
The opening scene of The Dark Knight reveals plenty about The Joker's motivations, despite the fact he doesn't reveal himself until the job is already done.
The bank heist is thrilling, with all the robbers wearing spooky clown masks. Outside the building, there is a man with his back to the audience, who is picked up in a car. We learn that The Joker (Heath Ledger) has planned the heist and that the robbers have half a mind to cut him out of the profits entirely. The criminals break in and are taken out one by one.
In the final shootout between the manager and the final clown (The Joker), it is the criminal that gets the upper hand. It is in this scene that we hear the chilling monologue – “Whatever doesn't kill you, makes your stronger.”
In a mere two minutes, Ledger gave a hint of what was to come in the rest of the movie with an introduction that is indelible.
Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
After an opening scene that features a young Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) encountering pirates on the misty ocean, we go 20 years into the future to find Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) eyeing the coastline from his crow’s nest. It appears rather dramatic and heroic, until his sinking boat is revealed. Sparrow steps directly off his fully submerged boat onto the dock and strolls into the city.
This delightful scene gave us a memorable leading man.
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is perhaps one of the most terrifying and fascinating characters in film history. In his introduction scene, he is seen standing in his cell, apparently waiting for Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to approach. A thick sheet of glass is the only thing separating The two and Clarice has been warned in advance to stay away from it.
However, when she finally lays her eyes on him, he just says “Hello”.
It is the suspense that makes this a hauntingly unforgettable character introduction.
Quint, Jaws (1975)
Introducing your character by having him make one of the worst sounds known to man – the scrape of fingernails on a chalkboard, will certainly make his first scene memorable.
The characters in the town argue over what to do about the killer shark in their tourist-driven beach town, but they're drowned out by the excruciating screech of nails on a chalkboard. As Quint talks of hunting down the shark for $300, Spielberg’s camera calmly makes it’s way through the crowd to land on him.
Quint easily commands the room and his introduction pushes Jaws in a new direction.
Vito Corleone, The Godfather (1972)
“I believe in America.” – this is the line that leads us into a scene that introduces us to one of the greatest characters ever put on film. We see the camera zooming away from a man begging Corleone (Marlon Brando) for justice for his daughter and the men who hurt her. It is when the camera cuts to his reaction, that we’re given our first glimpse of the Godfather.
It is the calm and calculated response, that shows us how he holds the lives of so many others under his thumb. It is Brando’s marble-mouthed delivery that makes this introduction scene one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.