What would a film be without its characters? Whether they be the protagonist or in the background quietly supporting a great story, they are the backbone of any film. When we meet someone new in our day to day lives we can usually make a judgement about their character from our initial introduction to them; like they say, first impressions are very important. So why should our introduction to a fictional character be any different?
There are an infinite number of ways a character can be introduced – it has to happen in every film we watch – but we can only ever remember the truly great ones. Whether they make a grand entrance or slip into our lives subtly, if we are introduced to a character in the right way, we can make a decision on how we feel about them instantaneously.
In this list, the latest in The Film Magazine’s 5 of the Best Character Introductions in Movie History series, I have chosen five examples of memorable character introductions that not only embody just who the character is but also come to establish the tone of the entire film. These moment are not only great character introductions but the have become iconic movie moments in their own right.
The Lion King (1994)
‘Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba’
The sun rises over the plains of Africa and we follow a myriad of animals as they make their way to Pride Rock, a place that would become not only the stage upon which our protagonist would be presented but the hub for the entire film. As the animals gather, we have the first glimpse of the adorable lion cub Simba with his parents as he is blessed by the wise Baboon Rafiki. Rafiki takes the young Simba to the end of the rock and holds him up for the kingdom to see. The congregation of animals bow to the majestic sight of their future king.
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Every element of this scene works together, from the visual of the sun rising and the emotional performance of Elton John’s Circle of Life to the iconic still of Simba being held in the air as the rest of the kingdom bows down. Simba’s introductory scene has become iconic not only in the world of Disney and animation but in the whole of cinema.
The film opens with two characters we soon learn to be Renton and Spud running through the streets of Edinburgh to the soundtrack of both Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’. The scene then goes on to introduce the other characters in the film but the focus remains on Renton as his inner monologue tells us to ‘choose life, and a job and a big f**cking television’, before declaring his love for heroin.
In this scene we hear Renton’s philosophy on life and this becomes the philosophy for the whole film. The scene is a mix of fast paced and chaotic sequences such as the chase through the streets and the football game, and offers juxtaposition through slowed down sequences like when Renton is high alone in the room before he falls to the floor. This is a reflection of the way Renton lives his life, the highs and lows we expect to see throughout the film, and sets up his character as one who lives fast but also lives hard. The introduction of Renton, much like the introduction of Simba, is a great example of how the right music can make the introduction of a character that much more impactful.
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