There are endless cliches out there about the importance of a first impression, but whatever truth they may hold in our everyday lives they go double for film. When there’s only a couple of hours to tell a story and capture its players, an audience’s first chance to meet a character is an asset no filmmaker worth their salt is going to waste. So with that in mind, CHUD is going to take a look through the many decades of cinema to extract the most special of those moments when you are first introduced to a character, be they small moments that speak volumes, or large moments that simply can’t be ignored.
Inevitably it will be the major characters and leads that are granted the grandest of entrances, but don’t be surprised to see a few supporting players and minor individuals get their due, when the impact of their appearance lingers longer than their screentime. Also know that these moments may be chosen for any number of reasons, and the list could never be exhaustive. But here you’ll find moments that make a big splash, say a lot with a little, or we think are just particularly cool.
We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to hear from you about each and every entry. Don’t spend the effort guessing future choices or declaring what must be included– just enjoy the ride!
The Film… Pulp Fiction (1994)
Entering From Stage Left… Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Angela Jones, Maria de Madeiros, Duane Whitaker, Peter Greene, Stephen Hibbert, Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Keitel in the roles of Everybody.
What Makes it Special…That every character, no matter how large or small, is memorable
I started thinking on this list that if there were any movie to which I’d give group recognition for noteworthy first impressions, it would have to be Pulp Fiction. Even after nearly 20 years, and the subsequent decades of films tying to be Tarantino-esque – most of which fail miserably – there may not be another ensemble of characters who get such memorable introductions in one movie.
You picture John Travolta, the face you’ve known for years, yet looking completely different after toiling in dreck for years, talking about European fast food:
Then there’s Samuel L., ridiculous yet cool wig in the same scene, reacting to what Europeans do with french fries and mayo. Soon after, you see him quoting a bible verse like you’ve never heard it used before right before rubbing out Frank Whaley:
And of course, this is all right after Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer kick the film off with Tarantino’s patented dialogue, right before sticking up a diner of all places.
Then Tarantino switches things up. You see Bruce Willis, and you’re not sure who he is for a while. His face holds the screen for an extended shot with Al Green’s melodic voice dimmed in the background…but Bruce isn’t the one who’s talking.
That would be Ving Rhames going on about the pitfalls of pride and not knowing when to hang up the gloves. When you finally see him, it’s from the back. He’s got a band-aid on the back of his neck, probably from a shaving cut (he’s bald after all):
Next you’ve got Rosanna Arquette going on about piercings (there’s a lot):
And Eric Stoltz talking about doing a heroin Pepsi challenge with that European shit any day of the week. Wasn’t he like a fly or something like five years before this?
Then enter: Uma Thurman, guiding Travolta into her place for their date that’s not a date, sexy-as-hell lips filling the screen. You don’t see her right away either, but you know just from those lips that you want to meet her ASAP. And hey, was that Steve Buscemi in the restaurant?
Then manomanoman, the most Christopher Walken scene in movie history. It’s everything Walken in five minutes. It’s Walken concentrate, just like the frozen orange juice that you have to slide out of the container and to which you add water. Because if you try and take it straight, your lips pucker. You only see him here, but it’s good for the rest of the movie, and years after:
Next segment: Angela Jones, aka the sexiest cab driver in history. Her character drips with Latin sexiness…and macabre interest in death? Her name means she comes from wolves:
Then we’re entranced by Maria de Madeiros and blueberry pancakes. If not for the overdose of Walken to hammer home how important a certain watch was, there’s no way we’d ever understand how Bruce Willis could leave that to go risk his life:
After said life is risked, there’s Duane Whitaker…
…and Peter Greene…
…and Stephen Hibbert…and, oh shit, eeny meeny miny mo?
Quentin himself shows up, going on about dead ____ storage and gourmet coffee:
Finally, enter: Harvey Keitel. He’s the cavalry:
Shit, Negro, that’s all that had to be said.
Why it Resonates… Because the movie and everyone in it smacks you in the mouth with awesomeness the first time you see it, and on any subsequent viewings. I saw this before I saw Reservoir Dogs and I absolutely had no idea what I was in for. We’re here talking about best first impressions in this list, this was my introduction to Quentin Tarantino and I was damn happy to make his acquaintance. A plus is that I was working in a movie theatre and got to see it for free. Absolutely one of the best movie tickets I never had to pay for.
Other Grand Entrances… See above.
Day 3: Groucho Marx (Duck Soup)
Day 4: Jackie Gleason (The Hustler)
Day 5: Orson Welles (The Third Man)
Day 6: Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars)
Day 8:George C. Scott (Patton)
Day 9: Grace Kelly (Rear Window)
Day 10: Robert Mitchum (Night of the Hunter)
Day 12: Del Toro’s Pale Man (Pan’s Labyrinth)