Some movies are so perfectly set up that you can’t skip a second without feeling totally lost or missing something vital to the whole experience. Films in this category include such gems as Inception, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Citizen Kane.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of movies with way too much padding and pointless scenes for their own good. You could practically skip the first half of them and you wouldn’t miss anything important. I’ve come up with a list of six movies that have disposable beginnings. These movies are either more interesting or have a completely different focus if you start watching them halfway through.
So let’s dive in and see if we can gain a new perspective on these films.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Picture this: We see a massive ship heading to Jupiter. We don’t know what the crew’s mission is, but we get little details here and there that start to make us concerned for their well-being. The supercomputer that runs the ship (HAL-9000) becomes more paranoid as time goes on and he finally kills most of the crew before having a showdown with the final living crewmember David Bowman. It’s a classic man-versus-machine story.
I apologize to any Stanley Kubrick fans who may be reading this, but I have to point out that the first hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey is completely disposable. You could fast-forward all the way to the Jupiter Mission and not miss anything of any importance or lasting value. After Bowman disables HAL, he gets a complete recap of the first half of the film, anyway, so it was pointless to sit through those earlier scenes.
If you watch the movie this way, it turns into a two-character stage play – a battle of wills. We’re kept in the dark about the specifics of the crew’s mission, and coming in at this point actually adds to the mystery. 2001 would never find its way onto my list of the best movies ever made because it doesn’t even qualify as a movie. It has almost no story. By taking out the useless beginning and focusing on what little story it does have, this actually turns into a watchable film.
Imagine this: A man wakes up from a coma and starts talking with his friends. How long has he been in the coma? What caused it? Who is he? We don’t know. But suddenly he starts convulsing and screaming out in pain, and all of our analytical questions go flying out the window as primal fear grips us. We don’t care who this man is, we just don’t want to see him in so much pain. Out of nowhere, a nightmarish alien bursts through his chest, scaring the heck out of everyone on screen and in the audience. And we have our title character in grand fashion.
1979’s Alien deserves its reputation as an excellent science fiction/horror film. But there’s no denying its pacing is so slow it’s about on the level of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which, coincidentally, came out that same year. I have to admit I sort of like the painfully slow buildup before something actually starts to happen in Alien. I’m not a fan of most gory movies, so this one is a rare exception for me. But I do find myself tapping my foot at times waiting for things to pick up as the characters wander through enormous sets and try to put together a puzzle they’ll never really solve.
Starting Alien right before Kane wakes up – but after the Face Hugger is dead – is probably the best way to watch it. Honestly, you hardly miss anything by doing this. The characters are all shallow and uninteresting, so their whole purpose is to be fodder for the alien.
Don’t believe me? Here are all the things we learn about the characters in the first 40 minutes or so:
- Kane is curious (which is why he gets impregnated with the alien).
- Dallas is a strong leader, though he can be brash and defer to Ash’s scientific point of view (which ultimately leads to his death).
- Brett and Parker think they are being unfairly treated by the Company, and Brett says “Right” a lot in one scene (both of which lead absolutely nowhere).
- Lambert is cowardly (which we see much more clearly later when she has a full-blown meltdown).
- Ripley is smart, but no one listens to her until it’s too late (and we see this so many times during the next three movies that it’s perfectly fine if we miss a few instances).
- Ash is eccentric and a bit of a troublemaker (but he fails to leave an impression until after the alien breaks loose and he tries to protect it).
Trust me, you’re not missing much if you skip ahead to the interesting parts where the story really picks up.
3. Die Hard
Think about this: A lone gunman (wearing only a wife beater and slacks) is running up an elevator shaft when he comes across another group of gunmen who are threatening a Japanese businessman. The businessman refuses to help them, so they shoot him point-blank. We have no idea what’s going on, but we’re suddenly put on edge by the senseless murder of this unarmed man. We don’t know the stakes or who the main character is, but we just know he better get out of there fast. Now that’s an intriguing way to stumble into one of the greatest action films of all time.
This is actually the film that inspired this blog post. A little over 10 years ago, I was flipping through channels one night when I found Die Hard already in progress on TNT. It was at the scene I described above, so I was very confused about a lot of things. But I was intrigued enough to stick with it to the end.
Die Hard is different than many of the other movies on this list because every part of it could be seen as irreplaceable. To understand why John McClain is barefoot, you need to see the first scene where his plane lands and he is told by a fellow passenger to get rid of his anxiety by doing barefoot exercises. To understand John’s dilemma with his wife, you need to see them argue before the terrorists arrive.
However, you can piece together these plot points over the course of the film and still enjoy it just fine if you come in a little late. I had fun trying to figure out who “Roy” really is. It actually added to the suspense for me to be just as in the dark as the terrorists about his identity for a large part of the film. I definitely had to go back and see it the whole way through, and doing so only increased my respect for this movie.
4. Groundhog Day
Consider this: A man is sitting outside on a cold winter day. He predicts when the wind will blow against his face, a dog will bark in the distance, and an armored truck will arrive at the bank across the street. He continues to describe everything in detail as he walks toward the armored truck, counting down all the events that will take place before the perfect moment, when everyone is distracted, to steal a bag of money. We don’t know how this guy knows so much, but we can’t wait to find out.
Did you know that this is how the writer Danny Rubin originally wrote the script for Groundhog Day? I don’t know which beginning I like better. Bill Murray does such a fantastic job of playing a likable jerk that he makes it enjoyable to see the character’s full arc, starting the day before Groundhog Day and ending decades (or maybe even centuries) later.
If we continue watching Groundhog Day from the scene above, it takes a little while to figure out that Phil Connors is a weatherman and that he’s repeating the same day over and over. We mainly see him learning about his producer Rita Hayworth and unsuccessfully trying to get her to fall in love with him. We sort of have an inkling of what a jerk he is, but he seems to be attempting to be nice. The focus of the film is no longer how a totally rude man becomes a selfless one; it’s how a man with seemingly all the knowledge in the world decides to put all that knowledge to good use helping others rather than himself. It’s a subtle difference. If we start a little later in the film, we don’t have the context of how Phil acted before he got into this situation. He could have been stuck here his whole life or be precognizant (like Nicholas Cage in Next) and we wouldn’t be able to tell exactly.
If you don’t mind not being filled in on Phil’s whole backstory, this is a great way to experience Groundhog Day.
5. The Pelican Brief
I’m not even going to bother setting up the scene like I did with the first four because it’s just too complex in this case. The Pelican Brief (based on John Grisham’s book) is deeply flawed by the fact that it takes forever for its two stories to get anywhere close to intersecting. We see Denzel Washington receiving cryptic phone calls from an employee at some law firm while Julia Roberts plays a law student who writes a legal brief that implies the President of the United States is connected to the assassination of two Supreme Court Justices. Those two stories don’t seem to have anything in common, but it turns out they do in the mother of all coincidences.
It all sounds pretty far-fetched, but I have to give the film credit because it surprisingly manages to hold my attention the whole way through. It just feels like the movie is spinning its wheels for the first hour as the two main characters go from one contrivance to the next.
It’s only after Roberts meets Washington and explains everything in her brief that we start to figure out what’s going on. But it takes way too long to get to that point. In that scene, they sum up everything that happened in the first half of the film, so there’s no need to go back and watch everything that came before. You still get to know the characters enough to be invested in their wellbeing without having to see everything they’ve gone through.
6. Star Wars
This is a little bit of a cheat because in this case I’m not talking about Star Wars: A New Hope or any individual Star Wars film, for that matter. I’m talking about the whole Star Wars saga. If you have never seen a Star Wars movie before, for the love of everything that is holy, please stop reading this right now, buy a non-Special Edition copy of A New Hope, and prepare for one of the best cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. If you’re one of the 99.9 percent of the civilized world that has seen them all multiple times, please continue.
There’s a really good reason why George Lucas started with Episode IV, not Episode I, in 1977. Episode IV is where the story finally gets good. Everything that comes before it is either boring or unremarkable in comparison to everything that comes after it. I know that sounds audacious, considering the fact that the Clone Wars, the fall of the Old Republic, and the creation of Darth Vader all occur in the Star Wars prequels. But none of those events can match the Battle of Hoth, the destruction of both Death Stars, or the redemption of Darth Vader in terms of emotional resonance and pure spectacle.
Star Wars is the ultimate example of a film that is meant to be viewed from the middle, not from the very beginning. Seeing the origins of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi, the Emperor and Yoda completely destroys all the mystery in Episodes IV through VI. The prequels manage to lessen the impact of the original trilogy. That is a shame. Anyone who wants to experience Star Wars properly must start with A New Hope and continue with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi before doubling back and seeing the prequels.
What more can I say? Anyone who disagrees, I would love to hear your opinion in a comment below.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
The photos from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Die Hard, Groundhog Day, The Pelican Brief, and Star Wars: A New Hope are the copyright of their respective owners.