When watching a "Scream" movie, you can expect a few things that every installment in the franchise (including the latest, "Scream VI") delivers – self-aware humor, pop culture references, buckets of blood and a shocking third act unmasking. These are the hallmarks of the franchise, along with one other key element – a cold open where someone (perhaps an A-list movie star, whose presence in the actual cast would have ballooned the budget until it burst) is violently killed before the title card even flashes onscreen.
Since the first film in 1996 until today, this has been a touchstone of the series. Something to look forward to and discuss; a moment that sets the tone for everything that follows. "Scream VI" is no different. But where does the latest "cold open" rank in the franchise? What makes for a classic "Scream" opening and what makes for a lackluster one?
6. "Scream 3" (2000)
This is, without a doubt, the worst of the bunch. Instead of a big guest star, as established by the first two "Scream" movies, we get a returning character – Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary, who is now living in Los Angeles and (for some reason) the famous host of a TV talk show called "100% Cotton." Instead of asking about horror movies, this time the killer wants to know the whereabouts of Sidney (Neve Campbell). There are some fun elements (like the implication that Cotton, once locked away for a murder he didn’t commit, is now into playing "Stab"-themed sex games) and Wes Craven and Peter Deming shoot and stage the sequence beautifully, but it ultimately doesn't work. The violence of the movie was softened in the wake of Columbine and the absence of original writer Kevin Williamson is deeply felt. And getting rid of Cotton in the opening scene felt like a huge blunder; his presence in the rest of the movie could have added complexity and depth. It does, however, feature the most relatable moment in any of the "Scream" movies – getting stuck in Hollywood Bowl traffic.
5. "Scream" (2022)
Talk about breaking from tradition! In the opening sequence of "Scream" (technically the fifth film and originally titled "Scream Forever"), we get Tara (Jenna Ortega) receiving the menacing call from Ghostface. And, true to the times, the conversation ends up being a lengthy discussion about "elevated horror" and its relationship to more traditional slashers. (Yes, "The Witch,” "The Babadook" and "Hereditary" are all name-checked.) When it comes to the killer's "quiz," the movie throws a metatextual curveball, with all of the questions pertaining to the in-universe "Stab" franchise. And this isn’t the only curveball either. Instead of dying in the opening sequence, she survives! And ends up being one of the main characters in this new cycle of "Scream" movies. This mostly works, although the setting of the attack (a suburban kitchen!) and the nature of the conversation feel overly familiar. But hey, it'd been 10 years since the last "Scream" installment. Maybe people needed a refresher course.
4. "Scream 4" (2011)
This is a wild one. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson returned for one final go-around in the "Scream" universe, even if Craven’s direction was endlessly second-guessed and Williamson was fired during filming. (We miss the Weinsteins, don't we folks?) At least the cold open, which was also monkeyed with during post-production, turned out okay. Perhaps the most meta opening in the franchise history, it starts off with a fairly traditional cold open (discussion topics include "torture porn" and having a "Facebook stalker"), which is then revealed to actually be the opening sequence for in-universe movie "Stab 6." We then get another sequence, this time with bigger stars (Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell!) who are watching "Stab 6," only for this to be revealed as the opening to "Stab 7." That’s when we get the actual opening sequence, with two young girls (Aimee Teegarden and Britt Robertson) talking about the logic of the "Stab" movies (one involves time travel!) and the fact that they should really be more aware, since they live in Woodsboro and all. Throw in a reference to Tatum’s death in the first "Scream" and you’ve got a thoroughly satisfying, wonderfully self-reflexive opening sequence.
3. "Scream VI" (2023)
This is another opening sequence that really takes chances. Sure, there's a beautiful young woman (Australian actress Samara Weaving) who gets a call from a mysterious stalker. And yes, they discuss movies (Weaving is a college film professor). But this time we see the killer's face fairly early (it's the usually lovable Tony Revolori), which is enough to make you question the "rules" of this new installment. Then – in an even bigger surprise! – then that killer is stalked and murdered. All before the title card. We can’t say too much more (the movie just came out!) but the opening sequence goes a long way in terms of establishing how unpredictable, gory and fun "Scream VI" is going to be. Clearly, the latest sequel has a lot on its mind. And it will explore all of those new ideas.
2. "Scream 2" (1997)
A year after "Scream" opened and quietly turned into a pop culture juggernaut, a sequel arrived. And it speaks volumes that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson simply didn't copy the opening of the original film. The one thing they maintained was that the victims (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith) were bigger movie stars than anybody in the actual cast and that their brutal, shocking death would serve as a warning to the audience that everybody is fair game. But instead of it being a phone call, the sequence settles in on a couple attending the premiere of a new movie – a new movie based on the events of the first "Scream." And having the crimes committed in a movie theater, in full view of a crowd of bloodthirsty moviegoers, certainly amplified the film's themes about the power of violent movies and the complicity of those who enjoy them. It also, as is true with any "Scream" movie, is a ton of fun and sets the stage for the much larger sequel. This sequence is operatic in the way the rest of the movie is (Sidney stars in an opera for crying out loud!) and is arguably the cruelest opening sequence of any of the films. Rough stuff indeed.
1. "Scream" (1996)
Simply the best. When audiences showed up for "Scream" over the Christmas break, nobody knew what to expect. The title was fairly anonymous. It was written by an unknown. And Wes Craven, the professorial filmmaker who had helped give birth to the slasher craze of the 1980s with "A Nightmare on Elm Street," had last made "Vampire in Brooklyn," a costly flop starring Eddie Murphy. But with the opening sequence of the movie, "Scream" established its tone and its level of intensity, as Drew Barrymore (marketed as one of the movie's key stars) is threatened over the phone by an unseen killer. The killer asks her questions about movies; she pops popcorn absentmindedly and pads around her house barefoot. There are videos from the local rental place near the TV. And then she notices that her boyfriend is tied up in the backyard and the entire conversation takes on a much more sinister tone. It’s brilliantly staged, written and filmed (by regular Cronenberg collaborator Mark Irwin). And the savageness of the sequence, which culminates with Barrymore’s parents coming home and finding her hanging from a tree, her intestines hanging alongside her, was enough to get the movie slapped with an NC-17 rating. (It was modified for the theatrical release but the uncut version would eventually be released on home video.) Shocking, funny, and self-aware, the "Scream" opening was like the “Psycho” shower scene for the 1990s – the big star is dead and anything is possible. It was a peak that the sequel has yet to scale. But they will keep trying.