Superman III (1983): Richard Lester’s second S-Man sequel is largely indefensible, yet peppered throughout are a handful of excellent scenes. Among the defendable moments include the Superman-Clark Kent junkyard fight and the part where jazz singer Annie Ross is turned into a robot. Also entirely respectable is its opening, which forgoes the series’ traditional drawn-out-titles-in-space scrawls for an epic, complex slapstick melee—a reminder that at that point, the only people who could still direct that style of comedy were Lester and Blake Edwards.
Mister Frost (1990): Here’s a great premise: Jeff Goldblum is the devil, probably. Here’s a great opening: Goldblum, at his Goldblumiest, offers lemon meringue pie, coffee and polite if skittish conversation to the detective who will soon find a corpse underneath a living room chair. It’s all downhill from there, turning into a more menacing version of K-Pax, but the start and Goldblum remain worth hunting down.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990): Many would go with the hellzapoppin’ long take that opens Brian De Palma’s otherwise dire Snake Eyes. But let’s not forget the five-minute shot that kickstarts his goof on Tom Wolfe, which follows a soused Bruce Willis as he stumbles around the back corridors of a hotel—a trashier, manic version of the Goodfellas restaurant entrance.
Man in the Moon (1999): Milos Forman’s rote Andy Kaufman biopic is a real heartbreaker—and a tease. As it begins, Jim Carrey-as-Andy walks out, announces the movie is over, then stares at you as the final credits run in full. It’s the best tribute to Kaufman, followed immediately by the worst.
Dawn of the Dead (2004): George Romero had nothing to do with Zack Snyder’s remake of his mall-zombies masterpiece, and rightly so—except that it opens and closes spectacularly, with a frenzied suburban apocalypse and found-footage atrocities, respectively. Neither, coincidentally, were in the Romero original.
Flight (2012): I will argue that the Zemeckis-Denzel drunk-ass pilot movie is more interesting than the rote AA saga it becomes, very nearly admitting that what saved the plane was the fact that the man flying it was high off his tits. But no one need debate that doozy of a first half-hour.
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"