First impressions

Just a hop, skip and a jump.

The beginning of Spectre produces the best pre-title sequence in the esteemed history of the James Bond franchise. There's not even a close second.

Say what you want about the rest of Spectre, which premiered atop the box office last weekend despite mixed critical reviews. The 24th Bond film—and fourth featuring Daniel Craig in the leading role—fails in a lot of the areas recent efforts got right. Nods to Bond's past feel forced. One-liners fall flat. At least two of 007's signature seduction scenes come across as unearned and (gasp) unsexy. Spectre is no Skyfall.

But the opening scene has everything. Set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead parade, it starts with Bond in a skeleton-decorated suit working his way through the revelry with a gorgeous woman on his arm. About 10 minutes later, the sequence closes with a fight inside a helicopter spiraling above the city's crowded main square. There's violence, humor, culture and sex appeal, all in crowd-pleasing excess. It's exactly what Bond fans crave and enough to distance Spectre from, say, Quantum of Solace.

With Spectre now assuming the mantle of best Bond beginning ever, it's worth looking back at the iconic scenes that came before and helped put the franchise's cold open into a category all its own. These selections round out the rest of our top five.

5. GoldenEye (1995)

The opening to Pierce Brosnan's debut as 007 announced the franchise's return to form. The key was Bond's plunge from 750 feet above a hydroelectric dam on the Swiss-Italian border. The leap set a world record for bungee jumping from a fixed object and was voted in 2002 by British film fans as the greatest stunt in movie history. (Stagecoach finished second.) At the time, it'd been six years since Bond last appeared on screen—and even longer since he successfully wooed audiences. All of that went away with one step off the top of that dam.

4. Casino Royale (2006)

Similar to Brosnan's debut, Craig's first film needed to make a strong first impression. Director Martin Campbell went bare bones, opening with a black-and-white flashback (and a flashback within that flashback) to Bond's first and second kills. It's brutal and stylish—the characteristics that best describe Craig's successful tenure as 007.

3. Goldfinger (1964)

Dr. No (1962) didn't have an opening sequence. From Russia With Love (1963) started with a thrilling game of cat and mouse under darkness—but didn't include the real Bond. Goldfinger, however, set the stage for future films with Sean Connery emerging from nearby docks to wreak havoc on a Latin American oil depot doubling as a hidden heroin operation. But before Connery escapes back to Miami he attends to "some unfinished business"a curvaceous dancer in a nearby club.

2. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Fans of a certain age will always remember this film for its opening ski chase. While laying in bed with a blonde, Roger Moore receives an emergency ticker-tape message on his watch to return to London immediately. "But James, I need you," pleads the woman. "So does England," he says, somehow not looking ridiculous as he exits the cabin wearing a skintight yellow ski suit and carrying an enormous red backpack. Bad guys quickly commence a downhill pursuit that ends with one of the best images in more than 50 years of Bond films: Moore skiing off a cliff, flailing in the air and apparently plummeting to his death before opening an enormous Union Jack parachute to safety.

Spectre continues at the Carmike 12.

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