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Most stories take a while to build up, as they first introduce you to the characters, the world, and the theme, giving them time to develop in your mind before things start to change and become exciting.
Of course, this means that beginnings are often boring. It's been said that if you miss the first 15 minutes of a movie, you're not missing anything, as the plot doesn't pick up until later anyway. Many writers are aware of this, and their way of dealing with it is sometimes to do an Action Prologue.
An Action Prologue starts off with something exciting happening immediately. Right at the beginning, the hero is sneaking around an enemy base, being menaced by a threat, or something similarly exciting. In some cases this is Foreshadowing. The event may be a minor one, but related to a major plot point that we don't discover until much later. It could be a dream sequence, where the hero sees something threatening that later shows up for real. Or it could be something completely unrelated to the main plot at all, used only to make sure that something exciting happens right at the start.
In any case, the action quickly falls right after the Action Prologue, and then those usual first 15 minutes used to flesh out the story and introduce the characters show up. War Was Beginning is a specific subtrope.
Compare Batman Cold Open, which illustrates a character's skills at the beginning of a story; and Danger Room Cold Open, which demonstrates the skills of a team. Contrast Prolonged Prologue, which is what happens when you drag it out too much, as well as It Gets Better where the work slaps you from the start with exposition... and more exposition... and still more exposition... It can happen that the Action Prologue is cut short and revealed not to have been really happening; that's a Fake Action Prologue.
A form of The Teaser, often In Medias Res. Also known as a Bond Opening Sequence, since James Bond uses it so much. Not to be confused with Action-Hogging Opening, which is where the out-of-plot opening sequence rather than the first part of the plot proper is unusually intense.
Anime & Manga
- Witch Hunter Robin starts off with a mission by the ultra-tech team of super-powered witch-hunters, and the rest of the first episode is introducing their little circle to the audience. And the title character isn't even fully introduced until the second episode!
- The prologue of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has a battle in space the likes of which don't happen until the final of the four arcs - and, in fact, the exact battle shown never actually happens.
- The anime version of Chrono Crusade took the manga's Batman Cold Open and added a hint that Aion was behind the attack to turn it into an Action Prologue.
- The anime of D.N.Angel opens on a fight between Dark and Krad that apparently happened in the past, before cutting to the high school Shojo romance opening of the manga.
- Venus Versus Virus's anime version has this. Guns, check. Shooting stuff with said gun? Check. Eyepatch wearing Gothic lolita girl wielding the gun? Check. Creepy girl with red eyes? Check. Then we cut to the Ear Worm of an opening. In the manga however, the intro is mellow, and shows how Sumire became the way she is.
- Berserk is a extreme example: it starts with a two and 2/3 volumes of story to establish the setting and then has a twelve volume flashback before reaching the point of time when it started. The anime follows suit with its first episode (basically a shortened version of the first episode without Puck), which is given no explanation as to how it happened, given that the anime ended at a point where the story could have only gotten there based on action taken by characters that were never introduced in the anime.
- Not exactly action, but Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's anime adaptation opens with watching a half-obscured silhouette beating someone to death with a blunt instrument... And then the OP starts playing...
- Which is based on how the game begins with a narration going along with a the sound of something hitting something else.
- The first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood mostly exists to start off the series with something that wasn't seen in the 2003 anime adaptation. However, the events are integrated into the story of Brotherhood, even though they don't happen in the manga, and some parts serve as major Foreshadowing.
- The Movie for the 2003 anime opens with a story about the Elric brothers fighting a Mad Physicist who invented a new type of bomb, which turns out to be a story told by Edward to Alphons Heiderich, Al's alternate world counterpart about his life before he was sent there. This is later used for an And the Adventure Continues... ending, as Ed and Al learn that the bomb accidentally ended up in the other world and go to track it down.
- Kämpfer opens with Natsuru being chased and shot at by Akane before jumping off of a building to her assumed death. Then the opening credits roll.
- The manga adaptation of Persona 3 opens with The Hanged Man Operation. That is, an explosive battle on a bridge.
- The second scene in Sword of the Stranger is an elaborate action sequence, with bandits attacking the Ming caravan.
- Full Metal Panic begins with Sagara saving a woman from her kidnappers and securing a disc with mysterious content.
- Infinite Stratos begins with Ichika and his harem facing off an unidentified IS pilot. And it was awesome.
- It turns out that it's actually the fight vs Silvario Gospel in the last episode
- Hidan no Aria starts with Kinji trying to not be blown up by the bomb on his bike, and Aria falling out of the sky, shooting guns and all, to try to save him.
- The Dirty Pair movie (better known as Project Eden) takes this all the way into a full Pastiche of James Bond films, starting with an equivalent of the Bond Gun Barrel and ending with a Design Student's Orgasm credits sequence the Bond films could be proud of. (Not to mention introducing the Guy Of The Movie.)
- Ghost in The Shell begins with Major Kusanagi carrying out a hit on a defecting programmer and a corrupt government minister, establishing her as a consummate Action Girl (as well as showing off the coolness of the series' thermoptic camouflage).
- Bolt does this with the Show Within a Show's filming.
- Pretty much universal in James Bond movies.
- Most of the Star Wars movies start off in a fight of some sort:
- The Phantom Menace has a fight aboard the Trade Federation battleship after the negotiations never take place.
- Attack of the Clones has a huge explosion right after the first line.
- Revenge of the Sith starts in the middle of the battle for Coruscant.
- A New Hope starts with the famous shot of the Star Destroyer chasing the Tantive IV.
- All of the Indiana Jones films.
- Though the one in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull connected to the main plot.
- The Star Trek films tend to do this. It was especially notable in the first one, where the prologue turns out to be the most action-oriented part of the whole movie.
- Hancock opens up with a gun battle on the L.A. Freeway, with the eponymous hero arriving to "save" the day.
- Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring starts with the Battle of the Last Alliance not only because it was establishing the backstory, but because Peter Jackson felt that the movie needed an epic battle scene with armies at both sides, not just the Fellowship vs. dozens of Orcs.
- Predator 2 starts off with a 'Predator-eye' view of a pitched gun battle between the LAPD and a street gang. This battle is interrupted when the Predator kills and 'cleans' the surviving gangsters.
- The Film of the Book of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe starts in WWII London, where German fighter pilots are conducting an air raid.
- Prince Caspian similarly starts with Caspian escaping Miraz's assassination attempt, followed by the book's original opening of the Pevensie siblings at the train station.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens with Voldemort's Death Eaters kidnapping the wandmaker Ollivander and destroying the Millennium Bridge in London.
- The 1985 IMAX film The Dream Is Alive looks like a subversion at first- it opens with about a minute of an alligator and some birds going about their business in a Florida swamp- THEN we hear sonic booms as the space shuttle flies overhead and it cuts to a dramatic touchdown, true to form.
- Diary of the Dead begins with internet footage of a zombie attack on some TV journalists, then cuts to the protagonists making a horror movie and slowly finding out about the Zombie Apocalypse. Justified as the whole movie is meant to have been edited by one of the protagonists after the event anyway.
- Gamer gets into the action prologue so thoroughly and immediately that one might find it more perplexing than exciting.
- Saving Private Ryan. Good gods. The extended opening sequence makes two firm statements: "This is as close as we can get to D-Day and maintain our rating," and "Please remove your children."
- The Lion in Winter opens with King Henry sparring with his son Prince John, which establishes Henry as an aging conqueror and John as his favorite son.
- Toy Story 2 starts with Buzz Lightyear infiltrating Emperor Zurg's secret lair. It is then revealed to be a video game Rex is playing.
- In another Pixar film, Cars 2, the film begins with Finn Mc Missile infiltrating the Lemons' oil rig to uncover their evil plans after his partner Leland Turbo has been crushed to death while attempting to escape their lair.
- All the Rocky sequels except the last one starts with the previous movie's climactic fight.
- True Lies
- The sequels to Lethal Weapon.
- X Men Origins Wolverine. The pre-credits prologue is a flashback of the main character's childhood, while the credits sequence is a montage of Wolverine and Sabretooth taking part in battles through the ages.
- The Tea Room shootout at the beginning of Hard-Boiled.
- Gladiator begins in the Marcomannic Wars with a battle between Roman legions and German barbarians. Given how the film plays out, and the fact that the Emperor berates Commodus for missing "the entire war", this may be the final battle near the Tisza river, where the Romans beat the Marcomanni into signing a peace treaty.
- Top Gun.
- The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded.
- The Dark Knight starts with the Joker and a gang of crooks robbing a bank.
- This seems to be a reverse of the usual Batman Cold Open in that, instead of the establishing the hero's skills, the first 15 minutes has several moments designed to instill the fear of The Joker into the viewers.
- The elevator hostage situation in Speed.
- Nightcrawler inside the White House in X 2 X Men United.
- Before the opening credits of Enter the Dragon even begins Bruce Lee fights and beats Sammo Hung in a nonlethal kung fu match at a Shaolin Temple in Hong Kong.
- Streets of Fire starts off with a rock concert and the lead singer being kidnapped onstage. From there, there's very little pause in the action.
- Fritz Lang loved these kind of openings, and made use of them in films like Dr/Mabuse The Gambler, Spies, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, and M. The better ones weave exposition into the action itself.
- Brotherhood of the Wolf begins with a martial arts fight between the two heroes and some local goons. The original script began with an extended chase through Parisian sewers.
- The Chase (1994) is pretty much lock, stock and barrel Jack Hammond's kidnapping of Natalie Voss and his attempt to escape to Mexico. Roughly 90 percent of the movie takes place on the freeway or just alongside it, and the director wastes no time whisking us right into the thick of it: from the very moment the screen fades in, we can already hear the wail of police sirens in the distance as Jack enters the convenience store looking for a hostage, and spots Natalie.
- It's not strictly an "action-packed" movie, but Purple Rain gets off to quite a heady start. Director Albert Magnoli literally does not waste even one second plunging us into the story: the Warner Brothers studio logo has not even faded from the screen yet before the strains of a synthesizer played by "Doctor Fink" (a character in the movie) are heard in the distance and the voice of the (yet unseen) master of ceremonies at the First Avenue Nightclub is heard calling out: "Ladies and gentlemen....The Revolution!" (What follows is some of the best Crowning Music of Awesome in movie musical history.)
- The Avengers begins with the Big Bad popping up to steal the MacGuffin, fighting several government agents in the process before leading into a car chase. This is before the title even appears onscreen.
- The Grey Griffins book series does this at least in the first two books (I haven't read the third yet). The very first chapter is of something scary happening and threatening the lead hero, Max, and his brush with death. It is then, in both cases, revealed to be a dream in the immediately following chapter.
- All of the Hawk And Fisher books start with an action totally unrelated to the story most of the book is dealing with.
- Nearly all of the Halo novels have this.
- Starship Troopers - an influential work of science-fiction considered responsible for popularizing Death From Above, Powered Armor, Space Marine, and many other tropes the Halo games and novels are entirely built on - starts with a textbook Action Prologue, going so far as to casually mention (later in the book) that the very enemies they were fighting in said prologue were now allied with the human race against the Bugs, and thus making the entire opening engagement practically superfluous.
- Harry Harrison's two series The Stainless Steel Rat and Bill the Galactic Hero often start each novel this way.
- Snow Crash starts out with a wild racing scene in which Hiro tries to deliver a pizza under threat of death. Hiro isn't even called by name until the end of the scene, when he introduces himself to YT.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Devil in Iron", a fisherman goes into a ruin, takes up a knife, and dies.
- In "Black Colossus", a thief breaks into a tomb, fights a great snake, and screams with horror with what he sees.
- The start of A Song of Ice and Fire, egregiously. The enemy in the prologue doesn't show up until three books later, and then only in another Action Prologue.
- Book one of The Wheel of Time series starts like this, introducing Lews Therin Telamon after he's murdered his family and just before his death.
- The Tom Clancy novel Rainbow Six begins with an attempted plane hijacking by a group of terrorists. A few key members of Team Rainbow just happen to be on board, and use their extreme ingenuity to foil the attempt.
- First book of Warrior Cats starts with a fight between RiverClan and ThunderClan.
Live Action TV
- Many of the "opening gambits" on MacGyver.
- Subverted in the first episode of Young Blades, which opens in the middle of an intense swordfight, then quickly derails into an argument about who gets to play d'Artagnan, revealing that this is merely a game between siblings. (Then the real action begins.)
- Human Target almost always starts this way, with Christopher doing something awesome (often involving explosions).
- The first episode of Game of Thrones cold opens with a suspenseful scene that features rangers of the Night's Watch getting ambushed by White Walkers.
- A few cold openings of Doctor Who.
- "The Empty Child" begins with the TARDIS chasing after a Chula warship through a time track.
- "The Girl in the Fireplace" starts with offscreen screaming and Madame de Pompadour calling for the Doctor's name through a fireplace.
- "Love & Monsters" invokes this, the narrator character pointing out the encounter with the Doctor, a Hoix and some buckets isn't the beginning, just a good hook for the audience.
- "Gridlock" begins with a couple's flying car on a motorway being attacked by an unseen menace.
- "Human Nature" starts with the Doctor and Martha being attacked by some lasers offscreen, with the Doctor mentioning something about a watch...before it turns out to be a dream.
- "Silence in the Library" has a little girl apparently experiencing an Action Prologue through her dreams, as the Doctor and Donna board themselves up in some kind of library room.
- "Planet of the Dead" starts with Lady Christina stealing a precious cup from a museum and escaping.
- The animated serial Dreamland begins with an alien ship being pursued and attacked, crashing into the New Mexico Desert in 1947.
- "The Time of Angels" starts with River Song being chased through the spaceship Byzantium. Similarly, "The Pandorica Opens" revolves around her escaping prison, discovering the painting of the same name and warning the Doctor and Amy about it.
- "A Christmas Carol" begins with a crashing spaceship with Amy and Rory on board.
- "The Impossible Astronaut" features the Doctor running through various adventures in history in succession, while Amy and Rory read from a history book about them in 2011.
- "Day of the Moon" has Amy and Rory running as apparent fugitives, River falling off a building and the Doctor imprisoned in Area 51 three months after the events of "The Impossible Astronaut". Agent Canton Delaware apparently executes Amy and Rory, though it turns out to be faked.
- "A Good Man Goes to War" begins with a man who's centuries old and the father of Amy's child taking on the Cybermen and handing them a "message" as to the location of his wife.
- Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, which could rightfully be called a massive Affectionate Parody to 60s and 70s spy movies, pulls an exceptionally well executed one, though it takes up to an hour. You overpower the guards, get the captured scientist, and make it back to the extraction point where Snake gets betrayed, thrown of a bridge, and as he pulls himself out of a river, the enemies detonate a nuke some miles in the distance. And as the explosion fades, you get the extremely bond-like actual opening.
- Video game example: Silent Hill 3 starts with Heather in a spooky amusement park, armed with very little in the way of weapons, and wondering where she is. If you either die or reach the end (which results in her dying in a cutscene), she wakes up and realizes it's just a dream. Much later in the game, you go to that very same amusement park for real.
- Some of the James Bond games. Everything or Nothing actually started you right in the first level, without giving you a menu or anything like it before.
- Perfect Dark starts with Joanna's very first mission as Carrington Institute agent. Also its prequel started with a mission, but it's revealed it was a Fake Action Prologue being just a simulation.
- The God of War series typically starts out by, as Yahtzee put it, "throwing you into the middle of a pitched battle just in case you thought you might be playing something with a modicum of restraint."
- Final Fantasy VII starts you off in the middle of a raid to blow up one of the evil corporation's Mako reactors.
- Final Fantasy II begins with a Hopeless Boss Fight.
- Final Fantasy VI may start with a slow paced song and Opening Scroll, but immediately throws you into battle without really knowing who you are fighting against, who you are fighting for, or who you are supposed to be. Which does a pretty fine job of setting up the initial situation of the game's main character before she gets freed.
- Final Fantasy X begins with the destruction of Zanarkand.
- Final Fantasy XII begins with you, Reks, on a mission to save the king from assassins. Then you die, and take control of his little brother Vaan two years later.
- Final Fantasy XIII begins with the main characters escaping from the Purge and fighting the Sanctum's soldiers.
- The prologue of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starts at ending of the previous game, Rondo of Blood: the player isn't even controlling Alucard at that point, but Richter Belmont.
- Breath of Fire III opens with the hero escaping from a mine in dragon form. The dragon's stats are such that you cannot lose the battles in this sequence.
- An example of Action Prologue involving the main villain and not the hero: Sarevok beating the crap out of an anonymous warrior and then throwing him from the top of a tower in Baldur's Gate.
- The game Prototype begins with New York in ruin and chaos as well as giving your character full ablities, then after the title appears, flashes back to "18 days ago".
- Almost the same thing happens in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.
- Bayonetta begins with our antiheroine and Jeanne in their flashback garb fighting angels on the face of a falling clock. It might be a clever symbol for a compressed backstory narration, but it's hard to tell when the actual game is so trippy. Despite the game's reputation for putting some of the most spectacular fights in cutscenes, it's fully playable, with no control guidance for first-time players, but also no way to lose. Then, there's a whole prologue chapter, filled with control tutorials and some minor exposition. Then there's an expository cutscene and an Indy-style travel montage. Then the opening tiles play as 'netta struts off the train in Vigrid.
- Chrono Cross begins with an action/tutorial dream sequence which mimics/foreshadows an extended gameplay sequence from a (much) later dungeon.
- The first and third Uncharted games open with a very brief, enigmatic cutscene and then some kind of balls-out action sequence.
- Uncharted: Drake's Fortune opens with Nate and Elana unearthing Sir Francis' journal in the middle of the ocean, when suddenly, pirates attack and the player has to defend the boat.
- Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception opens with a bar brawl in an English pub populated by Mooks, after a deal goes bad. It's a great excuse to teach the player the new unarmed combat system.
- Guild Wars Nightfall throws the character into a corsair battle for its first quests and mission, before the "training" sequences more common in other MMO's (and other guild Wars chapters)
- Pitfall The Lost Expedition begins with Pitfall Harry fighting for his life against a demonic fiery jaguar while supercharged with powerful magic. After he exchanges a few blows with the beast, it pins him to the ground, and Harry has a flashback to how he got into this mess in the first place which makes up most of the rest of the game.
- Tomb Raider Underworld
- Vindictus begins with a siege on a bell tower against a giant spider. The Oracle, Tieve, wants to talk to the spider and find out why it's so frightened, so a group of soldiers, including you, are assigned to escort her to the top. Everyone is promptly ambushed by Gnolls after the leader of the soldiers finds a Fomorian Emblem, and everyone except you and Tieve are wounded or killed. The game then gives you control of your character and walks you through the combat system as you kill your way through the Gnolls and escort Tieve to the top of the tower, where you have to fight the spider as ballista spears rain down on the roof.
- Shadow Complex begins with a man in a city with about half of the full set of equipment for a shootout with some troops and a helicopter. He is then killed, and the action switches to the actual player character, where the real Metroidvania part begins.
- Done extremely well on the Lord of the Rings video games, as the prologues are there not just to state how the fight elements are there, but also to tell most of the backstory and certain background elements.
- The prologue of The Reconstruction thrusts you into a dangerous, action-packed mission of boarding and fighting your way through an enemy ship. This is done with only a cursory introduction to the characters, and it's not really clear what's going on until the end of the prologue.
- The DS and PS1 versions of Dragon Quest IV add a prologue chapter in which you play as the hero for a short while as you look around for Eliza.
- Dark Souls introduction cutscene has this, featuring Gwyn, Nito and the Witch of Izalith taking on the dragons.
- Xenoblade Chronicles begins in the middle of the war against the Mechon, where you play as Dunban in the battle that would make him a legend among the peoples of Bionis.
- Aquapunk starts off in the middle of a small, routine, military operation that goes painfully awry. Not only do unusual numbers of enemy casualties result, but the main character, Coron, winds up realizing that something's up and starts getting ideas that shape the decide the rest of the plot.
- The Sluggy Freelance story arc "Phoenix Rising" (well, the Oasis half of it, anyway) begins right away with Oasis fighting a group of convenience store robbers. Things then quiet down for a while, giving us time to know the characters, before the action starts up again when Nash Straw kills Lupae.
- Pibgorn's arcs start this way, but they're so confusing they're pretty much Mind Screw prologues. For example, the latest arc began with a Rapunzel Haired Pibgorn messing around with dewdrops in a meadow, with the panels interrupted by a giant rack-focused number 8 on a plain white background out of nowhere. It then switched to short-haired Pibgorn and Drucilla talking on a glacier (Rapunzel-Hair Pib is a flashback). Pib suddenly fainted then attacked Drucilla who fought back, and then the giant 8 explodes in a shower of Photoshop brushes.
- Remus begins with a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic flying a plane into the White House, continues by showing the United States descending into a second Civil War, and then caps off the prologue with a glimpse of said war through the eyes of the comic's resident Knife Nut. It then jumps 17 years forward, where the plot begins.
- Journey Quest opens with a Bard sneaking into an Orc camp, then doubles back to a more normal introduction when she asks, "what really happened?".
- Ayla and the Birthday Brawl of the Whateley Universe starts with the Vindicators fighting their way through a base to confront a supervillain. When they lose, it's revealed to be a holographic simulation that is part of their Team Tactics course.
- The entire American Dad episode "Tearjerker" is a James Bond parody, the beginning specifically that of the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me.