25 Coolest Moments in Olympic Opening Ceremony History

Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea kick off February 9. To celebrate, we're looking back on the most epic moments from opening ceremonies past. From jet packs to a parachuting queen, here's what South Korea has to follow when they welcome the world this Friday.

1. LOS ANGELES 1984 // OLYMPIC THEME DEBUTS

Composer John Williams.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Today, it's impossible to hear John Williams's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" without thinking of the Olympics. But no one had heard the composition before it debuted at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. That year, the score reached instant icon status and has been used as the theme for every Olympics held since.

2. LONDON 2012 // THE QUEEN JUMPS FROM A HELICOPTER

Person jumping from helicopter.
Lars Baron, Getty Images

What's more British than James Bond and the Queen? Her majesty and Agent 007 jumping from a helicopter to kick off the 2012 London Olympics. Though Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig did appear together in footage that aired before the jump, the actual skydiving was done by stuntmen.

3. BEIJING 2008 // 2008 DRUMMERS

Drummers in a stadium.
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

A decade after the fact, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing games is still regarded as one of the greatest in Olympics history. It's hard to narrow down the four-hour event to just a few memorable moments, but the synchronized drum performance definitely makes the list. As a nod to the date, 2008 musicians filled the stadium to play the fou, a 4000-year-old Chinese percussion instrument. The choreographed precision of the drummers created a stunning spectacle when viewed from above.

4. ATLANTA 1996 // MUHAMMAD ALI CARRIES THE TORCH

Muhammad Ali with torch.
Michael Cooper, Allsport/Getty Images

One of the most anticipated moments of the 1996 opening ceremony was the reveal of who would light the centennial torch—and the appearance of Muhammad Ali in that role was met with approval and awe. His iconic torch-lighting took place 36 years after he earned his gold medal and 12 years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The surprise moment was among the most memorable of the events, but it almost didn't happen—the tower leading up to the torch would have been too difficult for Ali to climb in his condition. Officials worked around that by having him light a fuse that led up to the cauldron instead.

5. NAGANO 1998 // INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE OF "ODE TO JOY"

Olympic athletes.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

In 1998, video-chatting with someone across the globe in real time was still considered stuff of the future. That's part of what made the rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" at the opening ceremony of the 1998 Winter Olympics so impressive. As an orchestra performed live in Nagano, choruses in Berlin, Cape Town, Beijing, New York, and Sydney joined in via satellite feeds. On top of wowing audiences, the moment served as a meaningful symbol of world unity.

6. BARCELONA 1992 // AN ARCHER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man with flaming arrow.
Pau Barrena, AFP/Getty Images

Though opening ceremonies vary wildly from year to year, the lighting of the torch is one theme they all share. This portion can be straightforward, but in 1992 Barcelona decided to get creative. The cauldron was ignited by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shooting a flaming arrow across the stadium. In terms of flair, no torch lighting has topped it since.

7. SYDNEY 2000 // 120 HORSEMEN

Sydney opera house.
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney was one of the most cinematic in history, and it was the very first moment that set the tone. A lone horseman came galloping into the empty stadium, and at the crack of his whip 120 more people riding horses and holding Olympic flags followed him in.

8. ALBERTVILLE 1992 // THE AIR BALLET

Air ballet performance.
Pascal Rondeau, Allsport/Getty Images

The opening ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France channeled a Cirque du Soleil vibe. This was most apparent in the air ballet sequence. Dancers strapped into ribbons twirled and floated around a giant pole in the middle of the arena. The performance is regarded as one of the most mesmerizing in any opening ceremony.

9. LILLEHAMMER 1994 // SKIING WITH THE ETERNAL FLAME

Skier holding torch.
Bob Martin, Allsport/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1994 Winter Olympics was an exciting display of athleticism. It started with Norwegian skier Stein Gruben skiing down a steep slope and clearing a 70-meter jump all while holding the eternal flame. Olympic bronze medalist Gunnar Fidjestø was originally tasked with the stunt, but he injured himself in a practice jump two days before the event.

10. ATHENS 2004 // BJÖRK'S DRESS

Bjork performing.
Donald Miralle, Getty Images

Björk debuted her single "Oceania" at the opening ceremony of the summer games in Athens. The song is noteworthy on its own, but what really made her performance special was her giant dress that doubled as a projection screen. As the fabric rippled across the stadium, it displayed an image of the world map.

11. CALGARY 1988 // SEVENTH-GRADER LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Person lighting Olympic torch.
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

The cauldron that holds the eternal flame has often been lit by superstar athletes, but in 1988, Canada chose 12-year-old Robyn Perry to complete the final leg of the torch's journey. The young lady was an amateur figure skater at the time.

12. LOS ANGELES 1984 // JETPACK FLIGHT

Man flying in jet pack.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

One of the most futuristic stunts in any Olympic opening ceremony took place 34 years ago. Bill Suitor dazzled spectators when he zipped around the Los Angeles stadium in a real, functioning jetpack. He landed the gig by working as a test pilot on the jetpack project for Bell Aerospace. He told CNN in 2007 that trying to navigate the rocket belt felt like "trying to stand on a beach ball in a swimming pool."

13. BEIJING 2008 // BEIJING FIREWORKS SHOW

Fireworks over Olympic stadium.
Shaun Botterill, Getty Images

Another memorable scene from Beijing's opening ceremony was the epic fireworks show. Colorful pyrotechnics were launched from the rim of the stadium as more fireworks outside lit up the sky above the city. It was later revealed that many of the fireworks that aired in the ceremony were edited in with computers because it would have been too difficult to capture every explosion live.

14. MOSCOW 1980 // HUMAN PYRAMIDS

Athletes on a field.
Alexander Makarov, Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0

The 1980 Moscow Olympics were controversial from the beginning, with several major nations boycotting the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That didn't stop the Soviet Union from putting on a dazzling show for the opening ceremony. If attendees remember one spectacle, it's likely the colorful, human pyramids that filled the arena for the event's grand finale.

15. SEOUL 1988 // OLYMPIC RINGS SKYDIVERS

Olympic flag.
Getty Images/Getty Images North America

The five Olympic rings have been a part of the opening ceremony since the Antwerp games in 1920, but in 1988 they were seen like never before. Skydivers dressed in the event’s traditional colors formed the Olympic rings in midair before parachuting into the stadium. It would have likely been the most memorable sight from that year if it hadn't also included doves catching fire in the eternal flame.

16. SOCHI 2014 // RUSSIAN POLICE SING "GET LUCKY"

Russian officers singing.
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Like the Moscow Olympics, the 2014 games Russia hosted in Sochi weren't without controversy. But at least the opening ceremony gave us one of the more delightfully bizarre moments in the history of the event: a chorus of Russian police officers covering Daft Punk's international hit "Get Lucky." The cops were members of the Russian Red Army Choir.

17. ATHENS 1906 // FIRST PARADE OF NATIONS

Athens Olympics.
Getty Images

The Olympics as we know them today were just starting to take shape in the early 20th century. The Athens games in 1906 included the first parade of nations, one of the most recognizable opening ceremony traditions. The procession of teams carrying their home countries' flags introduced a theme of national pride to the Olympics that's still part of its DNA today.

18. BARCELONA 1992 // FREDDIE MERCURY'S "BARCELONA"

Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony.
Michel Gangne, AFP/Getty Images

Freddie Mercury died less than a year before the games took place, but his memory was very much alive at the Olympics opening ceremony in Barcelona in 1992. The Queen frontman was approached in the 1980s to pen a theme song for the event to sing with Barcelona-based opera singer Montserrat Caballé. The result, "Barcelona," became one of the best known Olympic songs, but Mercury was never able to sing it at the opening ceremony as planned; a video of an earlier Mercury and Caballé performance was played instead.

19. TOKYO 1964 // HIROSHIMA BABY LIGHTS THE CAULDRON

Man carrying olympic torch.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The torch lighting at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo is memorable for its poignancy. That year marked the first time the games were held in an Asian city, and Tokyo wanted to open the games with something that symbolized progress toward world peace and their resilience following World War II. Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the same day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city, was chosen to carry the torch to the cauldron.

20. RIO 2016 // GISELLE'S CATWALK

Giselle walking at Olympic opening ceremony.
Franck Fife, AFP/Getty Images

Few people have the star power to steal a show by simply walking in a straight line, but that's exactly what Gisele Bündchen accomplished at Rio's opening ceremony. All eyes were on the Brazilian supermodel as she strutted across the stadium's 400-foot catwalk. But she may have been enjoying her time in the spotlight a little too much—her pace was so slow that an entire scheduled segment had to be cut.

21. LONDON 2012 // MR. BEAN SHOWS UP

Rowan Atkinson looking at wrist.
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

London turned the opening ceremony of the 2012 games into a quirky ode to British pop culture. While there were plenty of big-name appearances that night, one of the most pleasant surprises came from Rowan Atkinson, the actor best known for his character Mr. Bean. The comedian playing "Chariots of Fire" along with the London Symphony Orchestra might go down as one of the most hilarious moments in opening ceremony history.

22. SYDNEY 2000 // UNDERWATER EXTRAVAGANZA

Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.
Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP/Getty Images

With 16,000 miles of coastline, Australia is hugely influenced by the sea. The nation celebrated its neighboring oceans by transforming the Olympic stadium into a massive aquarium during the opening ceremony. Colorful puppets of fish, eels, and jellyfish floated through the space as the arena floor filled with rippling blue waves. In a country known for the world's most famous coral reef, it was a fitting tribute.

23. MOSCOW 1980 // MASSIVE CARD STUNT

Picture of bear in stadium crowd.
AFP/Getty Images

It's a trick you've seen at many sporting events, but for the Olympics, it must happen on a much larger scale. At the opening ceremony in Moscow, crowd members simultaneously held up hundreds of cards to form an image of Misha the Bear, that year's Olympic mascot.

24. TURIN 2006 // PAVAROTTI'S FINAL PERFORMANCE

Italian opera singer.
Getty Images/Stringer

Pavarotti didn't stay out of the limelight for long after retiring on his 70th birthday in 2005. He made an appearance at the opening ceremony of the Turin Winter Olympics and sang the aria "Nessun Dorma." He died the following year.

25. MONTREAL 1976 // TEEN ATHLETES LIGHT THE CAULDRON

Two teens stand next to the Olympic cauldron.
Tony Duffy, Getty Images

The Olympic cauldron was ignited by two teens at the start of the 1976 Montreal winter games. The lighters, 16-year-old track star Stéphane Préfontaine and 15-year-old Toronto runner Sandra Henderson, were chosen to present Canada as a young, progressive nation.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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