Star Trek (2009)
The Exposition: "One hundred twenty-nine years from now, a star will explode, and threaten to destroy the galaxy.
That is where I'm from, Jim. The future. The star went supernova consuming everything in its path. I promised the Romulans that I would save their planet. We outfitted our fastest ship. Using red matter, I would create a black hole, which would absorb the exploding star. I was en route, when the unthinkable happened.
The supernova destroyed Romulus. I had little time. I had to extract the red matter and shoot it into the supernova.
As I began my return trip, I was intercepted. He called himself Nero. Last of the Romulan Empire. In my attempt to escape, both of us were pulled into the black hole. Nero went through first. He was the first to arrive. Nero spent the next 25 years awaiting my arrival.
But what was years for Nero, was only seconds for me. I went through the black hole. Nero was waiting for me.
He held me responsible for the loss of his world. He captured my vessel and spared my life for one reason.
So that I would know his pain. He beamed me here, so that I could observe his vengeance. As he was helpless to save his planet, I would be helpless to save mine. Billions of lives lost, because of me, Jim. Because, I failed."
The Short Version: Nero blew up Vulcan to punish Spock.
Why It's Genius: With the plot starting to get a bit time-twisty, a quick mind-meld from Spock Prime allows a certain Mr James T Kirk - and, of course, the audience - to see the full course of events as they’ve unfolded up to that point.
As if the images weren’t enough, the voiceover above fills any remaining blanks. Halfway between a flashback and a flashforward, it proves to be an excellent storytelling device.
Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The Exposition: "I'm looking behind us now, across the count of time, down the long haul, into history back. I sees the end what were the start. It's pox-eclipse, full of pain! And out of it were birthed crackling dust and fearsome time. It were full-on winter and Mr. Dead chasing them all.
But one he couldn't catch. That were Captain Walker. He gathers up a gang, takes to the air and flies to the sky! So they left their homes, said bidey-bye to the high-scrapers and what were left of the knowing they left behind. Some say the wind just stoppered.
Others reckon it were a gang called Turbulence. And after the wreck some had been jumped by Mr. Dead but some had got the luck, and it leads them here.
One look and they's got the hots for it. They word it Planet Earth. And they says, 'We don't need the knowing. We can live here.' Time counts and keeps counting.
They gets missing what they had.
They get so lonely for the high-scrapers and the video.
And they does the pictures so they'd 'member all the knowing that they lost. 'Member this? Tomorrow-morrow Land! 'Member this? The River of Light! 'Member this? Skyraft! 'Member this? Captain Walker! 'Member this? Mrs. Walker!
Then Captain Walker picked them of an age and good for a long haul. They counted 20 and that were them. The great leaving.
Rescue party departed at first light led by Flight Captain G.L. Walker. May God have mercy on our souls. They said bidey-bye to them what they'd birthed. And from the nothing they looked back and Captain Walker hollered, 'Wait, one of us will come.'"
The Short Version: The survivors of a plane crash left their children at an oasis in the desert while they went to search for civilisation.
Why It's Genius: Mad Max III gets across its story of a group of kids who survived a plane crash only to be left stranded at a waterhole by making it just that - a story.
Their leader re-enacts it using scenes that have been drawn on the rock walls, framing them using a stick implement. Think of that wooden oblong as a crude form of TV.
Puss In Boots (2011)
The Exposition: “Legend tells of an ancient treasure. Hidden for centuries and guarded by giants in a castle in the sky. Whoever finds this treasure will be given riches beyond imagination.”
The Short Version: Magic beans equals golden eggs.
Why It's Genius: The elements of the story - magic beans, beanstalk, goose - are shown in tattoos on a man's body as Puss enjoys a glass of milk at a bar.
But the best moment comes when the drinker's friend says, “Show him the golden eggs” and the man moves to drop his trousers, causing a wide-eyed Puss to shout, “No! Please, you have shown enough.”
The Exposition: [Images show an alien creature's POV. It pins down another alien animal and bites into its flesh. All around other diseased monstrous beasts feed on more alien animals. In time-lapse photography unfamiliar plant life grows sick and withers, dying out. The diseased beasts cry out and are dying themselves, feasting on their own limbs as they do.]
The Short Version: The alien invader consumes worlds and all life within it.
Why It's Genius: How do you tell the back story of an alien being that’s skipping from world to world, infecting each planet’s inhabitants with beasties, taking zombie-like control of all living things and then moving on when the worlds are decimated?
Why not have one of your characters connect with one of the alien bugs while resisting its advances. It's kind of like a mind-meld, only more violent.
TRON: Legacy (2010)
The Exposition: “Good evening, our lead story, Kevin Flynn has been reported missing. The visionary icon and Encom CEO sky rocketed to the top of the tech industry. He was last seen at home with his son Sam leaving behind an empire and a now orphaned little boy.”
The Short Version: Kevin Flynn has been missing for 21 years.
Why It's Genius: What better way to deliver the news tying two Tron movies together than to use, well... the news. It's an excellent low-tech device in an otherwise high-tech digital world.
The Exposition: Charlie Frost: “Why don’t you download my blog? It's free. Of course, we do appreciate donations.”
Animation: “In ancient times, the Mayan people were the first civilisation to discover that this planet had an expiration date. According to their calendar in the year 2012, a cataclysmic event will unfold caused by an alignment of the planets in our solar system that only happens every 640,000 years. Oh, not again.”
Charlie Frost: “Pretty neat, huh? I did all the animation myself.”
Animation: “Just imagine the Earth as an orange.”
Charlie Frost: “You lure them in with humour. Then you make them think.”
Animation: “Our sun will begin to emit such extreme amounts of radiation..."
Charlie Frost: “Those little bastards are called neutrinos.”
Animation: “...that the core of the Earth will melt. That's the inside part of the orange leaving the crust of our planet free to shift.”
The Short Version: The world will end on 21 December 2012 because of a planetary alignment.
Why It's Genius? In an utterly shameless piece of exposition, Woody Harrelson's crazy end-of-days DJ turns the Earth's destruction into a cutesy Flash animation.
Still, bringing the audience up to speed in super-quick time jogs the film ever closer to the CGI destruction.
Star Wars (1977)
The Exposition: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy..."
The Short Version: A battle between good and evil rages across the galaxy.
Why It's Genius? Not only does the opening crawl (also known as a roll-up) give this series its Saturday morning matinee feel, it also allows later instalments to skip over some seriously boring back story. “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute” is it? Thank the force we didn't have to sit through that part of the script!
The Exposition: Ruth Buggs: “You've been deceived by an agent of Satan himself. He's evil!”
Paul: “I'm sitting right here, come on.”
Graeme Willy: “No he's not evil, he's just a bit rude. We're trying to help him get home. He's from another world.”
Ruth Buggs: “But there's only one world, our world, the world that our God the father created.”
Paul: “If it makes you feel any better my existence only disproves traditional notions of the Abrahamic Judaic Christian God as well as all one world theologies. That's all I meant.”
Ruth Buggs: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.”
Paul: "There's no reasoning with these people! Oh fuck this.”
The Short Version: Paul really is an alien and Darwin was right.
Why it's genius? Rather than try and talk through Ruth Buggs' religious beliefs any further, Paul puts his hands on her head and transfers his experiences into her.
Cue pictures of other worlds and shagging aliens.
Not only does this cut the need for more exposition, it also makes Kristen Wiig's character question everything she believes in and go into full-on potty mouth mode. Good job!