Top 10 Most Memorable Olympics Opening Ceremonies

Written by Amanda Evans 0 minute read

The Tokyo Olympics were delayed a year due to the global pandemic, but sport managed to win out in the end with the contest going on in 2021. It's the latest in a string of modern Games, which have all been different due to the idiosyncratic national characters of the host nations. Here are some of the best opening ceremonies in Olympics history since the Games came back after centuries of absence.


London 1948

London 1948

The Post-War Olympic Opening Ceremony

We kick off our top 10 best ever Olympics opening ceremonies list with a rather solemn occasion, but one that is rightly etched into the history of the Games. The 1948 Olympics, hosted in London, was known as the Austerity Games because of the economic and human carnage that had occurred during the Second World War. With rationing still in effect the main cause of celebration was not flashy fireworks or spectacle but the sheer fact that the Olympics were back on, global sport had returned, and war was over. A procession of athletes passed by King George VI, and when he declared the Games begun two and a half thousand pigeons were released. The final runner in the torch relay was welcomed with a 21 gun salute, and, for a little while, an exhausted world could relax and enjoy the sport.

And which city had hosted the last Games before World War Two began? It was Berlin, in 1936. A dozen years had passed since victorious German athletes threw Nazi salutes to Adolf Hitler, and much of the world had been devastated. But in the end, the mere holding of the Olympics was something of a victory in itself.


Sydney 2000

Sydney 2000

Australia Welcomes the Games

Australia is well-known as a keen sporting nation so it's no surprise they put on a great show to make the top 10 best list for their efforts in 2000. Presided over by Governor-General Sir William Deane, the Aussies put their best foot forward to welcome the world to Sydney at the turn of the Millennium. The ceremony began with an energetic and equestrian display celebrating the Australian Stock Horse, before moving onto sections paying tribute to the Great Barrier Reef and exploring the heritage of Aboriginal culture. The nature segment emphasized the importance of regrowth and resilience, as epitomized by an Australian bushfire destroying life while at the same time replenishing it.

Meanwhile, the Tin Symphony portion of this event explored the national development of Australia from the arrival of Captain Cook to Olympic Rings formed by the simulations of Victa lawn mowers. The ceremony concluded with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, and then spectators and professional sports bettors were treated to a smorgasbord of sporting contests.


Tokyo 1964

Tokyo 1964

The First Asian Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Olympics is the world's leading sporting event and indirectly responsible for tons of free bets and no deposit bonuses, and it was fitting that it finally found its way to Asia in 1964. Perhaps most memorable for a similar reason to 1948, as the shadow of World War Two still hung over Japan and its relationship with the West, but this was changing and part of that change was when Japan opened its doors to the world in 1964. It was also the first Olympics to be televised live across the globe.

The Olympics opening ceremony marked a milestone in moving on, as exemplified by the Olympic flame being lit by Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Right up until 2024 Japan has enjoyed a strong relationship with the West. This Games was also notable for a slightly bizarre and unique feature. During the event, Zambia declared its independence, meaning it entered the Olympics as one nation and left it as another.


Los Angeles 1984

Los Angeles 1984

The Opening Ceremony that Returned the Games to the USA

Even today jetpacks have an air of sci-fi futurism about them, so the fact one was used in Games held way back in 1984, during the height of the Cold War, truly made the Los Angeles Olympics ceremony one of the top 10 best, especially for those who saw it live. The 1984 Olympics were opened by President Ronald Reagan and had music composed by no less a figure than John Williams (Olympic Fanfare and Theme went on to win him a Grammy).

It had been more than half a century since the USA had last hosted the Games, and the ceremony was packed with patriotic symbols and American undertones. In addition to Williams' new theme, a wide variety of great American music was played (including Beat It). Undoubtedly the highlight of the opening ceremony was when Bill Suitor flew in by jetpack, astonishing the crowd. All that patriotism evidently did the trick for the United States, who topped the medal table for the first time since 1968 with a record-breaking tally of 83 golds, many picked up by Olympic legend and vegan athlete Carl Lewis.


Seoul 1988

Seoul 1988

Korea's Olympics Opening Ceremony Wows the West

The second Olympics held in Asia also marked a positively developing international relationship between the rest of the world of and the host country. In 1988, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, hosted the Olympics opening ceremony and the absence of boycotts that had bedeviled the previous two Games ensured that it was enjoyed by a larger number of athletes. The Korean martial art of Taekwondo (which also made its debut as a demonstration sport) featured heavily during the opening ceremony, with hundreds of martial artists both young and old performing moves in unison. One of the best parts of this introduction to the Games was the arrival of multiple skydivers who fell from the deep blue and formed the Olympic Rings.

A less happy airborne moment, that was memorable for rather the wrong reasons, was when a release of live doves coincided with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron with predictable results. As a side note, this was also the last Olympics that featured the Soviet Union as an entrant, as it collapsed between this and the following Games. It was also the last Olympian opening ceremony to be held during daytime.


Atlanta 1996

Atlanta 1996

The Touching Appearance of Muhammad Ali

Next up on our top 10 best Olympics opening ceremonies list is another American entry, this time from Atlanta when it hosted the Games in 1996. Beginning with footage from all previous Olympics, the ceremony also featured another fantastic theme by John Williams, this time entitled Summon the Heroes, while the official song The Power Of The Dream was performed by Céline Dion, and Georgia's official state song Georgia on My Mind was sung by Gladys Knight.

The whole event had the upbeat feel of a football game, with marching bands, steppers, Chevrolet pickups, and many a cheerleader completing the all-American atmosphere. Southern culture was the heart of this event, with the ceremony including the old South and rebirth after the Civil War. Perhaps the highlight of the show was the moving appearance of Muhammad Ali, one of history's greatest sportsmen, lighting the Olympic cauldron despite struggling with Parkinson's Disease. The 1996 Summer Olympics were formally opened by President Bill Clinton and the opening ceremony was watched by an approximate global audience of 3.5 billion people. And home girl favorite Kerri Strug made a glorious comeback from injury to secure gold for the US women's gymnastics team.


Beijing 2008

Beijing 2008

China's Astounding Olympics Opening Ceremony

From one superpower to another, China was already firmly in the ascendant when the Games returned to Asia in 2008. Beijing, China's capital and home to more than 17m people (at the time, it's larger now), hosted the Games and put on easily one of the best opening ceremonies on an unprecedented scale. There was a strong Chinese thread running through the entire Olympics opening ceremony as it started at 8pm on 8 August (the eighth month) 2008, with 8 being a lucky number in Chinese culture. More than 15,000 performers participated in the ceremony, which reportedly cost in excess of USD$100m to put on.

Art and culture were strong themes, as China welcomed the world with the pounding of Fou drums, and later unfurled a giant scroll that became the centerpiece of the ceremony. Interestingly, the official song You And Me was performed by Britain's Sarah Brightman and China's Liu Huan, indicating a sense of partnership between East and West. The Olympic cauldron was lit by former Chinese gymnast Li Ning, after running a lap of the National Stadium at roof height.


Athens 2004

Athens 2004

The Games Return to their Birthplace

Any list of the Olympics and opening ceremonial events would be incomplete without Greece, home of the original, ancient Olympics that were reborn millennia later. This unique historical connection was used to stunning effect with a duet between drummers, one in the ancient stadium of Olympia and another in the modern day venue, connected by video link. This ancient meets modern theme was enhanced further by the use of a flaming arrow shot from the video screen into the reflecting pool, which duly burst into flames in the shape of the Olympic Rings.

As one might expect the traditional heritage and culture of Greece loomed large within the opening ceremony at this Olympic Games. Mythological figures from classic literature such as a centaur and cyclops made appearances, with the nation's history charted from the Minoan era through to the 21st century. Brief nudity by a priestess and men dressed as statues was averted from television broadcasts through the cunning use of pixels and discreet camera angles to avoid any awkward visuals. Another interesting fact is it was one of the first Olympic events where players really could choose between a wide range of online sportsbooks as you'll see in our Bet365 review and William Hill review.


Barcelona 1992

Barcelona 1992

The Most Surreal Olympics Opening Ceremony Ever Held

One of the top 10 best Olympics opening ceremonies of recent times was undoubtedly the magnificently surreal and fun event in Spain when Barcelona held the 1992 Summer Games. One of the two main themes of the sporting extravaganza was simply entitled Barcelona, and performed by operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé and rock legend Freddie Mercury (although Mercury's tragic death meant a recording rather than live performance preceded the start of the official ceremony). The other theme song was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and was named Amigos Para Siempre (Friends For Life).

Enormous, vibrant puppets danced throughout the stadium in a surreal and fun display of joie de vivre. One of the top memorable moments was the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shot an arrow, aiming above the cauldron itself in order for his flaming arrow to ignite the gas. The shot across the stadium was a fantastic moment of sporting theater, and fit in perfectly with the atmosphere to celebrate the start of the Games and kick off a new bout of global competition. This was especially fierce as the end of the Cold War reignited old sporting rivalries and ended an era of East/West boycotts.


London 2012

London 2012

A Very British Ceremony

So far we've had epic displays by the Chinese, ancient callbacks in Greece, and all-American pageantry. But the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremony is the favorite for many sports fans because of the extremely British sense of humor that pervaded the event. Guests were welcomed with an amazing spectacle, and just a tipple or two. Faced with following the huge expenditure and scale of the 2008 Games in China, the British decided not to try and compete on lavish spending, and instead play to their classic strengths of popular culture and wry wit.

Danny Boyle directed the opening ceremony and receive global acclaim for the combination of national history, cultural references, and light-hearted humor. James Bond (and the Queen) parachuted into the ceremony, but the biggest laugh of the night was reserved for Rowan Atkinson's portrayal of Mister Bean during an orchestral performance of Chariots of Fire. British music also played large, with the staggeringly good Bohemian Rhapsody among the songs performed. There was also some ingenious engineering, with the cauldron comprised of 204 petals, one to represent every participating team. When lit, the petals rose from horizontal to vertical in a surprisingly moving (in both senses of the word) mixture of science and art.

And that dose of British comedy brings us to the end of our top 10 list of Olympics opening ceremonies. Sport is one of the few things capable of crossing cultural boundaries so easily, and not only entertaining but uniting people around the world.

 Amanda Evans
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Amanda Evans - Chief Editor

Amanda has been involved with all aspects of the content creation at including research, planning, writing and editing. The dynamic environment has kept her engaged and continually learning which along with +15 years iGaming experience helped propel her into the Chief Editor role.

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