More often than not, the opening title sequences are not given much attention and instead people skip right into the action. This is a shame, as creative title sequences can settle the audience into the film and also set the tone and atmosphere. In addition to being visually appealing and suited to the tone of the film, these title sequences should also use the right kind of music. Although somewhat of a lost art, there are many fantastic examples of terrific opening title sequences which have proven to be just as entertaining as the film that follows them.
12. Lord of War
The opening credit sequence for 2005’s Lord of War is fascinating and gripping, yet it also makes you consider the horror of war and the amount of death it causes. The credit sequence, set to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” takes you on a journey which is from the point of view of a single bullet. This goes from being manufactured in the factory, through to being transported along with thousands of other bullets, placed in a chamber and then shot, where you follow its path until it hits and kills a child. The journey it goes on is visually appealing as it is so unique, but once the bullet is placed in the chamber you know that it will only end badly. It is just one of thousands of bullets that you see, making you realize the brutality and horror of war and the arms trade.
11. Monsters Inc.
Playful, fun and charming (much like the film itself), the fantastic opening credit sequence to Monster’s Inc. perfectly sets the tone for the film and immediately grabs your attention. Unlike the film, it uses a somewhat basic animation form and font which helps to establish it as a kids film (this is also reflected through the lack of names shown). It is also relevant to the plot of the film, as it uses monsters chasing the letters of the film through a range of doors before spelling out the title. This all perfectly timed to the fantastic and upbeat jazz music, making it visually impressive but still fun and lighthearted. The music (and score) is a Randy Newman creation, who is famed for providing the iconic opening song (and score) for Toy Story, plus a number of other Pixar films (all of which could feature on this list).
10. Catch Me If You Can
At movie theaters, you often (frustratingly) still see people talking and not paying attention during the opening credits, but not with Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Cleverly, it uses minimalist imagery which is similar to that you find on flight information cards and signs, and this animation shows a pursuit between two men (which is the premise of the film). This chase takes many twists and turns across various settings and with several other characters, which sees the color scheme and tone of the music change, and much of it is shaped by the text of the credits with some elongated and animated letters. It is fun, cool, visually appealing, extremely relevant and features fantastic music. All of this immediately grabs the viewer’s attention and perfectly sets the tone for the film, which is just as entertaining as this amazing opening credit sequence.
9. Reservoir Dogs
You don’t always need fancy CGI to make a good first impression through the opening title sequence, and this is evident with Quentin Tarantino’s iconic Reservoir Dogs credit sequence. After a dialogue-heavy opening scene, the credit sequence begins with the brilliant music choice—“Little Green Bag” by George Bake Selection, a song which has become synonymous with this scene and what it represents. We then see all of the dogs walking together in their suits as they leave the diner, with close-ups of each character as the actor’s name appears under each one. They are all wearing shades whilst many are smoking, making the entire sequence ooze coolness in what is a classic Tarantino scene. It is largely the music choice that powers the sequence, and music is of course a huge part of his brilliant films. The music choice in Pulp Fiction is another good example.
Although not the greatest film, there is no denying the brilliance of the opening credit sequence to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Perfectly set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin,’” it shows a comic book style montage which looks fantastic but is also crucial to the film. What is so clever about this sequence is that it manages to tell a substantial amount of the backstory to the film, making it a practical use of time as well as a great way to set the tone. It can be challenging to establish backstory to an audience who may be unfamiliar with a story, but this was masterfully achieved here and the song choice was also perfect. It is worth noting that a similar idea was used for Spider-Man 2, which used a montage to explain/remind what happened in the first film (which also had terrific opening credits).
7. The Pink Panther
For many people, the Pink Panther is not the name of a pink diamond (like it is in the film), but instead a pink animated panther. This is all down to this iconic opening credit sequence, which became so popular that it spawned a series of theatrical shorts, cartoons, a comic book, merchandise and much more. The opening credit sequence boasts one of the most iconic themes of all time, which is impossible not to hum along to as it plays. During the sequence, the animated pink panther interacts with the text of the credits as they are introduced, and also evades a walking hand and a detective. Although it is unrelated to the film and many do not even realize that the pink panther is actually a diamond, it is a fantastic opening sequence and one which created an entirely new cartoon character who went on to become immensely popular.
6. The Shining
Although very simple, the opening credits to The Shining are amongst the best in history and are perfect for the thriller/horror genre. You get a real sense of just how isolated and alone the characters are through the opening, which shows a lengthy flyover sequence. This finds the car, which we then follow as it winds and weaves along the roads amongst idyllic landscapes with no other cars or people in sight. The credits for the film scroll up the page as the camera overtakes the car and carries on into the wilderness. The camera then switches back to filming the car from above as it carries along the winding road, cutting to different landscapes to emphasize the isolation before finally reaching the ominous looking hotel. The eerie music that accompanies the sequence compounds this feeling, and there is a sense of evil established before the film has even begun.
You will find incredible opening credit sequences in each David Fincher film, but none better than those in the chilling thriller Seven. These credits are widely thought to have re-sparked the interest in Hollywood credit sequences, and it is easy to see why. Few credits set the tone as well as these, and like many of the best sequences, the music plays a huge factor. This is a remixed version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” causing an unnerving feeling which is furthered through the use of handwritten credits which flash up on the screen. The disturbing imagery matches this, as it shows (what is later revealed to be) John Doe’s preparations for his killing spree. This includes shaving his fingertips off, developing photos, scrawling in a book and highlighting text that he is reading. Haunting, edgy and unnerving, it brilliantly sets the tone.
We recently listed Saul Bass’s Vertigo poster as the top film poster of all time, and his opening credits for the film are just as fantastic and influential. These opening credits brilliantly set the tone for Alfred Hitchcock’s film by creating an uneasy feeling, and this is achieved through the close-ups of a nervous looking Kim Novak along with the red tinge that is soon introduced as we focus on one of her eyes. This uneasy feeling is also achieved through the mysterious and edgy music. We then see for the first time the graphical geometric images which are so important to the film (and marketing), and these swirling circles help to create a feeling of unease and instability. These are all central themes to Vertigo, and you immediately know that this is going to be a suspenseful psychological thriller.
3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Few opening credits have had such an impact on popular culture like Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The iconic text crawl is one of the most recognizable moments in all of film and something that is heavily parodied 40 years on, and although relatively simple, it sets you up for an epic adventure in space. You first see the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, before the title flashes on the screen against the backdrop of a star-littered and vast outer space, just as the very familiar music starts to play. The text then crawls to the back and disappears, before the background to the story is told in crawling yellow text whilst the music continues to set the scene. Although the actual title sequence is short, it is brilliantly combined with setting the scene and establishing the backstory.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
One of the most iconic openings and themes ever, the opening credits for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly remain amongst the greatest of all time and have become enormously influential. Ennio Morricone’s legendary score has gone on to define the entire Western genre, and this is partnered with animated horsemen, duotone coloring, bright colors, high contrast photography and kinetic typography (with mixed typefaces), which is all in time with the fantastic music. It also sets the tone through the imagery, and you know that it will be another gun-slinging adventure with a host of lawless individuals in the wild West. The designer for these legendary opening credits, Iginio Lardani, also designed the credits for the first two films in the Dollars Trilogy, with this final installment seemingly combining the styles of the two for one epic and very iconic opening credit sequence.
The Bond opening credit sequences could dominate this list or stand as their own list, but we have opted for just one to keep things varied. A difficult choice, but Goldfinger is the standout and one that perfectly encapsulates everything that is great about these films. The song is powerfully sung by Shirley Bassey and introduces us to the film’s villain, whilst the imagery works in harmony with the music. This shows images of the film projected over women painted in gold, in front of a black background. This creates a suave, sexy and cool feel, but there is also an underlying feeling of danger and darkness. This epic opening credit sequence would establish the long-running and extremely successful template that Bond films use, and all of the credit sequences that followed have been compared against this 1964 classic.