Movie title sequences can get easily overlooked in the overall scope of a film. But the introductory credits play a crucial part in the quality and cohesiveness of a movie. Not only that, but movie title sequences can be amazing works of art on their own. These pieces are the result of artistic genius let loose in cinema. As if creating a moving work of art centered around showing audiences the names and positions of a film crew wasn’t hard enough, opening titles also have to line up with the overall themes and ideas of the film in order to strengthen the movie’s message. Finally, they also have to gel perfectly with the music that is chosen.
But when an opening credits sequence gets it right, the result is magical. The best opening titles use everything from live action to hand drawn animation to cutting edge computer graphics, and sometimes all three in one sequence. In any case, the best of the best create wonderful and memorable sequences that last in the memories of viewers for just as long as the rest of the film, and sometimes even longer.
The 15 title sequences chosen here represent what makes movies a truly special art form that grows and changes across the decades. One rule, all of the sequences chosen here are opening titles, meaning that end credits sequences are not included. Stay tuned for another entry spotlighting the best end credits sequences in film history. Have your own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!
15. 101 Dalmatians
Old Disney movies knew how to start off in a classy way. Here, the beginning of 101 Dalmatians shows several vital elements of the film that is about to come. First, the high energy jazz soundtrack really stands apart from the fairy tale stories done by Disney previously. Second, the art elements put on display show the departure in terms of art, as this was the first time Disney had used xerography during inking and painting animation cells creating a sketchy look to much of the art. Finally, it puts the Dalmatians themselves front and center, showing off the colorful and fun pets in their London homes. This is a lovely way to get audiences ready for an instant classic Disney movie.
What a way to kick off a movie! While Jesse Eisenberg’s deadpan intro to the world of Zombieland helps audiences understand this new violent and funny world, it’s the title sequence that really shows viewers the true insanity that is to come. Disgusting and bloody zombies chase hapless victims in slow motion during what is clearly the outbreak of the worldwide zombie plague. Everything from zombie brides attacking human grooms to unsuspecting workers being tackled in the midst of their jobs by flesh eaters is on display here and set to Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, making this darkly comedic and easily the most metal intro on the list. Interestingly enough, this title sequence is the most violent and darkest part of the entire film.
13. Spider-Man 2 by Alex Ross
The first Spider-Man created a clearly recognizable style and typography that embedded itself into the minds of fans, so it only made sense to carry that and take it to the next level for the sequel. Brilliantly, the opening titles for Spider-Man 2 sum up the general plot of the first film in beautiful pieces of art and stylistic screen captures, allowing audiences to refresh their memories of the first chapter without the need for clunky exposition. Having Alex Ross, who is known for his lifelike painted comic book art, create these pieces is a stroke of genius. I’m sure that his work on the costume design of the first film didn’t hurt his chances for taking part in the sequel. Paired with Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, it’s a fast way to get pumped for the new entry and it still inspires nostalgia today.
12. Casino Royale
The James Bond films are world renowned for their title sequences. In fact, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of the franchise as a whole. Much like the many films, the opening sequences of the James Bond series have had their ups and downs. Interestingly, the best sequences are often tied to the best movies and vice versa. Casino Royale has one of the series’ very best, providing a new twist on the James Bond opening that uses gambling motifs, which are a large part of the film, as a metaphor for Bond’s reckless attitude and dangerous life. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name adds the adrenaline and hard edge that the sequence needs to keep from being cheesy. Having Daniel Craig’s face come into view as the only non-computer graphic at the end announces this new era of Bond in a bold and clear manner.
11. Raging Bull
Like Martin Scorcese’s film as a whole, there is a dark beauty and majesty to the opening titles of Raging Bull. Scorcese often uses pre-recorded music throughout his film to great effect. Here, his choice of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni adds grace and emotion to this quiet and contemplative scene. All in all, it’s very simple, with Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta warming up for a match inside a boxing ring. The ring is completely filled with smoke, like many of the matches in the film, and the lightbulbs of sports photographers flash in the smoke-covered distance. LaMotta is wound up like an animal and filled with rage, but he’s all alone in the world. Shot through the ropes of the ring, this is his only world, but it’s also his prison.
This one’s a real slow burn. Maybe too slow for some viewers’ taste, but the darkness and mystery on display is a great intro for a new dark take on Batman. While much of the sequence takes place in shadowy corridors as the camera glides between stony walls, the hints of bat images and the overall darkness suck the viewer into this gothic world. Of course, the less showy nature of the visuals help show off composer Danny Elfman’s amazing Batman theme, which has endured over the decades. When the camera finally pulls back, we can see that we’ve been taken through a journey in a stony version of the Bat Symbol, and the world of Batman on screen is about to burst into dark and brooding life.
Starting with Bond’s plunge into a river after being shot, the opening titles to Skyfall play like a near-death hallucination. Bond is pulled to the bottom and confronted with images of both his past trauma and future challenges. Having it all take place underwater add an even better feel to the many strange and haunting images. Everything from young Bond to Raul Silva, who won’t be seen for another hour, to Bond’s home of Skyfall are glimpsed, adding mystery to what will happen in the next two hours. Wisely, the title sequence incorporates a feel that is quite similar to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who would make this film easily the most beautiful in Bond history. And what else can be said about Adele’s Skyfall other than it being the best Bond theme song ever.
8. Catch Me If You Can
Mixed with John Williams’s sleek and staccato title theme, the opening credits for Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can show audiences the fun aesthetic of the film while still adding in elements of the chase that will inform the film’s entire run. The throwback style evokes Saul Bass’ work on the film of Alfred Hitchcock and the flat and simple style of many film posters made in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The changing wardrobes worn by the main character tip a hat to the pending developments of the film while not spoiling too much. The way these titles set the tone for the film and bring the audience into the past work wonderfully with the style of the entire run of Catch Me If You Can.
7. Vertigo by Saul Bass
Weird, off putting, but incredibly beautiful, the opening titles to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo must have thrown audiences for a loop the first time they saw it. This is easily one of the most pioneering and striking title sequences in film history. Bass’ opening titles are all about creating an off-kilter, almost hypnotic state filled with extreme close ups on facial features, specifically the eye. Swirling colors and dizzying spiral patterns play out on a black background, drawing you in further as composer Bernard Herrmann’s “Prelude” score rises and falls with strange scales. This really does feel like getting pulled into a vortex, which plays out in a metaphorical manner throughout Hitchcock’s Vertigo on multiple levels.
6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Another opening title sequence that owes much to the artistry of Saul Bass, the opening to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is pitch perfect for the central themes of the film. The title blend motion typography with the pulp noir images on the screen in order to blend the ideas of noir novels and real life, which is what the movie itself does throughout. The bright colors mixed with dark developments really make this opening title pop through and through. Blood and bullets literally tear through words here as John Ottman’s score blends the styles of ‘30s black and white films with a more modern sensibility. The kinetic and stylish blend of meanings and images clue you in for the self-aware and hilarious story that is about to unfold in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
5. Fight Club
Tracking the inside of a brain starting at the fear center and finally moving out through a pore, the ideas behind Fight Club’s opening titles become more and more apparent as the movie progresses. But its ties to the central idea of the movie cannot really be grasped until Fight Club is rewatched. The post-modern score by Dust Brothers really burns this anarchic viewing experience into the brains of audiences from the very beginning. Interestingly, studio executives really hated this opening title sequence and made one change. Fincher wanted the title to only show for a brief second on screen and for the afterimage to be burned into the viewers’ minds for the seconds afterward.
4. Alien by Richard Greenberg
Extra creepy and extra slow, Greenberg’s opening titles for Ridley Scott’s Alien is just right for sucking audiences into this dark, quiet, and terrifying world. The strange and off-putting noises in composer Jerry Goldsmith’s Main Title theme add to the tension and oddity of the entire sequence. As the title of the film slowly blinks into view, the camera pans across a dark and mysterious planet, with the majority of the title being enveloped in complete darkness except for the beginning and end, where the weird green glow surrounding the planet take over the screen. There’s something uniquely terrifying about the entire process without it being actually in-your-face scary. The Alien main title shows just how important mood and atmosphere is in the filmmaking process.
3. Superman by Richard Greenberg
It’s a perfect blend between visuals and music. The opening titles to Richard Donner’s Superman takes audiences on a journey through space in the aftermath of the destruction of the planet Krypton and baby Kal-El’s interstellar flight to Earth. Shown here are the opening titles to Brian Singer’s Superman Returns, which recreates the original’s titles almost beat for beat except for some different names and some amped up special effects. The fun in these titles is the journey, as John Williams’ majestic score (which is still one of film’s greatest themes) blasts triumphantly. You can’t help but get excited for The Man of Steel’s impending heroics, as the upbeat and vibrant nature really sells the feel of the movie as a whole.
2. Star Wars
Easily the most iconic opening titles in film history, the Star Wars intro and opening crawl is tightly linked to this history-making franchise. Every element of this opening is iconic. The opening words say so much with so very little and the way Star Wars blasts onto the screen with composer John Williams’ bombastic fanfare must have made people jump out of their seats just a little when the original film first hit theaters. The receding opening crawl is a real throwback to old movie serials, giving viewers an update on what has happened so far, even though when Lucas first made these there wasn’t any actual film that proceeded it. Today, the opening titles to Star Wars still amaze and these many iconic elements help to continue in defining the franchise, as well as exciting fans at the thoughts of both new entries and beloved memories.
1. Seven by Imaginary Forces and Thomas Cobb
Dark, creepy, and downright disturbing, the intro titles for Se7enare meant to set you on edge and dread what’s coming. Cobb’s intro really gets you into the head of John Doe, the man who will commit murders in accordance with punishment of The Seven Deadly Sins. At this point in Se7en, these killings haven’t even started, but having the entire sequence dedicated to Doe’s writings, photography, and the other elements of his serial killings sets up everything that is needed to be sucked into this dark and grimy world. Having the credits be hand drawn and flicker on screen like and old film real adds to the dark and manic nature of it all. Also, the remix of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” fits perfectly, with the only lyric “You bring me closer to God” hitting at the very end, which echoes the motives behind the murders. Who knew that this song could get any darker than the original? This is powerful title art that is striking completely on its own and also enhances the narrative and themes of Se7en as a whole.
Honorable Mentions: Hellboy II, You’ve Got Mail, Amelie, Robin Hood, Godzilla, Scott Pilgrim, Jackie Brown, Napolean Dynamite, The Naked Gun, The Pink Panther, Watchmen, Willy Wonka, Reanimator, Reservoir Dogs, GBU, Halloween, North by Northwest, The Wild Bunch, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Snatch, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Adventures of Tin Tin, Coraline, Lord of War, Shaun of the Dead