This is part of our Decade Rewind, which runs throughout November. Keep up as we look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of the 2010s.
As the saying goes: you only get one chance at a good first impression. The same holds true for film. This goes without saying (unless you are an alien who has never seen a movie, in which case: hello!): one of the more popular ways films announce themselves is through opening credits: a visual sequence where, typically, the title is laid plain and its key cast and crew are credited while images set the stage for what’s to come; to announce characters, set the mood, and foreground what kind of wild ride we’ve signed up for.
Title sequences have a long and proud history from lavish silent cinema stills, to the jazzy stylings of Saul Bass, to the trippy typographic bombast of Richard Greenberg. They’re an art form unto themselves, and for our money, there’s no better way to get an audience in the mood. Trailers and promotional materials can be deceiving and the contents don’t always match the box. But with opening credits sequences: the cards are on the table. And some of those cards are more beautiful, riveting, and memorable than others.
The keen-eyed viewer may note that this list only features cinematic opening title sequences. This is not to infer that the small screen is not host to excellent title sequences, but rather a result of the simple fact that between the two mediums, title sequences are created and consumed in totally different ways. Namely, T.V. title sequences are designed to be watched repeatedly, whereas the dominion of a cinematic title sequence is more narrow. It would be unfair to pit two queens against each other, is all I’m saying.
Big thanks to Anna Swanson for joining in the fun. Without further ado: here are our 25 favorite cinematic opening credits sequences of the 2010s as decided by myself, with input from Anna Swanson, Ciara Wardlow, and Luke Hicks.
25. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s hangout comedy to end all hangout comedies begins with a tape deck, The Knack’s “My Sharona,” and some groovy as all hell typography. Jake (Blake Jenner) rolling into campus without a care in the world is as good a tee off as any. A boppy tune, a slouch, and a dumbshit smile are all we need to cozy up to this piece of toe-tapping cinematic chicken noodle soup. It’s a pretty cozy way into one of the decade’s coziest films.
24. The Irishman (2019)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
There’s nothing quite like a film that, with the simple drop of a title card, inspires a chuckle and makes you grin ear to ear. Martin Scorsese clearly has a fondness for his film’s source material and stuck to his guns about honoring the book’s title: I Heard You Paint Houses. These five words come up across a series of shots, the film takes its time to allow each word to be imposing and significant. The title-but-not-title is perfectly in tune with the film as a whole: it’s surprising, bold, and willing to take some time in order to give every detail the weight it deserves. (Anna Swanson)
23. Godzilla (2014)
Titles designed by Kyle Cooper
While we’re absolutely reaching “how long have we been on this rock” amounts of gritty Godzilla remakes, Gareth Edwards’ pass has the distinction of featuring a pitch-perfect stage-setting title sequence. Being scored by Alexandre Desplat doesn’t hurt either. The sequence shows various images, affixed, we’d imagine, on some Godzilla truther’s red string-covered corkboard. Pictures of sea monsters, newsprint, and government records abound, covered with redactions revealing a government plot as well as the film’s credits. It’s a memorably anxious sequence that plays to genre’s strengths: to secrecy, scale, and the intrigue of a good cover-up.
22. Evil Dead (2013)
Creative direction by Alejandro Damiani
There are two ways to my heart: 1) evil, shrieking chorales and 2) whatever shade of red the Evil Dead title card is. After a “fuck you” of a cold open announcing the film’s reverence for its predecessor’s punk humor and a new brutal attitude towards corporal punishment, the title card slams onto the screen, demonic choir crescendoing as dark vines ensnare the lettering. It’s a home run of a smash cut: a skin-crawling stage-setter that wails hard and announces the metal-as-hell rollercoaster to come.
21. Lady Bird (2017)
Titles designed by Leanne Shapton and Teddy Blanks
While the first words in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird may be an upside-down “fuck you mom,” it’s that dang title card that stuns: a script so wantonly catholic it’s almost sarcastic. Which is the perfect tone for a coming of age film full of spunk, bile, and an indelible sense of something-to-prove. As the sequence unfolds, and we’re treated to scenes of Lady Bird’s school life, the credit text becomes more timid and rough. In short, it slides into a more accurate representation of our heroine’s soft interior; her rounded edges and the potential for growth that lays ahead.
20. The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Designed by Haroun Safi
Context is important. And, when it comes to opening title sequences, context often means cold opens. And no cold open bangs out a clearer, rip-roaring statement of intent than The Devil’s Candy. It’s impossible to talk about the film’s title card without talking about the cold open, which sees the hulking boogeyman Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) loudly wailing on a red Flying V in front of a crucifix. A woman enters the room, unplugs his guitar, and threatens to send Smilie back to the hospital. But without those sick, thumping, chords to drown “Him” out, the chanting in Smilie’s head becomes overwhelming, and he kills her. The guitar wails begin again, growing louder and louder until a smash cut to a title card. The Devil’s Candy is a fantastic example of so-so title text elevated to a god-tier because of how it framed.
19. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
Creative direction by Brian Mah and James Ramirez
Because Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is a visual buffet, it should come as no surprise that its opening title sequence rips. After glitching through the opening logos, the score thumps definitively towards the main event: a quick sequence of comic book panels introducing us to the Spider-Man mythos and the studios behind a film that doesn’t look or feel like anything else in the superhero genre. Like the film to follow, the hand-drawn Kirby dot aesthetic is instantly captivating. That this is the same studio behind the titles of 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie totally tracks.