The 14 Most Jaw Dropping Opening Title Sequences From Movies

By  · Published on January 26th, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

A good beginning credit sequence is really all it takes for me to like a movie. That seems like a really stupid thing to say – but when you think about it, while not all good movies have creative credits, almost all creative credits belong to good movies. It shows that the filmmakers actually cared enough to do something meaningful with their title sequence as opposed to just throwing out some stock effect… After all, the beginning credits are the opening number to a film – the handshake – and if it doesn’t make you excited about what you’re about to watch then there really isn’t a point is there?

Here are a collection that got be friggin’ pumped right from the start.

14. Inside Man (2006)

There’s nothing particularly flashy or exciting about this credit sequence – it’s just really, really solid. Clive Owen’s beginning monologue instantly hooks you into the film, as does Spike Lee’s choice in music – Chaiyya Chaiyya by A. R. Rahman. But I think what really got my attention more than anything was Matthew Libatique’s amazing cinematography throughout the sequence. You would know LIbatique’s work from such films as Pi and Requiem For A Dream – pretty much every Darren Aronofsky film – also he did Cowboys and Aliens for some reason. Anyway, if there was every a perfect example of his talent, these credits are certainly it.

13. Watchmen (2009)

Well anything to Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’” is going to be rather effective from the start – especially when the sequence’s timeline expands two generations. There’s something fascinating about the alternate reality portrayed in these credits – the idea of taking US history and sticking in superheroes is great, but it’s the result of that addition that really sticks. They start with the expected glory days of crime fighting and bring it all the way to the inevitable downfall that such a system would meet – something that most superhero films fail to recognize. After all, the thought of Superman is neat until you realize that his presence would limit your freedom.

12. Halloween (1978)

So simple, so effective.

You really get a clear idea of the kind of menace you’ll be facing throughout the film just from this one shot – slowly pushing in on a delightfully generic-looking jack-o-lantern with the same repetitive piano tune we’ve all grown to fear over the years. The Halloween theme has that same quality that the Jaws theme has; it’s simple and it escalates. Much like the shark from Jaws, Michael Myers is inevitable – he plows toward you at a slow but steady rate, much like his theme music does as well. It’s only a matter of time before you have to stop running.

11. The Shining (1980)

Speaking of simplicity – while the cinematography and music is quite impressive, this sequence really takes the prize for most basic titles ever. Why is it all scrolling up? What is that, sky blue? Kubrick, you are weird. I could have banged these titles out in less than a minute at my local public access station – and yet, why are they so damn awesome? I think the answer is that because of how awkward and basic they are, it almost gives off the impression that he is getting them out of the way, that the real star here are the visuals of the car driving through the mountains along with Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind’s incredibly sinister opening title music. It should be noted that Carlos is also responsible for the theme to A Clockwork Orange – which makes all sorts of sense when you compare the two styles.

10. Snatch (2000)

This film actually has two different title sequences, one for the actual actors and one for the characters themselves. I only wish more movies did that; I’m terrible at remember character names so anything helps. The first is the actual credits, which run over a single shot that moves from various security monitors which follow four rabbis making their way through a building while discussing the validities and merits of the Bible, only to have these four men turn out to be diamond thieves in disguise. The last shot of Guy Richie’s directing credit over a revolver is not only awesome but appears to be common staple of his films. It’s after this, after the audience has acknowledged the awesome credits they have just witnessed and settled into the film, do we get hit with another set of an even more awesome title sequence introducing the characters of the movie.

9. Alien (1979)

Got to love the power of lines.

You know you’re about to watch a suspenseful film when the opening title takes like a minute to fully appear. What I love about it is that we all know what the title is, we knew it when we decided to watch the movie – and yet it still teases us line by line. I know this is silly, but every time I see it I forget about the last two lines that appear in the E and the A – it surprises me every time because to me the title seems complete enough for my satisfaction, and also I have the memory of a tin can. I wanted to remind people of this title sequence mostly because it’s showed up again pretty recently in the trailer for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s sort-of-not-really-but-close prequel to Alien. I think it was the inclusion of this title effect that really, really set me over the edge when I first saw that trailer. I get excited every day because of that movie.

8. Se7en (1995)

Se7en’s beginning credits are what every other movie about a serial killer’s credits wishes it could be. What makes it work is that there is no indicator that this movie is going to be as messed up as it will be up until this point – as the pre-credits really just set up the main characters themselves and not the actual killings that they are about to solve. It’s only when we see this wonderful close-up montage of the killer preparing his journals do we instantly say to ourselves “Oh shit, this is going to be nuts.” – Those journals by the way, as you can read about in a recent Cracked article, were meticulously prepared by designer John Sable… and I mean meticulously.

Oddly enough what I love most about these credits is rather not what they show us, but what they don’t show us – specifically the name of a certain actor who makes a very special appearance at the end of the film.

7. Life of Brian (1979)

Or… you know, any of the Terry Gilliam beginning credit sequences really. I’ve never seen anything quite like his style anywhere else – it’s truly unique and extremely beautiful… and at the same time so, so silly. There’s something about his indiscernible blend of original art with found art that’s just so perfectly done – he seems to find the best angle that removes all dignity from any photo he gets his hands on. I think the best part of his credit sequences is how poorly they actually showcase the credits themselves; everything is barely readable and goes by way too quick, and yet the honor of being included in a Gilliam animation no doubt outweighs that detail. And of course, with Life Of Brian specifically, the whole thing is set to a wonderful opening song written by Michael Palin. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find who actually performed the song, so if anyone knows that would be awesome because it’s driving me insane.

6. Fight Club (1999)

So freaking techno. You might be wondering why this is so high on the list, that reason is simple: it’s the only credit sequence that seems absolutely meaningless until you watch the movie a few times. The first time you watch it, it’s just weird for the sake of being weird – kind of a ‘hey look how neat we made our credits’ sort of beginning and nothing more. Then you realize that this sequence that starts deep in the main character’s brain and then moves all the way out to a shot of his gun-sucking face is actually identifying the antagonist of the film – his brain. The movie literally starts right where the problem is and moves out from there – it’s actually perfect. We don’t notice this because obviously we have no idea what the problem is at first – this sequence is pretty much betting on us watching the movie more than once, and it bet right.

5. From Russia With Love (1963)

It took me a really long time to settle on this intro out of all the other Bond intros. Obviously there had to be at least one – but I didn’t want to flood this list with them as well, so while there are arguably better candidates for this list I went with the one that originated the style. Dr. No was awesome credit-wise, that’s for sure… but it was only when designer Robert Brownjohn stepped into the job did we really see the classic Bond credits come into shape – and we’ve certainly never looked back since. Not only does every new intro for a Bond film look more and more artful, but also brings much needed innovation to the hot-chicks-dancing-with-guns industry.

4. Lord of War (2005)

In what is probably the best use of bad CGI in an opening credit sequence, the titles to Lord Of War take us through the life of a bullet – from it’s factory construction to it’s shipping and loading into a gun… all the way into the head of an unarmed boy. There is seriously no better way to introduce the style of this film by showing everything that goes into this one death – showing the industry behind the murder. Of course showing it all to the tune of For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield helps as well. I think it’s always a good sign when the beginning credits to a movie could actually be mistaken for a music video or a short film – and this sequence certainly qualifies as it certainly tells a complete and linear story… in fact it’s almost better than the film itself.

3. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

I can see the placement of this one as somewhat surprising to people – I just have a very personal connection with these credits. You see… I took a reluctant friend to see this film – one of those poor souls who just didn’t get Zombie films. This guy was especially stubborn in general too, as in he was not quick to like things. Anyway, it was in the intro scenes of this movie, followed by the beginning credits showcasing news footage of the growing Zombie apocalypse to the tune of Johnny Cash that made this guy finally get on board. Not just with this movie – but the entire genre. I know that people were sore about the whole fast zombie thing, I am one of those people… and it’s not even that this movie is amazing or anything – but if I needed to show someone really quickly why they should love the zombie genre, I would show them these credits.

2. Everything by Saul Bass

Saul Bass is freaking everywhere. You see him when looking at your oatmeal, drinking out of a paper cup, making a phone call… even sneezing you see him. Why? Because Saul Bass is responsible for some of the most recognizable company logos out there – logos that still exist today. You probably have also seen his work in the form of movie posters – such as his poster for The Shining. However the best work of this man has to be his beginning title sequences. Casino, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Goodfellas, Spartacus – the list is huge and impressive. But it’s not just his filmography that’s impressive – it’s that before Saul Bass, beginning credits were never considered to be anything dynamic, before him titles were static and boring. He was the father of awesome title sequences. Oh, and Psycho – I left out Psycho.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

It’s a little bit of a cheat to begin your movie with a shot of a sun/earth/moon alignment to the tune of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra in that there really isn’t anything that beats it ever again; it is truly the most epic beginning title known to man. The film could be about a carpet salesman and it would still go down in history as being the most epic cinematic masterpiece if it had these credits before it. I understand that for a lot of people this movie is hard to sit through – but I have to confess right here and now that it happens to be my favorite film of all time. I can’t fully explain why that is as no doubt anyone can explain why a film is their favorite – I just think it’s beautiful. The pacing is painfully slow at times, but that’s part of its appeal to me – every move is thoughtful and precise and grows into this story that spans past the entire human existence and into the deep unknowns of space and life in general. It’s just so damn epic, something that this title sequence does wonders of representing in only a minute and a half.

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