Best Opening Titles/Credit Sequences
After watching the new film “Hitchcock” with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense himself along with the trials of getting the film Psycho made, it got me thinking about the brilliant credit sequence from the 60s classic. That was created by the awesome graphic designer and credit maker Saul Bass and I started to reflect on what my favourite opening title/sequences were.
By no means an exhaustive list (and definitely NOT in any order) but here are some of my favourites over the years and please drop us a message below or reply with a tweet about your own favourites or any glaring omissions from the list.
Let the credits roll!
Zombieland (2009) – The film begins with a superb montage of slow motion zombie attacks on screaming American victims to the heavy sounds of Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Casino (1995) – Here the titles are actually by the infamous Saul Bass who was coaxed out of retirement for one more intro sequence by Martin Scorsese and is a brilliant explosion of lights, colours and neon shapes in his inimitable style.
Casino Royale (2006) – A different “casino” in the title again, this time with a Bond-song by Chris Cornell that has grown on me over the years but the card-playing imagery and animation was a neat twist on traditional Bond motifs.
Watchmen (2009) – The graphic novel’s entire back story/alternative universe history is shown with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A’ Changing” overdubbed in full which is an epic beginning to an epic film.
Speed (1994) – Jan De Bont used a very slow, deliberate and almost never ending lift shaft where the steel girders are used to “frame” the actors’ names as he winds up the tension from the start. (Mike update – obviously no one else likes this as I am unable to find an online video of it!)
Spiderman 2 (2004) – It was great to see traditional comic book artwork in the intro to Sam Raimi’s comic book film and the images run through a quick recap of the first movie’s major plot points. (The reboot of The Incredible Hulk did a similar thing in an attempt to both skip the “origin” part of the story and somewhat erase Ang Lee’s first film).
Catch Me if You Can (2002) – Spielberg went old school in this Saul Bass inspired intro sequence that covers the film’s story points and is reminiscent of the Pink Panther in its retro use of animation
Anchorman (2002) – I enjoyed this intro as we get a series of quick jokes in the style of a 4:3 television set with rounded corners which immediately gives us the time, the place and the actors’ names in the style of a news bulletin. These “outtakes/riffs” put us straight into 70s San Diego.
Inside Man (2006) – Here it is the music by Punjabi MC that sets up a multi-cultural New York with some traditional (and others not so) shots around the infamous city Skyline and canyon-like streets. Bang! Spike Lee has placed us right there in the hustle and bustle of the city immediately.
LA Confidential (1997) – A retro-postcard of an intro with a great Danny De Vito voiceover who sets the scene as we head around the city.
Lord of War (2005) – A perennial favourite is the “bullet-journey” from manufacture to being shot out of a gun barrell in this audacious sequence filmed from the bullet’s perspective. This is a must see.
Snatch (2000) – Guy Ritchie uses fast editing and fast talking in this cockney barrel of monkeys of an intro which jumps from actor to actor and character to character in a microcosm of the film’s multi-stranded storyline.
Saturday Night Fever (1997) – John Travolta strutting down a New York street to the sound of The Bee Gees. Nuff said.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) – The elongated living room jam session shows us the film’s indie roots as well as setting up its brilliant subversion of time and space with graphic novel style animation and grunge-y fonts.
Ocean’s 11 (2001) - A Saul Bass-y funky intro with harsh lines, luminous colours and edgy design which harks back to the 50s cool that Soderbergh was trying to recreate for his updated version with Clooney & co.
Raging Bull (1980) – Another special one from Scorsese as we see a “caged” Robert De Niro warming up in black and white to the sounds of the classical Cavallerio rusticana: Intermezzo as he shadow boxes in the ring in slow motion. The blood-red writing hints at the violence about to be unleashed in this memorable intro.
Panic Room (2002) – Fincher takes a leaf out of Saul Bass’ book this time as he updates North by North-West by using CGI to super impose HUGE lettering against city skyscrapers in this tense thriller. The large typeface is a literal “floating” billboard which took a year to create.
Seven (1995) – another great Fincher intro as the combination of the “scratched” negative juxtaposed against the creation of John Doe’s scrapbook of insane writing and horrific photographs creates an unnerving and dark start to the an unnerving and dark film.
The Fall (2006) – Tarsem Singh’s slow motion black and white intro shows Cowboys and Indians against a backdrop of bridges, rivers and trains but only later do we realise the full implications of this classic Hollywood stuntmen scene.
Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Set against Clint Mansell’s legendary score, the opening scene gives us Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans’ characters as they steal the family TV and drag it through the streets to a nearby pawn shop for drug money. The shots of seedy streets and the abandoned rollercoaster show the dark journey we are about to embark upon.
Trading Places (1983) – A brilliant juxtaposition in Philadelphia as Mozart plays on the soundtrack which begins with the usual tourist hotspots before alternating between scenes of the wealth and poverty in the city. We get setting, character and a flavour of the story ahead.
The Warriors (1979) – A funky 70s soundtrack accompanies shots of various gangs travelling through the city by subway as they come out to pla-ay with awesome costumes, some character development and great graffiti style fonts.
Honourable mentions to Django Unchained (what a soundtrack!), Alien (great minimalism), Sin City (Frank Miller’s raw art), Sleepy Hollow (smokey names in the forest journey), Terminator 2 (LA city and flames) and The Untouchables (great music and THOSE imposing and shadowy letters).
There is one more area of film credit sequences that I would like to address. It is a very small and select group of films that would have been great ONLY if you left immediately after the start credits finished.
Let me explain…
Indiana Jones & Crystal Skull (2008) – If you avoid the CGI gopher then the Rock Around the Clock soundtrack and racing hot rod cars in the desert transports us immediately to the 1950s with Spielberg keeping the same font we all know and the young teens contrasted against the Cold-War Russians was a great combination of generations as we moved away from Indiana’s Nazi chasing roots. With its A-bomb testing military finale, it’s a huge shame that the film then went CGI crazy and left us all pining for a return to the classic stunts we were promised.
Superman Returns (2006) – From the first bass notes of the score provided by John William’s iconic fanfare and then the flying blue type of the original font, Singer used our pre-existing expectations along with a Marlon Brando voice-over to recapture our imagination and make us believe once again that a man can indeed fly. Sadly, the film failed to take off as the plot moved slower than a speeding snail and miscasting all over the place bored the red pants off cinema goers.
X-MEN Origins Wolverine (2009) – Watching Logan and his brother through time was an amazing way to convey their longevity and the operatic voices and classical music that underscore the sequence from the US civil War through World War 1 & 2 and then Vietnam was as good as this film got. If the whole movie had been this sequence I think I would have enjoyed it more but a frankly rubbish Ryan Reynolds and more terrible Taylor Kitsch saw that this was the final claw in the coffin.
Midlands Movies Mike