50 brilliant movie opening credits sequences

Odd List Jenny Morrill Alex Carter 27 Jun 2014 - 06:49

From a range of eras and genres, here's Jenny and Alex's light-hearted pick of 50 great opening title sequences from the movies...

We don’t go to the cinema much, because we hate people. We also don’t go because there’s always the risk of accidentally going to see the wrong film. It's not helped by the fact that there's no way of telling until it’s too late, because there are no bloody opening credits on lots of modern films. And by the time you do realise, you’ve eaten all your popcorn and you can’t be bothered to move.

The movies on this list won’t give you that problem. These opening credits are perfect scene setters for the movies that follow, so you won’t have to worry about awkward popcorn wasting moments. It's not a top 50, rather a selection of 50 interesting credits sequences, some chosen by Jenny and some by Alex. So here we go...

1984 (1984)

I’m going to assume everyone reading this knows the basic plot of 1984. Polite society demands that you do.

We begin the opening credits as the daily two minutes’ hate is finishing, leading into the broadcast of the national anthem - Oceania, ‘Tis For Thee. The national anthem is an uplifting tune, full of optimism, yet you feel all hope for humanity drain out of you as you hear it. The credits roll over an image of Big Brother that fills the screen, cutting back to the near hysterical frenzy that his picture evokes in the brainwashed crowd, leading to an unsettling feeling that remains throughout the film. (JM)

Did you know: Roger Deakins was responsible for the beautifully lit, bleached-out cinematography. Director Michael Radford had originally approached Sean Connery for the role of O'Brien, but the part ultimately went to Richard Burton.

The Adventures Of Tintin (2011)

There’s something to be said about a character that can be identified solely by the silhouette of his hair. Especially when he’s running around through a montage of everything you could think of from the 1940s. I’m glad they didn’t make him all modern and gritty by giving him an ex-wife and an alcohol problem. (AC)

Did you know: this was Steven Spielberg's first 3D movie, and composer John Williams' first animated film.

Airheads (1994)

No one under the age of 20 will have any idea what’s going on in these credits. Reels of tape! Boom boxes! Compact discs! Stop motion animation! Mixing desks! Real instruments! If there’s one thing I like it’s excluding young people from society, although ironically this time it’s being done through the medium of rock ‘n’ roll. I feel old now, I need a Solpadine. (AC)

Did you know: Airheads was the last film to use the old 20th Century Fox logo from the 80s. A new CGI logo made its debut in Fox's next film, The Scout.

Alien (1979)

The pieces of the title slowly come together with an indescribable menace. I’m not entirely sure how five letters can be scary, but with that animation over one of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest scores, they damn well are. No wonder Prometheus tried the same trick. (AC)

Did you know: This title sequence was designed by Richard Greenberg, who'd previously created the opening titles for Superman (1978).

Amelie (2001)

This sweet, quirky title sequence shows Audrey Tautou's introverted heroine as a child. A girl with overprotective parents, and consequently no friends, Amelie is introduced to us via a montage of the different ways her childhood self fills her time. It's through this montage that we catch a glimpse of her imagination at work, giving us an idea of what the grown-up Amelie will be like as a character. (JM)

Did you know: Amelie was originally written specifically for actress Emily Watson. She was replaced by Audrey Tautou when a mixture of conflicting schedules and a poor grasp of French ruled Watson out.

Back To The Future (1985)

Few credits scenes set up so much with so little as this. A long pan around Doc Brown’s garage-cum-lab tells you everything you need to know about the upcoming two hours. Doc Brown is a mad scientist preoccupied by time, gadgets, pining for a lost relevance. Also he’s stolen a load of plutonium which has made him a few enemies. Not bad for an almost wordless minute. (AC)

Did you know: The opening sequence contains references to The Time Machine (1960) and Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! (1923) - the latter referenced again when Doc Brown hangs off the clock tower in 1955.

Barbarella (1968)

Hey, this is nice. Swinging 60s soundtrack, kitsch sci-fi decor. Oh look, it’s zero-g, guess she’s in space. That’s a nice wire effect. Okay, so she’s slipping into something more comfortable, that’s cool, I guess it’s going to be a bit light hearted and… oh my. Ahem.

I need another Solpadine. (AC)

Did you know: In the (probably NSFW) sequence above, Jane Fonda isn't suspended in mid-air, but actually lying on a sheet of glass. You can see the reflection in one or two shots.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)

Say what you like about The Twilight Saga (and, er, many have), but you can't knock the movies’ opening credits when it comes to setting the mood. This is particularly true for the final film in the series, as it brings together elements from all the previous films to make one conclusive whole. A medley of all the previous Twilight scores serve as a musical recap, akin to saying 'Previously on The Twilight Saga...' Visually, the credits show various parts of picturesque landscapes turning to ice, alluding to Bella’s transformation into a vampire. And also to the fact that it’s pretty cold in Washington. Probably. (JM)

Did you know: This was the only Twilight movie to feature a full opening credits sequence.

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)

As Celine Dion’s All By Myself plays, Bridget sits alone on her sofa, a drunken, chain smoking lady tramp in pyjamas. After checking her answerphone and confirming that, yet again, she has no messages, Bridget downs half a pint of red wine in one go, and begins to tearfully lip synch to Ms Dion. This culminates in a full on Grammy worthy performance, using a rolled up magazine as a microphone.

We’ve all been in Bridget’s position at some point. And if you’ve never been in that position, know that I'm glaring at you right now. (JM)

Did you know: Originally released by Eric Carmen in 1975, All By Myself has been covered numerous times by artists including Tom Jones, Eartha Kitt, Frank Sinatra and the irrepressible John Barrowman. Eddie Murphy also covered it in Shrek 2.

Caligula (1979)

Gore Vidal’s controversial depiction of the Roman Emperor’s descent into madness begins with a simple yet effective visual - Caligula immortalised in a Roman coin. Slowly, the likeness begins to cry tears of blood, accompanied by Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet. Ominous, passionate, and a bit insane. (JM)

Did you know: Caligula was banned in Russia until 1993, and is still banned in Belarus.

Clerks (1994)

Your life sucks. You hate your job, and your boss has just phoned to guilt trip you into working on your day off. Do you:

A) Whine like a bitch
B) Try to argue with your boss but ultimately fail
C) Go to work in a huff and open the shop, all the while cursing your sham of a life

If you answered D) All of the above, congratulations! You are Dante, star of one of the best loved cult films of a generation. We are proud to watch you performing your morning drudgery and then having to stink of shoe polish for the rest of the day.

The beauty of these credits lies in how ordinary they are. The collection of Dante’s mundane morning chores, such as attempting to make coffee with no clean cups, putting on his boots, unlocking the shop and putting out the morning papers, perfectly show the start of what is going to be a very average day in his life. You might think there’s a twist and that the day will contain explosions and peril, but no. Mostly it’s just Dante being slightly annoyed in the shop. These credits are a double bluff because they show the beginning of an average day which just goes on to be an average day; they don’t feel the need to build up suspense. (JM)

Did you know: Kevin Smith shot Clerks for less than $30,000 at the store he used to work at.

Days Of Thunder (1990)

The opening synth arpeggios. The chorus on the bass. The electric pianos. The sheer testosterone pouring out of every pixel. Even if it was made in 1990, I dare you to find a more 80s opening than this. (AC)

Did you know: The production of Days Of Thunder was so chaotic that pages of the script were often being made on the spot during filming. Tom Cruise suffered a minor car accident because he was trying to read his lines from cue cards on the dashboard while driving around the track.

Disney’s Robin Hood (1973)

We fought over which Disney credits to include in this list. Alex argued in favour of this, while I lobbied for The Lion King. However, his argument was so eloquent and persuasive that I had to relent :

“But look (hic) – small animals! That's so British! And (hic) another thing....”

I never did get to find out what the other thing was, since Alex had drunk quite a lot of whiskey by this point. I think he might have started mumbling about Pot Noodles.

Drunken rambling aside, these credits are very British, because Britishness means not getting too carried away with things. As such, we have a simple, cheerful whistling tune playing over the characters being introduced one by one. The characters aren’t punching things (men) or standing there in their bras (women), they’re just cooking knitting, or going for a nice walk. Perfect. (JM)

Did you know: To save money, animators referenced scenes from earlier Disney films: Snow White, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats.

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

These credits make me want to do naughty things. They make me want to smear dog poo on the furniture and write 'Mother sucks' on the carpet. A series of childish crayon scribbles depict iconic things from the film, such as vodka and pants pie (which explodes all over Elizabeth’s bullying mother). The movie’s antagonist, smarmy love rat Charles, is drawn with devil horns and missing teeth. The credits show other childishly anarchic things like assaulting someone with a pair of stinking socks, and attempting to play a piano with a hammer.

With their deceptively simple, childlike animation style, these credits look like even I, hopeless artist that I am, could have made them, and that is part of their charm. (JM)

Did you know: Robin Williams was offered the role of Fred, while Tim Burton was given the chance to direct. Both turned the film down.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Much like the movie itself, the credits here satirise the newsreels of the day with their stock footage of bombers calmly going about their business. In fact, if it weren’t for the music then you’d easily think this was just a set of stock footage. But the serene music is creepy by its inappropriateness, along with the idiosyncratic credits themselves.

Watching these credits is like being stuck in a lift during a nuclear war, reading lovely hand written notes on a paper aeroplane, written by a child with no sense of scale whatsoever. It’s all rather soothing. (AC)

Did you know: The opening titles were designed by Pablo Ferro. The hand-written style was originally intended as a thumbnail sketch by Ferro, but Kubrick liked it so much that he insisted it be used in the finished picture. Ferro's other film titles include Bullitt, Beetlejuice, The Thomas Crowne Affair and To Live And Die In LA.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

You would be forgiven for not thinking Eternal Sunshine has opening credits at all, coming as they do 17 minutes into the film. However, by using the audience expectation that the credits always come first, we can identify this as being chronologically the first scene. It is also subversive, as despite being chronologically the first, it also takes place after the bulk of the story. Don’t worry, this does make sense when you see the full film. (AC)

Did you know: Nic Cage was in the running for the lead role before Jim Carrey stepped in.

Feed (2005)

Cherish by The Association plays happily on the car stereo, while our hero rolls along to the drive thru in his car, looking very much like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Perhaps he’s daydreaming about the woman he loves? The background song would certainly suggest that. Wait, how many burgers is he buying? 20? Maybe he’s very hungry. And what’s happened to the lovely music? Oh, there it is again, and there goes our hero, taking lunch to his beloved. The house looks to be in disrepair; perhaps his girlfriend is ill. Aww, that’s nice, he’s taking lunch to his ill, bedridden girlfriend, I...oh. (JM)

Did you know: Directed by Brett Leonard, whose previous films included the cyber thrillers Virtuosity and The Lawnmower Man.

Gattaca (1997)

Falling, out of focus objects might not sound the most interesting sequence, but Gattaca's opening slowly builds, adding mystery before revealing the source: these are skin flakes and hairs. Whoever is doing this really wants to scrub something away, and just what’s really contained in all that human detritus will become the overriding theme of the film. It’s remarkably effective. (AC)

Did you know: Gattaca's opening titles were designed by Michael Riley, who also created the titles for Kung Fu Panda.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher films tend to have excellent opening credits sequences (see also: Panic Room). In the case of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, they're gritty, futuristic, and visually spectacular. If pushed to describe them in one sentence, I'd say 'A Bjork video crossed with the Castrol GTX advert from the 80s'. (JM)

Did you know: Director David Fincher intended the opening sequence to be the "personal nightmare" of character Lisbeth Salander.

Godzilla (2014)

Now this is most unusual, a modern blockbuster not only with a credit sequence, but a credit sequence with a unique design that actually moves the narrative forward. There are nuclear weapons, and something very secret has happened, and if you’re very quick you might just catch a glimpse. Tantalisation and interactivity are just two of the things any teenage boy hopes for in the back row of a cinema, but I bet none of them thought it would be delivered quite this way. (AC)

Did you know: According to director Gareth Edwards, the title sequence for Godzilla was envisioned as a prologue. When it was deemed too much for the start of the film, it was reinvisioned as the title sequence, with the idea of the redacted text inspired by the opening of Oliver Stone's film, JFK.

Good Burger (1997)

The prospect of watching Good Burger should fill any sane human being with abject terror. However, might I suggest at least watching the opening credits? The title occurs over a rather bizarre animation of the world’s most indecisive burger which is about the most 90s thing you’ll ever see. Not interesting? Okay, well what is interesting is that the credits themselves take place over a scene where Kenan (or is it Kel? Meh, no one cares) showers with his clothes on singing utter gibberish, followed by him dragging some poor girl through the road, banging her head violently on the concrete as she goes. Unwise, unintelligible and painful are the best descriptors for this film you could get. Thanks credits! (AC)

Did you know: Good Burger's premise originated from a brief sketch of the same name from the Nickelodeon comedy series, All That.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

Few scores so perfectly sum up an entire genre, but I dare you to try imagining a western without whistling this theme. This synergises perfectly with the credits themselves, that look like they could have been painted on the side of a stagecoach, and then covered with the gunshot-liberated blood of your enemies. Failing that, you could always just mime along with the gun noises, although I tried doing that in Tesco once and people give you funny looks if you try to do that and you’re over the age of five. (AC)

Did you know: The film's titles were created by the Italian artist and designer, Iginio Lardani, who created the opening sequences for all three Dollars films. He made most of them from his house in Rome.

The Graduate (1967)

Dustin Hoffman's bleak, staring, motionless ride on an airport travelator is the perfect accompaniment to Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound Of Silence. I am bored with the world. Move along, nothing left to see here. (JM)

Did you know: Mike Nichols became the first movie director to be paid a flat salary of $1m for The Graduate.

Grease (1978)

Grease's opening reminds me of an animated version of Viz, only without all the dirty jokes. It takes time to introduce every single character with a little insightful vignette, all to Frankie Valli’s Grease. Despite the surprisingly dated 70s animation, this holds up by the way it so perfectly sets the scene - it’s the 50s and we love it, we just want to take the piss ever so slightly. (AC)

Did you know: The opening credits to Grease were created by animator John Wilson, whose other work included The Lady And The Tramp.

Halloween (1978)

Imagine watching this opening in a movie theatre. The titles begin, telling you through the medium of panicky music that you really should get the hell out of there. And in between each credit there is that endless blackness, punctuated only by that godawful pumpkin. Look, he’s laughing at you. By the time the first scene begins, a part of you has become convinced that the movie is actually coming to kill you in real life. Maybe you should have just gone to Wimpy instead. (JM)

Did you know: John Carpenter's unforgettable title music is in 5/4 time, an unusual signature his father taught him. The music's unfamiliar rhythm is used specifically, Carpenter said, because its cyclical natures unnerves the viewer: "You don't know where it begins or ends..."

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