15 Great Modern TV Title Sequences

Check out some of our favorite TV themes and title sequences from the last decade...

What makes a great title sequence? There are numerous shows with fantastic theme songs (Red Dwarf), evolving sequences (Fringe), handy introductions to the show (Once Upon A Time) or humour (Futurama). But for a truly great title sequence, all these things have to come together with an added splash of sheer invention and creativity, resulting in a sequence that perfectly expresses the spirit of the show (preferably without inducing headaches or nausea – Homeland has a brilliantly inventive title sequence that, unfortunately, can be physically uncomfortable to watch). Any sequence that simply shows clips of the actors in character, no matter how well acted or artistically put together, will not make the cut here.

The sequences in this list all stand out because theme song, imagery and mood have all come together perfectly to introduce viewers to the theme and tone of the show, and because to that perfect combination is added an extra spark of unpredictable brilliance.

Because there are so many great title sequences out there, this list focuses on the last ten years or so. There just isn’t room in one fairly short article for all the great title sequences television has produced over the last 70 years or so!

15. Les Revenants / The Returned

Music: Original theme by Mogwai.

Format: Montage of slow-motion images.

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Mood: Eerie.

How does it reflect the show?

Les Revenants is one of those shows that is partly built on a sense of place. The cold, industrial architecture of the small town in which the characters often seem trapped is contrasted with the wilder beauty of the surrounding mountains in a way that creates a very specific, slightly strange atmosphere often found in industrialised yet still rural mountain towns. The title sequence shows off this contrast to great effect, while also balancing images of life and death, never more obviously than in the shot of a young couple lying next to some graves. But it’s the moments of weirdness that you don’t even necessarily notice the first time around that put it on this list – particularly the reflections of children playing in a puddle of water who don’t appear to exist above the puddle.

14. Fringe

Music: Original theme by JJ Abrams.

Format: Animation.

Mood: Mysterious.

How does it reflect the show?

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Fringe’s opening credits, much like the show itself, started out as an effective but not overly original X-Files homage. However, much like the show, the opening credits evolved over the course of the series to reflect changes in plot, setting and tone. Season 2 first introduced a new credit sequence in the brilliant 1980s-styled opening to “Peter,” as well as subtly altering the floating words telling us which branches of “fringe science” we should expect to see. But it was in Season 3 that the series started to use small alterations to the credit sequence to tell us which universe we were in, culminating in the brilliant title sequence first seen in Season 4’s “Letters of Transit’ and used throughout Season 5. This sequence throws us into a chilling new world in which “fringe science” now consists of concepts like “individuality,” “imagination” and “free will” and human beings are penned in to a barbed-wire surrounded prison camp. Fringe changed more over five seasons than most shows might in ten, but the sense of continuity within that change provided by the title sequence helped to remind viewers of the show’s history throughout its run.

13. iZombie

Music: “Stop, I’m Already Dead” by Deadboy and the Elephantmen.

Format: Animation.

Mood: Colourful.

How does it reflect the show?

Lots of shows use their opening credits sequence to provide a quick recap of the set-up – iZombie isn’t even the only zombie show to do so. But it makes the list for the combination of exposition and comic-book-style presentation that effectively transmits a fair amount of information in a fun, informative and mood-setting way. Reflecting the series’ comic-book origins, the title sequence was designed by comics artist Mike Allred and, combined with Deadboy and the Elephantmen’s usefully titled track “Stop, I’m Already Dead” neatly encapsulates the blackly humorous tone of the show.

12. Elementary

Music: Original theme by Sean Callery.

Format: Live action, but featuring no actors.

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Mood: Intellectual.

How does it reflect the show?

Elementary needs to strike a balance between reflecting the Sherlock Holmes stories by which it’s inspired and appearing modern and fresh, and this title sequence does a good job of just that. The music is a little bit Victorian, a little bit modern and a little bit like the theme tune for the British version, while the inanimate objects featured are modern but not too modern, the smashing glass and smashing portrait imagery violent but not too violent. The spark of invention that earns it a place on this list, though, is the use of a Rube Goldberg machine to reflect the intricate and methodical way in which Sherlock’s mind works, a process that appears extraordinary to most but is based in pure logic and mathematics.

11. Orange Is The New Black 

Music: “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor.

Format: Photo montage with occasional video.

Mood: Thoughtful.

How does it reflect the show?

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Although Orange Is The New Black was initially sold to the network as a story about Piper Chapman’s time in prison, in fact the show is a huge ensemble piece (with a cast that seems to be getting bigger all the time) about a wide variety of women in the fictional Litchfield prison, coming from a plethora of different backgrounds and of all ages. The opening credits reflect this by displaying a series of photos of women’s eyes or mouths, interspersed with images of the prison and the occasional bit of video. However, the women we see in the credits are not the actors playing characters in the show – they are 52 real women convicted of crimes in the United States, including (in one of the few moving images) Piper Kerman, the real-life inspiration for Piper Chapman and author of the non-fiction original book. The title sequence perfectly illustrates the basic point of the show – to humanise and empathise with a group of people often dismissed or marginalised by society at large, and to remind us that we are all, whatever has happened in our past, human.

10. Desperate Housewives 

Music: Original theme by Danny Elfman.

Format: Animation.

Mood: Irreverent.

How does it reflect the show?

Desperate Housewives’ opening sequence uses famous art works or styles to reflect the work of housewives from Adam and Eve onwards, culminating in a Pop Art housewife snapping and actually attacking her husband (which is mildly disturbing, to be honest) and smashing into the modern “desperate” housewives of the title. Danny Elfman is the perfect composer for the music, which has the manic, surreal air of his frequent collaborator Tim Burton’s work. The series’ irreverent tone is set by images like Mr. Arnolfi of the famous Arnolfi Portrait throwing away a banana skin, while the eternal tension between husband and wife is probably expressed best by the opening image of Adam and Eve.

9. The Big Bang Theory 

Music: “The History of Everything” (composed for the show) by the Barenaked Ladies.

Format: Photo montage.

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Mood: Fast-paced.

How does it reflect the show?

The Big Bang Theory’s opening credit sequence whizzes through all of history, with a focus on scientific and technological developments, until we smash into an image of our favourite geeks (and Penny) sitting on their couch eating takeout. Basically, it gives the impression that all of human evolution has been leading up to the eventual birth and academic work of our core group (and, er, cheesecake, represented by Penny). Sheldon would approve. The addition of Amy and Bernadette in Season 6 improves the sequence enormously by including women in a role other than Object To Be Preyed Upon By Leonard, and including women among the show’s scientific characters. Now if they could just throw in a female character with geek interests of the science fiction and fantasy variety as well as science itself, it would be nearing perfection.

8. The Simpsons 

Music: Original theme by Danny Elfman. For all your jaunty, irreverent theme music needs, contact Danny Elfman.

Format: Animation (obviously).

Mood: Slapstick.

How does it reflect the show?

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The Simpsons’ opening credit sequence, after nearly thirty years, is iconic, providing a quick, character-based introduction to the Simpsons family and keeping things fresh with varying blackboard gags and couch gags. The sequence is so famous and so central to the show that over the years it has been recreated in live action, morphed into a Game of Thrones-style sequence and guest-designed by Bansky. The title sequence was updated in 2009 to reflect Springfield’s ever-growing population and to move it into shiny HD, but it’s the simpler opener used 1990-2009 that most of us know and love.

7. Dexter

Music: Original theme by Rolfe Kent.

Format: Live action featuring the title character.

Mood: Violent.

How does it reflect the show?

Dexter’s opening sequence is a stroke of genius; a man’s morning breakfast routine, filmed in such a way as to make the whole thing appear violent and reminiscent of a murder scene. But in a light, quirky way – the jaunty theme music (not unlike the themes for Sherlock and Elementary) emphasises the blackly comic side of the show, while the dripping blood, dripping ketchup, spurting orange juice and sliced bacon emphasises the violent side. Beautifully put together and the ideal introduction to a show about a sympathetic serial killer.

6. Mad Men

Music: “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2.

Format: Animation.

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Mood: Dark.

How does it reflect the show?

Mad Men’s opening sequence is extraordinarily audacious, showing a man plunging from a high rise building (committing suicide?) and being caught James Bond-credit-sequence-style by an elegant woman’s foot. It’s extremely dark while at the same time clearly not designed for something gritty or particularly violent. The animation style perfectly captures the 1960s and 1960s-style movie credit sequences in an homage to Saul Bass’s classic style while the music suggests both 1960s sophistication and underlying darkness.

5. Rome

Music: Original theme by Jeff Beal

Format: Combined live action and animation.

Mood: Grubby.

How does it reflect the show?

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One of Rome’s selling points as a series was that it was more down and dirty than previous Roman-set shows, grubbier and more authentic, following “ordinary” as well as elite characters. The opening title sequence reflects that perfectly, using a well-known aspect of both ancient Rome and modern cities – graffiti – to demonstrate that this would be sexy, violent and down to earth. The images themselves look exotic but authentic, drawn largely from ancient myths, and there’s even a nod to the BBC’s classic I, Claudius’ opening sequence in the snake that curls across one wall. Overall, it’s a feast for the eyes focused on death and sex – just like the show.

4. The X-Files

Music: Original theme by Mark Snow.

Format: Photo montage and animation.

Mood: Spooky.

How does it reflect the show?

The X-Files came back after 21 years and its title sequence was… exactly the same. (Well, almost – the specific combination of David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Mitch Pileggi as the stars never quite came together in the original run). That’s because The X-Files’ title sequence is one of the most famous in television history, one of the earliest examples of a series of surreal images, specially produced for the title sequence rather than taken from episodes of the show, that set the mood and tone of the piece without providing any specific details (though the UFO and the mysterious phantom-like figure suggest the combination of aliens and the paranormal that would make up the series’ main subject matter). Perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but when we saw this sequence again in the opening episode of Season Ten, we got chills down our spines.

3. True Blood

Music: “Bad Things” by Jace Everett.

Format: Montage.

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Mood: Sexy.

How does it reflect the show?

These days, there are plenty of evocative title sequences combining surreal imagery and thematically appropriate music to introduce viewers to the show’s world, including the title sequences for True Detective or The Walking Dead, but while True Blood’s sequence didn’t start this trend (that honour probably belongs to Six Feet Under and the afore-mentioned The X-Files) it is surely one of the best put-together examples. This intro sequence perfectly encapsulates the mood and feel of the show while featuring only a few frames directly connected to the series, or, indeed, vampires (the “God Hates Fangs” sign). The red lips inhaling smoke towards the end that have been used in the show’s branding are the closest the sequence comes to vampiric activity, but the imagery here is much broader and beautifully evokes the South for us foreigners. Images of birth and death, light and dark and of ecstasy both sexual and religious express the mood and themes of the show in such a way that the audience knows what to expect even without vampire-specific information. And the icing on the cake is that wonderful song – what better choice could there possibly be for a show about having sex with hot vampires than a song declaring, in ultra-suggestive tones, “I wanna do bad things with you?”

2. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Music: Original song by the Gregory Brothers featuring Mike Britt.

Format: Live action.

Mood: Unbreakable.

How does it reflect the show?

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s title sequence is another that provides the title character’s backstory and the show’s set-up in the credits, but it also does so much more than that. While we start by seeing Kimmy emerge from the bunker where she has been held prisoner for all her adult life, the rest of the imagery relating to Kimmy goes back to her childhood, before she was kidnapped. The series of photos and images of a young girl are a poignant reminder that this is a woman who has not been allowed to grow up, and who also had her childhood ripped away from her – a child in a woman’s body trying to survive out in the world. All this is interspersed with one of most ear-wormy theme songs around, a parody of viral news videos produced by the same brothers who produced the real life versions and featuring comedian Mike Britt delivering the basic point of the show with perfect, auto-tuned emphasis – “females are strong as hell.”

1. Game of Thrones 

Music: Original theme by Ramin Djawadi.

Format: Animation.

Mood: Epic.

How does it reflect the show?

Game of Thrones’ title sequence fulfils an impressive double purpose, both artistic and practical, as it introduces viewers to the series’ world while providing a beautiful series of images. Programme makers, journalists and reviewers may feel the need to remind viewers almost constantly that the series operates in a very different world from The Lord of the Rings, but the opening title sequence is one part of the show that is unashamedly epic fantasy. Maps have been an essential part of sword and sorcery novels since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and both the BBC Narnia series and the Lord of the Rings films made liberal use of sweeping shots across maps of their worlds. These credits’ journey across the map of Westeros together with that pounding music and medieval-style design reassure viewers that while it may lack hobbits or marsh-wiggles, this is still high fantasy. Added to that perhaps the greatest TV theme tune of modern times, a sweeping orchestral score that takes us on a journey to a land of darkness, dragons and bloodshed the moment we hear it. All together now: “Daa daa, da da daa daa, da da daa daa, da da daa daa…”

read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know

Honourable mention: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a bit too old to be included in this list. But we couldn’t let this topic go without at least a brief mention of a title sequence so beloved that an entire generation can still rap every word twenty years later.

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