Spring is upon us, and what better way to celebrate the beginning of brighter days than to celebrate the best film beginnings of all time! Check back all month long as we look at the films with the best beginnings.
The title sequence for a film is more than a bunch of letters spelling words on a screen. A title sequence is an opportunity for a filmmaker to grab the attention of his or her audience. It’s an ideal spot to introduce musical themes, set a stylistic tone, or establish a directorial style. During the opening titles a filmmaker has the opportunity to explain a backstory, show a flashback, or even dictate the setting to the audience. It’s often the first opportunity to greet the viewer and either invite them to experience the film or establish a boundary for them to overcome.
To achieve all of this, the design of the title sequence is important. The text, colors, music, speed, and presentation will all impact the audience’s’ initial appreciation of the film they are watching. It’s more than just giving credit to the actors and producers. For many, it’s a form of art, and sometimes the title sequence can be the highlight of a film. Throughout the history of film, there have been artists who have made a name for themselves because of their knack to create amazing title sequences. Names like Saul Bass, Kyle Cooper, Maurice Binder, and Pablo Ferro became famous for their art-like approach to crafting title sequences. Filmmakers such as David Fincher, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, and Jean-Luc Godard are famous for putting extra emphasis in the title sequences of their films, often hiring experts for the task.
Our list picks some of the most successful, and as a result, most famous title sequences to ever be seen in film. For filmmakers that have consistently excellent title sequences, we chose the best one in order to try provide as much variety as possible for our list. First, let’s take a look at a few excellent title sequences which we felt guilty for leaving out of the top ten (in no particular order):
Total Recall (1990)
Title sequence unavailable in a sharable format.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Title sequence unavailable in a sharable format.
Made in U.S.A. (1966)
Lord of War (2005)
That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976)
Walk on the Wild Side (1962)
AND NOW THE TEN BEST:
10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Why is it top ten? At first glance, it looks a bit simplistic. Black background with white text. Ominous music sets a tone. Is this really a Monty Python film? Suddenly, you begin to see small text below the main titles. It’s odd at first, and then a bit silly. Then you notice the main text getting sillier, progressively more funny. Moose incidents are retold, Richard Nixon assures us the fictitious quality of the film you are about to watch. It’s establishing a tone while also making fun of the traditional vanilla title sequence often seen in serious films. The fact that these opening titles are one of the funniest parts of one of the funniest films ever made is proof that this sequence deserves to be on this list.
9. Se7en (1995)
Why is it top ten? This is a great collaboration between David Fincher and Kyle Cooper. David Fincher as a filmmaker has some very impressive title sequences in his films. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fight Club, and Zodiac all have title sequences that could have appeared on this list. Cooper, meanwhile has made a name for himself as a new-era title designer. He is perhaps the most prolific title designer in contemporary film, and his creativity combined with Fincher’s style makes this title sequence a must-watch. First, there is a lot of detail, including many props specially created for this sequence. There is a lot of text that catches the eye and adds intrigue, and it’s filmed to be seen clearly despite the jittery and quick frames. All of this detail provides additional details and hints regarding the story. On top of the excellent visual texture, there is the music. A Nine Inch Nails remix creates the perfect creepy tone for both the images being witnessed in this title sequence and the film about to take place.
8. Catch Me if You Can (2002)
Why is it top ten? As you will see with the higher entries on this list, the 1960’s was the era of great artistic title sequences for film. Catch Me If You Can takes that type of stylistic approach, and adapts it for the 21st century. It not only fits into the time period in which the film itself takes place, but this title sequence perfectly matches the overall tone of the film. It’s crisp, clean, and most importantly, simple. With the advent of CGI in film, many title sequences have become overwrought spectacles that overwhelm the audience into thinking the film will be more exciting than it actually is. This one matches the charm and the entertainment value of its feature film perfectly. It also has a catchy, memorable song that is applied perfectly.
7. Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
Why is it top ten? How can it not be? This is a title sequence that really built on what had come before in order to become something awesome and define an era. Based on the Pink Panther shorts, and indeed the previous Pink Panther animated title sequences, this one went for style and really hit it out of the park. To start with, it was created by Richard Williams, who would go on to create one of the most innovative animated films of all time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Williams was able to add color, shading, and detailed backdrops in order to create the illusion of depth, which made the sequence really come alive. He built on what he had done in previous animated title sequences including the one from What’s New Pussycat? (1965). The classic music only helped to make it one of the most timeless title sequences, one which surely influenced the creators of #8 on this list (among other films).
6. Enter the Void (2009)
Why is it top ten? Typeface work is extremely important in title sequences, and this is one sequence where it is all about the typeface. Colors, sizes, fonts, even different languages work together to pour a ton of information on the audience all at once. Colors and words flash by in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t matter much if you can’t catch up. It’s supposed to be overwhelming, brilliantly setting the tone of the film amongst the busy nightlife of a crowded city. The concept is elegantly simple, taking the traditional title sequence and turning it up to “11”. This also one of the films on this list where this sequence is arguably better than the film itself. It’s a strong opening that really captures the attention of the audience with the creativity of its concept and the impact of the music.
5. The Shining (1980)
Why is it top ten? Honestly, at first glimpse, it might seem like a mistake. This title sequence seems very simple. A helicopter flyby. A monotonous score. Blue text. But all of these elements work together in an almost mesmerizing, unsuspicious way. That’s what makes this title sequence one of the best ever made. It sneaks up on you. It’s slowly haunting, just like the film itself. The music seeps into your mind. The motion of the camera is captivating and shows direction. The text scrolling up across the screen is disjointing in comparison. The scenery is beautiful, but the feeling is not. This is also a great example of how Kubrick really knew the importance of starting his films off memorably. Nearly all of them feature strong opening shots and title sequences (we will explore a few of these in upcoming articles).
4. The Good The Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Why is it top ten? An easily recognizable song and a style that can only belong to spaghetti westerns make this title sequence one of the most impressive of all time. It carries on the style of the title sequences in previous films in the series, but updates them and expands on the ideas they presented. In doing so, the film is playing homage to what has come before, but by is also pushing to new places, grabbing the attention of fans and first-time viewers. It’s an excellent example of how animated title sequences are the most impressive style. The colors and high contrast really capture the audience’s’ attention while highlighting the awesome typeface work. This sequence is also really well executed. Despite being created by good old fashioned paint and film chemistry, it feels more contemporary than that. This is a sequence that doesn’t feel dated 50 YEARS LATER, even if the film itself does.
3. Watchmen (2009)
Why is it top ten? Unlike a typical title sequence, this one tells a story. Not only is it necessary to understand the setting of the film, but it saves screen time for actual storytelling. This story-within-a-story is absolutely necessary for the film to work properly. Without an efficient and effective way to lay the foundation on which the film builds, it would not have had the same depth or attitude.The contrast to our own history is something that catches the eye and engages the audience, while the music and imagery work to evoke an emotional response. Framing the sequence as a set of slow-motion photographs/moments makes it apparent that this is the past while the motion makes it feel alive and real.
2. Dr. No (1962)
Why is it top ten? The James Bond franchise is known for many things, and one of those things is their unique title sequences. Right from the beginning, the James Bond franchise made sure that its films caught the attention of their audiences immediately with flashy title sequences. Thanks to Maurice Binder, the first few films set the high-production value and artistic style that all the later films would follow. The title sequence from Dr. No, the first Bond film, may not be the best (we rated them from worst to best, here) or most exciting, but it is an iconic creation as it set the tone for what would become the most famous set of title sequences in film history. Dancing women, imagery from their respective films, and unique theme songs became the norm for the franchise’s 6-decade run. This one introduced the main Bond theme against a colorful, and creative animation that fit in well with the 60’s movie title sequence heyday.
1. Vertigo (1958)
Why is it the best ever? Alfred Hitchcock was one of those directors that always seemed to have great title sequences in his films. This one is simply the best of one of the filmmaker with the best title sequences. Not only is this title sequence interesting to watch but there is meaning behind it. The entire sequence is almost a mini summary of the film itself, featuring one of the main characters and echoing Hitchcock’s twirling camerawork to tie everything together. Like all good title sequences, this one sets a mood for the film with its music and visuals. The cool colored spirals represent an early type of computer animation in film and the expanding text is flawlessly executed. This is simply a title sequence that will never age and always has the same impact no matter how many times you have seen it.
Join us next week as we celebrate more excellent film beginnings.