Now, because of this (or in spite of it) I feel like much of the effort spent on opening credits in most new movies is nonexistent. There’s virtually no creativity lent to the opening minutes of many films, which is a damn shame. Below are 15 films that got their opening credits right. Whether they took their time or went straight for your throat, they all set the tone perfectly.
Because there must be a Bond, and while Adele has all but won an Oscar for her stellar “Skyfall” track, on any given day, the Bond intro I’m most drawn to is Goldfinger’s. The slow drums, the rat-a-tat-tat tambourine, Shirley Bassey’s wailing voice, and, you know, the gold – it’s oh so perfectly Bond.
14. Alien (1979)
The slow fade. The puzzling images. The developing title font. And, of course, Jerry Goldsmith’s perfect, beyond creepy music. In space, no one can hear you scream. That’s damn right.
13. Psycho (1960)
Bumm-bumm bum-bum. There’s no end to my fascination for the music of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Sure, Bernard Herrmann’s defining strings during the film’s iconic shower scene get the most play, but this breezy opener sets the tone distinctly. Accompanied by Saul Bass’ simple but effectively shifting lines, you just know you’re in for something different. Revelatory, even.
12. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
As discussed and parodied an opening credits sequence as there’s ever been, there’s no arguing the cultural impact that the opening 50 seconds of Saturday Night Fever continues to have. You can’t hear “Stayin’ Alive” without thinking of the Tony Manero strut.
11. Persona (1966)
After one of the best, most eerie, most experimental opening scenes of film history, Ingmar Bergman begins his masterpiece, Persona, with a jolt. Or several. Obscure music, jump cuts of nonsensical images mixed with future stills from the film – it’s by far the most wildly fast paced moment of the slow, dreamy film. What does it all mean? Ha, who gives a shit. It’s Bergman, baby.
10. The Player (1992)
It doesn’t happen often, but there’s something so refreshing about a film equipped with a self-effacing sense of humor. Take this bravado opening to Robert Altman’s perfect Hollywood thriller. An eight-minute, unbroken shot of hotshit studio execs talking about… long opening shots to movies. Many other things are discussed as well, but no matter where you focus your attention, there’s no denying Altman’s full understanding of what he’s doing here.
9. Se7en (1995)
Really, an entire post could be dedicated to the wonderment of David Fincher’s opening credits. Seriously, how often do you actually look forward to opening credits in a film? Whether it’s Panic Room’s steely cityscape, the inside of Edward Norton’s body, or the gothic mindfuck introduction to Lisbeth Salander, Fincher never fails to grab. And as far as I’m concerned, that notion rings true most effectively in the opening credits to Se7en. If you didn’t know what you were getting into before, you damn sure do now.
8. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
It’s just so… cool, you know?
7. Memento (2001)
The first time I saw Christopher Nolan’s Memento, I didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on in its opening credits. But then I noticed something. When people are fanning an object, it’s instinctual to move the object up first, not down. When I realized the Polaroid was not only fanning down first, by slowly redeveloping, I knew that I was in for something wholly different. A remarkable and subtle little cue.
6. Funny Games (1996)
If you know anything about Michael Haneke’s films, you know that they almost always start the same: silent credits over a black screen. No sound, just printed words. All’s the same in Funny Games, until, after a few preliminary credits, we open on a family driving to their summer home, enjoying the sounds of opera. And then suddenly, without any semblance of warning, a horrendous trash/punk/garbage/screaming/fuck/metal song begins to blare over the soundtrack. The quaint family certainly isn’t hearing the music, but we surely are. And from there, it’s clear that Haneke wants us to know we’re in for on hell of a ride, and this poor family has no damn idea.
5. Vertigo (1958)
There’s a reason Saul Bass’ intro to Vertigo represents one of the most discussed and revered opening credit sequences of all time. Still, to this day, its trippy images fused with Bernard Herrmann’s hauntingly telling score never fail to unnerve. I really wish this much time was dedicated to credit sequences in contemporary movies.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
I can’t explain it, but when I’m watching a movie that is cut perfectly to a song, a chill runs down my spine, and I’m inspired beyond words. I don’t mean that the songs fits the overall mood of the film perfectly, I mean the actual, technical beats of the song are matched with cuts in editing. Or, in the case of 2001, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” synched seamlessly with the opening credits to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. A defining achievement in film.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
Quentin Tarantino tells a great story about a time he met up with his idol, Brian De Palma, and De Palma recounted a feeling he once had. He remembered when he was making Blow Out, he thought he was really onto something special, something that may represent his best movie yet. Then he went to the theater and saw Raging Bull, and during those brilliant, opening credits, he thought: “Fuck. No matter how good you think you are, there’s always fuckin’ Scorsese.” Always, indeed. (Watch QT tell the story here.)
2. Enter the Void (2009)
As far as simple (… simple, ha!) text credits go, nothing tops Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. Period. It begins with a frantic jolt of flashing orange and white that we beg to stop. When it does, we let out the briefest of exhales and then it just Fucking. Takes. Off. LFO’s “Freak” blares away, and we’re privy to a complete cluster fuck of pulsating letters. Say what you will about the film itself, nothing beats what Noé did with color and words here.
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Black screen. Silence. Slow fading credits bathed in blood red. Bernard Herrmann’s snares and horns build over the soundtrack. Fade in on a wet New York City street, smoke billowing from a sewer lid. A taxicab slowly moves through the smoke, toward the camera, straight to (or is to from?) hell. The harsh, blocky orange and yellow credits appear from over the smoke, and without warning, brass instruments cue and we cut to a pair of red, sunken eyes. Eyes that are disgusted by the scum, the dogs, the filth, the shit.
Want to know why Taxi Driver is my favorite film of all time? Here’s a damn good place to start: