10 Great Modern Opening Title Sequences
These days, a lot of Hollywood films seem to eschew the art of the opening credits sequence. Many big movies even opt to skip throwing up a title in favor of getting straight into the action. Maybe, in some cases, you’ll get the quick flash of an iconic image or logo, as in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. And oftentimes, as with most of Marvel’s current spate of movies, you’ll get a lot more effort put into the credits at the end of the film.
Yet a proper title sequence can go a long way towards setting the mood or tone of a film. Fortunately, it’s not a lost art. Just this past May, director Gareth Edwards featured great titles for Godzilla that managed to both set a somber tone for the film, and give the big lizard himself a back story worthy of a skyscraper-sized Loch Ness Monster.
What follows are a collection of modern title sequences that truly fit the bill as cinematic art. Some will wonder why I’m leaving out iconic sequences by the legendary Saul Bass, and my personal all-time favorite title sequence, from David Fincher‘s Se7en. To be clear, I’m restricting myself to movies released during the 21st century. This list is by no means meant to be comprehensive; just a collection of personal favorites. Here they are, in chronological order:
Animated films have an inherent magical quality in their ability to construct worlds and play with visuals. The delightful title sequence for one of Pixar’s more underrated films not only foreshadows its brilliant climactic action sequence, it serves as the perfect introduction to the whimsical Monster World. Randy Newman’s upbeat, jazzy score is a winner, too.
Just because I’ve left Se7en out of this discussion, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to discuss David Fincher. In fact, his films will appear twice on this list; the man knows an epic title sequence.
The opening titles for Panic Room are great because of their elegant simplicity, and because they’ve been aped by later productions nearly as much as those for Se7en have, notably by the television series Fringe. The credits appear as giant, floating letters hovering over the city, while Howard Shore’s score strikes an ominous tone. Panic Room is widely considered one of Fincher’s weaker films, but a weak Fincher film is still a good one, and though the film is more claustrophobic than the grandeur of its titles would suggest, it’s a great exercise in sustained tension.
Steven Spielberg‘s fun, zippy, true-life caper is preceded by a wonderful credits sequence characterized by its minimalist imagery and one of the great John Williams’ best and most fun scores. Light and breezy, to accompany one of modern Spielberg’s most fun films.
Love it or hate it, with Hulk, director Ang Lee made one of the most literal attempts at bringing a comic book to life on the big screen. This is evident from the word go with the weird and off-putting opening sequence that shows how the film will play with its editing, and sets up Bruce Banner’s father as a modern-day Dr. Jekyll. With a little assistance from an immediately distinctive Danny Elfman score, this opening sequence is quite the visual trip.
While I was unable to find a high-quality version to embed here, you can view it over at Art of the Title.
The movie itself is a pretty standard, though perfectly watchable, Die Hard clone, but this title sequence is a work of art. Stark red-and-black-and-white imagery looks like it could have been a great precursor to one of Robert Rodriguez‘s Sin City films. Beautiful.
This gritty and hilarious crime caper from future billion-dollar Iron Man 3 director Shane Black features the one title sequence on this list that owes the most to the great Saul Bass. It’s a perfect fit for the film’s pulpy sensibilities, and a beautiful piece of filmmaking in its own right.
’05 was a good year for title sequences. This sequence from Andrew Niccol‘s Lord of War is so perfect, it almost makes the rest of the movie irrelevant. Take the projectile’s-eye view and watch a bullet go from manufacturing to entering a human target. Chilling.
Some great title sequences tell their own story, and the brilliant sequence that kicks off Zack Snyder‘s adaptation of the Greatest Graphic Novel of All Time sets up an alternate history where superheroes walk the earth. The beautiful slow-motion imagery set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is, alas, the best part of Snyder’s flawed, but worthwhile film.
From the moment that black ooze starts spurting and Karen O screeches out Trent Reznor’s piercing remix of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, you know David Fincher has your attention. Yet nothing in the rest of the film will make you squirm quite like this brilliantly feverish title sequence.
For many people, it’s all about the song, but it’s not just Adele belting out the title tune that makes Skyfall the best James Bond title sequence since 1995‘s GoldenEye. The frankly apocalyptic visuals foreshadow this gritty film’s epic finale, and one of the finest hours in 007’s storied history.
Juno is a film that seems to get a bit of flak nowadays from people who forget that they liked it upon its release. Certainly, it is unique, and the offbeat opening animation set to “All I Want is You” by Barry Louis Polisar suits Jason Reitman‘s quirky comedy well.
Bonus Pick #2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim‘s titles are wonderfully psychedelic and fun, but it’s really getting mentioned here for one thing: that 8-bit Universal Studios logo:
Just for completion’s sake, here’s the title sequence:
It’s a shame when movies shoot for efficiency over the art of a well-crafted title sequence, but when the right films get it, they still get it. Didn’t see a personal favorite intro on the list? Sound off in the comments below and let us know about it.