"To me, the opening credits are very important, because that's the only mood time that most movies give themselves. A cool credit sequence and the music that plays in front of it, or note played, or any music, whatever you decide to do, that sets the tone for the movie that's important for you."
- Quentin Tarantino
From the booklet of the soundtrack-collection:
Last year, on celebrating the third anniversary of my blog, I posted my top 10 favorite opening sequences of all time. But at the time, I made a mistake. The opening credits sequence (not the sequence opening the film) for the movie Se7en is so incredible, I was blind-sided into listing it as a favorite opening sequence. But then this year I thought, how about for Mo-View's fourth anniversary, I list my top 10 favorite opening credits sequences?
So here's the list, with the accompanying clip. Similar to any top 10 list, I had to exclude some beautiful title sequences to filter it down to my top ten. The majority (but not all) are powerful films, and in most instances, the opening title sequence is almost on par with (or even better than) the film itself. The most basic elements that make these sequences great, are how the printed words have a life of their own in defining the filmand its characters, and of course, how the soundtrack is an inseparable and fortifying component of the sequence.
(Side-note: In case you're interested in some blog stats from the past four years: more than 650 films have been reviewed so far, and my this year's entry on Roger Ebert's passing, Roger ... and Me, has had the highest number of page-views, significantly ahead of the next four highest viewed entries, Prometheus, The Human Centipede, Star Trek Into Darkness, and About Elly - in that order. Yeah, I just can't seem to get rid of The Human Centipede.)
So here we go: my top 10 favorite opening credits sequences of all time, in alphabetical order:
1. Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991)
When it comes to opening credits, any favorites list would be incomplete without the name Saul Bass. He's created some of the most iconic title sequences in movie history, most famously for Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho, and Spartacus and Alien, to name a few), but one of my favorites is his work for Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear. Here, similar to Psycho, he uses lines through fractured words to imply the fractured mind of the movie's main character/villain. And even though Bernard Hermann (Hitchcock's usual composer) wrote the soundtrack for both movies, the effect here is significantly more menacing:
2. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
How can one talk about title sequences, without mentioning a James Bond movie? There must be many favorites out there, but when it came to Casino Royale, the plan was to redefine the entire franchise, and that included the opening credits. The movie uses the thrill of casinos and playing cards as its setting - watch here how they use spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs to tell a story. I never thought any of the Bond movie title sequences before this reached such heights:
3. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
Spike Lee has said and done weird things before, but this was one of his weirdest. Rosie Perez angrily dances (never thought you could use both those words in the same sentence) to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power". There are tales about how Lee intentionally tried to make Perez angry, by keeping up the heat in the studio and repeating the shots several times. You can see how frustrated Perez is - at one point it's almost as though she wants to quit. Watching this, you almost want to get up and revolt. In other words, the sequence works.
(Look for the name of a once-obscure actor, who more than twenty years later played the main villain in a famous TV series, and look at how the sequence at the end cuts to the lips of an unknown actor named Samuel L. Jackson.)
4. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
I believe this sad Frankenstein love story is Tim Burton's best movie so far, this is Danny Elfman's best music ever, and this title sequence is the best such an heavenly collaboration can produce. It's intriguing when a movie's credit sequence somehow involves the studio logo also - you'll never forget Edward Scissorhands was made by 20th Century Fox. But feel the Gothic setting, and look at those words: they're all scissors. And look how the sequence ends with the dead face of one of horror's greatest actors.
5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
Well, on this one, Ennio Morricone's music prevails. I mean, give the guy credit: creating an entire soundtrack based on the cry of a coyote, is legend material. Yes, articles have been written about the humbleness of its great director, who canon blasts his own name at the end of the sequence. But similar to how Walt Disney means cartoons, or Bill Gates means computers, just play those first few notes of music, and everybody knows it means "Western".
6. Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978)
What?! Grease?!!! Just watch. Doesn't this clip convey some good old hassle-free irresponsible days of the 50s? And isn't that what the entire movie is about? Oh, and that beautiful song, sung by Franki Valli, written by the great Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. Perfect.
7. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
Again, Saul Bass, and again, lines. But this time, intersecting lines create a framework to imply the convoluted structure of the story. Or do they? Wait till the end. These are not just intersecting lines ... they're the United Nations building! Hitchcock had the common theme of "mistaken identity" in many of his best movies, and look how Saul Bass was able to convey that theme, even before the movie starts.
8. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
The images speak for themselves.
9. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
There are many great horror movies out there. But there are rarely horror movies that are creepy from the very first seconds. And Kubrick achieved that. A soundtrack of Berlioz' "Dies Irae", out-of-reach ascending credits, and "God's eye" swooping helicopter shots hovering over a tiny Volkswagen ... and passing over it. The passengers' situation is out of our control, and their fate is sealed. We know they're doomed.
This is a title sequence that never gets old. Just look at the names: Marlon Brando. Gene Hackman. Mario Puzo. And of course, John Williams. Oh, that music. It makes the swooooshing names fly so gallantly into the infinite of space. What an incredible, powerful opening to a great movie. What an incredible start to the everlasting superhero genre. If I were to pick my all-time favorite title sequence, this would be it.