Sunday, September 15, 2013

On My Fourth Birthday

"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.

10. Superman (Richard Donner, 1979)

This is a title sequence that never gets old. Just look at the names: Marlon BrandoGene HackmanMario 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.


  1. Happy 4th Birthday. May the forth be with you !
    I can't believe that you didn't put one of the most beautiful opening credit sequences of all time ? I'm so curious to know why ...A long time ago in a galaxy far , far away....
    BTW, thanks for beautiful selection and thanks for not asking us to share our opinion! since I just spent more than 1 hour to read , I guess it takes a week to provide mine!but I'm sure the superman is undoubtedly one of them.

    1. May the "forth" be with you! I love it!

      Actually, I knew someone was going to question why I didn't list "Star Wars". The reason is obvious: "Star Wars" has no opening credits! Of course, there is a famous opening "crawl" for each film, but there's no mention of cast and crew as credits. Actually, I believe George Lucas was kicked out of the Director's Guild at the time for not following the rule of introducing the cast and crew at the beginning of a movie.

      And yes, I didn't ask for readers' opinions, for exactly the reason you mentioned: Out of respect for your time. But if you have time to add your own favorites, I would love to read/see/hear them.

  2. WOW....very interesting point !I didn't get that. How genius and innovative this man is ..even his credits were different .thanks for explanation.
    And my great pleasure to bring my list !see you next week!

  3. Here you are . This is my list. 9 movie plus Superman you mentioned already .( How could you do such a Terrible task! I didn't know from where I should start?!!)

    1. Gone with the wind :
    Three elements of this opening credits are : 1. the entrance of title from the left to right slowly and smoothly ,2. the beautiful cinematography of iconic locations including Tara, twelve oaks,... and finally a manuscript which briefly illustrates the main plot of Civil War and the origin of Title which is rarely clarified or narrated in the movies from the first moment.

    2. Breakfast at Tiffany's

    A mysterious girl in the very early hours in the morning gets off the taxi and makes her way to famous Jewelry Tiffani store just for window-shopping. She wears a elegant dress,strangely sun-glass & stunning jewelry , seems she comes back from a night-party or date , while simply eats her breakfast in front of the closed store and eagerly watches its jewelry ,then slowly find her way to her small apartment when an intrusive guy(Micky Rooney )is waiting for her!

    The anxiety of female character by the movement of eyes…..characteristics of a thriller-suspense. “Live action & graphics Designed by Saul Bass He is considered by many to be a pioneer of modern title design Bass’ style was unique and iconic”

    4.Taxi Driver

    The yellow taxi cab enter through stream beautifully, with close up on the face of Travis which gives audience a perspective about a character who is looking around steady and thoughtfully which is not clear he is supposed to be villain or her of the story….

    5.Forrest Gump
    The shot is pointing in the sky with a feather fall slowly and long shot following it ,until final destination which is on the ground ,where the main character sit on a bench and camera stops on the face of Tom Hanks.

    No more comment just as Trivia : The dancing feet in the opening credit sequence contained many of the cast and crew. Over 150 different pairs of feet were shot.

    7.Terminator 2
    ...the wall of fire captures audience ….everything will be destroyed , the image of the future that John Conner has to prevent ... the peak of the scene along with music, when the skeleton of red eye comes out from fire and just stares us . Gorgeous opening scene among Sci-Fic pics.

    8.A Fistful Of Dollars
    And as a reminding of one of the most lifelong collaboration between 2 old classmates in Cinema , let me add this opening scene of another Spaghetti western like you to my list! wrap up ,I would like to mention this memorable Journey from New York to New Jersey ,as a nice memorial to James Goldelfini …look at this site how he draw the map of the road!

    1. Thanks for the great list. Few points that came to mind:

      1. I haven't seen Breakfast at Tiffany's yet! I once started watching, but was bored after a few minutes and stopped. Okay, okay - I'll put it on my queue!

      2. I remember once reading the opening credits of Taxi Driver looks like Bickle is driving a tank through the misty streets of New York. He's a soldier on a mission.

      3. The first time watching that feather flying through the air and dropping at Forrest Gump's feet, I was amazed how beautifully CGI effects were being used. How naive I was ...

      4. Using The Sopranos opening credits was cheating! That's TV! But still, I loved the description of Tony's path. Thanks.

  4. I never saw any word of" movies" in your titles:

    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 we go: my top 10 favorite opening credits sequences of all time, in alphabetical order:

    So I'm not cheater!!;-)
    Anyway ,I started Breaking bad yesterday. Seems another storm came up among fans about ending. The story of Soprano again repeated.ya?

    1. Okay; you win - I didn't specify movies.


      And yes! Breaking Bad ended two nights ago, and it's definitely as entertaining as The Sopranos, although different. Very highly recommended.