A movie’s opening credits are supposed to grab your attention in a way that guarantees you’ll sit for the rest of the movie. Some do it better than others, while still others end up being better than the movie itself. It might be because the music that accompanies is spot on, the style might be particularly eye catching, or the information presented is critical later on. Whatever the reasons, these are our favorite opening movie credits.
Everything about Se7en’s opening is designed to make you uncomfortable and holy shit does it deliver. Extreme close ups, a haunting soundtrack, and a guy shaving his own fingerprints off make it feel like someone’s twisting our insides into ropes. It establishes the claustrophobia present in the rest of the movie, squeezing everyone’s sins into tight scrutiny, where no one escapes from John Doe’s terrifying psychosis. This is also the most intimate example of attention to detail we can think of in modern cinema. Details matter, and this opening proves it.
Thank You for Smoking
If you haven’t seen Thank You for Smoking, do yourself a favor and watch it. Starz subscribers can watch it whenever they want. The rest of us will have to put some effort into the search, but it’s well worth it. The movie is a great look at how people can successfully market something we all know is basically poison and the opening guides us through some of the ploys they use. Cast and crew get their names plastered over a cigarette carton while “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” plays, epitomizing the cultural marketing tobacco companies frequently employ.
What We Do in the Shadows
Norma Tanega’s “You’re Dead” so perfectly captures the spirit of What We Do in the Shadows that we’re constantly surprised the song is 50 years older than the movie. They could have been written simultaneously and for each other. The credits are relatively simple, with quick cuts establishing the past lives of the vampires and video clips of each vampire at home. We’re brought into the world of the documentary quickly, efficiently, creatively, and to a song that’s going to be stuck in our heads for roughly ten years.
Conspiracy theory history is an excellent trope in storytelling, so a title sequence that utilizes it as well as Godzilla definitely deserves a callout. The opening combines archival footage and CGI to make an excellent vignette about the real reason the United States was detonating atomic weapons in the Pacific. It also establishes the sense of scale that would dominate the movie. Godzilla may not have much screen time, but when he’s on, he has the feel of a lizard the size of a skyscraper. Normally CGI characters are difficult to make seem weighty, but Godzilla always does, even in his brief appearance in the opening credits.
There’s a lot of history you need to know to fully appreciate The Kingdom. But don’t worry. You’re not getting left out to dry. The movie opens with a well constructed, educational, engaging primer on Saudi/U.S. relations. It presents about 80 years of conflict, tying radical Islam, American foreign policy, and incredible amounts of money together in what comes off as a mess of a situation. It’s a great opening to a complex movie and establishes that the situation in the Middle East isn’t the cut and dry situation people seem to want it to be.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
The amount of comedy mined from the simple premise of The Naked Gun’s title sequence (a squad car drives places a squad car shouldn’t) is impressive. What’s more, it doesn’t get stale. Normally when jokes are ridden as long as this one, they lose their comedic edge. But the opening credits for The Naked Gun seem to know exactly where it needs to go to keep the joke feeling fresh. The car doesn’t obey any sort of traffic laws or space restrictions and goes where it pleases. It’s easy to imagine Frank Drebin driving this car, completely terrifying Priscilla Presley.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Terry Gilliam’s animation style is easily the most distinctive we’ve ever seen and including his work in everything Monty Python does gave the group a second leg up on the competition. Their show wouldn’t have been possible without Terry Gilliam filling in the gaps and giving them their unique intro. For Life of Brian, Gilliam outdid himself, sending Brian at different ages careening through Roman art and architecture, set to a song summarizing Brian’s life. It’s grander than Gilliam’s animations usually get, but then, this is also a movie about a messiah, so there’s some room to exaggerate a bit.
Zombieland is infinitely rewatchable thanks to the chemistry of the small main cast. But before we got to meet them, we were treated to a slow motion tour of the nightmare that was Zombieland. It was a disgusting clip show, where most people end up some kind of meal by the end of it. The soundtrack of it wasn’t bad either. Plus, seeing the world at the beginning satisfies our curiosity about the worldwide consequences of zombification, so we can focus on the four main characters for the rest of the movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Guardians of the Galaxy opening credits showed just how different this movie was going to be from its Earthbound counterparts. Where other Marvel movies certainly had funny parts to them, this opening proved Guardians would be closer to a straight up comedy. They play up the seriousness for a little, but as soon as Starlord starts the music and the main title appears, you know they’re not taking themselves too seriously. You could probably say the success of the movie ended up being due, in large part, to how smoothly this opening sequence transitioned from the reasonably serious tones of Iron Man, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk to the more fun-loving, ironic feeling that would define the Guardians franchise.
Pretty Much Any 007 Movie
The opening credits of the 007 franchise is as famous as the franchise itself, and we’d be willing to bet there are people out there who only care about the next James Bond movie so they can see the next title sequence. That’s totally fair too, as Bond films aren’t always the best pieces of cinema, so if people out there are marathoning titles instead of the full franchise, they’re probably having a better cumulative experience than those of us who watch the full movie.
Catch Me If You Can
The opening credits to Catch Me If You Can are an amazing ‘60s thriller on their own. They’re highly stylized, set to a great soundtrack, and incorporate people’s names into the scenes, so you’re actually reading names rather than trying to see around them. They’re clever too, designed with a lot more intelligence than your average credits. They have a natural flow to them, beautifully jumping through Frank Abagnale Jr.’s goose chase of a life. The color palette is remarkable as well. It’s vibrant and full of energy, so at the very least you get to look at pretty colors.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men Origins: Wolverine might be the saddest case of missed opportunity in superhero movie history. The opening sequence promises a movie that’s far more interesting than the one we got, with Wolverine and Sabertooth tearing it up through every war in United States history since the Civil War. It may have been expensive, but watching Logan try to understand and mitigate his brother’s descent into violent madness would have been one of the most compelling arcs possible for the character. It could have been Logan before Logan, especially if they would have greenlit the necessary R-rating.