Forget movie wallpapers and posters, it's movie title sequences that can often be the most important part of a film. Working in a similar way to a landing page for a website, movie titles set the tone, atmosphere and characters for the audience, all of which can make or break an opening scene.
The likes of Saul Bass and Kyle Cooper have set the highest of movie title standards and as you'll see from this list, many graphic designers have clearly been influenced by them, while creating a new breed of iconic and culturally relevant movie title sequences of their own.
Here – in no particular order – we pick some of the best movie title sequences ever created and professional designers tell us why they work.
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Saul Bass
- Year of release: 1958
"Alfred Hitchcock may have been the master of suspense, but Saul Bass was undoubtedly the master of suspenseful title sequences," says freelance graphic designer and illustrator Joe Stone.
"Everything from the shifty eyes, melodramatic music to the swooping typography give a sense of unease, culminating in the shifting, spiralling shapes and patterns that twist in and out of Kim Novak's pupils. Still effective and tense more than 50 years later, this is one of the most iconic title sequences committed to film."
- Studio: Gaumont
- Sequence Designer: Gaumont
- Year of release: 2008
"In 2008 Jean-Claude Van Damme was a laughing stock," comments Erskine Design designer Tim Maggs. "He hadn't had a hit film since 1994's 'Time Cop' and since then had produced a stream of straight-to-video garbage. If anyone was going to take this film seriously, the title sequence for JCVD had to take on the unenviable task of restoring his pride and possibly throw in a laugh or too at the same time.
"A three and a half minute one-take non-stop action-packed choreography whirlwind awaits. This insane crescendo of aggression building to Van Damme's escape – only for the scene to be ruined by a clumsy extra at the last moment – and you to realise that this was all a deceitful ruse.
"The accompanying military font and contrasting backing soul track 'Hard Times' play right into the scene's hands, pushing you further into your initial presumption that this is just another Van Damme trash fest."
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Sequence Designer: Richard Morrison
- Year of release: 1989
"This was one of the first films I ever watched at the cinema, and I can clearly remember the impact it had on the unnerved audience," says Autodesk 3D solutions engineer Jamie Gwilliam. "We are confronted by distinctive yellow text on black/blue tones, which echo the bold bat-wing logo. We are then left for two and a half minutes, unsure of what we're witnessing. Is it Gotham City? Is it the bat-cave?
"The slow camera pace symbolises the measured sweeping motion of a bat soaring over its prey, accompanied by intense and evocative audio. We are flung into the film's dark tones, which we then witness for the remainder of the 1989 cult-classic.
"We're confronted by bold graphics, which complement the narrative, whilst ensuring we proudly focus on the movie crew's talents, seamlessly building the audiences suspense."
04. Star Wars
- Studio: Lucasfilm & 20th Century Fox
- Sequence Designer: Dennis Muren
- Year of release: 1977
"The infamous 'crawl' has by now become an unmistakable part of contemporary pop culture, and has been praised, analysed and parodied in equal measure," says graphic designer Tom Muller. Still, 35 years on, the brutal simplicity of the titles haven't lost any impact, especially coupled with the equally revered John Williams score.
"The perfect timing of the hard cut between 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...' and the bombastic reveal of the title followed by the 'story so far' synopsis crawling over the screen (a nice homage to old pulp serials) make no qualms about the fact you're about to see something of epic proportions."
05. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
- Studio: Paramount
- Sequence Designer: Kyle Cooper
- Year of release: 2011
Graphic designer Andrew Kelsall says: "The great thing about the sequence – apart from only starting a full 10 minutes into the feature – is the explosive start when a fuse is lit as the music begins. This fuse is subsequently featured throughout the entire sequence and ties the whole thing together, with the camera following it wherever it goes.
"With burning circuit boards, skyscrapers with graphically-overlaid blueprints, an underwater shot, bullets, missiles and fast cars, the viewer tends to miss the fact that some of the movie ending (such as the circular car park) is featured in these opening credits! Overall, a captivating and enthralling sequence."
06. Enter the Void
- Studio: Fidélité Films
- Sequence Designer: Tom Kan
- Year of release: 2009
An onslaught of typographic design, Tom Kan's opening title sequence for Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The typographical choices were picked to depict each team member's personality and style throughout the film and is often described as a homage to their hard work throughout the filming process. The finishing touch of LFO's 'Freak' perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
07. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Richard Kenworthy
- Year of release: 2010
"I felt like Knives Chau when I first saw this sequence," designer Joe Stone comments. "The hyper-kinetic, multi-coloured onslaught of text and imagery, soundtracked by Beck's incredible interpretation of Sex Bom-omb, was just the perfect way to start the film.
"The references to each character played by the actor whose name is displayed is such a brilliant touch and offers tantalising hints at things to come. Everything about it matches the stylised comic-book world of the movie so well, which gets the film off to a great start."
08. Lord of the Rings
- Studio: Miramax Films
- Sequence Designer:
- Year of release: 1978
Artist and musician Daryl Waller says: "This was released the year that I was born. My Dad taped it onto VHS from the TV in the 80's. It thrilled and terrified me in equal measure. The opening sequence is a mixture of live action in silhouette and animation in black deep red.
"A voice tells the story of the ring so far. This film has haunted me over the years, the way it looks, the music, the creepy atmosphere of it. Later on at college I studied NC Wyeth, who influenced Bakshi; and I made some work directly influenced by both."
- Studio: New Line Cinema
- Sequence Designer: Kyle Cooper
- Year of release: 1995
"I admit that this one has become almost 'required viewing' if you ever discuss opening titles, and rightly so," Tom Muller comments.
"The maniacal amount of detail that went into the title sequence (with a vast amount of props created just for giving the audience a few glimpses into John Doe's deranged mind), coupled with the remixed NIN track 'Closer', make you shift uncomfortably in your seat, anxious for what's to be unleashed, and in one fell swoop it made title design cool and relevant again."
10. Catch Me If You Can
- Studio: Dreamworks
- Sequence Designer: Kuntzel and Deygas
- Year of release: 2002
"The first movie title scene that came to mind for me was Catch Me If You Can, which by its simple illustrative nature is highly memorable," says graphic designer Jacob Cass. "The scenes take you through a sneak peak of the movie which always helps set the mood and the jazzy soundtrack tops it off perfectly."
11. Touch of Evil
- Studio: Universal
- Sequence Designer: Orson Welles
- Year of release: 1958
VFX artist Paul Franklin says: "The opening shot of Orson Welles' film Touch of Evil isn't really a title sequence in the strictest sense, but in it's tightly choreographed three minutes and 20 seconds it does a masterful job of setting up the tension at the heart of the story.
"From the moment we see an unknown pair of hands literally starting the clock ticking through to the climax of the scene the camera is in constant, restless movement. Despite Venice Beach standing in for Mexico – and Charlton Heston standing in for a Mexican – the image is compellingly authentic, alive with an excited anticipation of what is to come."
12. Napoleon Dynamite
- Studio: Fox Searchlights Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Jared Hess
- Year of release: 2004
When Napoleon Dynamite was first made, the budget was so tight that the filmmakers didn't actually have an opening title sequence.
Once the film sold to Foxlight, Jared Hess was able to film the iconic titles that have gone on to influence many a film. Sticking to the film's organic look, the sequence features an array of objects including burgers, highschool IDs and ready meals. Not bad for a title sequence that was shot just with a 35mm camera and a Kino Flo in the basement of Jared's close friend and photographer Aaron Ruell.
13. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Sequence Designer: Danny Yount
- Year of release: 2005
"Stylish and witty, this clever sequence has it's tongue planted firmly in its cheek," Joe Stone says. "Borrowing heavily from Saul Bass' iconic style, the wonderful animation employs a bold colour scheme and great typography to playfully poke fun at the film-noir genre while still giving a brief overview of the story and locations the film takes place in. It's a perfect match for the funny and intelligent film."
14. Fight Club
- Studio: Fox 2000 Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Kevin Tod Haug & P. Scott Makela
- Year of release: 1999
3D artist Rob Redman says: "Everybody knows the first rule of Fight Club, but the opening sequence is one of the most memorable from the 90s – so let's break the rule and talk about it....
"The titles run for a minute and a half and set the scene and tone of the film perfectly. Starting off at the fear centre of the narrator's brain – the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride through a beautifully dark and disturbing ride out to the skull, complete with neuron firing 'lighting'. Technically the shots were pretty cutting edge at the time. VFX supervisor Kevin Mack led the team from Digital Domain who used ray tracing for depth of field effects.
"The actual neural pathways were plotted using L-systems, which were more usually used for creating trees and natural growth patterns. The feeling of being taken on a ride meant some compromise with the technical accuracy of the biological aspect of the shots (supplied by medical artist Kathryn Jones), but the final result leaves a real sense of a white water journey being taken.
"The overriding impression you are left with is one of slight unsettled anxiety and unease and you're left in no doubt that you're about to watch film with themes of darkness and introspection."
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Gareth Smith & Jenny Lee
- Year of release: 2007
Love it or hate it, Juno has become a cult classic since its release back in 2007. The opening titles perfectly set the scene of teenage innocence and instantly depict Ellen Page as the main character.
As she walks through her home town, designers Gareth and Jenny use a mixture of 2D and 3D animation along with hand-drawn illustrations. The song 'All I Want is You' by Barry Louis Polisar finishes off the title sequence perfectly, as Ellen Page effortlessly glides into live action.
16. The Shining
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Sequence Designer: Greg McGillivray & Garrett Brown
- Year of release: 1980
"This stands out as one of the best title sequences ever to me, not to say in particular for the horror/thriller genre," Tom Muller says. "It's a deceptively simple and economic approach (like a lot of Kubrick title sequences) that, in a few minutes, proves to be the perfect setup for the film.
"The flyover sequence, combined with Wendy Carlos' haunting synth score, hammer home the isolation of the characters within the vastness of the landscape. Whilst you're following the tiny car in an almost sublime landscape, the hints of Indian chanting add to the overall dreadful eeriness of the titles, enhanced by the cold credit sequence which rolls in reverse over the screen. You're almost relieved when you finally arrive at the Overlook Hotel - but then you still have to discover room 237."
WARNING: Explicit content!
- Studio: Columbia Pictures Corporation
- Sequence Designer: Stuart Hilton
- Year of release: 2000
"Snatch begins with an ingenious title sequence," Tim Maggs comments. "Ignoring the convention of introducing the actors' names, it focuses instead on characters, thus giving the audience an immediate head start in understanding the complex plot.
"The titles flow seamlessly and quickly, interspersed with gritty, pop-art like freeze-frames. As well as introducing the characters, the title sequence cleverly shows their entwined connections whilst the motif of exchanged monetary objects alludes to a subliminal parallel desire the men all share."
18. 101 Dalmatians
- Studio: Walt Disney Productions
- Sequence Designer: Stephen Frankfurt
- Year of release: 1961
"Disney title sequences have always had incredible attention to detail – a convention that goes right back to the early days of the animation studio," Simon Jobling comments. "101 Dalmatians is a prime example of this. The aesthetics of the title sequence are typical of 1961.
"The retro feel of the typography and illustration, the way the score of the soundtrack audibly matches the animation motion – it really engages with the audience. It makes typically boring credits exciting, especially with the mood of the music."
19. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Sequence Designer: Neil Kellerhouse & Blur Studios
- Year of release: 2011
"Full of hints at story elements and references to the characters, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of imagery presented in this sequence," says Joe Stone.
"From keyboards and phoenixes to blooming flowers and grabbing hands, it creates an abstract map of Lisbeth Salander's mind, all drench in thick black tar. Offset by tasteful and subtle typography and driven by Trent Reznor and Karen O's thumping version of Immigrant Song, it's a dramatic and intense start that sets the dark tone for the rest of the film."
This is an updated version of an article that previously appeared on Creative Bloq. Let us know what we should add to a future update in the comments below!
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