When the curtain comes up on a film, the movie's opening title sequence sets the tone for the story to follow. While many title sequences are perfunctory - text on screen, maybe some scenic shots, accompanied by pretty music or a pop song - true artists use that precious minute or minute-and-a-half of screen time to help the audience enter another realm, suspend disbelief, and prepare for the drama, comedy or horror to come.
Some of the most memorable title sequences are little movies in their own right, engaging viewers with mini-stories or a whirlwind of fascinating graphics. We are proud to present 25 of the most innovative and enjoyable title sequences ever made. Click through our gallery to watch them all!
"The Man With the Golden Arm"
For the opening of Otto Preminger's 1954 drama about drug addiction, title designer Saul Bass created striking, abstract graphics, including an illustration of a disjointed arm, appearing disconnected from a body, accompanied by Elmer Bernstein's jazz score. The graphic was carried through in the film's print advertising and posters.
A master of movie title design, Saul Bass' early work for Alfred Hitchcock produced some of the most striking moments in cinema history. His titles for "Vertigo" (1958), about a San Francisco detective's romantic obsessions and wounded psyche, are a modernist classic of spirographic designs blended with fragmented views of a woman's face, supported by Bernard Herrmann's wounded soul of a score.
"Vertigo" inspired countless movie title sequences for years to come, and Bass himself revisited these graphic elements in his titles for Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus."
"North by Northwest"
In Saul Bass' brilliant titles for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "North by Northwest" (1959), intersecting lines forming abstract patterns assimilate into the mirrored facades of New York City's gleaming skyscrapers. Bolstered by Bernard Herrmann's music (a maddening dance with death), the film cuts to shots of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan - where spies are no match for women fighting over a cab - capped by one of the director's trademark cameo appearances.
"To Kill a Mockingbird"
The titles of Robert Mulligan's film adaptation of the Harper Lee classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) beautifully evoke memories of an insular, innocent childhood - a cigar box, filled with treasured toys; scribbling with crayons; a little girl's laugh. Beautifully composed, and supported by Elmer Bernstein's exquisite music, the sequence introduces viewers to Scout Finch's world, a place that would be irreparably altered by fear, hate and violence. Title design: Stephen Frankfurt.
"The Pink Panther"
Cute, animated title sequences were popular in 1960s movies, with perhaps none more outlandish that those for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." But the animation that opens the Blake Edwards comedy "The Pink Panther" did more than merely set up the slapstick farce starring Peter Sellers as a police detective on the trail of a jewel thief; it introduced a cool, silky character, the Pink Panther, who made his own way not just in title sequences for later entries in the film series, but also as the star of nearly 100 theatrical shorts, a Saturday morning TV show, and even a series of commercials selling home insulation (pink, of course). Title Design: DePatie-Freleng. Music: Henry Mancini.
Maurice Binder launched the James Bond franchise's reputation for stunning opening title sequences with "Dr. No" in 1962, but it was the next two films - "From Russia With Love" and "Goldfinger," both designed by Robert Brownjohn - that set the template for all future Bond entries. "Goldfinger" blends projections of Bond's superspy world onto the curves of a gold-painted woman, to the tune of Shirley Bassey's immortal theme song.
The visuals deconstruct all the elements that would become key to Bond's milieu: cool gadgets, fast cars, deadly weapons, super villains, and the objectified bodies of women, some of whom don't survive to the end credits.
One of the most famous movie title sequences was for Stanley Kubrick's 1964 satire, "Dr. Strangelove." Created by graphic designer and commercial director Pablo Ferro, hand-lettered type is stacked and crowded over stock footage of military aircraft, accompanied by an airy rendition of the standard "Try a Little Tenderness." The cheeky sexual undertones of the planes engaging in a refueling pas de deux set the tone for a comedy in which sex and concerns over "precious bodily fluids" presage the end of the world.
Documentary filmmaker Chuck Braverman created the opening montage for the dystopian Charlton Heston thriller "Soylent Green" (1973), using period and contemporary photographs to depict how industrialization and overpopulation turned the Earth into a polluted mess -- just the kind of place where a new kind of food (crackers with a mysterious provenance) is needed.
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
The Pythons' 1975 Arthurian romp gleefully tore down innumerable movie clichés, starting with the film's opening titles, which featured faux Swedish subtitles ("Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretty nasti") and a certificate of authenticity signed by President Richard Nixon. Once an unseen projectionist tries to regain control, the subtitles begin to infect the main credits. Wonderfully silly.
One of the most rousing and effective introductions into the world of a movie character is the swooping opening title sequence for "Superman" (1978). Beginning with a black-and-white prologue of Superman's introduction in Action Comics back in 1938, we are pulled up, up and away into space on a widescreen journey to the Man of Steel's home planet. Along the way names and titles animated through a "slit-scan" technique (similar to one used for the effects of "2001") streak past the camera, accompanied by John Williams' epic, buoyant score. Title design: R/Greenberg Associates.
The unsettling opening of this classic sci-fi shocker presents the title of the film bit by bit, while we are introduced to the main cast, the tense music by Jerry Goldsmith, and the foreboding isolation of space, where no one can hear you scream. Title design: Richard and Robert Greenberg.
Stanley Kubrick's films are never wasteful, and the director's trademark precision was never more chilling than in his 1980 horror classic. In the brief time of his opening titles (shot at Glacier National Park), he uses soaring cinematography and Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind's ethereal synthesizers to paint the isolation and dread of a car venturing up a lonely highway into the mountains. The camera's eye, hovering above like God, watches the driver - so small in the wilderness - head towards his doom.
Director Ken Russell's head-tripping 1980 sci-fi flick, in which a scientist immerses himself in the world of hallucinogens, only to metamorphose into a primeval creature, was graced with an elegantly sinister title sequence in which (as in "Alien") the film's title slowly reveals itself bit by bit. Like a scrim over an image of William Hurt floating in an isolation tank, text floats across the screen as the cast and filmmakers' names appear. The words eventually envelop and subsume the human being. Title design: Richard Greenberg. Music: John Corigliano.
Robert De Niro as boxer Jake La Motta jumps, jabs, bobs and weaves in slow motion in the opening of Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980). The static black-and-white cinematography by Michael Chapman isolates De Niro in the ring, where this masculine expression before a faceless crowd is both elegant and threatening. Title design: Dan Perri. Music: "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Mascagni.
"The Naked Gun"
The jokesters behind the "Naked Gun" films didn't let up even for the film's titles. Taking a cue from the opening of TV policers like "NYPD" (in which a cop car's flashing light pulls us through the streets of New York City), the siren-blaring cop car of "The Naked Gun" (1988) wantonly careens through the streets, over sidewalks, into a car wash, through a ladies' locker room and over a rollercoaster, ending up at Valhalla for cops: a donut shop. Later entries in the franchise repeated the scenario but with ever-more bizarre detours, from a birth canal to a dive into the Death Star trench. Title design: Douy Swofford.
"Do the Right Thing"
Inspired by Ann-Margret's sprightly dance routine at the beginning of the musical "Bye Bye Birdie," director Spike Lee fashioned a stylized opening for his 1989 drama "Do the Right Thing" that briefly starts with a Branford Marsalis sax rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," before plunging headfirst into Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."
The angry dance moves of Rosie Perez, performed before projections of Brooklyn townhouses, are ferocious and brimming with raw emotion. (So heated was her routine that Perez was injured and driven to tears by the end of the exhausting shoot.) Title design: Balsmeyer & Everett, Inc. Cinematography: Ernest Dickerson.
Director David Fincher's visually striking films usually begin with a bang, and his 1995 serial killer thriller "Se7en" is a prime example - a hypnotic, fragmented view of a fragmented and very dangerous personality. Images of the killer assembling his notebooks introduce the villain to the audience way before he is found out by the film's protagonists, the cops played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. Titles are a mix of scratched typography and sans serif fonts shot in a jittery, frenzied fashion that puts viewers on edge, and keeps them there. Title design: Kyle Cooper.
"Catch Me If You Can"
Con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. used rubber stamps to help fashion new identities for himself, in the 2002 Steven Spielberg romp "Catch Me If You Can." Heavily influenced by 1960s graphic illustrators, title designers Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Deygas used rubber stamps to hand-print figures which were then animated, in what can be seen as a tribute to some of the great '60s cartoon title sequences. Music: John Williams.
Pixar's animated treats frequently leave their elaborate title sequences to the end - a dessert served after a filling main course. For the superhero adventure "The Incredibles" (2004), the animation recounts some of the character and plot highpoints of the story, so placing it at the end of the movie prevents spoilers. The sequence features highly-stylized, 2-D graphics, an imaginative use of typography, and jazzy music that recalls 1960s adventure shows like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." or "The Green Hornet." Title Design: Teddy Newton, Mark Cordell Holmes, Andrew Jimenez and Louis Gonzales.
"Lord of War"
The brief narrative that opens the 2005 film "Lord of War," about an illegal arms dealer, presents the life of a bullet - from munitions factory to illicit arms trading to its use against a human being. Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is an example of a familiar trope: a popular song that provides ironic counterpoint to the film's message. Title design: l'EST.
The low-budget comedy "Napoleon Dynamite" (2004) didn't even have a credit sequence when it was picked up following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Concerned that audiences might not get when the movie takes place, the film's distributor requested a title sequence that might settle the matter. Director Jared Hess designed the credits (shot in his cinematographer's basement) to hurl his audience smack into the world of high school - and what better way to stir feelings of nostalgia, of the squeamish variety, than with examples of high school cafeteria food? Music: "We're Going to Be Friends" by the White Stripes.
In slow motion, shot in crisp black-and-white, the stylized opening sequence of "The Fall" is enigmatic, as we witness a rescue attempt off a railroad bridge crossing, the details and meaning of which won't be clear until later in the film. Director Tarsem Singh, who edited the opening of his 2006 fantasia, said he wanted the sequence to portray chaos without energy. Title design: Stefan G. Bucher. Music: Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
Working off of digital scans of actors Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, the opening of David Fincher's 2011 thriller based on the Stieg Larsson bestseller uses exquisitely dark CGI to evoke corruption, computer hacking, eroticism, murder and -- a key plot point -- flowers. Title design: Blur Studio/Kellerhouse. Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O's cover of Led Zeppelin's propulsive "Immigrant Song."
The tongue-in-cheek superhero movie "Deadpool" (2016) gives title sequences a delirious, over-the-top send-up. As the camera weaves through a hyper-violent set-piece frozen in time, we are fed in-jokes, fake title cards, and Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" to introduce us to the violence and snark of the central character. The previous winner for over-the-top comic book title sequences, "Watchmen" (which presents an alternative history of America accompanied by Bob Dylan), was here dethroned. Title design: Blur Studio.
Though not in chronological order, this is a fitting wrap-up to our survey of exemplary title sequences.
The fireworks erupting in the final, heart-wrenching scene of the romantic drama "Blue Valentine" (2010) are evoked in the abstract end title sequence that follows. By layering high contrast and out-of focus firework explosions with Davi Russo's set photography of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, underscored by Grizzly Bear's "Alligator," the bursting imagery evokes passionate memories of an incandescent, fiery relationship which (like fireworks) burst and then fade into memory. Title design: Jim Helton.
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By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan