Movies nowadays can often forget the “opening credits” altogether. It really started with Star Wars simply throwing up the title before tossing you into the main movie. That’s carried over today as in many cases, movies will wait until the very end to do any credits at all. It’s not like in the Golden Age of Hollywood, where all the credits would be shown at the start of the film and just a “The End” at the closing. Most moviemakers today prefer to put all the credits at the end but some are able to do some unique openings, ones that make the credits themselves not only exciting but part of the entire film experience, elevating them nicely.
Note the criteria is full credits and not just the title. Yes, Star Wars has one of the most famous openings ever but that’s just the title before the text crawl, not the full credits - ditto for 2001: A Space Odyssey. While it was tempting to go with some famous opening shots like The Shining, the true gems of opening credits are ones that are imaginative in their titles, background and theme music to truly stand apart. Here are twenty examples of opening credit sequences that stand above the rest and pull you into the movie to follow in great style.
20 Austin Powers
All three of Mike Myers’s wild spy comedies kick off with a fun as hell credits sequence that pulls you into things nicely. The first one shows Austin himself in 1960s London, chased by girls, dancing with policemen, a terrific swinging ‘60s party spilling to the street, topped by him leading a full band and a street dance.
The Spy Who Shagged Me has the newly single Austin dancing around a swank hotel with only convenient props and titles blocking his naughty bits, including a sequence of him at a breakfast table with bread and other bits blocking his nether regions. He finally does don a swim outfit for an underwater dance number.
Goldmember boasts cameos from Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg as Austin dances around a Hollywood studio backlot, paying homage to musicals, showing Quincy Jones conducting the classic quirky score and a dance fight with Britney Spears. If nothing else, the sheer joy Myers has doing these is infectious and it's why they stand out.
19 Flash Gordon
A credit sequence so much better than the movie that follows, this 1980 film opens with the unseen Ming (Max Von Sydow) preparing to hit Earth with various disasters. To the gorgeous rock score by Queen, we see images of the classic Flash Gordon comic strip fly by in fast motion as the names of the actors and their roles are heralded by bolts of lightning.
The whole sequence involving Ming’s laughter and shots of the disasters striking the Earth alongside flashing computer buttons is wild and frenetic, but it all works wonderfully. While the movie itself is a campy mess, that opening by Queen truly rules.
18 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Fans may dislike this spin-off of the huge franchise but the opening credits scene is definitely a standout. After killing his foster father, young Logan is taken off into the night by big brother Creed and the credits begin with them running through the woods.
When they burst out, they’re now Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber and it’s the American Civil War as the two charge onto a battlefield, shrugging off bullets as they attack. A cannon shot knocks Logan back as we jump to the trenches of World War I and then D-Day before ending in Vietnam.
It showcases the long lives of both men and how they’re pulled to war while also showing how Creed becomes more and more violent with each conflict to Logan’s concern, setting up their breaking into rivals. It ends with Logan stopping Creed from a village massacre and them facing a firing squad, reminding us of Wolverine’s mantra: “I’m the best at what I do but what I do isn’t nice.”
17 Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Turn the Python gang loose on movies and the only expected results are nuttiness. Nowhere is that more evident than the start to their masterpiece comedy as the titles play on a black screen with subtitles underneath in Swedish. At least they start out that way, before progressing into more English words with Swedish lettering, pushing the idea of a Swedish vacation onto moviegoers.
The titles interrupt with a message saying those responsible have been sacked before continuing, but then we see various mentions of moose among the credits before the line “those responsible for the sackings have now been sacked.” They then finish to flashing lights and wild music, an opening perfectly logical for the Pythons.
16 Panic Room
The most straightforward movie of David Fincher’s career, it still enables him to pull off some nice turns and that starts with the opening. It’s an obvious homage to Hitchcock but it's brilliantly done, as we see the skyline of New York City and the titles mixed among the buildings.
It’s fascinating to watch the typography used and how each fits both their building and the angle used to shoot it. It’s inspired numerous films and TV shows since (most notably the sci-fi series Fringe). It's an opening sequence only Fincher could pull off with such flair.
15 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The Mission: Impossible movies have always benefited from one of the greatest television themes ever created. For the fourth movie, director Brad Bird gives Lalo Schifrin’s score more flair as Tom Cruise is rescued from a Russian prison by his teammates. As they run down a tunnel, one strikes a match and lights a long fuse and that theme kicks in as we follow the fuse along through the prison.
Here’s where it gets great as we get glimpses of scenes to follow in the movie (just like in the old TV show) as the fuse goes underwater, up that massive skyscraper, through parties and car chases, a missile turning into a bullet and great shots of the cast reacting to events. A truly kick-ass opening to match the series’ best entry and an example of why you don’t mess with the classics.
14 Do the Right Thing
From the very opening, Spike Lee’s 1988 landmark grabs you and doesn’t let you go. As “Fight the Power” rages in the background amid sounds of sirens and helicopters, we see Rosie Perez dancing around in a red dress on a street before shifting to a full boxing outfit, punching outward, keeping in time to the music even as she creates an angry beat.
It’s a fantastic mix of rage, power and style that perfectly matches the movie and lets you know Lee won’t be holding back. Today, it still stands as a metaphor of a culture fighting for itself and remains a standout movie opening.
13 Reservoir Dogs
Sometimes the simple ones are the best. As the George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” plays, we see the gang march out of the diner in slow motion, each one in suits and glasses, undercut by the cards identifying each actor.
The rest of the credits play on a black screen and as they end, we hear moans and cries indicating the heist has not gone as planned. Short and sweet but damn does it look cool. In one single moment, Quentin Tarantino launched his entire career.
Truly the first great comic book movie, the producers of this 1978 hit knew they needed something special to start with. After a comic book is shown opening and the camera pans past the Daily Planet globe, we’re thrust into space, stars flying by. John Williams’ classic score begins as the names of the cast appear before whizzing forward in an effect unique for its time.
The music reaches its crescendo as the screen is dominated by flashes of red that form the iconic “S.” The rest of the credits follow as the camera continues through space past comets and planets, showing us the cosmic epic this will be. It stands as one of the best openings of any super-hero movie ever and is fitting for the greatest of them all.
11 The Player
A lot of directors have chosen to do an opening credits sequence in a single take. But no one has done it with the flair of Robert Altman in his 1992 satire of the business. In a fantastic nearly-eight minute long shot, we’re taken from a mansion to the studio backlot, introduced to all the main players, from Tim Robbins' executive to the various agents, star cameos and more.
It’s exceptionally done, serving as one of Altman’s best bits ever. He even throws in the humor of two guys arguing over the long take in another movie being way too long. A masterful start to one of his best movies and an opening only Altman could truly pull off.
You can fill this list with nothing but James Bond movies as the classic “gun barrel” beginning is part of cinematic history, with the opening credits being known for gorgeous ladies dancing about. The best of the bunch, however, may well be the 1995 return of the franchise as the gun barrel fires out a bullet that seems to explode in the distance, showing the title off.
Yes, we get gorgeous women dancing on gun barrels but the genius is how it also shows the changing of times since the last Bond movie as the women are smashing statue heads of Lenin and other icons of the USSR, reminding us this is a new world for Bond. It’s all set to Tina Turner’s glorious singing of the title song. It made others take notice: the greatest spy action franchise of all time was back in grand style.
9 Catch Me If You Can
The 2002 Steven Spielberg movie kicks off with a wonderful animated credits sequence that basically sets up the story: Leonardo DiCaprio's figure watching airline attendants in the 1960s walk through doors, the figure jealous before finding a way to sneak in and Tom Hanks’ FBI agent soon on his trail.
It shows the DiCaprio figure bouncing through jobs as doctors, the beautiful women he meets, the chase ahead of Hanks, all to a lovely jazz score that pulls you right into the period. It sets the tone for the funny and sharp movie that follows it and stands as one of the best opening credit scenes from a director better known for just tossing you into the action without such preludes.
8 Lord of War
This 2007 Nicolas Cage movie is mostly forgettable with its mixed messages on conflict and making money. But the opening is nothing less than sheer genius as we basically follow the path of a bullet from its creation in a factory, down the assembly line, its packaging, shipping, dumped among thousands of other rounds, loaded into a gun and streaking out to kill a child soldier.
Dusty Springfield’s rendition of “For What It’s Worth” gives the sequence a chilling air, reminding you of how so small an object can ruin so many lives. The opening is far more powerful than the rest of the movie could hope for.
7 The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
For the final - and best - entry in his “Man With No Name Trilogy,” Sergio Leone went all out with the opening. Thanks to Ennio Morricone’s classic score, viewers are pulled in as Iginio Lardani details the main players with terrific colored shots of Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef, each looking tough and mean as hell.
The music continues amid images of the West and its violence, setting up one of the best Westerns of all time and standing as an achievement all its own.
6 The Pink Panther
It’s easily forgotten that the Panther itself is the priceless gem at the center of Blake Edward’s classic comedy series. As the camera zooms in on a close-up, we see the now famous animated figure of a panther smoking a cigar before glancing to us and Henry Mancini’s immortal music kicks in.
The Panther is soon running from and to the animated Inspector Clouseau as the lovely graphics show the cast and crew with the Panther at one point scrawling his own name to remind us whose movie this is. They would be duplicated plenty of times but the first remains the best to kick off a series that still stands the test of time.
Even those who dislike Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel praise its opening.
Set to Bob Dylan’s “Times Are a Changin',” we see the rise and fall of superheroes in scenes shot like newspaper photos, seeing them in their glory before we get the changes to history (such as the Comedian killing JFK), the sad fates of several heroes, Apollo 11 finding Dr. Manhattan on the moon, Richard Nixon elected again amid public protest and showing how this once-bright world has gone dark.
It's utterly amazing and truly living up to the potential of the material no matter how you feel about the movie itself.
Would you expect anything less than unique for an Alfred Hitchcock movie? Psycho and North by Northwest also have classic openings but this 1958 thriller is a stand-out.
First, there's the close-ups of a woman’s mouth and eyes shifting to the stars, and then a close-up of the eye transforming into a spiral and the titles playing out as the spiral shifts in color, size and design, before pulling back to the eye.
All of this set to Bernard Hermann’s haunting score to let you know how this is going to be a true psychology thriller and one of the master’s best.
3 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The American version of the best-selling novels grabs you from the very start thanks to Tim Miller’s stunning designs. As Trent Reznor’s cover of “Immigrant Song” rocks away, we see what looks like black oil covering computer keyboards and washing onto a naked woman, flowing about as wires seem to wrap around a body and fire ignites.
We see the woman punched and a raven on fire taking flight, limbs mixing together; it’s a hypnotic display you just cannot look away from and lets you know this is going to be a dark and wild ride but one well worth taking.
Setting the tone perfectly for the movie, the opening credits of this 2006 horror comedy are the perfect balance of quirky humor and terror to follow. As Jessie Eisenberg narrates, we see the Earth spinning from lush and green to a horror of fire and rock. We hear him giving us the rules of survival, ending with a woman flying out of her car after crashing it running from zombie girls.
As Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" chimes in, we see slow-motion shots of people getting attacked: a homeless guy with an “End is Nigh” sign, a groom by his own bride, a guy by a stripper and more. It nails the freaky sight of the world ending but with a wicked, funny side; it's the best way to kick off this classic horror comedy.
From the start, you know 1995’s David Fincher film is not going to be a happy experience. It introduces you right off to the murderous psyche of John Doe as we see glimpses of his journal, his victims, creating his weapons of death and preparing for his work.
Throw in the Nine Inch Nails cover of “Closer” and you can feel the dread settling in early. Thanks to Kyle Cooper’s genius work, we understand this is a film that will haunt you for a long time to follow.