They say brevity is the soul of wit, and the 3- to 5-minute running time of your average movie or tv show's opening titles is often a great way to put this saying to the test. These little packages of text, music and visuals are oftentimes my favorite part of a film; like a great appetizer, it not only warms up the audience for the main course, but also introduces some of its own unique flavor into the mix. This collection below lists some of my favorites, as well as links to each video whenever available.
News footage, creepy photography, bloodied but minimalist typography and quite possibly the most effective use of a Johnny Cash song ever.
Possibly my favorite opening sequence of all-time, this marvelous piece by title-designers extraordinnaire yu+Co chronicles the alternate history of the world of the Watchmen. Again, it's made all the more gripping by the use of a classic Bob Dylan song, "The Time They Are a-Changin'." (Noticing a trend with Snyder's taste in titles ...)
A soul-less recounting of the life of a bullet; a very creative way to kick off a movie about gun runners. The whole sequence is very HDR and feels like you're inside a first-person shooter. Some people thought it was a bit too kitschy for the subject matter, especially when you consider how it ends, but I've always loved it for the strength of concept.
From a graphical perspective, the Casino Royale title sequence is probably the most "designed" of any of the sequences on this list. Every frame is loaded with undulating symbols and elements, and is noteworthy for being the only 007 opening that doesn't feature any sexy women in it.
How can you not love this sequence? The Spoon soundtrack coupled with Emma Thompson's acerbic voiceover are the perfect backdrop for the beautiful faux 3D typography. (I'm not 100% certain, but I think the MK12 guys pioneered this kind of rendering back in the early 2000's; this is simply the most well-known use of it.)
Considering that I've seen this sequence over a dozen times, I'm astounded by how much I still respond to the visuals and audio. Featuring Jace Everett's "Bad Things" as its theme, these titles brilliantly capture the murky, grimey feel of this great TV show.
Magnificent juxtaposition of everyday actions with the show's clinical exploration of serial killing. Rolfe Kent's theme is just a fantastic match.
Kyle Cooper of Imaginary Forces/Prologue is a virtuoso at this sort of thing: small, tightly-framed bits of footage, atmospheric music and chicken-scratch typography. (See also The Incredible Hulk for more of his work.) The theme music is a remix of Nine Inch Nail's "Closer" by Coil.
This brilliant little sequence gave birth to a new trend in titling, that of inserting the actual words into the scene that they are describing (most notably on the show Fringe), but it's actually a modernization of a similar technique employed in the classic North by Northwest. Although these titles make it appear as if you're seeing footage with CG titles superimposed on them, there are quite a number of parts where the entire scene is CG, including the buldings themselves. (Way more information about this sequence than you ever needed, here.)
This wonderfully retro animation by French designers Kuntzel and Degas encapsulates the entire movie into about 5 minutes. The music by John Williams is uncharacteristically playful - a simply beautiful combination.