Ten Deep 2.14.13: Top 10 Opening Film Credits
A discussion amongst friends over a pint of Guinness led to the evolution of this week’s Ten Deep topic, as is often the case. We spoke of the impending Oscars and then film in general, settling in for a moment on the topic of opening credit sequences and their importance. My interest was ignited as I had a true, “Why the heck hadn’t I thought of this before?” moment right there in the bar. The opening credits sets the mood of the film, sets you up for what is to follow and often provides information vital to your understanding of what has come before the film begins.
When you look at this week’s selections you will definitely see an eclectic mix that reflects the different impacts these sequences can have while several overall themes do develop. The list begins with one that is most memorable.
The film itself is a cult classic that it takes a certain twisted sense of humor to appreciate, but the opening credits of The Rocky Horror Picture Show can be appreciated by anyone. Put simply, those lips tell a story. They introduce you to the scientific genre in a way no one has before and probably never will again, unleashing a barrage of esoteric sci-fi trivia in the song, “Late Night Double Feature Picture Show,” while also hypnotizing you with the bright red lips, the shockingly white teeth and amazing use of the dark negative space.
The opening credits to Gone in 60 Seconds has a much different feel than the fast paced film that follows and it turns out to be very successful. In this sequence the camera pans throughout the auto shop, pausing on many photos that bring you the back story of Nicolas Cage’s character without needing any words. The effect is powerful and a crafty bit of cinema attached to a film that I honestly, could take or leave.
The first of several truly iconic opening sequences to make this list; the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever feature a young John Travolta strutting through the streets of NYC to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” It is clear from the way this sequence is shot that Travolta’s character is the center of what is to come, literally and figuratively. Travolta’s pace and movements perfectly captures the culture of the time the film was shot.
With the opening to Thank You for Smoking we see the intersection of the perfect music and some very creative graphic design. The song, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette!” by Tex Williams adds to the general confusion already generated by the movie’s title. Is this a pro-smoking propaganda film? Could such a thing exist? Clearly that is the set up for the film but what follows is a story that is deeper and richer, to borrow some of the cigarette advertising lingo. The graphic design of the sequence has each title card styled as vintage cigarette packaging. It is a unique presentation that again plays right into the film’s feel. The detail work in this opening is truly incredible and I notice something new about it each time I watch the film.
To me the brilliance in this opening is that Zombieland does not make you wait for what you clearly came to see, zombie gore, but it does present in a well-produced and stylized manner that gives the film a truly modern feel. The 3-D effect on all of the words and lettering makes it stand out as the zombies and victims literally crash through them. That, paired with the slow-motion kills & thrills makes for an opening credits to remember. By the time the two minutes is up, you know exactly what you are in for and you want more.
There is no more classic opening credits on this list than the iconic scrawl of Star Wars IV: A New Hope. It is a style that has often been stolen since and for good reason. While it is not flashy or visually that interesting, the scrawling story introduction let audiences know that we were joining a war in the stars that was already in progress. Paired with John Williams amazing score, this is the opening sequence that defined my childhood and remains a favorite to this day.
Much like DeNiro’s performance throughout the film, the opening titles of Raging Bull are simplistic, poetic, and striking all at the same time. It is simply DeNiro alone in the stark ring, boxing with the air. The sequence captures the intensity of his character and lets the audience know exactly who they should be focused on for the next two hours. The opening is borderline too long which I believe was an intentional choice that creates a sense of unease within the viewer that is soon supported by the story that follows. There is nothing clean or pretty about Jake LaMotta’s life to follow, and the credits get you ready for it.
I’d venture to say that there is no film series’ credit sequences that are more popular or more often imitated, both seriously and in satire, than those of the James Bond films. Amongst all of those films, it is Goldfinger that stands out as the one closest to the mental picture we all get when we hear the name James Bond as it was the first to fit the classic mold to follow. From the bullet hole focus open to the trippy 60’s lava lamp effect created by the projected images; this sequence captures the Bond films to a T. It also helps that Shirley Bassey brings down the house with the film’s theme.
Direction and design rule the roost in my number two choice this week. The opening credits to Seven are a series of haunting, yet not quite totally disturbing images, set to the thumping sounds of a remix of NIN’s “Closer.” They let the audience know that what is coming will be nothing like anything else you have seen, so hold on tight cause you’re in for quite the ride. The machinations of “John Doe” are laid out in the sequence giving us a great sense for the methodical nature of the man we are about to meet. Seven‘s opening resonates long into the film and definitely stands out as one of the best of all time when viewed later.
I know there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of the debate about the overall success of Zach Snyder’s Watchmen, and I do not at all want to stir that up here. I do want to make it clear though, that regardless of how you feel about what follows, the opening credits are phenomenal. Watchmen is a densely written story that was hundreds of comic book pages long, most of which could not be translated to film and still have it fit the length needed to be shown in theaters. One of the things Snyder did with the back story that he could not film, was fit it into the opening sequence in a very unique that told the story and conveyed a lot of powerful emotion. We get to see the original costumed heroes in a variety of living tableaus, capped off with the flash of a camera usually, taking us from the beginning of the team to its eventual dissolution. The sequence is a film unto itself and is some of the best filmmaking I have seen. It almost makes you wish that each piece had been expanded in length so that you could see more, because you wanted more. That to me is the sign of an excellent credit piece.
Did I miss one of your favorites? If it’s Up, know that I was very close to including its powerful opening sequence but it did not fit the format of being the opening credits per se. How does that make you feel? Let me know in the comments below!
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