Top 10: Opening Credits

An opening credits sequence sets the tone and overall theme of the film, and sometimes a film can start off with a bang. An opening sequence that is captivating, making the film a gripping watch from the very start. Combined with the right choice of music, that right song can hit that sweet spot to completely personify the film you’re about to watch. Here are some of the great ones.

1. Skyfall (And James Bond series) 

The James Bond series prides itself on the opening titles, they are one of the most memorable parts of film history. The recent James Bond film is no different, with a trippy underwater sequence with both bright colors and play on shadows. Adele’s Oscar-winning song is the sultry soundtrack to the opening.It ends with the camera diving into Daniel Craig’s piercing blue eyes. The entire James Bond canon, especially the classics, (Goldfinger especially) is at the top of this list. The sequences are well-crafted, and the latest James Bond‘s is no different.

2. Watchmen

Zack Snyder smartly manages to hold our attention with this slow-motion and gorgeously shot montage. He miraculously concentrates a wealth of Alan Moore’s dense backstory into this compressed period. The use of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'” is brilliant, as we follow the heroes through notable periods of history, such as The Comedian being behind JFK’s Assassination. I had not read one bit of Watchmen, and this title sequence helped me understand the backstory without the use of one word of dialogue. The opening actually ends up being the best part of the film.

3. Do the Right Thing

Rosie Perez dances to Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ under hot-red lights and it’s great. It’s a heated and powerful opening, with a song that is very important throughout the film. Do the Right Thing is a film with a lot of messages about our society, and this is a simple but great opening statement.

4. Grease

The title-based song is sung by Frankie Valli, a perfect choice for a film honoring the 50s. The animations are tongue in cheek satires of 1950s pop nostalgia. The cartoon likenesses of the actors are adorable. This is a fun and bubbly opening sequence that is just as infectious and the film it’s preceding.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Fincher has a knack for starting his films off with great opening titles. There’s another on this list, and it’s worth noting Fight Club and Panic Room as well. Trent Reznor does it again with his cover of ‘The Immigrant Song.’ You don’t know quite what you’re looking at in the design, but it is captivating. Paired with the frenetic song, the titles are strange, gritty, edgy, but also very provocative. Which is, essentially, the entire feel of the Lisbeth Salander stories.

6. The Graduate

Perhaps one of the most well-known opening titles of all time, often homaged in many other films (including Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence is Benjamin’s swan song, it encapsulates the apathy he is feeling and appears again and again throughout the film/. The sounds of the airport announcer droning mixes with the song. Benjamin rides a moving sidewalk, deep in thought and disillusioned with the world around him. This is a memorable opening that sets the stage for Benjamin’s plight which we follow throughout The Graduate.

7. Seven

Fincher does it again with Seven‘s opening. Gritty and just downright dirty, the opening gives us fun little clues and peeks into the killer that will be revealed later. One being the razor to the fingers. It’s uncomfortable, grimy, and completely and utterly creepy, as is the entire film.

8. Lilo and Stich

Lilo and Stitch‘s opening starts off with beautiful animation of the Hawaiian sea. It always makes me want to go swimming, you can feel the rays of sunshine and cool water. The Hawaiian song ‘He Mele No Lilo’ is lovely, and of course fits perfectly with the setting. Lilo and Stitch is a unique Disney film, as is their choice to set it in Hawaii. The sequence also serves as a great introductory not only for the setting, but also for our lead character. We see exactly who Lilo is, a curious and fun little girl.

8. Catch Me if You Can

This fun and jazzy animation paired with the score fits the time period to a tee, as well as the buoyant cat and mouse feel of the film. The cute animations highlight the different identities and other lives that Frank Abagnale will don throughout the film.

10. Adventures in Babysitting

This opening just perfectly encapsulates the joy of youth and what it is to be a teenager. The song begins before the first shot is even on screen. Elisabeth Shue lip-syncs and dances to ”Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, a classic 1960s bubblegum pop staple. There’s something sweetly nostalgic about a teenager of the 80s singing this 60s song. It’s something we wouldn’t really see in a modern film. It’s a fun and memorable way to open a comedy for young kids. She has carefree fun before her hopes are dashed by some jerk with a license plate that says “SO COOL”

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Scene Sound Off: Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino is known for being a master at harmonizing incredible filmmaking with fantastic music, and his 1992 film debut Reservoir Dogs shows the beginning of his fine musical work.

The juxtaposition of positive music against negative shots – upbeat music playing against psychotic torture – is something that is used a lot, in trailers and recent films. (like Orinoco Flow in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) But none have executed it so well as Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino had chosen “Stuck in the Middle With You” specifically for this scene, not only does it fit rhythmically but also lyrically.

Mr. White dislikes his heist partner, believing the unpredictable and unprofessional Mr. Blonde to be a “fucking psychopath” because he enjoys violence. For Mr. White, violence is a necessity of the job. For Mr. Blonde, he relishes in it.

Michael Madsen is deliciously and playfully diabolic as Mr. Blonde. He tells the cop how amusing it is for him to torture a cop. He lets him know that even if he prays for a quick death, he won’t get one.

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He takes his razor out of his shoes, then switches gears by gleefully asking the cop “You ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies? It’s my personal favorite.” The radio announcer gives an introduction for the Stealers Wheel song as Mr. Blonde goes over and checks out Tim Roth’s character, Mr. Orange. The song starts kicking in.

Mr. Blonde starts his dance routine, really more of a half-assed and mocking shuffle. Madsen executes this perfectly, most actors might choose to go over the top with this, “look how scary I am!” but Mr. Blonde doesn’t really give a shit, he’s just enjoying this, taking his time to prolong his victim’s fears. Kirk Baltz, as Officer Nash, perfectly projects the utter fear and bewilderment his character faces, only through his eyes. He certainly, as the song says, has “got the feeling that something ain’t right”.

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The camera has the background spinning around at the closeup of Nash, projecting the frightened thoughts running through his head. The groan that the officer lets out is chilling, especially when it blends in with the upbeat toe-tapping music. The camera and background remains still on the shot of Mr. Blonde dancing, he is calm, cool and collected. This is his favorite thing to do. The dancing delays the unknown but terrifying torture awaiting Officer Nash.

Then a sudden break in dancing as Mr. Blonde violently slashes the Officer’s face, then grabs him as the camera glides away. The camera holds on the warehouse as we hear the officer’s screaming off screen, allowing the audience to imagine what kind of violence is happening. (Such restraint is not always shown in other Tarantino films, but it was a very good choice here.)

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Madsen enters the frame, and we see him holding the Officer’s ear. And, in true Mr. Blonde fashion, he laughs and makes jokes, talks into the severed ear “Can you hear that?” We then follow Mr. Blonde from the warehouse to his car and back into the warehouse in one continuous shot.

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We then follow Mr. Blonde as he walks outside. The music fades away the farther he gets from it, but we still hear other jovial background noise like kids laughing. It’s frightening that no one can hear the agonizing terror going on inside. Mr. Blonde walks back in, holding gasoline. We know the next torture waiting for the officer. He enters the warehouse and we hear the music again. Tarantino really did time exactly, that part of the song would’ve been heard exactly in the time it took to come back inside!

Mr. Blonde dances some more, the camera starts to circle around the two characters as he splashes the gasoline on Officer Nash, some of it hitting the camera. We are so close to them, the camerawork really makes us feel “stuck in the middle” with them. Mr. Blonde pulls the tape off and Officer Nash starts screaming, pleading for his life. The line about him having children was ad-libbed, and apparently made Michael Madsen, a new father at the time, have to stop the scene overcome with emotion.

And then, just as Mr. Blonde is about to light the flame, he gets shot. The camera cuts to Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, gunning Mr. Blonde down. This is one of the best surprises in film, leaving you utterly shocked. Throughout the scene, you forget Mr. Orange is even there.

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Between the song and the violence and Mr. Blonde’s dancing, you are completely swept up in that action. To top it off with Mr. Orange’s hiding-in-plain sight reveal, this scene leaves you stunned.

Watch it below!