One of the best parts of going to the movies is the lights going down, the sweet anticipation that you are about to be very entertained. Of course, the entertaining part doesn’t always happen, but the opening credits of a film are the perfect place for a director to stamp the next two hours with the story’s mood, to draw you into its fold with music, visuals, to hook you from the start. This also rarely happens, but when it does, and the movie lives up to its opening moments, it can give you the same goose bumps every time you watch it.
Without further ado then, but with some elaboration, here are my top ten favorite opening credit sequences, in reverse order:
10. AUSTIN POWERS, MAN OF MYSTERY
Most people seem to favor the R-rated penis-blocking credits of the sequel, “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” but for me, nothing beats this totally fun musical tribute to Britain and the mod 60s, all done to the strains of Quincy Jones’ classic “Soul Bossa Nova.”
The first of two Polanski entries on my list. Yes, it’s one of the greatest films of all time and arguably the best one ever about Los Angeles, but you tend to forget about the lush, nostalgic opening titles, complete with noir-ish Jerry Goldsmith music and an old-time movie credit roll. Rarely have we been dropped into a movie’s world so quickly and successfully.
8. FARENHEIT 451
Truffaut’s great adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s famous novel about a banned-book world has a brilliant opening, with all of the credits spoken rather than titled on screen. The effect is quick and disturbing yet thematically perfect, and Bernard Herrmann’s music doesn’t hurt.
There are a handful of great Hitchcock credit sequences to choose from, (“Psycho”, “The Birds”, and “North by Northwest” among them), but this one’s a masterpiece, designed by the great Saul Bass, blessed with more of Herrmann’s creepy, ethereal music, and promising romance, mystery, and suspense that completely deliver.
6. THE TENANT
One of Polanski’s first movies after taking refuge in Europe in the mid-70s was this very creepy Paris thriller, in which he cast himself as a shy, sexually confused man who takes over the flat of a suicide victim and gradually goes insane. Fluid, sweeping camerawork by Sven Nykvist and Philippe Sarde’s haunting score fill you with dread before your seat is even warm.
5. RAGING BULL
Poetry in black and white. Scorsese was robbed of a Best Director Oscar for this film, and in my opinion he could have won it just for coming up with this incredible title sequence. Hooded De Niro warming up in slo-mo to Pietro Mascagni in a smoke-filled arena? Uncanny.
4. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
A very underrated Spielberg film and DiCaprio performance, but what an opening! Spy movie jazz music by John Williams that is very non-John Williams, matched to early ’60s retro visuals by the Paris duo Kuntzel and Deygas that recall Pink Panther movies and the most imaginative period art, yet also manage to incorporate upcoming plot elements into its completely fun animation.
3. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Because Sergio Leone’s credits occupy just a small part of what is a spellbinding, nearly wordless eight-minute opening scene, this isn’t always thought of as a great title sequence, but I’m sorry. It absolutely is. In fact, the rest of the movie slips a little for me after this intensely dramatic opening.
2. DO THE RIGHT THING
Spike Lee’s best film also has one of the great credit sequences of all time. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” at top volume with a dancing, boxing, hip-hopping Rosie Perez doesn’t quite match the simmering, humid energy of the film that follows, but it still knocks me out every time.
1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
This glorious black and white intro to one of the greatest dramas ever written or filmed is subtle, magical, emotional and instantly draws you into what will soon be a child’s narrative world. The voice of the playful, singing child is obviously one with a younger age than either Scout or her brother Jed, but the stark power of the tight images is unforgettable. Kudos to director Robert Mulligan and title designer Stephen Frankfurt for this little masterpiece.