There is unspeakable power in the opening credits sequence to a film. The opening credits can grab the audience with striking visuals or set the tone with the drop of a catchy soundtrack. As a screenwriter, you won’t have any input in your screenplay’s opening credit sequence, but envisioning your own can give incredible power to your story and improve your screenplay in ways you cannot imagine.
Before we get to our list of the top ten greatest opening credits sequences of all time, let’s try to understand why envisioning the opening credits to your screenplay is important:
Reason #1: A good opening credits sequence can encapsulate the central idea of your screenplay.
One of the major rules of screenwriting is that you never deviate from your story’s central idea. Every single scene in your screenplay must revolve around your central idea in some way and to some degree. This rule is extremely difficult for both amateur and professional screenwriters to follow. Screenwriters can get lost in the dialogue of their characters or the high-octane action sequences they’ve written, making it difficult to regain focus on the script’s central idea.
It’s common for all screenwriters to sacrifice the heart of their story for scenes filled with cheap thrills, over-the-top action, or provocative dialogue between two lovers. These distractions can get in the way and lead toward ham-handed scenes that fill in the gaps of the story.
Since the opening credits don’t carry any of these elements, they won’t suffer from any of these pitfalls. Rather, the opening credits sequence runs like a music video, where the heart of your story is encompassed by a captivating amalgamation of visuals and soundtrack. Ultimately, the audience is given a strong sense of what is about to unfold in your film. Coming up with a title sequence for your very own script is an incredibly helpful exercise that will help improve your screenplay.
Reason #2: It can give your audience a glimpse of what is to come
The opening credits can provide valuable and profound information for your audience to hold onto to before your story even begins. This is something that can have a major impact. Before your audience even arrives at the theater, they’re expecting a damn good story. By the time the opening credits roll, they’re ready for you to hit them. A good opening credits sequence can give a glimpse of your story by showing the characters and setting in a unique way. Think about your screenplay and how it starts out. Are you having trouble providing a good opening scene? Try envisioning how your opening credits would appear if it were up to you, and maybe that will help lead you into the proper opening scene.
Reason #3: If the object of the game is to spellbind your audience, then a solid opening credit sequence can do just that.
Think about the audience for your screenplay. How do you want them to feel when they leave the theater? Horrified? Satisfied? Angry? Shocked? Now envision the opening credits of your film. If it were up to you, what song would you open up with? Would you use stunning visuals to project excitement before your story begins, or is a tame approach more appropriate? What font type would you choose for the credits? How (and when) will your name appear under “Screenplay By”?
Believe it or not, envisioning the opening credits sequence to your screenplay can provide some very useful direction and inspiration when writing (and re-writing) your script. It can strengthen your story in ways you never thought possible. Not to mention, writers need different rituals and alternative methods to provide inspiration and fuel their creativity. Envisioning your opening credits sequence is an incredibly unique way to improve your screenplay and give your story the focus it needs.
Top 10 Greatest Opening Credits Sequences of All Time (10-6)
10. Gone With The Wind (1939)
Nothing is more important to Gone With The Wind’s story than it’s setting. Setting is everything to this southern epic adapted from Margaret Mitchel’s famous novel, and the purpose of the opening credits sequence is to do it justice. One by one, breathtaking images of the vast landscape of the Old South are revealed while the epic musical soundtrack plays in the background. Not only that, but the credit sequence WANTS the audience to know that they’re in for a long, epic tale. That’s why the credits were deliberately made to last almost 4 minutes.
9. Enter The Void (2009)
Perhaps the most unique credit sequence in film history is Enter The Void. The film is a psychedelic life-after-death journey about an American drug dealer who is killed in a drug deal. His soul, observing the repercussions of his death, seeks resurrection and looks after his surviving sister as his spirit roams the streets of Tokyo.
The credits are an epileptic seizure of colors, fonts and flashes in random, sporadic order. These elements reflect not only the colors you’ll see in the film, but immerse the audience in a void of its own. The audience is arrested by the rapid fire of credits, and is given the feeling that there is absolutely no escape.
8. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick takes the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and turns them into the embodiment of horror in the heart-stopping opening credits sequence to The Shining. A haunting musical score accompanies the camera as we fly through the clear skies and follow a lone car traversing down a long winding road towards an unknown but deeply isolated destination. Juxtaposing the music with the seemingly harmless scenery creates an ominous tone that fills the audience with an uneasy sense of what is soon to unfold when the credits end.
7. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Sometimes all you need is a series of beautiful paintings and a moving medley to inspire the audience just before your film begins. Doctor Zhivago is the gold standard for this modest approach. Somehow, the watercolor paintings and incredible musical soundtrack are enough to fill the audience with passion before the epic love story begins.
6. Jackie Brown (1997)
Quentin Tarantino has a way of taking the styles and methods of former cinematic icons and making them his own. We see the influences of Serio Leone in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. We see Kurosawa and old samurai films injected into Kill Bill. In Jackie Brown, Tarantino takes the minimalist cinematography from the opening credits to The Graduate and applies them to the protagonist played by Pam Grier. The long take of Jackie Brown’s side profile as she waits patiently on the moving walkway in the airport breeds anticipation in the audience while the relentless tune to “Across 110th Street” plays. Evidently, that’s all he needs to prepare us for the story.
5. Hell or High Water (2016)
After a 10-minute bank robbery sequence that starts off the film, a dark yet catchy western tune by Townes Van Zandt drops hard, telling us we’re in for one wild ride. The soundtrack continues as we witness an action-filled getaway scene through the harsh, desolate Texas landscape. It’s the perfect opening credits sequence to prepare us for one of the greatest films of the 2010s.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
One word is meant to kidnap the audience during the opening credits to Reservoir Dogs, and that word is “cool”. We see a star-studded cast all wearing shades and black suits as they leave a diner. The “cool” soundtrack plays as these ruthless but very quirky criminals walk together in slow motion.
3. Drive (2011)
It’s only appropriate that a perfect action movie is accompanied by a perfect opening credits sequence. Stylish shots of nighttime Los Angeles are accompanied by a menacing electro house soundtrack to create a masterpiece. Add the hot pink cursive font for the credits, and the audience becomes enthralled by a dark sense of romance never felt before in the history of cinema. The opening sequence alone is an unforgettable viewing experience.
2. Bacurau (2019)
Bacurau is perhaps the strangest and most remarkable film in the modern era, but virtually no one has seen it. This crime is only accentuated by the fact that its opening title sequence may never get the credit (no pun intended) it truly deserves.
How do you open a film that defies all genre? How do you prepare your audience for a slow-burning bloodbath filled with sci-fi, humor, horror, misery, mystery, longing, chaos, sadness and hope–which all takes place in a small village in Brazil? It would seem impossible, but somehow all of this is accomplished with an extremely long take that begins in outer space and pans toward planet Earth. All the while, an old Tropicália Brazillian pop song plays. As the song continues to mystify the audience, a satellite dish randomly flies by, and nothing makes sense. Suddenly, the camera slowly closes in on Brazil, to the specific setting in which the film takes place. Why did we start off in space? What the hell is going on? This is exactly what the film wants us to ask.
The opening title credits to Bacurau is absolutely breathtaking and masterful. Many people have said they if they could travel back in time, they would go back just to witness this movie for the first time once again. Why? No one can quite explain, but the opening title credits is just one of the reasons.
1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Intense. Horrifying. Chaotic. Apocalyptic. Johnny Cash. The opening credits to Dawn of the Dead is blockbuster horror personified. The sporadic scenes of rioting, zombie attacks, and mayhem in the city are accompanied by the soundtrack’s apocalyptic lyrics sung by none other than a recently deceased Johnny Cash (who died just a year before the film was released). It is as if Johnny Cash is speaking to us from the grave while we watch the world in horror as the world quickly goes to hell. And this is all before the story of the film begins. This relentless, unforgiving sequence epitomizes the goal of an opening credits sequence and accomplishes it more than any other film in history.
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