Opening titles sequences can indeed be viewed as an afterthought, but they are in fact extremely important to a show’s success. The opening title sequence of a television series can easily attract or repel viewers, and effect their decision as to whether or not it will be worth their time to invest and watch, or instead change the channel. Most television series don’t last very long, and the higher the ratings in those first few episodes, the better chance the show has of sticking around. Titles serve as a first impression, and as we all know, first impressions are important, especially in this day and age when there are so many other television shows to choose from. The title sequence thus fulfills the role of outlining the showrunner’s intentions and sets up the expectations of those watching. The sequence should also reflect the tone of the show, and prepare you for what you are about to watch, week after week. It should have the ability to place you in the right mood and take your mind off any personal problems, and it should be easily recognizable, even when your eyes are offscreen with a catchy tune. Budgetary restraints naturally affect the title design (these sequences are generally financed by whatever’s left over from the series production budget), but as you will see below, sometimes the most economical and simplest approach can go a long way. In terms of their functional and aesthetic values, the title sequences have far more value than they have been credited for. I present to you the ten best title sequences of the newest television shows from 2011. Note: I didn’t want to include any show that has broadcast for more than one season, otherwise the list would be compiled with shows many are familiar with such as Mad Men and The Walking Dead.
9 – Hell On Wheels
With the first episode of Hell on Wheels, I found myself captivated by opening credits. The intro works for one simple reason, because it respects the genre. Even without the banjo sounding country theme song, the imagery alone represents everything we’ve come to expect from westerns. Unfortunately, after the music and smoke and fire landscapes of the opening credits fade, you’re left with utter and complete disappointment, as the show never lives up to it’s potential.
8- Allen Gregory
Is the credit sequence for Jonah Hill’s animated television series an homage to Saul Bass or a complete knock off? That can be disputed, but I must admit, the credit sequence is what inspired me to tune in, and therefore it did its job. (It turns out to be the only decent aspect of a terrible series.)
7- The Cape
Perhaps it’s my love for comic books, but if you are going to make a television series about a comic book superhero, than why not do it in the traditional of comic book panels. The show wears its comic-book inspiration proudly, and the opening credits reflect that. Before we see any live-action images, we get about 20 seconds of animation created by comic artists Michael Gaydos, Gabriel Hardman and John Cassady. Even better, these images are accompanied by the music from Battlestar Galactica and Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary.
6- The Fades
The opening titles to The Fades is brief, to the point, and does a wonderful job in setting the tone for the dark supernatural themes ahead. The intro treats us with images of ghastly shadows moving across the forest and inner city and the music is most definitely memorable.
5- Person Of Interest
CBS’s new high-tech thriller Person of Interest opens with one hell of a stylish title sequence that sets the tone for the serialized adventures. The title sequence does a great job in welcoming new viewers by shedding some light on the machine that drives the show’s very compley story-lines. The ominous percussive theme that plays underneath the titles was composed by none other than J.J. Abrams, who you may or may not know, also composed the themes for his previous shows Lost and Alias as well.
4- Strike Back
The intro for Strike Back does a fantastic job of letting you know what to expect, which is good for someone like me who had no idea what the show was about. The silhouette, semi-animated graphics of special force-style combat resembles something that came out of a Robert Kirkman graphic novel. The song “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy is an excellent selection – the soulful, thumping tune plays well along side the panels coloured with dusty orange and earthly tones and showcasing drawings of the special forces in action.
3- American Horror Story
The opening title sequence to American Horror Story is extremely unsettling and a fair warning of the dark proceedings ahead. In other words, both the music and images that we see and hear are utterly perfect for any horror series. There’s a lot of symbolism in the opener and the one-minute sequence actually acts as its own mystery, with key plot points that will be revealed over the course of the first season. The music used is an original piece by sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry and Charlie Clouser of Nine Inch Nails. The duo also blend in various sound effects to accompany the jittery, abstract editing and the result is far more terryfying than the opening of The Walking Dead. -
Boss, which kicked off with a beautiful directorial stamp from Gus Van Sant, features an incredible opening credit sequence. Filmed on location in Chicago, the sequence squats down immediately into the ugly internal machinations of politics, with the child-like sketches of people drawn over the city’s beautiful architecture. These drawings bearing which mirror the chalk outlines left on the concrete of both crime scenes and children’s playgrounds, give us a glimpse of the good and bad of the Windy City. In addition, the intro also features the best theme song of the season.
Angus Wall of the company Elastic is the man behind the best opening title sequence of the year (and possibly the best series). Wall is best known for his work on Big Love and Rome‘s title design, not to mention Carnivale, in which he won an Emmy for.
In an interview with THR, Wall revealed some insight into how the Game Of Thrones sequence came to life.”We wanted to do something different from the standard tropes for fantasy maps,” Wall told THR. “So we came up with the idea of a world inside a sphere.”
Wall went on to explain:
“The computer-illusion ‘camera’ swoops from kingdom to kingdom, focusing on the family crest that sits atop each place — the ‘sigil.’ The sigil becomes the main cog that triggers the animation — the da Vinci device, full of interlocking cogs. So the model of the place emerges out of the floor of the map and comes to life. Like the show itself, the title sequence strives for realism within a fantasy setting. In the shadowed areas beneath the surface of the map, there are cogs in there. If you look carefully, you’ll see they’re all working with the cogs that are exposed above the surface of the map.”
What many people don’t’ realize about the opening title sequence is that Wall designed four different versions, each expanding the map and visiting new locations. The visuals aren’t just pretty to look at but also incredibly informative, especially for those not familiar with the source material, and the theme music is brilliant, perfectly setting the tone of the show.
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Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.
Sound on Sight is an independently owned and operated publication, started by a couple of film students back in 2008. We are not a general-interest magazine; we focus on film-literate, pop-culture savvy moviegoers with discerning tastes but broad palettes. We specialize in genre films, independent cinema, and documentaries, as well as the best of television and comics.