Openings matter. Which is why it’s a shame that this countdown begins with such a redundant statement. Because openings don’t really matter. Breaking Bad isn’t any greater a television show because it has a sub-five second opening and Homeland isn’t lessened by the decision to hire the local sixth form Media Studies class to shoot theirs, (“Oooh the President is upside down! It symbolises America being all confused and stuff!”). But a great opening credit sequence, like a great opening act, can put you in exactly the right mood for what’s to follow. In much the same way that a badly written, self-referential opening paragraph can make you switch off your computer and go for a nice walk instead.
The Twilight Zone
“You unlock this door with the key of imagination…” The Granddaddy of opening titles, The Twilight Zone presented exactly what was on offer within, without actually telling you anything except that some weird shit is about to go down. Obviously when said “weird shit” did venture south the audience was suitably prepared. So job done. And kids, before you start laying into the graphics remember this was 1959, the world of accurate eyeball recreation was a long way off.
See Also: Futurama‘s The Scary Door, “You’re entering the vicinity of an area adjacent to a location…”
Another example of spooky, what-the-fuckettry long before the days of over-acronyming is Twin Peaks eerie, haunting credits. On first glance it’s little more than stock footage of a quartet of locations – sawmill, mountains, waterfall, river – but, like the show, under the surface there was much more to discover. Raised to the level of art by Badalamenti’s gorgeous instrumental, to use a line from another Lynch product, Twin Peaks opening represented a world that was “wild at heart and weird on top.”
See Also: The X-Files had a catchier, if less hauntingly beautiful, ditty than Twin Peaks while the visuals had the subtlety of a UFO landing on your cat.
Keeping the British end up in a field highly populated by our Atlantic brethren is Andrew Davies political drama House Of Cards. Nowhere near as bombastic as any of today’s telly its stroke of genius is the simple opening presenting the visage of the late, great Ian Richardson and his vanishing smile, saying more than a thousand speeches. David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s adaptation for Netflix has something equally special.
See Also: Another Brit mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy had little more than the opening of four Russian dolls. Subtle and elegant.
Even though the opening titles to America’s longest running scripted show change every week – Couch gags, Lisa’s Solo, The Chalkboard – the fact that they’ve only undergone one major overhaul in their, 23 years and counting, lifetime shows they must be doing something right. In the intervening two decades and a bit since the show’s inception, The Simpsons credits have become universally adored and much parodied. The live action version (below) remains a breathtaking work of staggering genius.
See Also: South Park, Family Guy, Malcolm in the Middle. All loud, brash and Simpsons inspired.
If you’re going to put a joke in your opening it best stand up to repetition. “Author, dreamweaver, visionary…plus actor” does just that. Preceded by the greatest of the Channel 4 logos, Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness’s horror parody nails the production value of mid-80s TV, while simultaneously gently ribbing The Twilight Zone aesthetics and the audio “inventiveness” of The A-Team and every other pop-synth-soundtracked shit wagon. Hear the theme below.
See Also: Snuff Box. It may not have a tune based on a whistle by Garth but it does have a tune based on a song sang by a Matt Berry.
Now that the popularity and endless Wire chatter has reached its plateau the titles can be seen objectively for what they are; A perfect opening for a perfect show. Tom Waits may have had to wait until Season Two to get his version some airtime, but whichever take on ‘Way Down In The Hole’ you hear (save perhaps the too plain Steve Earle version of Season Five) it’s guaranteed to call you back to the streets of Baltimore. “If you walk through the garden…”
See Also: True Blood pulls off a similar trick with a great choice of song and imagery. But with more sex.
No show has successfully pulled off the epic scale of Band Of Brothers before or since. It’s hard to imagine sitting down to watch it for the first time but right from the get-go the HBO behemoth stirs every sense. Heroism and fraternity, shock and sadness, at well over 180 seconds the title sequence is a little story all of its own. It also has the added bonus of exhibiting Dexter Fletcher’s face quite prominently. Which is something all opening credits should do. Even if the shows themselves don’t contain any Dexter Fletcher.
See Also: Replace Band Of Brothers ‘photos coming to life’ with ‘charcoal drawings coming to life’ and you’ve got The Pacific‘s opening. No less grandiose for it.
The greatest current opening titles, Game of Thrones‘ intro doesn’t just inspire a comely jig from the ace songage but it also helps the audience know where in the name of Westeros they are. Quite handy when you’re setting a world in a land without Easyjet and the T-Mobile network. A word of warning, however, don’t YouTube “Cat Singing Game of Thrones” because you may never be able to divide the two again. Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Mow, mow, mow.