James Bond is back on the big screen this week with Sam Mendes’ “Spectre” (read our review here), and along with the return of Daniel Craig, spectacular action and casual sexism, that means we get a lavish credits sequence. An immaculately designed opening, usually paired with a specially scored theme song, has been a staple of the Bond franchise since the early days, and continues with the octopus-tastic take in the new film.
But Bond doesn’t have a monopoly on inventive, thrilling credits sequences —all kinds of filmmakers have introduced their films in stunning, ingenious ways. And so we’ve used the occasion of "Spectre" to pick out our fifty favorite opening credits of all time. Take a look below and let us know your own favorites in the comments.
“The Adventures Of Tintin” (2011)
Steven Spielberg’s homaged Saul Bass more than once, but as gorgeous as the blue-and-black, John Williams-scored feel for “Catch Me If You Can” was, we might be slightly fonder of “The Adventures Of Tintin,” which does an excellent job homaging Hergé’s original work, telling some stories and setting the scene of what’s to come. It’s a thrilling Tintin adventure all its own.
As confident and minimalistically terrifying as the movie itself, the opening to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” pans across quiet space as the title, gradually revealing itself in line-strokes, appears. Both possible meanings of the word are entirely apt here.
“La Belle Et La Bête” (1946)
Jean Cocteau’s classic Gothic version of “Beauty & The Beast” begins in a rather unconventional way even for the time, with the credits written by hand on a blackboard, before revealing a clapperboard, then a hand-drawn statement from Cocteau ending ‘Once upon a time.” It puts the artifice first and foremost, yet remains utterly charming: it's a sort of cinematic version of the oral storytelling tradition that fairy tales come from.
“Danger: Diabolik” (1968)
Mario Bava’s glorious pop-art action-adventure adaptation of the popular Italian comic book opens in the most stylish way possible —as our masked anti-hero (John Phillip Law) dives off a car suspended high above the ocean, the camera spinning deliriously and turning into a sort of kaleidoscope to the tune of Christy’s Ennio Morricone-penned tune “Deep Deep Down.” It’s psychedelic, it’s effortlessly cool, and it’s a perfect microcosm of the movie to come.
The visually startling breakthrough film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro begins in as gorgeously distinctive manner as it continues: after a man hiding in a bin is attacked by a butcher, there’s a hard cut to titles, then the camera pans around titles written on a beautiful tableau of post-apocalyptic objects, mostly relating to their job titles (i.e. Darius Khondji’s name is marked on a camera). It's the first real demonstrations of the pair’s immense stylistic flair.
“Do The Right Thing” (1989)
Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” is one of the greatest movies ever, and appropriately it has one of the greatest credits sequences, as Rosie Perez busts a move in front of an almost “West Side Story”-ish backdrop (sometimes dressed in boxing gear), as Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” eviscerates Elvis and John Wayne. Can you imagine how this could have begun more perfectly?
“Dr. No” (1962)
They’ve got bigger and grander over time, often relying on the same kind of tropes —dancing girls, mostly— but we’d take the modernist simplicity of “Dr. No” over the weird tentacle-porn of “Spectre” any day as far as Bond title sequences go. Introducing the classic theme tune and the gunsight-iris for the first time, but mostly relying on a stylish circle motif, it’s infinitely cooler than much of what followed (until it switches into ‘Three Blind Mice,’ anyway).
“Dr Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb)” (1964)
Using archive footage over credits was a familiar trope even in the 1960s, but as we’ll see, filmmakers have been using it in fascinating ways all the same, and few better than Stanley Kubrick. After an ominous warning, the opening of his classic satire “Dr. Strangelove” sees footage of a mid-air bomber refuel, with overlaid credits in an utterly distinctive, wonky font created for the film by designer Pablo Ferro — it's now known as ‘Strangelove.’
“Enter The Void” (2009)
Hailed instantly as a classic by title-design fans, seemingly influenced in part by Godard and subsequently ripped off by Kanye West, among others, Gaspar Noé’s epic head-trip begins by rolling out the entire credits of the movie in trippy, strobing fashion, with major crew and cast members each getting their own unique design. It’s simply stacked with ideas, and if it goes you a headache, that’s exactly what the intention was in the first place…
“Fahrenheit 451” (1966)
Given that it takes place in a society where all literature has been banned, it was something of a genius stroke, if obvious only in retrospect, for Francois Truffaut to begin his sole English-language film, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi novel, by having the credits read out aloud rather than being shown on screen. It’s throws you right into the film's milieu without the need for lazy set-up, and is one of the smartest decisions in a film that doesn’t always work.