There are a lot of things that all work in conjunction with each other that people love about television shows; they love the characters, the story, the setting, heck, even the music. But before that collective machine starts grinding into gear, there’s something else before it all that deserves appreciation: the title sequence.
Whether long or short, grand or small, tedious or exciting, all television shows employ the use of title sequences to introduce the episode that directly follows it. Sometimes they’re long, intricate affairs used to establish and run parallel to the atmosphere of the show they belong to, and sometimes they’re just title cards that appear and disappear with just enough time to read them. A title sequence’s main job is to introduce the show, but some achieve it with more creative success, and in doing so can make you feel positive about what’s coming up before you’ve even seen it–and you’ll see a few examples of that in this post.
The below selections are some of my favourite TV title sequences that I’ve seen over the years. There will be some newer shows featured within, as well as some older shows that employed strong opening credits that have maintained a lasting impression over the years. Also, as always, all the choices here are subjective, so I’d love to hear what your own favourite TV title sequences are, so feel free to share them down below.
Additionally, the choices below are not ranked in order of preference, as choosing my favourite from the calibre displayed below is an infinitely more difficult choice I will leave to another day in the distant future.
13 – Twin Peaks
“Falling (Twin Peaks Theme)” – Angelo Badalamenti
I’ve leveraged many criticisms towards Twin Peaks in the past, but I cannot deny the fact that it had a magnificent title sequence. Badalamenti’s theme combines sleepy, dream-like qualities with slight tinges of eeriness and horror to the credits that adequately matches the surreal nature of the show itself. Combined with the numerous scenic shots featured as a backdrop to the music, it sets you up for the bizarre happenings that are going to be thrust your way as soon as the music comes to a stop–and while the show struggled with other areas, it absolutely succeeded in how it introduced itself every week.
12 – Lost
Composed by Michael Giacchino
Lost’s title sequence is a short, simple but brilliantly effective sequence that demonstrates how a simple piece of music can offer so much in the way of atmosphere and tone. Lost was a show all about the unknown, with the characters not knowing where they were, who they were sharing room and board with, or what dangers lay ahead–and the viewers hardly ever knew the answers to the many questions thrown at them week after week. The title sequence is short, snappy and wastes no time in establishing that concept, complete with eerie, haunting music that makes the unknown even more fearsome.
11 – Friends
“I’ll Be There For You” – The Rembrandts
How could I not mention the iconic opening titles to one of the most equally iconic comedy series in history? Everything the show is about is ingrained within this sequence, namely a bunch of friends all acting goofy around each other to the tune of a ridiculously catchy (sometimes frustratingly so) song that lingers in your head the instant you are exposed to it, but whose lyrics resonate within the relationships the characters had with each other. It’s cheerful, celebratory and such great fun–exactly what Friends was always so good at.
10 – The Simpsons
“The Simpsons Theme” – Danny Elfman
On the theme of iconic opening titles, there are few as instantly recognisable or gratifying as The Simpsons’ introductory offering. Over the years, it’s remained largely the same, starting with the Simpsons and ending with them, with only the conclusion being in flux–and it’s become so memorable within the pop culture world that it’s been parodied and adored for as long as the show has been on the air. As a title sequence, it does everything it needs to do whilst also providing a highly entertaining introduction to what the show is all about, and the way it’s so widely recognized is a testament to its success.
9 – House
“Teardrop” – Massive Attack
House was a show whose quality wavered over the years, but its title sequence remained a consistently strong affair irrespective of that, with shots of the human anatomy providing the backdrop to a bassy, punchy tune. The title sequence emphasized the fact that this was a show about House (his face even appears right at the start) and the complex, intricate puzzles that excite and allure him, and while the over-emphasis on this aspect of the show gradually became tiresome as the show continued, the title sequence’s portrayal of it did not.
8 – Fringe
Composed by J.J. Abrams
Fringe had a consistently strong, effective title sequence that subtly introduced fringe science concepts that would appear in the episode directly following it, but the true beauty of these credits were in how they evolved over the show’s history. Episodes varying from the traditional formula were given the same title sequence reskinned to fit the theme (such as season two’s “Peter,” featuring the wonderful retro-esque version), while events in the show itself changed the titles as they happened. Once the different universes were introduced, the titles served as a means to indicate which side the episode would be focusing on, and season five featured a fantastic–albeit slightly eerie–version that showed just how much the world had changed from the Observers’ invasion. Fringe was constantly evolving the further it progressed, and the title sequence went along for the ride, to fantastic success.
7 – Mad Men
“A Beautiful Mine” – RJD2
You certainly cannot accuse Mad Men’s opening intro of being an uneventful affair. It starts off with a silhouetted man in an office, before moving onto the same figure plunging from a building, and then concluding with the same man (ostensibly Don Draper, the central character) sitting in a chair with a cigarette in his hand. Is it foretelling the very end of the show, with Don either literally or metaphorically falling from the very top? Who knows, and it’s the combination of this with the strong 60s vibe (along with the pop art style) that gives Mad Men’s opening credits such a brilliant, unique vibe.
6 – Angel
“Sanctuary” – Darling Violetta
Between Buffy’s and Angel’s title sequences, it’s the latter’s that I always preferred. It did a simple job of introducing the characters and their respective actors, but it was the sublime choice of music that elevated the show’s credits beyond that of the show’s older sibling. What started off as a slow, haunting melody quickly kicked into bass, and from that point on it’s just a wonderful, thrilling auditory experience. It’s also worth listening to “Sanctuary” in its entirety as it’s even better in full, and it was the perfect companion to a show–and character–like Angel.
5 – The Sopranos
“Woke Up This Morning” – Alabama 3
As a show, The Sopranos was all about the lives of the many members of the New Jersey mafiosi, and especially central character Tony Soprano. So in that regard, the show’s opening titles were a relatively simple affair, depicting a leisurely, calming drive through New Jersey that ultimately ends at the Soprano household, accompanied all the while with the smoky, almost seductive “Woke Up This Morning.” You could also say that the intro felt like Tony surveying the kingdom he thought he had control over, and that matched the show–and Tony’s character–extremely well.
4 – Dexter
“Blood Theme” – Daniel Licht
Have you ever wondered what a serial killer’s morning routine looks like? Well, if you have, for whatever reason, then Dexter’s opening titles will provide you with an answer. Dexter wakes up, eats breakfast, makes coffee and flosses just like anybody else–keeping in line with the show’s concept of a killer hiding in plain sight. What works extremely well for this sequence (that’s never changed over the show’s seven-year history) are the stunning close-up shots of ordinary, innocuous things, like grinding coffee beans, squeezing a grapefruit or tying shoelaces. It all lends weight to the intro’s atmosphere and vibe, while also establishing just how ordinary Dexter appears on the outside, despite, you know, liking to chop people into pieces in his spare time.
3 – True Blood
“Bad Things” – Jace Everett
There are few ways to describe True Blood’s exquisite title sequence that truly give it justice, but I’ll try anyway. It’s a sublime synthesis of image and audio, it’s raunchy and seductive, it’s wonderfully creative, Jace Everett’s theme is perfect, the imagery is so fantastic, and it just fits the show so well. It also has a very ‘southern’ vibe to it which matches the atmosphere of True Blood effortlessly, and as far as title sequences go, it is, by far, one of the strongest I’ve seen from a television show yet.
2 – Game of Thrones
Composed by Ramin Djawadi.
From the moment Game of Thrones’ epic title sequence kicks into gear, you know you’re in for a thrilling experience. As the camera pans across the massive land of Westeros, honing in on certain areas as they rise up from the ground like parts of an intricate machine, the sheer size and scale of the show and the story it has to tell are recreated to terrific effect. The drum-beating and strong fantasy-esque vibe of the theme music also contribute to introducing each episode of Game of Thrones with an epic and grand spectacle that’s befitting of a show such as this–and if you don’t fall in love with the title sequence the instant you see it, well, what are you doing?
1 – The X-Files
Composed by Mark Snow
If there was ever a title sequence that managed to capture the very essence of the show it belonged to so perfectly, it would be the one belonging to The X-Files. With such creepy and terrifying music (it legitimately used to scare me witless as a child) accompanying visually unnerving images of the same paranormal phenomena central to the show’s premise, each episode of the show was introduced with a sequence that had the potential to set you on edge before you had even witnessed what was about to be thrown your way. It truly made you feel like a stranger lost in a maze of conspiracies, mysteries and danger that The X-Files was always so good at using to create an atmosphere pulsating with tension.
American Horror Story
If there’s one thing American Horror Story is exceptionally good at, it’s throwing crazy shit at you in every episode. Crazy, horrific, unsettling shit. And it all starts off with the title sequence, which intertwines an unnerving piece of music that starts off slow and then progresses into a screamy, screechy affair, with creepy images relevant to the show’s atmosphere. The opening intro, like the show itself, is not all-out horror; instead, it’s more twisted and creepy, and it fits the show perfectly.
Like the very things that Sherlock Holmes is attracted to the most, Elementary’s opening credits depict a complex, intricate puzzle that gradually unfolds over the course of the intro, relying on what comes before in order to see what happens next. The gun has to fire to scare the mouse into running in the wheel, and that has to happen for the bell to raise and for the ball to flow. The puzzle is an intricate machine, just like Sherlock’s mind, and the title sequence is a physical construction of Sherlock’s thought process as he’s unravelling the mysteries at hand.
So, what are your favourite TV title sequences from recent and old? Let me know in the comment box below!