The opening credit sequence is a very particular form of filmmaking: It's got to convey the spirit of the TV show that's gonna follow—while being all-purpose enough to work for any kind of episode—and it's got to be instantly memorable. The best of them elevate the opening titles to their own form of art, and here are 20 of the best.
Some of these are classics, oldies that feel from a time gone by but still remain part of our pop-cultural DNA. Others earn their stripes thanks to a piece of music that endures, that immediately conjures a sense of the mysterious or the adventurous. Others still have imagery so startling they work into the cortex like a virus.
And others are simply cool as heck.
Game of Thrones
Simple, short and bleak, these titles didn't reveal anything about anything—which was perfect for a series so steeped in mystery.
This is a weird one, as there are two title sequence for this show. There's the "intro" (above) and then the full titles (below), both of which do an excellent job of setting up the Cylon revolt, the annihilation of the Twelve Colonies and the poundy-drum awesomeness of the battle sequences.
Really, the godfather for every awesome genre title sequence that would follow. Rod Serling's creepy voiceover, the surreal images and Marius Constant's spooky-ass theme combine to form a television classic.
Creator Glen Larson once described this show as The Lone Ranger, but with a car instead of a horse. And these titles, with the desert sands and synth soundtrack and Members Only jackets ... pure sci-fi western.
The '60s original is all old-school cool and the credits mate a big-band swing with pulp-spy tableaus of children in danger. The intro for the '80s revival, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, is notable really only for having a pretty killer rendition of that terrific theme. (But I still don't quite get all the pseudo-CG terrain lines.)
Even though it looked like these credits could've been made with anyone with a couple of fake IDs and a camcorder, they still hit a sweet spot—conjuring the supernatural and the extraterrestrial in a way that's both mundane and eerie.
It's the bas sline, really. That steady dum-du-dum of the theme is what has allowed this—let's face it—not very sophisticated sequence to still send chills down the spine almost despite the cheesy-trippy visuals.
The Six Million Dollar Man
Wounded astronaut + computer readouts + bionic limbs + ominous voiceover + killer tracksuit = TV science fiction incarnate.
This tour of Springfield has been a staple of TV for decades, and part of what makes it so enduring is that it's endlessly customizable.
It's that one shot—Serenity flying over a team of horses—that shows why this series was so unique (the happy blending of the sci-fi and western genres) and doomed to failure (because audiences, and the network, didn't know which one it was). That prairie-ready theme song didn't help either. But it still evokes everything Browncoats have come to love about Firefly.
Being Human (BBC)
All of this swirling imagery hammers home one very real truth about this show: It's all in the blood.
It's almost hard to believe that this dystopian series—which premiered in 1991—could feel both so ahead of its time and like a relic. And yet this almost Dali-esque opening does just that. (Try to overlook the slightly painful pretentiousness of the voiceover.)
Of the two Buffyverse titles, these always felt a little more effective to me. Maybe it's the theme song, which had a bit of a mournful feel ... appropriate for a cursed vampire superhero.
American Horror Story
Freaky and random as all get-out, much like the series itself.
These evoke the classic titles of its Fox sci-fi forerunner, The X-Files, but add their own J.J. Abrams-esque flair. (Namely, the secret code that the credits would spell out for those devoted enough to crack it.)
Southern-fried gothic weirdness that oozes sex and menace, just like the show's slinky vampires.
Created by the same folks who did the Game of Thrones titles, these similarly bring the viewer immediately into this world through the use of tarot cards and Depression-era stock footage.
All jazz and style and cool. You almost wouldn't know these were for a Japanese space-detective adventure cartoon.
It's simple, really. Mostly just blue titles on black backgrounds. But it had three things going for it, three things that make it one of the most famous credit sequences in entertainment history: Alexander Courage's triumphant theme, William Shatner's stirring voiceover and the Enterprise, whooshing across the screen. In the 1960s, this was like sci-fi crack. (Kinda still is.)