Movie Title Sequences

More and more, I’m finding that the first 2-3 minutes of a movie are my favorite part of the film. My life is devoted to the beautiful expression of information, which is why film title sequences hold a special place in my heart.

On this episode, I talk with Ian Albinson (Editor-in-Chief and Founder of the kick-ass Art of the Title) and the brilliant Gareth Smith (title sequence designer — along with his wife Jenny Lee — of such films as Juno and Up in the Air) about the benchmarks of film title design and the constraints involved in presenting what is essentially a legal document to a paying audience.

Here is “A Brief History of Title Design” edited by Ian Albinson:

Check out this great overview of Saul Bass titles sequences put together by the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

It’s hard to pick a Saul Bass favorite, but IFC picked Vertigo as the greatest title sequence of all time.

Kyle Cooper is largely considered the new modern master of title sequences. Here’s his game-changing opener for Se7en:

And if the Cheers title sequence (a favorite of Gareth Smith) doesn’t make you happy, then I don’t want to know what lurks in that cold, black soul of yours.

OK, team. Let’s fill up those comments. What are your favorites? I’m particularly partial to the titles for Catch Me If You Can, which has the stylish audacity of pretty much revealing the entire plot of the movie. Your turn…

  1. arthur manzi

    You’re right, the titles for “Catch Me If You Can” are brilliant. Here are some of my favorites:

    Preston Sturges’s “The Palm Beach Story,” which encapsulates at breakneck pace the backstory of the movie we’re about to watch and is crucial to the way it ends.

    Alexander MacKendrick’s “The Sweet Smell of Success,” which is set to a brassy, down ‘n’ dirty soundtrack and follows the distribution of a “large metropolitan daily” from loading dock to Times Sq sidewalk, where a copy is picked up by the main character. Perfect segue.

    Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” which presents the cast and titles as a cheesy late-night advertisement for an anthology album, complete with whirling, cheesy graphics and snippets of each tune.

    Carol Reed’s “The Third Man,” featuring an abstract, intimate portrait of everyone’s favorite character in the movie: Anton Karas’s zither.

    “The Grifters”
    “Fight Club”

  2. Brandon

    Listening to this podcast, I finally put my finger on something. I knew “Frasier” was a solid show (more my parents’ taste than mine; I still like “Cheers” more), but why did “Frasier” always leave me cold? Was part of it it’s relatively sterile title sequence compared to “Cheers”? Roman hits the nail on the head when he says the title sequence of “Cheers” had “warmth.” I remember hearing that sitcom title sequences in the 90s got shorter, to get people watching a show quicker, and to give them less time to flip to another channel (an example they gave was “Wings” having its title sequence shortened a few years into its run), so maybe “Frasier” was victim of that too. To have “Frasier” opening with a title card and some Jazz, then a fade in with credits over the scene, even though that sort of intro is commonplace now, it (subconsciously) felt impersonal and generic, even more so compared to something as iconic and personal as “Cheers.”

    Granted, “Cheers” and “Frasier” were different shows, the former (to me) was about lovable losers coming together like family, the latter in comparison about actually having to deal with your biological family. But since Frasier and Niles were both stuffy and pretentious in their own ways, was the impersonal title sequence of “Frasier” actually fitting to the show, whether intentional or just a product of shortened 90s sitcom title sequences?

    In any event, thanks for a great podcast! I definitely reassessed the role that title sequences play in setting a mood (that we’re often not even aware of consciously), and this podcast inspired me to check out Kyle Cooper’s site–whoa. Now even the title sequence for “Home Alone” takes on new layers!

    1. Not Alexandre Desplat

      It’s Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Prologue’, from the 2004 movie ‘Birth’.

  3. Carolyn

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the “Bond” films! They’re absolutely beautiful.

  4. Ian

    The title sequence for The Watchmen was brilliant. It introduced us to the history of the universe it takes place in, one which has some parallels with ours but some differences. Seeing the “flower power” picture re-created but with a massacre as the shot fades away makes the universe of watchmen frighteningly real and disturbing.

  5. myspiritanimalischuck

    Some recent faves from film, television, conferences, and re-imagined
    (Random order)

    True Blood

    (Can’t find a full version on Vimeo.)


    By Any Means

    Les Bleus De Ramville

    Semi-Permanent 2013


    Inception (re-imagined)
    Guillermo Rodrí­guez

    20000 Leagues Under The Sea (re-imagined)

  6. Susan

    Mad Men. Possibly the greatest title sequence for a television show ever. (No offense to Cheers.)

    Thanks for the episode and all the links. Never saw Catch Me If You Can, so it was a pleasure to see the title sequence!

  7. Paul Farris

    The video missed a few of Saul’s best film titles.
    “Around the World in 80 Days”
    “West Side Story”
    “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World”

  8. Adam L

    Only answering this question 5 years late!

    Watchmen, Lord of War, Game of Thrones, Zombieland, Cowboy Bebop.

    All have excellent and iconic music, great visual style, and set the scene/tone of their respective things wonderfully.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Categories

Minimize Maximize