Top 10 Main Title Scenes
Updated: May 1, 2022
For as far back as I can remember, my favorite part of a film is the main title sequence. For me, the main titles are like a portal allowing me to step into the story with the characters.
There are many aspects that make up a great main titles sequence, but it all comes down to the vibe. It could be the visuals, the theme music, or the combination of the two. Either way, sequence must set up the overall tone of the film and thrust the audience into the story.
Over the years main title sequences have died off a bit as filmmakers opt to just start the action as quickly as possible. More recent data reveals that audiences in the streaming era choose to skip over title sequences when given the option. This to me is a shame and I hope that someday filmmakers and audiences alike appreciate the importance of opening title sequences.
Until then, I give you my Top Ten Main Title Scenes!
10. Beetlejuice (1988)
Directed by Tim Burton
Music by Danny Elfman
There may not be a more perfect pairing of director and composer than Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. Their matched styles have been described as dark, kooky, or weird and Beetlejuice has a little bit of it all.
For the main title sequence Burton takes us on a little trip with an overhead shot panning through a quaint little town. Elfman’s main theme has a fun almost circus vibe with a blend of his signature gothic stylings and grand orchestral flourishes.
As the scene comes to a close, we realize that what we were looking at was in fact a model of a town that exist in the Maitland’s attic. The reveal is a cool little trick for the audience, and the model town will come into play later in the story. We’ll see similar deceptive sequence later in this list to an even greater effect.
9. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Directed by John Milius
Music by Basil Poledouris
The title sequence to Conan the Barbarian opens with a voiceover from the late-great Maku before the music kicks in and we are treated to a scene of young Conan watching his father forge a sword. Basil Poledouris begins his “A” theme with a pounding rhythmic figure followed by powerful brass melody that is a perfect representation of the main character. He follows that up with a lyrical “B” theme played by lush strings which underscores the adventure and fantasy elements of the film.
8. Hellboy (2004)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Music by Marco Beltrami
Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy has a little bit of everything. It’s an interesting mix of comic book action, horror, comedy and sci-fi. The opening titles embodies all of it.
Visually we get a series of newspaper headlines and gritty footage of Hellboy sightings supplemented by vo of news reporters and eyewitnesses. Meanwhile composer Marco Beltrami applies his craft with music that starts off with a 60’s spy movie vibe, after all Hellboy is a bit of a covert agent, before he brings in the full orchestra for the gothic yet heroic theme.
7. Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Sometimes a piece of music is so perfect and so iconic that there is no need for fancy visuals. Jerry Goldsmith’s opening theme for Star Trek the motion picture is exactly that. All we get is a black screen with the credits and Jerry’s theme and that’s all we need!
The theme has gone on to be one of the most recognizable pieces of film music history and of course received continued use in the Next Generation tv show main titles.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Bernard Herrmann
I’d be remiss to leave Hitchcock and Herrmann off my list. Both men were innovators in their respective crafts and laid the groundwork for modern cinematic language.
This main title scene in Vertigo is all about setting the tone. Herrmann’s music is haunting and dreamlike while the visuals, designed by Saul Bass further ad to the psychological effect.
5. Superman (1978)
Directed by Richard Donner
Music by John Williams
After a short black and white intro that gives us the history of the Daily Planet, we are sent to the stars. The credits fly in with the whooshing sound of a broken sound barrier. It’s a simple but cool visual effect but what really makes this title sequence great is the music of John Williams.
John Williams is a master of thematic writing, and his skill is on full display. His Superman march is one of the most famous pieces of music of all time. Williams’ Superman theme is the embodiment of the character.
4. Terminator 2 (1991)
Directed by James Cameron
Music by Brad Fidel
Ask anyone who knew the 8-year-old me and they will tell you how obsessed I was with Terminator 2. I watched it over and over and looked forward to the opening title sequence every time. Brad Fidel opens his music with metallic percussion playing hard-hitting rhythmic figure before the melodic theme enters. The theme is both dramatic and anthemic and is paired with the slow-motion shots of a burning playground, the potential fate of humanity if our heroes fail. The sequence ends with a return to the metallic percussion motif matched with one of the most badass sights in cinema history, a closeup shot of the T-800 Terminator endoskeleton engulfed in the flames.
3. Star Wars (1977)
Directed by George Lucas
Music by John Williams
All you must do is play the first few seconds of John Williams opening fanfare and people will immediately think of Star Wars. The music is iconic, and the starry black sky and text crawl is equally acclaimed.
By the 1970’s action movie scores were infused with jazz, rock, and other forms of popular music. But Williams’s theme harkens back to the old swashbuckling fanfares of Korngold and other golden era film scores. This pairing of romantic-era thematic scoring with the emerging sci-fi action genre proved to be successful and set the standard that all future scores must live up to.
2. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Music by Christopher Young
This may seem like a bold pick for my number two. While this might not have the iconic status or recognizability as others on my list, it a masterful pairing of music and visuals. Composer Christopher Young, a master of horror scoring, crafts a haunting and intense theme which is paired with animated visuals depicting demons and macabre. The whole sequences is stunning and helps set an eerie vibe.
1. Batman (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton
Music by Danny Elfman
I’ll never forget the first time I saw this as a child. To this day I don’t think there is an opening title scene that gets me more amped up for a movie than this.
The sequence starts with the Warner Bros logo and fades into a dark sky. The camera pans down and we begin a journey through some kind of dark labyrinth full of twist and turns.
Elfman opens his music with a homage to Bernard Herrmann’s Journey to the Center of the Earth score, before bursting into the bombastic theme. Of course, our main character is a billionaire who is motivated by his dark childhood to fight crime in the shadows of night. Elfman manages to capture all of that with his music. The theme is powerful and heroic yet dark and gothic at the same time.
The music comes to its final flourish and the camera pulls back to reveal the Batman logo.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Grandpa Frank Main Titles
I had the opportunity to work on an award winning comedy short film called Grandpa Frank. The movie follows a Jack a college student who finds himself in a curious situation caught between Grandpa Frank and his arch-nemesis Luther. The vibe of the film with an influence of 80's classics. I went for that Danny Elfman vibe with the music and the sound design was manipulated records of a camera shutter.