Title sequence

Title sequence

A Title Sequence is the method by which cinematic films or television programs present their title, key production and cast members, or both, utilizing conceptual visuals and sound. It usually follows but should not be confused with the opening credits, which are generally nothing more than a series of superimposed text.



Since the invention of the cinematograph, simple title cards were used to top and tail silent film presentations in order to identify both the film and the production company involved, and to act as a signal that the film had started and then finished. In silent cinema title cards were used throughout to convey dialogue and plot and it is in some of these early short films that we see the first examples of title sequences themselves, being quite literally a series of title cards shown at the beginning of a film. The arrival of sound did little to alter the convention except that the sequence was usually accompanied by a musical prelude.

This remained the convention for many years until the advent of television forced the major film studios to invest in developing cinema in order to win back a diminishing audience. The "cast of thousands" epics shot on various patent widescreen formats were a direct response to television's successful invasion of the leisure marketplace. Part of cinema's new prestigious and expansive quality were orchestral musical preludes before the curtains opened and long title sequences — all designed to convey a sense of gravitas it was hoped television would be unable to compete with. As cinema's title sequences grew longer we begin to see the involvement of graphic design luminaries such as Saul Bass, which directly influenced the 1960s television predilection for creating strong graphics-led sequences for many shows.

Film-Makers at the beginning of the 21st century have many options open regarding title sequences. Some films superimpose opening credits over the opening scenes, while others elect to do away with titles entirely, instead including elaborate title sequences at the end of the movie.

Due to the commercial environment of television broadcasting, most series have regular and identifiable title sequences.


Many films have used unusual and fairly elaborate title sequences since the 1930s. In the 1936 Show Boat little cut-out figures on a revolving turnable carried overhead banners on which were displayed the opening credits. This opening sequence was designed by John Harkrider, who created the costumes for the original 1927 Broadway production of the musical.

In several films, the opening credits have appeared against a background of (sometimes moving) clouds. These include The Wizard of Oz (1939), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), the David Lean Oliver Twist (1948), and the 1961 King of Kings.

In the 1947 Technicolor film Sinbad the Sailor, the letters of the opening credits seem to form from colored water gushing into a fountain.

In the 1959 Ben-Hur, the opening credits were seen against the background of the "Creation of Man" in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. As the credits progressed, the camera slowly zoomed in on the Hand of God outstretched toward Adam.

In a trend increasingly common since the late 1950s, film title sequences have been a showcase for contemporary design and illustration. The title sequences of Saul Bass and Maurice Binder are among the best examples of this. They also inspired many imitators both in cinema and on television.

Kyle Cooper's celebrated title sequence for David Fincher's Se7en (1995) again influenced a whole host of designers. Nevertheless it also remains common for titles that superimpose text over a black background.

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet does not actually have an opening title sequence - the only credits seen at the beginning are the name of the production company, Shakespeare's name, and the title of the film. However, the title is shown by means of the camera slowly panning across the base of the statue of the dead king Hamlet, whose ghost will appear in three scenes of the film, and who will play a crucial role in the story.


In general, a television title sequence will at some point badge the show with a typographic logo. Around this key element can be incorporated shots of highlights from earlier episodes or shows and key presenters' or cast members' names. Musical accompaniment can be either instrumental or a song and aided by the visual treatment of the images helps to convey the tone and mood of the programme.

In anime, there are usually lyrics to the theme tune at the bottom of the opening.

Television specials, especially of classic works, sometimes contain unusual opening credit sequences. In the title sequence of Mikhail Baryshnikov's 1977 version of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, for example, we see closeups, freeze-frame and slow-motion shots of Baryshnikov and female lead Gelsey Kirkland "warming up" for the ballet. When the actual title appears on the screen we see Baryshnikov in his nutcracker costume and mask leaping into the air in slow motion and freeze frame. The Overture Miniature is heard during the opening credits.

In serials, because a title sequence is produced at the outset of a series, it will usually include scenes from early episodes already shot when the sequence was prepared. Short clips of key characters will often climax in a freeze frame as that cast member's name is superimposed. In and around these elements will be other footage depicting the locale (a particular city, country, building or fictitious location) in which the series is set and therefore its era. A title sequence might also be used to explain the premise of a series, traditionally utilising clips from its pilot episode.

Although a title sequence may be modified during a series to update cast changes or incorporate new "highlight" shots from later episodes, it will tend to remain largely the same for an entire season. Such is the strength of a title sequence in expressing the concept of a show, it will sometimes be the key element a producer will target in order to revamp a show between seasons. Therefore some shows have enjoyed several quite different title sequences and theme music throughout their runs, while in contrast some ever-popular shows have retained their original title sequences for decades with only minor alterations. Conversely, retaining a series' original title sequence can allow a producer to change many key elements within a programme itself, without losing the show's on-screen identity. Other variations include changing only the theme music whilst keeping the visuals or vice versa.

In contemporary television news a title sequence can be changed every day by including footage of that day's news with a presenter's voice "teasing" the items. This ensures that the title sequence appears fresh but still identifies the news program by its music and visual style.

In 2010 TV Guide published a list of TV's top 10 credits sequences, as selected by readers. The series, in order of first to tenth were: The Simpsons, Get Smart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Hawaii Five-O, True Blood, The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, The Brady Bunch, Mad Men and The Sopranos.[1]

List of television series whose title sequences have regular subtle changes

Some shows have title sequences that are subtly different in every episode (or season). Some famed title sequences with variables include:

Current series

  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - At the end of the title sequence the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Created by Anthony E. Zuiker" are placed over slightly different quickly changing images that alternate from episode-to-episode. There are 4 of these "Title Cards" in total. This has taken place since the introduction of the new sequence in Season 6.
  • American Dad – Stan picks up a newspaper with a unique headline (seasons 1-3); Roger appears in Stan's car wearing a different disguise (fourth season on).
  • American Idol – showing past winners throughout the sequence.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004) – a running tally of total human survivors is shown.
  • The Fairly OddParents – Vicky's head always turns into something different at the end.
  • Fringe – The style of the titles changes depending on whether the episode takes place in a different time or in the alternate universe.
  • Futurama – the text below the title and the cartoon clip playing on the big screen changes each episode.
  • Game of Thrones - showing different structures rising from the ground and panning on different locations depending on the setting.
  • Scrubs - the doctor taking the x-ray out of the chart at the foot of the bed changes.
  • madTV - For The Public Silly Song Countdown, the construction workers came and put a board on the word "ULTIMATE" and painted "PUBLIC" on it.
  • The Simpsons has four main variables in its title sequences:
    • "Billboard gag" – a billboard on top of a building, seen during the pan through Springfield (only in the HDTV opening), shows a different advertisement during every episode
    • "Chalkboard gag" – Bart Simpson writes a different sentence on a blackboard in his classroom.
    • "Sax solo gag" – Lisa Simpson improvises a different solo on her saxophone as the teacher sends her out of the room.
    • "Couch gag" – the Simpson family sits on the couch in a different, "wacky" way.
  • Smallville - The sequences are different every season (Except Season 2 and 3 that use the same sequence) In Season 10, the last season, the title sequences usually have four regular cast members, except the episodes that Allison Mack appears, her name is added in the sequences of those episodes for honouring her regular starring since 2001.
  • Superjail - a criminal commits a crime and is flown off to Superjail, passing various unusual sites along the way.
  • Weeds – the song "Little Boxes" is performed by a different artist (seasons 2–3); a different object, generally alluding to the episode's plot, morphs into the series logo.
  • WWE Raw, WWE Friday Night SmackDown, and ECW on Sci Fi – the openings are altered regularly as WWE stars are hired, traded, and fired, and as championships change hands.
  • TNA Impact! and TNA Xplosion – the openings change regularly as wrestlers are hired and fired and as championships change hands.
  • Sarah Silverman Program – Sarah introduces herself and the other characters through a series of slides, which are different in every episode.
  • Pokémon - The Japanese version has various subtle changes throughout the opening sequences. The english version debuts a completely new theme song and intro movie with each season.
  • The Young and the Restless - The names of the actors do not always appear in the same order. Usually the names of those actors prominently featured on a given day's episode will appear first.

Past series

  • 8 Simple Rules (episodes with John Ritter) – where Kerry, Cate, Bridget and Paul open the front door and look one at a time at a supposed new date of Bridget's or Kerry's. The camera goes from the door to the doormat with the show's name, then the door opens again, Rory shows up and does something that changes between title sequences: he looks at the camera with disdain, takes a picture of the date with a camera, takes away the date's flowers, etc.
  • Animaniacs - at the end of their theme song, a different lyric is sung with a related clip.
  • Charmed, Gilmore Girls, Perfect Strangers – Whenever a regular is absent from the episode, he or she is also absent from the title sequence.
  • Chowder – a different food is being cooked each episode.
  • Garfield and Friends – The series had three very different theme songs during its run, but they all ended the same way – after the show's logo and Garfield appears, he says a quick and often humorous message.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy – After the opening (or sometimes after the first commercial break following the opening), Mandy walks out and says something before the episode begins.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus – The opening sequence changed every season. In one episode, it did not appear until more than 20 minutes in.
  • The Critic – Jay answered a different phone call and was later shown reviewing a different movie parody clip in each episode.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show – Rob (Dick Van Dyke) entered through the front door and tripped over the ottoman. Three versions were filmed: one in which he trips over the ottoman, one in which he steps around it, and a rarely seen third variation in which he avoids the ottoman but then trips on the carpet. Editors were instructed to use them randomly.
  • Ellen – Many episodes opened with Ellen DeGeneres introducing a performer who was playing the theme song that week while she held up a sign with the name of the show.
  • Frasier – The Frasier logo changed color every season, and 20 different animations involving the logo's skyline graphic alternated throughout its run.
  • Friends – The clips of each character were excerpts of the first half or the second half of the season. When Courteney Cox married David Arquette, all actors added "Arquette" to their last name for one episode.
  • King of the Hill - A line from the recently broadcasted episode from one of the characters is said during the credits.
  • A Nero Wolfe Mystery – Features title illustration and design by Aurore Giscard d'Estaing that is unique to each episode.
  • Pepper Ann – At the end of the title sequence, Pepper Ann finds something interesting on the floor under her desk and says "Cool!", followed by the item she found.
  • Police Squad – In each episode there is a different "special guest star" who is killed off during the title sequence and makes no appearance in the episode.
  • The Rockford Files – A different message is left on Rockford's answering machine.
  • Roseanne – The camera turns 360 degrees, showing the family having dinner or playing a game, always ending with Rosanne laughing wholeheartedly. The last season featured a montage of pictures of the cast set to lyrics sung by John Popper of Blues Traveler.

Video games

Soon after computer games began to appear on PC's as well as their own dedicated games units, many began using the conventions of film and television title sequences for their introductions. In particular, adventure games often have CGI sequences which act as a teaser or cold open before a music-laden title sequence that does exactly what film and television title sequences do: prepare the viewer for the kind of experience he/she is about to have. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare uses the third mission of the game as a title sequence; the player controls the perspective, though not the movement, of a character in first-person, and various events play out around him while the credits appear onscreen.

See also


  1. ^ Tomashoff, Craig. "Credits Check" TV Guide, October 18, 2010, Pages 16-17

External links

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