What is the greatest television credits sequence of all time?
Game of Thrones
Quite possibly the one sequence to spawn more imitations, spoofs and remakes than any other on our list is the Emmy award-winning opening to Game Of Thrones. Implementing a small-scale version of George RR Martin’s endlessly rich world, the camera adopts a bird’s eye view to showcase what’s in store for the viewer. It sweeps across the vast sun-dappled topography this Middle Age-esque fantasy inhabits, every majestic turn and pause accented by Ramin Djawadi’s beautiful score that’s impossible to stop humming. Perhaps the reason die-hard Thrones fans never miss the segment, is because it is riddled with clues pertaining to the next hour’s entertainment. The determination and breadth of challenge taken on by the team at Elastic, who crafted the journey through the seven kingdoms, meant every single episode’s titles varied. As the series of cogs and pulleys cause cities, towns and castles to rise and fall, who knows where the next stop on the map will be as the story focus shifts from one episode to the next.
Running Years: 2011-? | Credits Designer: Angus Wall | Soundtrack: Ramin Djawadi "Main Title" | Sequence Length: 1:40
Genre: Fantasy | Style: Table-top modeling, animation | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2011) | Youtube Views: 12,344,670
The sloppy push of a knife as it skewers a soggy fried egg. A dull razor scraping against a bristled cheek. Pink bacon slathers as it’s devoured by a hungry mouth. The stark visual montage of Dexter is chiefly why it remains memorable to audiences - but it’s the attention to crisp, clear sound design that amps up the morning routine of the Miami serial killer. Tight close-ups of Dexter preparing for the day evoke sickening sensations, as even the most pedestrian of activities - like pulling a sweater over his head - draws comparisons to the macabre nature of his ‘dark passenger.’ It’s a very cleverly composed sequence, with every step taunting the viewer even more due to the carnival-theme musical score. A jittery, happy-go-lucky ditty that only creates anxiety and fear. The colour palette of these credits might be bright, bold and striking - but the heart of the piece beats as black as night.
Running Years: 2006-2013 | Credits Designer: Eric Anderson | Soundtrack: Rolfe Kent "Dexter Main Title" | Sequence Length: 1:56
Genre: Drama | Style: Live-action | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2007), Nominated - Primtime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music (2007), Won - BMI Cable | Youtube Views: 4,062,828
Dare you quest into the realm of lurking terror that awaits every man? From the opening strains of Mark Snow’s theme, an eerie whistle of a tune now synonymous with the show, the matter of whether or not the truth is out there has never seemed more ambiguous. The 40-second title sequence encourages audiences to question the impossible through a simplistic bricolage of live-action footage and static imagery. A lurking shadowy figure hovers in a hallway, a screaming man’s face is distorted by an unknown force, grainy hand-held footage depicts a flying saucer hovering in the sky amidst flashes of barely-visible monstrous shapes. Partly to establish tone, and introduce us to the premise, it ultimately makes you wonder; if that elusive truth is “out there” - who would want to come face-to-face with its inextricable horror?
Running Years: 1993-2002 | Credits Designer: James Castle, Carol Johnsen, Bruce Bryant | Soundtrack: Mark Snow "Materia Primoris" | Sequence Length: 0:42
Genre: Sci-fi | Style: Still photography, live-action | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences (1994), Nominated - Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual | Youtube Views: 768, 467
A simmering struggle between images of light and dark, the seedy gothic underbelly of the Deep South is exposed to astonishing effect during the opening moments of True Detective. The implied ‘truth’ behind the show’s two leads is introduced via a montage of juxtaposed stills, depicting the industrial wastelands of Louisiana. Serving as a reflection of the characters’ complex personal issues, the sequence focuses on the fragmented nature of humanity and how people are defined by their environments. Double-exposure photography chillingly fuses together images to form new, terrifying icons of horror. Head shots of its two stars, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, devolve from what you’d expect from HBO. Signalling their strife in uniquely unsettling methods, there’s no finer example of a mood-setting TV opener than this.
Running Years: 2014-? | Credits Designer: Raoul Marks | Soundtrack: The Handsome Family "Far From Any Road" | Sequence Length: 1:37
Genre: Drama | Style: Still photography, live-action | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2014) | Youtube Views: 1,025,284
American Horror Story
An anthology horror show that’s in a league of its own, American Horror Story’s opening credits are arguably the greatest in terms of atmospherics. The work of design house Prologue, chief designer Kyle Cooper cut his teeth on David Fincher’s Seven and has matured further into the darkest recesses of human nature. The disturbing imagery - broken dolls, fetuses floating in jars, corpses trapped beneath plastic wrap - roll out like a scene from a fractured mind unable to untangle this jumble of horrors. For each subsequent season the specific footage has been tweaked to include clues to the season’s narrative arc, but all remain twinned to one constantly pulsating terror - the soundtrack. A bloodcurdling disjointed jam, perfectly timed to the changing onscreen icons, there’s no chance you’ll doze off before the real fright begins.
Running Years: 2011-? | Credits Designer: Kyle Cooper | Soundtrack: Cesar Davila-Irizarry "American Horror Story" | Sequence Length: Still photography, live-action
Genre: Horror | Style: Still photography, live-action | Awards: Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2011, 2012), Won - BMI Cable Award For Music Composition (2012), Won - OFTA Television Awards for Best New Theme Song In A Series, Best New Titles Sequence (2012, 2013) | Youtube Views: 274,579
The United States of Tara
Sometimes, a simple stream of head shots with captioned names serves a TV show that might not harbour the most unique premise. A wholly brilliant dramedy from the sprawling creative mind of Diablo Cody? It had to have the perfect title sequence. Part exposition device, part creative jamboree, the stop motion cut-out figures that introduce us to the world of split-personality Tara paint her three “alters” to utter perfection. Each pop-up lures us into a triptych of seemingly different worlds, each inhabited by their respective alter. Springing up out of nowhere, the seamless blend between the trio of larger-than-life personas hosted inside the regular mom are brought to life by award-winning designer Jamie Caliri. The most telling element - the cherry on top of the sundae - is Tim DeLaughter’s catchy theme song, a riff on Tara’s mission to take control of her fate.
Running Years: 2009-2011 | Credits Designer: Jamie Caliri | Soundtrack: Tim DeLaughter "Learn To Love The Ride" | Sequence Length: 1:05
Genre: Comedy drama | Style: Stop-motion animation | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2009) | Youtube Views: 811,232
Fox’s premier family comedy is renowned for the attention to detail creator Matt Groening and co. cram into every single title sequence. As puffy cumulus clouds part to reveal the title breathlessly worded out in song - BAM! - the fast-paced race home for The Simpsons through the town of Springfield begins to Danny Elfman’s legendary orchestral theme. Now in its second update since the series began in 1989, the creators kept two of its defining gags in tact. When the camera peers in on Bart’s detention, his chalkboard punishment changes from week to week; ranging from amusing childish quips to cutting social commentary. However, ask anyone about The Simpsons title as the unanimous verdict on their brilliance will be in the mere mention of the couch. Moments before the episode starts proper, the family scramble into the living room to retire on the sofa - and each week are confronted by a new challenge preventing them from doing so. It’s really an impressive addition to the show - which has seen guest directors Guillermo Del Toro and graffiti artist Banksy brought on to helm sequences - proving that this is one classic comedy that’s still got what it takes.
Running Years: 1989-? | Credits Designer: Matt Groening | Soundtrack: Danny Elfman "The Simpsons Theme" | Sequence Length: 1:30
Genre: Comedy | Style: Animation | Awards: Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music (1990), Won - BMI TV Music Award (1996, 1998, 2003), Won - National Music Awards UK Favourite TV Theme (2002) | Youtube Views: 15 million+
The gangster genre of 70s, 80s and 90s cinema brought the intimate lifestyles of wiseguys into the public consciousness. HBO took that notion a step further with The Sopranos. Delivering a black comedy drama via mob patriarch, Tony Soprano, the show capitalised on his continued struggle between his familial obligations and his life as the leader of David Chase, the show’s creator, forged a simple opening sequence that introduces us to Tony’s daily route from New York City back to his New Jersey homestead. It’s an engaging minute that sheds light on a routine activity that even mobsters undertake on a day-to-day basis. To top it off, Alabama 3’s sultry song accompaniment further showcases the inner turmoil of the show’s loveable antihero.
Running Years: 1999-2007 | Credits Designer: David Chase | Soundtrack: Alabama 3 "Woke Up This Morning" | Sequence Length: 1:37
Genre: Drama | Style: Live-action | Awards: None | Youtube Views: 160,431
The shortest entry on this list by far, Mad Men’s simple graphical sequence begins with the cut-out figure of a man entering his office. It harks back to the pioneering work of film credit designer Saul Bass, which is a clever touch as his finest achievements in this particular artform were at their best during the 50s and 60s - the very era Mad Men depicts. To the tune of RJD2’s string theme - again a nod to theme composer Bernard Hermann - the shady man plummets from the great height of a skyscraper. His descent is glorified as his tumbling body whizzes past gigantic advertisements. Moments before he splatters to his death, he is scooped up by an impossibly large woman’s foot. Thematically it addresses the show’s dark streak running throughout each season; everything might look peachy keen but even the suave Don Draper can fall from grace.
Running Years: 2007- | Credits Designer: Mark Gardner | Soundtrack: RJD2 “A Beautiful Mine” | Sequence Length: 0:36
Genre: Drama | Style: Animation | Awards: Won - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design (2008) | Youtube Views: 1,497,964
The Outer Limits
There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. As a series of waves oscillate across the screen, the monotone “control voice” narrated by Vic Perrin immediately confronts viewers with the possibility that they are subject to a shady government experiment. While this spooky anthology series draws inevitable comparisons to The Twilight Zone, its opening credits evoke a far more sinister work at play. Much like the hysteria derived from Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, the clever wraparound credits serve as a quasi-cautionary warning. At the time of release, breaking the fourth wall was not a common occurrence, making this one of the most chilling opening titles ever seen on the small screen.
Running Years: 1963-1965 | Credits Designer: Project Unlimited, Inc. | Soundtrack: Dominic Frontiere "Outer Limits Theme" | Sequence Length: 1:08
Genre: Sci-fi | Style: Animation | Awards: None | Youtube Views: 41,580
GOAT Staff Score - TV Credits SequenceThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. Only weighted scores are displayed in this table. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Originality (25%)||Visual Style (20%)||Soundtrack (20%)||Atmosphere (15%)||Critical Reception (10%)||Influence (10%)||Raw Score||Final GOAT Score|
|United States Of Tara||8||5||6||2||5||1||27||510|
|The Outer Limits||1||1||2||6||1||8||19||265|
|American Horror Story||7||4||3||10||9||7||40||625|
|Game Of Thrones||10||9||10||7||10||2||48||855|