Whether it’s prime time on networks, cable or digital streaming, we’ve been lucky to enjoy an overwhelming amount of quality television in the past few years. And this ongoing renaissance in the TV industry has ushered in a golden age of opening credits. These intro sequences give the audience its first glimpse into a show's unique world, so it's important for them to nail the tone right from the start. Not every show hits the mark, but some have raised the bar above and beyond a simple title card.
1. Sons Of Liberty
Listen, I know the #Historychannel isn’t the place to go if you want historical accuracy (the irony of that never ceases to be lost on my poor history nerd self), but Sons of Liberty is one of my favorite miniseries about the American Revolution. It has one of the best opening themes, which is not surprising, given that it was composed by Hans Zimmer. The music evokes the 18th century, with its fife and drums, before soaring into a triumphant, powerful melody.
Historical documents interspersed with clips from the movie show us the past unfolding in a way we’re able to digest. Bursts of smoky debris with musket balls and cannon fire sweep across the screen, awash in red and blue, giving us a sense of the destruction and chaos that comes with forging a new nation. I had this theme on repeat when it first came out last year.
2. American Horror Story
We were cheated out of #FX's #AmericanHorrorStory‘s opening credit sequence in the newest season Roanoke, but each season preceding this one came with its own unique visuals to complement its anthology format. The music has become iconic — a dissonant, grating whine that creates the appropriate amount of tension and anxiety. Whatever the season’s theme, the images are always unsettling like the show’s promo images and teasers usually are. One could argue that sometimes the opening sequence is scarier than the show itself. Along with the creep factor, the visuals are always aesthetically on point.
3. Turn: Washington's Spies
Not gonna lie, this song gets stuck in my head a lot. For a show about colonial spies, it’s perfect. Like Sons of Liberty, this #AMC series effectively gives us a feel for the time period, though the tone is more subdued and mysterious. And how cool are those animations?! It’s different to most period dramas while still offering a glimpse of what’s to come — showing off methods used by the Culper Ring to gather and share intelligence. The antique, paper-like animations lend themselves to the old-fashioned spying techniques.
Hannibal‘s credit sequence is both minimalist and complex. Red splashes on a stark white background in anatomical shapes, molding into the faces of the NBC show’s main cast. The splatter of red against white is haunting in a clinical sense. We’re not quite sure if the red is wine or blood, which brilliantly mirrors the show’s premise. We as an audience know #HannibalLecter is a cannibalistic serial killer — and wine connoisseur — but everyone around him is under the impression that he’s just an oddball with pretentious tastes. Hannibal constantly parallels food and gore, so it’s only right that its opening credits should strike the same chord.
Composed by Ramin Djawadi, Westworld's theme suggests many emotions and tones. Wonder. Melancholy. Romance. Conflict. As it builds, there’s a hint of adventure and life within the music. And I really love the undercurrent that sounds similar to the saloon piano. It’s fitting that this #HBO show, which tackles the questions of humanity and artificial intelligence, finds its theme evoking emotion and life.
Westworld‘s credits are also on my list of so-beautiful-I-could-cry cinematography. It shows us the intricate details of the host creation process and defines the science fiction genre throughout its sequence. My favorite shots are probably the closeup of a human eye that doubles as the Westworld landscape superimposed in its depths. From beginning to end, even though it’s a long sequence, it’s worth the watch.
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6. The Exorcist
The Exorcist is my favorite new series of 2016, and it also boasts some of the best opening credits. Yet another theme song that gets stuck in my head, it’s a simple piano melody yet it stirs up just the right amount of #eldritch vibes. Gorgeous monochromatic shots build the same chilling atmosphere that permeates the entire #Fox series.
High-contrast black-and-white cinematography evokes the central story of the show; the fight of good versus evil, the light pushing through darkness. It’s obviously heavy in religious imagery, too, which always seems to be both beautiful and evocative. Quick shots of illuminated windows and rooftops toward the end of the sequence pay homage to the original film’s iconic image.
7. The Walking Dead
Composed by musical genius Bear McCreary, The Walking Dead‘s theme has become one of those memorable and instantly recognizable TV scores. It’s a cool piece of music with a quick tempo and a certain grit that deftly parallels the iconic post-apocalyptic saga. Paired with desaturated shots of Atlanta and rural Georgia in sepia hues that would befit a rotting corpse, the whole thing feels desolate. Pictures of some of the cast are revealed behind cracked glass or in faded photographs; a nice touch that drives home the idea of a changed world in ruin and normal lives irrevocably abandoned.
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Though the #BBCAmerica series only ran for two seasons, Copper claims one of my favorite opening themes. It’s an in-your-face Irish folk-rock instrumental that kicks as much ass as the show’s morally gray detectives. It carries all of the roughness of New York City during the Civil War era, with a somewhat modern flair and a dash of #Gaelic roots. The visuals (though not pictured above) introduce the audience to the tumultuous, violent history of the Big Apple's infamous Five Points neighborhood through historical documents and political cartoons. Maps and mid-19th century drawings intercut with glimpses of the characters drip with blood and smolder in flames, setting the tone for the brutal, bloody series.
9. Band Of Brothers
HBO has a history of producing topnotch opening sequences, and Band of Brothers is no exception. The beloved WWII miniseries has a stirring, emotional score that somehow manages to make me go all misty-eyed, even though I’ve seen this series more times than I can count. It’s such a compelling piece of music — a perfect, sweeping instrumental to parallel the war epic.
Images from throughout the miniseries fade into one another, grainy and weathered, as if they’re pulled straight from the 1940s. It ends with the silhouettes of the paratroopers standing in a line, easily one of the most recognizable images in the genre.
10. Sleepy Hollow
Despite the fact that I’m not over how Season 3 went down and I’m desperately trying to erase the past two seasons from memory, Sleepy Hollow still has beautiful credits. The first season’s opening is — much like the show itself — the best of the series. An eerie score sets the tone for the supernatural elements at the heart of #SleepyHollow, with ethereal, perhaps “witchy” female vocals.
Gothic visuals of a dense forest shrouded in mist, skulls, strange text, and of course the #HeadlessHorseman introduce us to the paranormal. Added into the mix are hints of the town’s Revolutionary War past, most notably soldier Ichabod Crane. What I love most about the opening sequence (and the show, when it was enjoyable) is the skillful blend of early American history and the realm of the supernatural.
Have a favorite opening credits sequence? Let me know!