The title sequence of a television show sets the tone for the entire series. Whether a few iconic seconds or a complicated two-minute scene, a show’s intro tells audiences what they’re in for.
Get ready to laugh at that crazy Urkel on Family Matters, or to marvel at the mysteries of outer space on Star Trek, or to fear for the survivors of the zombie apocalypse on The Walking Dead. Whatever the focus of the show, the opening sequence braces the audience for the type of story ahead.
Sadly, over nearly a century of television, most opening scenes have been unmemorable. Some are truly awful. But a few have been excellent. We’ve assembled the 75 best right here, ranked on a weighted scale according to production value, innovation, creativity, cultural impact, use of song (original or existing) and, most importantly, how well the intro represents or serves the series.
We’re talking about recurring intro sequences, specifically—the show can’t just offer floating titles over an opening scene that changes, as in Mr. Robot or Seinfeld. We ruled out talk shows and soap operas, as well as TV movies and miniseries. Finally, this list doesn’t take into account the quality of the show, just its title sequence. For example, Breaking Bad is extraordinary. Its slow, smoky intro is not.
Be warned: there will be spoilers ahead. And perhaps upset, if you don’t find your favorites below. But we invite you to take a read, hear us out and let us know what you think.
75. House (2004-2012)
House wasn’t the first medical show to deal with dysfunctional doctors on-screen, nor was it the first to feature intricate medical disasters (every patient starts off with an illness that brings them in, but upon closer examination or attempted treatment, it’s always revealed that what they’ve got is way worse). But House was the first to focus on the idea of pain under the surface. Everybody lies, everybody dies and we struggle with the inner demons that plague us—most especially the misanthropic, drug-addicted Gregory House, MD.
This opening sequence doesn’t tell us any of this, although it definitely gives us the feeling that all is not as it seems. Textbook illustrations paired with placid landscapes, set to Massive Attack’s haunting, down-tempo “Teardrop”? Yeah, something’s not right here.
74. Firefly (2002)
For a television show that helped revitalize the science fiction, Western and space opera genres, there’s something refreshingly old school about the opening montage of Firefly. Series creator Joss Whedon wrote the show’s theme song, performed by blues singer Sonny Rhodes as we cycle through the nine-person cast. Fans of this hugely popular cult classic will immediately recognize the personalities we see on screen, from the resolute Captain Mal and sunny engineer Kaylee to loose cannon mercenary Jayne. Their personalities clash sometimes, but they’re united—as they are in this opening—on the ship Serenity, hopeful for a better future.
73. Land of the Lost (1974-1976, 1991-1992)
There’s much to love about the large-scale adventure and unabashed cheesiness of this Land of the Lost opening. When a mysterious, dimensional portal brings the Marshalls to an alternate universe populated by dinosaurs, primates and other creatures, the family must find a way to survive and make their way back home. Luckily, the monsters are about as scary as the tyrannosaurus Gorn from Star Trek: The Original Series. Land of the Lost’s special effects team brought all non-human creatures to life with actors in rubber suits and heavy makeup, stop motion animation miniatures, hand puppets, rear projection film effects and video blue-screen matting. Many of these effects can be seen in the series’ lovably corny, action-packed opener. Our favorite: the river-rafting scene, with the poor little bobbing blue-screen raft. Hang in there, Marshalls!
72. Man Seeking Woman (2015-present)
A guy and girl go into an adult store to buy a sex toy. The girl is looking for something to satisfy her in ways the guy cannot. So they leave with The Kyle, a life-sized, hyper-buff man-in-a-box with labels promising “deep penetration” and “4 powerful speeds.” She’s stoked. Her boyfriend is not.
This is the humor of Man Seeking Woman, an FXX comedy about Josh (Jay Baruchel), a man trying to find love, that’s peppered with absurdist jokes and bits: In the pilot episode, for instance, his girlfriend dumps him—and then goes on to date Adolf Hitler. The series’ intro depicts a grid of animated black-and-white tiles, with scenes inspired by surreal moments from within the show itself. Described by Art of the Title’s Blake Goble as the “twitchy love-child of Keith Haring and Tex Avery,” the pieces shuffle around, but don’t really go anywhere. What better metaphor is there for dating random strangers while trying to find true love?
71. China, IL (2011-2015)
“Well, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about the college at the edge of the town: no one should ever go there; you know it’s bad, bad, bad… It gets worse every school year, but man, the freakin’ teachers are rad!”
Some words of wisdom from the intro of China, IL, in case you couldn’t understand slurry manchild Baby Cakes as he describes the fictional University of China, Illinois, dubbed the “worst college in America.” This is celebrated by the college’s delinquent faculty and staff, who spend most of their time drinking, or drinking while teaching, or drinking while getting into trouble. The show’s dark humor is demented, but it doesn’t go off the rails like other off-color animated programs. It’s anchored by illustrator and lyricist Brad Neely, who conceptualized the show—and the intro—with surprising complexity and visual comedy. Not to mention some sick beats.
70. BoJack Horseman (2014-present)
In this animated show where humans and anthropomorphic animals exist side by side, all eyes are literally on BoJack Horseman, the washed-up star of the fictional 1990s sitcom Horsin’ Around, as he goes through his day: Running errands, shying away from paparazzi, attending parties. He eventually drinks too much and makes a scene by falling over a railing and into the pool, but it’s OK. This is just a day in the life of your average half-horse, half-man actor struggling to reclaim his fame and find his place in the universe.
Like other TV shows about show business, such as Entourage, Episodes and Extras (what’s with all these shows and the letter E?), BoJack Horseman is not about our hero’s success on screen, but his unusual challenges off of it. Most of what we see in this intro is BoJack himself; everything and everyone else has to fit in the periphery around his head. One point of reference here is Nick Bottom, of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, who has his head transformed into that of an ass. Aren’t we all BoJack, in a way, living our lives in our own little worlds?
69. Chuck (2007-2012)
The poor little Buy More mascot gets way more than he bargained for in the intro to NBC’s Chuck, as he dodges bullets, rappels down ropes and escapes armies, helicopters and ninjas alike. Likewise, he’s the show’s title character, who accidentally absorbs a massive supercomputer and becomes a target of both the U.S. government and international terrorists. Chuck is the mascot here, as important as he is useless against the forces around him. The faces of his fellow cast members loom large in the background, a mix of the friendly (Chuck’s family), and the not-so-much (the NSA and CIA agents sent to protect, and possibly neutralize, him). It’s a complicated situation.
This sequence is a great blend of opening scenes from espionage shows like Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., combined with the graphic design style and signage of tech superstores like Best Buy or CompUSA. Chuck premiered at the perfect moment to explore the thin line between insecurity and national security. Interested in an entire merged database of information from all of the U.S. intelligence agencies? There’s an app for that.
68. Deadwood (2004-2006)
In 1870s South Dakota, the town of Deadwood grows from a small settlement to a bustling community, leaving its residents to confront the challenges of a growing municipality. This is the story of life during this time in American history, in a part of the country that was essentially lawless, with real historical characters such as Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane and Wyatt Earp present or passing through.
Their struggles and changes in lifestyle are reflected in this opening montage. Like the evolving townspeople, we see a wild mare galloping across the countryside and splashing through a riverbed. It passes a community hard at work, with its farmhands, butchers, ladies of leisure, gold miners and drunkards. The mare continues on its way, before finally slowing to a trot and coming home to an established town, a symbol of the American expansion into this new stretch of country. We see the horse approach calmly, finally somewhat tamed, through the reflection of water, now also at rest. All is settled; Deadwood is their story.
67. Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
When producers Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis began conceptualizing the opening sequence of the anthology Tales from the Crypt, inspired by the 1950s comic of the same name, they knew they had to establish a spooky tone immediately and bring the viewer into the series’ world.
So they decided to do exactly that, creating a tabletop Victorian mansion with a first-person perspective of what it might be like to walk through a haunted house. Built by Boss Film—the effects studio of Richard Edlund, who had worked as a cameraman on Star Wars and in special effects on Die Hard—the set was divided into three parts. First was the tiny house, whose interiors were filmed with a 65mm snorkel camera with motion control. Next was the computer-generated descent down the hidden stairwell. Then, finally, came the crypt itself, which was actually a full-sized set that the producers could manipulate and film normally.
This is where we meet the “star” of the show: the Crypt Keeper, a decaying undead puppet brought to life by animatronics expert and puppetmaster Kevin Yagher, creator of Chucky, the infamous doll from Child’s Play. “The Crypt Keeper is likable but he’s also sly and treacherous—if you turned your back on him, he’d just plunge a knife into you,” as Yagher says in an interview in Tales of the Crypt: The Official Archives Including the Complete History of DC Comics and the Hit Television Series
Add a quirky and macabre theme song by—who else?—Danny Elfman, and all these elements together combine to form one of the most memorable openings ever. Who’s down for a visit to the crypt?
66. Superjail! (2007-2014)
Most episodes of Superjail! begin the same way: Low-level criminal Jackknife commits a crime and gets apprehended and cuffed by Jailbot, a levitating, tombstone-shaped robot that looks like something designed by Apple. Their subsequent trip to the titular prison comprises the show’s opening sequence, with Jailbot flying across deserts and oceans, dangling a cuffed Jackknife in tow. Below them, a medley of bizarre and terrifying sights unfold, such as armies rallying in the night, nightmarish creatures killing each other and non-sequitur sight gags.
This is the psychedelic world of Superjail!, where the laws of physics—along with time and space—are fluid and all bend to the whim of the Willy Wonka-like warden. These visuals, coupled with the theme song (a hard rock ballad about “coming home” to prison), warn you of what’s to come: a hallucinogenic, superviolent circus for the senses. Eleven minutes of hard time.
65. Jessica Jones (2015-present)
Superhero-turned-private-investigator Jessica Jones casts her eyes upon the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in the opening of Netflix’s TV show, based on the Marvel comic series Alias by Brian Michael Bendis. Here, we watch the neighborhood as Jessica does: glancing through windows, peering out of cars and staring down alleys. In the gray area where surveillance meets voyeurism, we see neighbors fighting and deals being made, scenes inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the urban paintings of Edward Hopper. Illustrator David Mack, who created the covers for the Alias comics, gives the backgrounds their feel here—blurry brushstrokes of bright purple, orange and blue laid over the video images, as a nod to the look of the source material. And all of this comes alongside an original score by Sean Callery (known for having composed the score for 24), which begins jazzy but quickly turns to dark places, laden with innuendo.
We’ve seen this style of opening sequence before, in shows like Luther and Human Target, but Jessica Jones outshines them all. We’re not just looking at painted frames here, but an actual story developing. The panels of Alias jump off the page at us, represented in live action form, and Jessica Jones lures us with an invitation to join her.
64. Halt and Catch Fire (2014-present)
Life begins from a single spark, whether we’re talking about the start of the universe, a human life, or activity in a microchip. Halt and Catch Fire begins with this struggle, this attempt at creation. Digital sperm race toward a CPU processor. From here, all digital life as we know it will begin, if it’s a successful bonding.
All around it, the blackness of nothing. No life. No existence. For the first developers of the personal computer, teetering on the line between renown and obscurity, success and failure——we can imagine a young Bill Gates and Steve Jobs toiling away in their garages—the challenge is to find a way to make their machines work, to breathe life into them. When they do, the square egg glows brightly. Not only is the microchip alive, it also acts as a light in the darkness. The light bulb has gone on: Eureka!
Ideas and inventions are not unlike life forms. There must be a spark, an incubation period, growth and exponential expansion. Halt and Catch Fire’s title sequence represents this process, moving from one scene, one moment, to the next. We travel sequentially, with the data, from shot to shot. To understand this modern era, it seems, we have to return to the past. To the 1980s, where digital life as we know it began.
63. Daredevil (2015-present)
Evil has descended upon Hell’s Kitchen in midtown Manhattan, seeping from the highest points across towers, buildings and bridges down to the dark streets below. Taking the form of some kind of ooze, thicker than blood but thinner than steaming tar, it’s a terrifying, unstoppable menace that envelops the city in its grasp.
But a figure rises from the depths. Emerging from this skin of evil, the city has sent something back—something more than a figurehead or statuesque Lady Justice, uselessly frozen in stone. Not an angel. A devil.
At first glance, a goop-covered city doesn’t sound like it’d make for much of an opening sequence. But in the capable hands of Elastic, the team behind the intros to Halt and Catch Fire and True Detective, it’s perfect. There are so many parallels to the story of blind attorney Matt Murdock and his vigilante alter ego, Daredevil. When the city bleeds, there’s a hero to answer the call.
What better indicator of a city consumed by corruption than literally being covered in liquid? The fluid covers everything up, but it also serves another purpose, revealing what would otherwise be invisible. This goop is a physical callback to the toxic waste that blinded Daredevil to begin with and set him on his path. And it’s no coincidence that the sequence features Catholic imagery and places of judgment, including both blind Lady Justice (whose trademark she shares with our hero) and the statue in the graveyard. Like the blood red Chianti flowing to form faces in the intro to Hannibal, the liquid in the Daredevil opening has meaning. Sinister perhaps, but effective.
62. True Blood (2008-2014)
The epic intro to True Blood tells the story of life, death and rebirth through a montage of contradictory scenes representing all manner of religion, sex and violence. And, like the vampires and other supernatural predators of the True Blood universe, it’s all the more compelling as we voyeuristically watch from the shadows.
Created by independent film company Digital Kitchen, which travelled to locations in Louisiana, Chicago and Seattle for footage, the sequence includes drops of real blood splattered onto various frames for effect and the use of a Polaroid transfer technique to construct transitions. The result is a kind of Southern-inspired surrealist cinema, with a classic georgic and eight different typefaces inspired by actual Southern typefaces and street signs.
61. Ren & Stimpy (1991-1995)
A series depicting the unusual journey of a dog and a cat. But no, it’s not The Adventures of Milo and Otis. It’s something far, far darker. Ren & Stimpy, for all its gross jokes, abject violence and sexual innuendo, helped to revolutionize animation as we know it. Its crude example helped to pave the way for other absurdist and toilet humor-inspired series, from Rocko’s Modern Life and South Park to Rick and Morty.
With a look reminiscent of the Golden Age of cartoons and a soundtrack that ranged across genres (rockabilly, folk, classical music, opera, jazz), Ren & Stimpy was—and still is—a high-powered mutant that exists somewhere out of time. An homage to ‘50s kitsch, episodes ranged from thought-provoking to absolutely senseless. And this opening captures both, a medley of scenes from the titular duo’s trials and tribulations, paired with a high-powered brass tune likely inspired by the ‘90s swing revival underway when the show was on the air. Just hearing the first few bars of the intro will no doubt bring back memories.