The famous sequence from Dr No.
The Magnificent Ambersons
(Orson Welles, 1942)
At a time when a film's credits usually consisted of the title and the names of actors and crew, Welles' second movie began merely with the title. At the very end his voiceover presented the crew by showing the equipment they used, followed by pictures of the cast, ending with: "I wrote and directed this film, my name is Orson Welles." This innovation was in fact borrowed from another flamboyant actor-writer-director, Sacha Guitry, whose masterly Le Roman d'un tricheur (1936) began in precisely this way.
The Man With the Golden Arm
(Otto Preminger, 1955)
In the 1950s, the graphic designer Saul Bass made the credits integral to the film's tone and style, their key motifs carried over into trailers and advertisements. The titles of The Man With the Golden Arm captured the harsh urban world of Nelson Algren's novel. To the modern jazz score, white lines on a black background (vertical and horizontal, but never parallel) jump out from the frame's edge, finally resolving themselves in to the stylised arm of Frank Sinatra's junkie musician.
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Saul Bass' credits worked perfectly with Bernard Herrmann's scores in the sequences he designed for the British director. The title of Vertigo emerges from a close-up of Kim Novak's right eye, followed by a vertiginous, ever-changing spiral based on forms defined by the 19th-century mathematician Lissajous. This anticipates the vortex into which her character and James Stewart's are drawn, and the knot in her hair. A falling body was superimposed on this motif for the film's posters, a device borrowed for the TV series Mad Men in 2007.
(Terence Young, 1962)
With the first Bond movie, the American designer Maurice Binder conceived the most celebrated of all credits. Though he missed From Russia With Love and Goldfinger he returned for the next 13, and the openings became as fixed as Kabuki. First, Bond firing into the viewer's face and blood filling the screen. Then the extravagant pre-credit sequence, followed by credits featuring sexy, silhouetted bodies and a theme song sung by the likes of Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones. Daniel Kleinman recalibrated the credits with Casino Royale (2006).
The Wild Bunch
(Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
As the outlaw heroes of Peckinpah's ferocious masterpiece ride into a Texan border town disguised as soldiers, they pass dangerously innocent children tormenting scorpions on an anthill and a revival meeting attended by local killjoys. The widescreen colour freezes every few seconds into harsh black-and-white images resembling faded photographs, which bear the titles. Finally, inside the courtroom, William Holden shouts at his gang: "If they shoot, kill 'em!" And up comes the final credit: "Directed by Sam Peckinpah". Unbeatable.
(David Fincher, 1995)
Fincher's Stygian thriller begins with an elderly cop (Morgan Freeman) visiting a grisly crime scene in an anonymous, decaying city. Worn out, he goes to bed and turns on a metronome. What then goes on behind the credits (designed by Kyle Cooper) is a nightmare series of rapid images with crude hand-lettering flashing on scratchy film: a notebook is stitched together, a medical article on pregnancy is redacted, bizarre photographs are disfigured, a razor blade cuts the word "God" from a dollar bill. We are drawn into the isolated, methodical world of someone we'd rather not know.
The American President
(Rob Reiner, 1995)
Few scene-setting opening credits are more elegant than those (also designed by Kyle Cooper) for this romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a widowed US president having an affair with a young lobbyist. The film was clearly part of the campaign to re-elect Bill Clinton and, aware that the American public distrusts politicians while revering the office of the presidency, it is prefaced with a montage of presidential portraits from Washington to LBJ, seals of office, historical documents and Old Glory, concluding with the White House filling the widescreen. Mission accomplished.
A Bug's Life
(John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, 1998)
A captive audience will always sit through the opening credits. But the end credits? Provided it's a comedy, more laughs will hold them. In the final frame of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1984), Matthew Broderick re-appears, to say: "You still here? It's over. Go home." Les Visiteurs (1994), ends with a medieval knight saluting the audience and the sign-off caption: "Farewell to all credit lovers". Outtakes have been a sure-fire attention grabber, ever since Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob (1988) had seven minutes of them. This device was hilariously sent-up in Pixar's A Bug's Life: its final credits feature animated insect characters fluffing lines and knocking over scenery.
(Andrew Stanton, 2008)
Pixar's CGI animation about a lovable robot tending a world deserted by the consumer society that made it uninhabitable is a work of genius. It concludes as Wall-E, the dedicated robot, brings our globe back to its senses, down to earth as it were. But the real conclusion comes with the credits, stuck on the end as they usually are nowadays. They recapitulate the history of human culture from cave-paintings to the Impressionists, and they remain unmatched. To appreciate Jim Capobianco's credits, see them over and over at home.
(JJ Abrams, 2011)
This sci-fi comedy-thriller is set in 1979 in a small Midwestern industrial town, where a band of movie-mad teenagers with a Super 8 camera are shooting a no-budget zombie movie in which they all appear. While they're making their picture, the area is invaded by genuine aliens and a sinister battalion of US soldiers, and havoc is unleashed on the neighbourhood. Abrams' inspired idea is to follow his 100-minute feature with the kids' six-minute horror movie, which unreels alongside the final credits. The result is convincing, extremely funny in an unpatronising way and oddly moving.
What do you think of the list? What is your favourite credit sequence? Have your say below.