Top 10 Netflix Original Opening Title Sequences
We are in another Golden Age of Television, and we have the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon to thank for that.
Netflix’s original television and film content is at its most creative, with the future only appearing brighter. Since the online streaming site first started developing original shows in 2012 (first was Lilyhammer, a joint U.S.-Norway production, soon followed by the Netflix original House of Cards in 2013), its production has skyrocketed. In 2016 alone, Netflix released over 100 new television series and films to its site, all “Netflix originals.”
Not only has Netflix been in the original content business, they’ve also been thrown into the conversation with regards to critically-acclaimed shows like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Master of None and The Crown all garnering major television award nominations in the last year.
But it’s not just the content of these shows that makes television in the 21st century memorable. Believe it or not, it can be something like a good opening title sequence that can cement a show into the annals of TV history. Starting (more or less) with HBO’s The Sopranos, visual artists have made a name for themselves simply by introducing the viewer to the atmosphere in which the TV show exist. What kind of mood does a well-placed camera angle or lighting selection set? How does the music (oh my god the music to some of these shows) play a part? Are we introduced to characters? How does all of this encapsulate our favorite show to binge-watch? What kind of visual identity does the title sequence give the show? Now, we’ve come to expect magnificent, bizarre, and downright stunning works of art in some of these title sequences. Look at shows like Westworld and True Detective for some reference.
Today we take a look at the best opening credit sequences that Netflix has to offer.
All entries are ranked on five categories: Visual quality (just how pretty/weird/stylistic does it look), re-watchability (does it change at all? Now that Netflix has developed a new “skip intro” button, how willing will you be to press it when the intro starts?), audio quality (How good is the music and does it fit the series?), re-listenability (same for re-watchability, just for the music), and the overall encapsulation of the show- how much are we drawn in by this introduction and how excited does it get us for what comes after it?
Also, we’re only considering Netflix original series, with no series pickups, which means that series like Arrested Development and Black Mirror, which were picked up from FOX and Channel 4, respectively, will not be included.
Length: 1 minute, 10 seconds
Design: Patrick Clair
Music: Hans Zimmer
One of Netflix’s more recent critically successful shows is The Crown, which follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy), from the 1940s to today. This opening credit sequence shows a rather simplistic design with a positively regal execution. A sprawling, almost liquid-like golden substance interweaves its way to form a crown, which is then taken over by shadows and darkness. The ever-swelling score by Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer helps us to understand the very weight that a crown hangs on the person wearing it. While it’s simple and not exactly the most watchable sequence in the world, The Crown reveals just enough for us to carry us into the action.
Haters Back Off!
Length: 25 seconds
Design: Linda del Rosario/Richard Paris
Music: Amotz Plessner
I’m not sure how keen Miranda would be about me including her on the honorable mention list for her show’s opening title. So don’t tell her, okay guys? Haters Back Off can be overwhelming. Even in just the pilot episode I was already cringing at how much Miranda there was. Her character is hilarious (and don’t get me wrong, the show’s not half bad), but she can be a little creepy. The opening sequence makes this list because it allows us to see just how creepy this fantasy world Miranda is living in really is. With some pleasant music to juxtapose the various sculptures and paintings of the singer in question, we’re treated to a slice of what Haters Back Off is all about: the immensely confident, utterly untalented, fame-obsessed force of nature that is Miranda Sings.
Length: 1 minute, 29 seconds
Design: Digital Kitchen Studios
Music: “Tuyo” by Rodrigo Amrante
This intro is essentially Breaking Bad: The Period Version. Using more juxtaposition with Rodrigo Amrante’s song “Tuyo,” combined with computer-generated imagery of real-life events surrounding Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Narcos effectively reels us in with all the background information we could want. While it does establish setting and mood for us, it’s a “you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times” intro.
Length: 1 minute, 37 seconds
Design: Ben Smith and Bruce Wymer
Music: Daniele Luppi
This gorgeous title sequence combines artistic techniques from the 13th century, and combines them with technology from the 21st century. Designers Ben Smith and Bruce Wymer experimented with calligraphic imagery, dripping ink onto paintings sketched with water. The flowing effect seen in the credits sequence is all done with high speed cameras (the whole process is explained more thoroughly in this behind the scenes video https://vimeo.com/114565666 ). Daniele Luppi’s haunting score provides a journeyman’s anthem reminiscent of Ennio Morricone (says executive producer John Fusco http://www.john-fusco.com/the-music-of-marco-polo/ ), and takes us with Marco on his journey through the Far East. Luppi’s music earned her a nomination at the 67th Primetime Creative Arts Emmys for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. It’s a shame the show couldn’t be as good as its title sequence; Marco Polo was cancelled after two seasons, the first cancelled original series for Netflix.
Length: 1 minute, 50 seconds
Design: Karin Winslow Wachowski
Music: Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer
Think of Sense8 like House of Cards: a super long title sequence, featuring slow-motion, fast-cutting shots to many different locations, with increasingly intense music building throughout. With the Wachowskis attached to the project, however, imaginations everywhere are sure to take a beating, as the two filmmakers have a tendency to mess with our heads with every shot. While we meet many different people (I shouldn’t say “meet,” but you get it) around the world, and the sections of the planet are breathtaking, the show is about connections. The jump cuts to seemingly unrelated parts of the planet don’t fit. On top of that, it’s nearly two minutes of introduction. That’s not to say it’s bad; the music is pretty good, and I’m all for panoramic nature shots. But it’s too damn long. Seriously.
The Top 10:
10. Marvel's Jessica Jones
Length: 1 minute, 8 seconds
Design: Imaginary Forces
Music: Sean Callery
The two Marvel Netflix shows on this list are fairly comparable to one another. Jessica Jones’s intro begins slow and jumbled: a smooth jazz score and some grainy imagery of a woman traversing the streets of New York. The score explodes into a rip-snorting guitar solo, punctuated by an urgent array of strings, while the visuals of the city become more and more erratic. It’s a “detective” vibe that transforms into full-on superhero. The seedy imagery is just grainy enough for us to be confused at first, but slowly pick up new things with each viewing. Paired with many vibrant colors, this intro takes us deep into the mind of Marvel’s resident private eye.
Length: 1 minute, 14 seconds
Design: Nik Kleverov
Music: “The Water Lets You In,” by Book of Fears
A setting like the Florida Keys can be beautiful- until a hurricane rolls in and provides a healthy bit of devastation. That’s what we’re dealing with for Bloodline, which deals with a group of adult siblings grappling with their secrets and inner demons when the black sheep brother returns home. Just like Sense8 and House of Cards, Bloodline plays with the time-lapse trick, but stays in one spot and lets the weather do the talking. Paired with it is the band Book of Fears, which provides a stylistic, yet melancholy feel for the show.
8. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Length: 1 minute, 17 seconds
Design: Stuart Bass
Music: Nick Urata & Daniel Handler, performed by Neil Patrick Harris
If you are in need of a happy and delightful opening sequence, you may want to look elsewhere. The opening to A Series of Unfortunate Events, adapted from the children’s book series of the same name, is a highly-stylized visual sequence, paired with an unexpectedly quirky and darkly funny theme song. Ripe with visual imagery, not only playing with the idea of complex conspiracy theory webs, but also throwing in images fans know and love (the eye, V.F.D., etc) for some added fun. The title song, “Look away” is performed by Neil Patrick Harris, who also happens to play the dreaded antagonist Count Olaf in the series. In every episode, the intro lyrics are different, summing up the main idea of the upcoming episode, while also foreshadowing into the future. Harris (as Olaf) contributes his character’s varying disguises to the song, stirring up the villainy even more. While he warns of the show “wrecking our evening, our home lives and our days,” this intro makes us hungry for more misfortune of our favorite orphans. Look away, we will certainly not.
7. Grace and Frankie
Length: 40 seconds
Design: Mr. X
Music: “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Grace Potter
This intro is short, sweet, and to the point. We’ve got Grace and Frankie, whose husbands end up leaving the two women for each other. Did I mention? Grace and Frankie hate each other. That’s the way the cookie (or in this case, cake) crumbles. Featuring an infectious cover of the Stealers Wheels song “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Grace Potter, and an adorable yet simple design of wedding cake figurines re-enacting the story for us, this will have you tapping your feet and smiling right into the meat of the show- before the show moves you to tears, of course. The only thing about this- I wish we could hear a full version of Potter’s cover instead of a 40 second snippet.
6. Marvel's Daredevil
Length: 1 minute, 2 seconds
Music: John Paesano
A beautiful, blood soaked introduction is the defining feature for Marvel’s Daredevil. It’s the perfect length for an intro, clocking in at just over a minute, but the driving music composed by John Paesano makes it go by even faster. Elastic’s production design is both menacing and entrancing, as Matt Murdock’s world slowly floats into focus in this hypnotic main title. Utilizing few colors other than red and allowing topography to play a major factor in the creation of the images on screen, it’s almost as if the figures on screen are slowly coming into focus, the way a blind man learns to feel his surroundings using his sense of spatial awareness and touch. It’s a haunting, beautiful, thought-provoking introduction to one of Marvel’s most underrated superheroes.
5. Orange is the New Black
Length: 1 minute, 14 seconds
Design: Thomas Cobb Group
Music: “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor
There are many secrets behind the main title for Orange is the New Black. At first watch, we get a kickass Regina Spektor song with a multitude of jump cuts to the faces (mouths, noses, eyes) of different women who are similar to the incarcerated women in the show. After some research, we learn that the women in the intro are not the actors in the show, but in fact real life women, all of whom are former prison inmates (including the real-life Piper Chapman, whose smile is seen in the video at about the 1-minute mark). Designer Thomas Cobb instructed the women seen in the intro to think of different places, people, and memories that evoked different emotions http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/orange-is-the-new-black-opening-credits_n_3786127.html , which works to great effect, as we’re given a raw look at the women that inspire the layered, emotional comedy drama.
4. House of Cards
Length: 1 minute, 31 seconds
Design: Andrew Geraci
Music: Jeff Beal
Once more, we have a time-lapse introduction. This time, we’re taking to Washington, D.C. to see the dry, cold political world of the American political scene. The shots of certain famous D.C. landmarks are gorgeous, as we see places like Nationals Park and the Kennedy Center in the background of some of the shots. Jeff Beal’s music slowly builds from a singular bass guitar to include sweeping violins, dark cellos, and even a faint trumpet (Beal’s signature instrument), giving the music a hint of quintessential American-ism (fun things to look for include certain lights that pop on as certain percussion beats hit).It’s also worth noting that the theme music changes slightly every season, as Beal decides to add different instruments or qualities, as if another obstacle has been thrown into the path of Frank Underwood, our ambitious anti-hero politician. Much like Beal’s music builds, the visuals change from a bright, clear day, to overcast, cloudy skies, to a dark knight. Overall, the House of Cards main title is incredibly menacing; it’s almost like we’re slowly seeing the shroud of Frank Underwood close in on America’s highest seat of power. The credits are 90 seconds long (which is over 20 minutes of buildings if you watch every episode in a season without skipping the intro), but I don’t care. I’ll never get tired of this one. Welcome to Washington.
3. Stranger Things
Length: 54 seconds
Design: Imaginary Forces
Music: Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon
If you want style, Stranger Things has it. The opening title is far and away the most stylized on this list. A simple design with nothing more than different shots of red lines that eventually form together to make the title of the show, the sequence makes some subtle nods to film directors like John Carpenter and writers like Stephen King. With a heavy synth score by Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon, we see elements of famous horror films like The Dead Zone coming to the forefront of the design. Finally, the show title's font is very similar to 80s print media; it uses the font Benguiat, which is also found on many a Stephen King novel, and many Choose Your Own Adventure books. Sometimes, simple is better, but the Stranger Things title has so many secrets to unpack, as its barrage of homages to 80s pop culture is undeniable and utterly infectious.
2. BoJack Horseman
Length: 53 seconds
Design: Mike Roberts
Music: Patrick Carney
A weird show with a weird intro sequence to boot. The three seasons of BoJack Horseman are reflected in its theme song, written by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys (not to mention the outro song is really great as well). The first season is a lot like the song's intro: wacky, disoriented, and not exactly sure where to go. The last two thirds are much like the second and third seasons: much, much stronger. The more you hear the intro, the more you learn to love it. And then there's the animation design, done by Mike Roberts. We're introduced to our titular horse's world, populated by the cast of loony characters that comprise his life. In the middle of all this is BoJack, a washed-up celebrity who's not sure where he wants to go, stuck in the doldrums of figuring out what it means to truly be happy. With each passing season (and in some cases, each passing episode), BoJack is shown drifting through different backgrounds, each one reflecting on the events of the current storyline- a bit of an inside joke for serious watchers. Despite all these background changes, it's a bittersweet and ultimately morbidly depressing mood, as we see that no matter how hard BoJack tries (or doesn't try), he struggles to find his place both within Hollywoo (Hollywoo. Watch the show) and within himself. I think we're all BoJack at some point or another in our lives, and this main title sequence reinforces that perfectly.
1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Length: 30 seconds
Design: Emily Oberman
Music: Jeff Richmond
A sitcom about a former cult kidnapping victim, mixed in with a healthy dose of autotune. This wackiness defines Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Jeff Richmond, who also did the theme music for 30 Rock, composed the music for Kimmy Schmidt, a show created by his wife, Tina Fey. We see a theme that utilizes techniques created by The Gregory Brothers, YouTubers famous for their "Auto-Tune the News" videos. Together, the composers have made the phrases "it's a miiiiiracle!" and "females are strong as hell" household lines to any fans of the show. Clocking in at 30 seconds (the second shortest on this list), we're treated to a quick intro to Kimmy's background and the premise of the show, and we completely understand that this dark subject will indeed be a wacky, light-hearted sitcom. It is the perfect embellishment of the traditional sitcom theme (the show is an embellishment of the traditional sitcom itself), and it earns the top spot on this list, dammit!
The next month is huge for Netflix. Master of None’s second season premieres on May 12th, and the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns on May 19th. Bloodline’s final season premieres on May 26th. House of Cards returns for a fifth season on May 30th, the same for Orange is the New Black, which comes back on June 9th. It’s gonna be a big spring- there’s something for everyone.