Here’s Our Definitive Ranking Of The Top 25 Opening Sequences In Television History
Life is about first impressions. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job interview, a first date, or the first time a promising young rookie makes their first appearance in a pro game. How you come out of the box will always have a direct impact on how others view you.
In the case of television shows, I mean that literally.
A show can be absolutely amazing, but if the title sequence is junk, the chances of you actually sticking around to see what is so amazing about it decrease significantly. Studies have shown that if a title sequence is unappealing—whether it’s the music or the visuals or a sad combination of the two—viewers are 67% less likely to watch that show.
No, I don’t have a source to back that up but it feels like it could be true and that’s good enough for me.
A good title sequence should give you a pretty solid idea of what the show is about but doesn’t give away the farm. On top of that, an opening finds that perfect marriage between interesting yet relevant visuals and music that goes so well with it that going forward you can’t hear that song without thinking about those visuals.
For instance, the title sequence of Boardwalk Empire was visually perfect. It was captivating, it was symbolic, and in a way, it was able to give you a good idea what the show was about and (more importantly) what it would be about. They nailed that part.
But the music made no sense whatsoever. It was loud guitars and banging drums even though we’re talking about a show set in the 1920s. There was a disconnect between what you were seeing and what you were hearing. It was straight-up jolting.
Boardwalk Empire will not be included in this list.
Let’s see who will.
25. Arrested Development
The Arrested Development opening sequence is short and sweet and gets right to the point. It lays out the story and the characters, and most vitally, the gist.
This is Michael, his family is nuts, and he’s the one stuck trying to keep them together.
That’s it. That’s the show. It’s all right there before you even hit the 20-second mark and I for one appreciate the efficiency.
Whereas Arrested Development used graphics and some helpful instructive narration from Ron Howard, Friends went out of its way to show you exactly who these friends were. They’re obviously close. No one dances around a park at night like that with complete strangers.
Using clips throughout an intro is a total sitcom move but that’s fine in this case. It’s helpful. I wouldn’t have known that Joey was so cool unless you showed me that or that Phoebe was a little quirky without some evidence to back that up.
Unfortunately, they’re not able to provide some warning that Ross was the worst, which plays a role in why this show is ranked where it is.
23. Big Little Lies
I don’t know if you watched the second season of Big Little Lies but I did and I became convinced that the bridge that they showed in the opening credits was going to play some kind of role in how the season would end. I started telling this theory to anyone who would listen and (to a very small degree) even got some people to think I might be onto something.
Spoiler: I was not onto something.
You can’t blame me. They showed that shot of the bridge so many times in each episode. It’s not my fault I have a tendency to read into things a bit too much.
Fun fact: did you know the theme song “Cold Little Heart” by Michael Kiwanuka was originally ten minutes and that Kiwanuka released a video for a six-minute version of the track?
Now you do.
22. Saved By The Bell
You know why it’s all right?
Because it’s Saved by the Bell, that’s why.
You know why this opening sequence is here?
BECAUSE IT’S EFFIN’ LEGENDARY, THAT’S WHY!
I feel like I’ve said enough.
It’s been quite a while since the M*A*S*H finale aired and you could be forgiven for either not knowing what the show was about or, depending on how old you are, forgetting about the show entirely.
However, if you watch the show’s intro, you very quickly know what’s up with M*A*S*H and roughly where and when it takes place.
I would say that the only knock on the intro is that (to some degree) its tone is somewhat misleading as it gives off the vibe of a somber war story, which it really wasn’t for the first few seasons. It wasn’t until the halfway point of the show’s 11-season run that it shifted from comedy to drama. The intro definitely works better with the back nine of the show’s run.
But that’s splitting hairs and we’re not here for that.
You know what those thundering drums mean, don’t you?
It’s Baywatch time.
It should be noted that “I’m Always Here” was the second Baywatch theme song. The original theme was “Save Me” by Peter Cetera. Changing things up was a smart move on their part. “I’m Always Here” is ten times better.
While we might not be here for splitting hairs, we definitely are here for the fantastic visuals that are included in the Baywatch opening. And no, not just because of Pamela Lee and Yasmine Bleeth (although that helps).
The whole damn thing is amazing and rightfully prompted endless Baywatch references on beaches across the world that will likely continue until the end of time.
That’s not hyperbole either. That’s just a given that I think we can agree on.
Boardwalk Empire’s opening was a rare misstep for HBO, but with the Entourage opening, they absolutely crushed it.
The song, “Superhero” by Jane’s Addiction, fits perfectly and whoever thought of putting the actor’s names on marquees and awnings deserves a raise (or deserved a raise. It’s a been a few years since this show first aired). I hope they were compensated well.
18. Full House
Danny Tanner is essentially the anti-Turtle when it comes to driving vintage convertibles. Also, how are none of them wearing sunglasses? Uncle Jesse not wearing sunglasses in the show’s opening feels like a gross betrayal of his character.
Sure, he wears them later during the picnic but that really feels like too little, too late.
With that said, I love how the show’s opening gives you exactly one thing about each of the three dudes that you need to know: Uncle Jess plays guitar, Danny is a neat-freak, and Uncle Joey is a talker. I appreciate that they felt that was enough to get you interested.
Based on its legacy, I guess it worked.
See, the horse is the spirit of Deadwood. It’s wild and free, unattached to the heavy-handed grasp of government and civilized society.
I feel very strongly about this.
Much stronger than I felt about the bridge in Big Little Lies.
16. Stranger Things
You watch this opening and you’re hip to the following things:
- This show is about things that are strange
- There’s a science fiction element to said strange things
- The strange things with the science fiction element are doing strange things
- Synthesizers are dope
And that about covers it.
15. The Wire (Season One)
I like each season of The Wire’s opening but the intro for season one will always be the gold standard for me.
It has the best version of “Way Down in the Hole” thanks to the Blind Boys of Alabama (Tom Waits’ version, which is the original and the theme for the second season, is a close runner-up) and seeing how it’s the first intro the show did, it’s the standard-bearer for laying out the blueprint for what the series is about.
In less than two minutes, we’re led down a path through the streets of Baltimore littered with drug dealers, drug users, cops, and local government officials.
They even show you the paperwork that was needed to get the titular wire up and running. Paperwork!
The Wire was never one to shy away from the nitty-gritty, even in the credits.
14. The Office
The Office theme song is like Christmas music.
You hear it and you’re instantly transported to a happy place, brought into the warm cocoon of familiar feelings and old friends. It’s the one show on Netflix where you’re hesitant to skip the intro because the intro has become such a part of the show.
13. True Detective (Season One)
The title sequences for each of True Detective’s three seasons have been pretty damn amazing. Even the show’s second season, which was a massive bucket of fecal matter wrapped up in a dead horse carcass, had a sick opening.
If you forgot how it went, that’s totally understandable. I think we’re all better off if we just pretend that that second season never existed.
The opening for that first season, though, was another perfect intro from the good folks at HBO. It captures the dark and haunting feel of the series, both between the imagery and the song “Far From Any Road” (courtesy of The Handsome Family). I especially like how the music has a western tinge, which further enhances that sense of lonesome desperation.
I’m serious though. That second season never happened.
12. Beverly Hills: 90210
90210′s opening sequence is like the love child of Baywatch and Friends. The music reminds you of our friends at the former with those drums and guitars while the visuals of effin’, great looking young people frolicking about call to mind the latter.
But it’s not just fun and games kids. They drop valuable and informative nuggets about the show and its characters throughout the minute-and-a-half runtime and I appreciate that. Andrea is smart! Steve takes his clothes seriously! David is a music nerd!
Dylan is cool as hell.
Dexter was a creepy effin’ serial killer so it then makes perfect sense that the opening sequence of Dexter is a creepy effin’ opening sequence.
That’s what we should want in our opening sequences, especially when it comes to dramas. We want them to get that table set and start laying out some of those tasty side dishes, getting us primed and ready for the main course.
That’s exactly what the opening sequence of Dexter does.
10. The Simpsons
The Simpsons opening is pretty much an American institution at this point.
Cultural significance is great and all, but let’s not sleep on the effectiveness of the opening. You get each member of the family in their element, doing something that clearly defines them, and on top of that, you get them weaving in and out of the streets of Springfield through the laundry list of characters that have dotted the show’s landscape over the years.
And lest we forget the challenge of finding something new for Bart to write on the chalkboard each week and for there to be a different twist to the family convening on the couch that is included in each opening.
I for one support animators making their lives harder and more difficult for our enjoyment.
“Little Boxes” is a tune written back in 1962 by Malvina Reynolds when the development of suburbs around the country was in full swing. The first season of Weeds used the original version of the song as the theme song for each episode, but in following seasons they decided to mix it up.
The second featured Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Ozomatli, Jenny Lewis, and more covering the song, while season three gave Randy Newman, The Shins, The Decemberists and even Linkin Park a crack. The show went with a different song for the show’s fourth season, which made sense seeing as how the Botwins no longer lived that suburb life.
But man, talk about a flex. Here I was thinking how cool it was that The Wire did a different version of the same song for each season while Weeds is out here changing it up for each episode.
8. True Blood
It’s a shame that True Blood has become an afterthought when talking about some of the best shows HBO has produced. I’m not out here saying it belongs in the conversation but I am saying that if you were ranking, say, the twenty best shows the network has done, it’s in there (probably somewhere between 12 and 15).
The show’s intro is much higher though, specifically the third-best one they’ve done. Why? Because it’s really effin’ good, that’s why.
I think that as the years have gone by and the further removed we are from the show airing— especially that first season (which premiered in 2008)—we forget that True Blood was essentially about equal rights and bigotry.
Yes, there were vampires and all kinds of sweaty sexiness, but at its core, the show was about how we treat people that are different than us, and that’s pretty clearly outlined in the show’s Emmy-winning title sequence.
It also definitely helps that the show’s theme song, “Bad Things” by Jace Everett, is a delicious slice of rockabilly goodness.
7. The Walking Dead
You can add the opening title sequence and general concept of The Walking Dead to the list of things that are better than the show itself. No, really—you watch the opening and how can you not think to yourself that that right there looks wild and super interesting?
Furthermore, the overall idea of people struggling to live in a world overrun by zombie hordes is tasty as hell.
What happened guys? How has the show gotten so bad? I don’t get it. It’s all laid out for you. All you have to do is partake.
In the end, The Walking Dead is like shots: it sounds like a good idea at the time but things can go south in a hurry.
Raise your hand if at some point in your life you’ve seen someone getting arrested and immediately started humming “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle.
Yeah, that’s right. We all have.
I rest my case.
I love the Cheers opening. I love it a lot.
I love that they passed on a more traditional sitcom opening and instead did something that ended up being a loving tribute to bars. It would have been so easy for them to do something along the lines of the other sitcoms on this list—an opening with shots of Ted Danson tending bar, Woody being Woody, and Cliff and Norm having set up shop.
It would have been a slam dunk and no one would have thought any less of them.
Cheers showed the positive aspects of the community that can be formed in a good neighborhood bar, with the idea of the bar as a communal place being an idea that is as old as the idea of bars themselves.
In case you thought they were making it all up, the opening sequence is packed with images meant to drive that point home.
4. Mad Men
Mad Men was a thoughtful show full of intent and purpose so it makes complete sense that it would have one of the more layered and meaningful openings ever. The visuals are incredibly on point and perfect for a show about a man whose life was built on a lie and sees that lie (and all that lies built upon it) eventually fall apart.
This (unlike Boardwalk Empire) is how you effectively use a modern-sounding song as a theme song for a period show. It’s not as if “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2 sounds especially 1950s-ish, but it’s smooth enough that it’s not distracting.
3. Game of Thrones
Me the first few times I watched the intro to Game of Thrones: What the hell kind of weird, nerd nonsense is this?
Me once I got past that: Okay cool, so tonight we’re going to be in Winterfell and in Eastwatch and—oh shit!—we’re going north of The Wall and whoa, Braavos and Dorne. Let’s go!
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Do you want to know what The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is about? Well, let The Fresh Prince himself tell you.
This is a prime example of squeezing every ounce of talent you can from your star and the brain trust behind The Fresh Prince should be commended for it. You have Will Smith absolutely oozing and brimming with talent so of course you are going to have him do your show’s theme song and have him act out said theme song throughout the intro.
What’s also amazing is how this song never leaves you. It starts playing and you just start singing along. Some of the words may have become causalities to the passage of time, but you definitely remember enough of them.
Of course, The Fresh Prince was in the rare and enviable position of being able to pull this whole thing off seeing as how they had Will Smith on the payroll.
If only the Zack Attack was a real band, Saved By The Bell could have done the same thing.
1. The Sopranos
It’s fitting that the show that essentially kicked the door wide open when it comes to the Golden Age of Television would also be the one with the best opening sequence. In The Sopranos’ wake, shows have not only been trying to create their own iconic anti-hero, but find a way to replicate the success of the show’s opening.
The music and visuals in the opening of The Sopranos are the closest thing we have to a perfect marriage after Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell’s.
It sets the scene and firmly places you in the show’s location, a location that was as much of a character as anyone else on the show. You also really get a feel for Tony Soprano, despite him not saying a word.
He doesn’t have to. The looks on his face, the way he smokes his cigar, and the way he snags the turnpike ticket say it all. This is a dude with a lot going inside his head, with two worlds resting on his shoulders (three if you count New Jersey traffic).
The song, “Woke Up This Morning” by the British group Alabama 3, would go on to have it’s own spot in the zeitgeist and place in Sopranos‘ lore, right alongside Paulie Walnuts and the Bada Bing. What’s wild is that the song wasn’t written specifically for the show, even though it sounds like it was, especially when you zero in on some of the lyrics.
Some things are just meant to be, I guess—just like The Sopranos being at the top of this list.