When it comes to building a new TV show’s identity in the eyes of viewers, there are few factors as simple yet influential as the opening titles. Whether it’s a two-second title card or a full-fledged two-minute sequence, the opening titles of a TV show are integral to crafting a TV show’s sense of self—a visual and sonic language for viewers to immediately latch onto whether they’re watching the season premiere or a series finale. Though a more recent trend among streaming series has been to ditch a longer, elaborate title sequence in favor of just a title card or two, the modern TV landscape is still home to a mountain of killer title sequences across all genres, networks, and streaming platforms.
While there’s no cut-and-dry formula to creating a show’s perfect title sequence, the best intros—the ones that stand the test of time and never get skipped on Netflix—help clue viewers in as to a show’s tone, themes, and identity. At their best, title sequences give audiences a taste of the show: a teaser that’s not only repeated every episode, but that’s (ideally) instantly recognizable outside of the series as well. No matter if it’s a screwball comedy or a spine-tingling thriller, the beauty of title sequences is that any series could end up with the next endlessly-parodied earworm. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best title sequences from the past 10 years (2012-2022) for your viewing—and listening—pleasure.
Theme: Siddhartha Khosla
Title design: Lisa Bolan (Elastic)
A sleeper hit that surprised fans with its unorthodox leading trio and unique comedic flare, Hulu’s half-hour myster/comedy series Only Murders in the Buildings follows a trio of New Yorkers—Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez—who all live in the same upscale apartment building, and who come together to create a true crime podcast after one of their building’s inhabitants is murdered.
Only Murders boasts a colorful animated title sequence (desgined by Elastic) whose stylized drawings represent the Arconia and its many shifty inhabitants. Emulating Mabel’s in-universe mural and art style, the eclectic animation of the Only Murders title sequences reflects the show’s off-kilter sense of humor: simultaneously goofy and heartfelt, with a dash of macabre mystery to tie it all together. But the true genius of Only Murders’ opening titles (in addition to reflecting the show’s identity as a love-letter to Upper West Side) is how the animations themselve hint at the actual plot developments in the series: as each episode progresses, ever-so-slight changes in the title sequences can be spotted, which are in turn representative of mysteries the podcasters uncover in their search for a killer.
Tied together by Siddhartha Khosla’s playful yet mysterious main theme (which is reflected beautifully in the show’s score), the Only Murders title sequence is an unorthodox, playful, animated entry filled with subtle easter eggs: the perfect opening for a series that loves emphasizing its own idiosyncrasies.
Theme: Brian Reitzell
Title design: Patrick Clair (Elastic)
The first of several Bryan Fuller-helmed entries on this list, American Gods was Starz’s gritty, sensual, magic-realism drama that ran for a tumultuous three seasons, all inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. The series followed ex-con Shadow Moon as he attempted to navigate life after prison, only to be caught in a war between the New and Old Gods, spearheaded by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday.
American Gods was a series that thrived on exploring the seedy underbelly of American pop culture, and the title sequence is a similarly dark, atmospheric one that features no shortage of heavy imagery and neon spectacle. Though the show itself may have had a rocky run, its sense of aesthetic were second to none, and the title sequence was no exception: from gilded buddhas to flaming skulls and neon crosses, the design of the titles invokes religious imagery from across the globe, intertwined with representations of American overindulges, consumerism, and sinful vices. Topped off by a frightening, uber-modern main theme from composer Brian Reitzell, and you’re left with the perfect cacophony of danger and lust to represent Gaiman’s seedy, God-plagued world.
Theme: Patrick & Ralph Carney
Title design: Peter Merryman
The only animated show to make this list, Netflix’s downer of a comedy Bojack Horseman, starring Will Arnett as the titular ex-sitcom star, hooked viewers with its dark sense of humor, brutal honesty, and unflinching willingness to explore the realities of the television industry and the darker side of fame. Though it may have been a colorfully animated series with a talking horse as a protagonist, Bojack Horseman reveled in using its seemingly contrasting sense of aesthetics to offset razor-sharp writing and impressive voice acting performances.
For the show’s now-iconic title sequence, designer Peter Merryman takes audiences on a pseudo day-in-the life from Bojack’s point of view: the camera follows him almost as if he has a GoPro strapped to his head, as he navigates the not-so-glamorous life of an aging has-been. The score is dizzying and almost dreamlike; a synth-heavy track from Patrick and Ralph Carney that helps emphasize the daze through which Bojack navigates his messy world. Compounded by the fact that Bojack Horseman is another series that features changing graphics in the intro as the seasons progress, Merryman’s surreal portrait of Bojack in his day-to-day life is the perfect title sequence for one of TV’s most unorthodox animated shows.
Theme: Michael Penn
Title design: Leanne Dare (Elastic)
Though not the most high-profile series on our list, it would be remiss to keep Showtime’s sensual historical drama Masters of Sex out of conversations about best dramas of the 2010s—even if the series did live in the shadow of Mad Men. Set in the 1960s and (somewhat) based on a true story, Masters of Sex follows ambitious but icy gynecologist William Masters (Michael Sheen) as he works with young up-and-coming medical student Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) to conduct groundbreaking scientific research in the field of human sexualtiy.
With a title as eye-catching as Masters of Sex, and a show premise hinged around the practice and understanding of sex, it’s no surprise that the title sequence keeps the trend going: the opening titles are a tongue-in-cheek series of not-so-opaque references and nods to exactly that. From a train going in a tunnel to a flower blooming to a champagne cork being popped, the sequence is chock full of innuendo which leaves viewers with no doubt what the series is about. Set to Michael Penn’s ‘60s-inspired theme and intercut with imagery of scientific procedure, the Masters of Sex title sequence tells you everythng you need to know about the series without watching it—the mark of truly great opening titles.
Theme: Rachel Bloom
Title design: Tom Smith (Season 1)
Boasting not one but four foot-tapping tunes and title sequence to go along with them, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s impressive and eclectic mix of opening titles is an accurate reflection of the show they represent: a funny, musical, often heartbreaking and true-to-life portrait of a young woman struggling with mental health and interpersonal relationships. The series, co-created by star and songwriter Rachel Bloom, followed New-York lawyer Rebecca Bunch, who abandons her successful career after a mental health crisis, and moves across the country in pursuit of her childhood crush, Josh.
Bloom and songwriter Jack Dolgen told Entertainment Weekly that the idea behind creating a new title sequence for each season was to reflect the evolving story progression, as well as to better reflect Rebecca’s mental state as she grows over the course of the series: “With every theme song, it started on: What’s the story Rebecca is telling herself of the season?” From singing about the sexism behind the term “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to an animated sun in the Season 1 title, or holding a concert alongside different genre clones of herself in the Season 3 title sequence, each Crazy Ex-Girlfriend opening title is the perfect encapsulation of that season’s thesis, and an appropriately musical introduction to an underrated CW gem.
Theme: Nicholas Britell
Title design: Picturemill
Though Game of Thrones seems like it would be the go-to show for an HBO entry on our list, the series’ 2011 premiere means it’s just a year shy of making the cut—leaving room for 2018’s razor sharp Succession to claim a spot in the top 10. Constantly going viral on Twitter and determined to somehow find a way to make things bleaker with each passing season, Succession is the cutthroat story of the Roy family and the power struggle for control of their international media conglomerate when their patriarch falls ill.
The series is a black comedy that thrives on exploring the bleakness of the corporate landscape, the insidiousness of wealth and power, and the antics of the uber-rich: so the opening title sequence appropriately features old home videos of the Roy children in their resplendent youth, intercut with imagery representative of the high-stakes corporate world they inhabit and the media empire they control. Though perhaps a touch more literal than some of the other entries on the list, the grandiose footage of the Roy family’s upbringing set to the booming, intimidating score from Nicholas Britell combine to create a now-iconic introduction to one of TV’s messiest families.
Theme: Brian Reitzell
Title design: Momoco
The second of two Bryan Fuller shows to grace this list, Hannibal is a series that needs virtually no introduction: based on the 1983 Red Dragon series which in turn inspired The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal follows troubled FBI consultant Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) as he solves crimes with the help of his unique abilities and his unorthodox friendship with therapist / serial murderer / cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
Creating a title sequence suitable for a series about one of pop culture’s most infamous horror icons is no small feat, butHannibal’s short-but-sweet 30-second intro is the perfect encapsulation of the series’ tone and visual aesthetics while not-so-subtly nodding towards its characters’ uber-violent tendencies. Set against a stark white backdrop, the opening titles feature red liquid (wine? blood? who’s to say) slowly morphing into the shapes of human figures. It’s a simple concept, but when set against the unsettling ear-piercing strings of Brian Reitzell’s title theme, the reversed scarlet visuals take on a sinister turn, while still somehow maintaining the paradoxical elegance of Hannibal himself—truly a title sequence fit for a killer.
Theme: Sean Callery
Title design: Imaginary Forces
The only comic book entry on our list, 2015’s Jessica Jones was one of Netflix’s much-loved Marvel series before the universe was swiftly cut short in favor of Disney+ distributed content. The series followed ex-superhero and investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), a trauma-ridden young woman taking odd jobs and investigative cases all while avoiding falling back into the clutches of the mind-controlling Kilgrave (David Tennant).
Despite falling under the Marvel banner, Jessica Jones was a dark, gritty, often unnerving series that explored the ins and outs of trauma, post-traumatic stress, and the harrowing toll psychological abuse can take even years later. For the title sequence, Imaginary Forces crafted a moody, film-noir inspired animated sequence in shades of purple (a nod to Kilgrave’s moniker “The Purple Man”) to remind audiences of his ever-lurking presence. Between the shadowy cityscapes, the bleeding purple hues and the title theme that transforms from more traditional suspense music to guitar-heavy rock, the Jessica Jones title theme captured its heroine’s rough-around-the-edges exterior and nodding to the show’s noir roots.
Theme: David Arnold
Title design: Peter Anderson Studio
Based on the beloved novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant), who attempt to avert armageddon with the help of an unlikely group of heroes. In addition to exploring their adventures in the present-day and their struggle to stop the end of the world, the series also chronicles their jaunts through history, and the progression of their eons-old friendship: from the death of Christ to the French Revolution, and everything in between.
Appropriately, the Good Omens’ title sequence is a whimsically animated one that follows articulated paper doll versions of Aziraphale and Crowley as they (literally) trek through time. The animation mixes mediums between hyper-realism and exaggerated proportions to create a unique visual tone that almost mimics the effect of a scrapbook. Anderson uses seemingly haphazard imagery of everything from crashing spaceships to nuns on escalators to not only allude to events that take place in the series, but also to reinforce the show’s themes of death, morality, paranoia, and the unpredictability of human nature. The icing on the cake is the title theme from David Arnold, a bright, jaunty, fully-orchestrated tune that nods to Aziraphale and Crowley’s heavenly beginnings.
Theme: Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon
Title design: Michelle Dougherty
Last but certainly not least is the simplest yet most effective entry on our list: the straightforward but instantly-iconic ‘80s-inspired Stranger Things title sequence. Set in the sleepy middle American town of Hawkins, Indiana, Stranger Things (if you’ve been living under a rock) follows a group of D&D-loving preteens whose lives are turned upside down (no pun intended) by the sudden disappearance of their friend Will.
The series is famous for its dedication to recreating the 1980s aesthetic, and the title sequence is certainly no exception. The title font is ripped straight from the cover of a Stephen King novel, with a hearty dose of inspiration from the work of Richard Greenberg, the man responsible for a number of classic ‘80s opening titles like Alien and The Goonies. Though the title sequence features no visual elements outside of text, those neon red letters set against a dark, ominous background get the job done: subconsciously reminding audiences of the upside down, while also paying homage to the pop culture phenomena that inspired the series. Though it may be simple, the eerie glow of Stranger Things lit in red, set against the synth-heavy theme from Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon is a winning formula for one of the 21st century’s most easily-recognizable title sequences.
Lauren Coates is a freelance entertainment writer with a passion for sci-fi, an unhealthy obsession with bad reality television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. She has contributed to Paste since 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenjcoates, where she’s probably talking about Star Trek.
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