Sometimes they are mini-movies in themselves, sometimes they are scene-setting primers for what is to come, and sometimes they are actually the best thing about the movie. Either way, the title sequence is an overlooked art form. Hitchcock would often bring in established artists, like Saul Bass, to create his titles, such importance he placed on them. They are the doorway into the movie, a taste of what is to come. They run, tragically ignored while the audience settles down, stops rustling the damn tubs of popcorn and chatting and generally getting up my nose…

Sorry, wrong blog.

Anyway, for your consideration, my top ten title sequences. Enjoy.

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10. Shaun of the Dead

A short one, this, but the opener for Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is a little work of genius. It gives us an amusing perspective of everyday life in Britain, before most of the population are transformed into shambling zombies. The question it postulates is very simple; what’s the difference? The fact that Simon Pegg’s Shaun later nips to the Newsagent without noticing the walking dead around him, and you totally believe it, just reinforces the gag.

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9. Vertigo

Most people choose North by Northwest as their favourite Hitchcock title sequence, and while that one is certainly highly influential (see David Fincher’s Panic Room opener) I’ve always preferred Vertigo. Saul Bass created what could be the signature title sequence for all Hitchcock’s movies. The fixation on a woman’s frightened features, turning blood red as the title appears, mixed with Bernard Herrmann’s spooky score, tell you all you need to know about the big man’s favourite pastime; basically, torturing beautiful blondes. Naughty Alfred. The spirals signify James Stewart’s fear of heights, his uncontrollable compulsions, and are also reflected in the hair of Kim Novak.

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8. Contact

Not, strictly speaking, a title sequence at all, but still one of the most effective openers to a movie. Robert Zemeckis’ underrated adaptation of the novel by Carl Sagan immediately shares with us Ellie Arroway’s (Jodie Foster) awe at the expanse of the universe, and the unimaginable possibilities of what may exist out there. For me at least, the sequence truly inspires a sense of wonder, but also a feeling of the crushing loneliness and isolation of our tiny little planet. Is anyone out there listening? Brilliant.

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7. Alien

Ridley Scott ditches Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, keeps it simple, and it works a charm. This is the dark side of Contact’s sequence, in that it perfectly encapsulates the despair, foreboding and the unknown dangers of deep space. The skeletal score, nothing more than a series of strange noises and a random tune, does indeed seem alien. This is a frightening place, very far from home and you feel it. Rarely has a title sequence so perfectly suited its title.

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6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Steven Spielberg had long wanted to shoot a Busby Berkely style showstopper, and with his second Indiana Jones movie he got the chance. Set on the stage of Club Obi-Wan (one of the series’ many in-jokes), Kate Capshaw’s small scale rendition of Anything Goes, in Cantonese, soon escalates into a massive, glittering dance routine. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous that the tiny stage can suddenly accommodate this huge production, but this is a director indulging himself a little. If Spielberg (all praise his name) wants to give his future wife a huge entrance (snigger), who are we to deny him?

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5. Zombieland

Zombies again, this time from the other side of the pond. It’s ridiculous, it’s gruesome, it’s fun! Yay! Ruben Fleischer’s Metallica backed title sequence couldn’t set you up better for the insanity to follow. The madness of zombie attacks, in ultra slow-motion, is somehow inherently funny and Fleischer milks it for all it’s worth. Add to this the movie’s continuing interaction between the real world and the words onscreen, and you have a good old, undead chuckle fest.

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4. Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s celebration of Hollywood’s worst ever director, Edward D. Wood Jr., had the perfect opening sequence. This is such an affectionate homage to the tacky, B-movie ethics of its subject, that there’s no doubt the man himself would have adored it. Howard Shore’s Theremin laced score is absolutely spot on, and the construction of a miniature Hollywood for the final tracking shot is breathtaking. Burton at his best.

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3. Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the graphic novel opens with this master class in condensing an entire back-story into a short sequence. Giving us the story of this alternative universe’s superheroes, right up until the main movie’s 1980’s setting, we see a history of the 20th century as it may have been with the addition of masked vigilantes and a superhuman. Bob Dylan’s classic folk song makes the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful, slow-motion scene-setting, and every frame looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of a comic book.

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2. Lord of War

Andrew Niccol’s study of a morally conflicted arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) was a fairly average movie, but what it did boast was this outstanding title sequence. Almost a mini-movie in itself, the POV journey of a single bullet from production to ultimate use is original, telling and ends with a depressing suddenness. The CGI already looks a little dated now, but that in no way detracts from the scene’s effectiveness. Very clever opening sequence.

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1. Seven

So many subsequent thrillers have imitated Seven’s dark, twisted title sequence that the power it held at the time may seem somewhat diminished. However, David Fincher’s opener to his second movie is still the Daddy of all title sequences. Unnerving, sinister and bleak, this left you in no doubt as to what you had in store. Part of its genius is that many aspects of what you are seeing are not revealed in their meaning until the second viewing, when you realise who it is you are watching. Coupled with a totally stripped down version of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, this is the mind of a lunatic at work and play. Chilling.

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The Movie

Seven, or Se7en if you’re into that whole smart-ass logo thing, is one of those movies that I find endlessly watchable. I love it. It never dulls, never seems worn with repeated viewings, its themes and visuals always sit comfortably in my mind and my eyes. Some people have mood music, I have mood movies and there are definitely times when Seven is the movie for my mood.

David Fincher managed to rise from the ashes of his much-maligned debut, Alien3, with this audacious, poetic take on the serial killer movie. He has since become one of America’s most original and inventive filmmakers. Much imitated but never bettered, Seven is the perfect example of suggestive horror. Of all the murders (or forced suicides) that take place in the movie, we actually witness only one being perpetrated. Of the others, we just see glimpses of the aftermath and our imaginations do the rest. Centred by outstanding performances from both Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Seven is dark, contemplative and merciless at its resolution.

The Scene

In a gloomy, unnamed city, new recruit Detective Mills (Pitt) and seasoned veteran Detective Lt. Somerset (Freeman) are investigating a series of murders which appear to be have been based upon the seven deadly sins. With victims mounting and very little to go on, the two men pursue the investigation in their own particular way…

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Why I Love It

Intermission

It would have been easy to pick some of the more recognisable scenes from Seven; one of the crime scenes, perhaps, or that infamous final scene with the box. But in the middle of all the darkness, horror and endless rain of Fincher’s movie sits this thoughtful and rather beautiful little moment of calm. It is almost an intermission, and I love that.

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The Music

Air on a G String is one of my favourite pieces of classical music, and Bach’s melancholy masterpiece suits the languid, pensive tone of this scene perfectly. The fact that it seems far more out of place in the moments involving Pitt’s Detective Mills than it does with Freeman’s Detective Lt. Somerset speaks volumes for who they are.

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The Location

I’m not entirely sure where this scene was filmed, but I wish there were a library like that where I live. It’s gorgeous! Almost all of Seven is set in run-down, beat-up looking buildings and offices, rain soaked and maudlin. The library, in contrast, is like some grand museum, with high ceilings and stone floors. From his familiarity with the Night Watchmen, you just know that Somerset comes here often, perhaps for refuge from the hellhole he lives in. And who can blame him?

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Highlighting the Differences

Seven is very much a character study of two contrasting police officers; the young, idealistic Mills and the older, wizened Somerset. This scene gives us a brief but telling comparison of men and methods. While Mills sits, beer in hand, endlessly studying the crime scene pictures, Somerset hits the library. Mills exists in the moment, for him all the answers are there in the event itself. Somerset likes to look deeper, to the past and to the things that may have influenced the event. Mills’ crime scene photos depict the recent crimes, that might seem original in their detail and savagery. Somerset’s reading choices are a poetic reminder that man’s cruelty to man is nothing new.

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.Seven may not be the most cheerful and uplifting of movies. It is harrowing, pessimistic and offers little in the way of hope when the end credits roll. But there are few films quite like it. It possesses an element of dark beauty, which is never more evident than in this scene.

I love movies. I love them. I’ve always loved them and I always will. I love watching them, I love writing them and I love collecting them. To me, there is no other medium like it. I enjoy music, I enjoy books, but it is in cinema that I find the true spark of passion and joy that can only come from knowing you are where you belong, you are in a place where everyone speaks your language. It’s in the shiver that runs down my spine when the camera slowly moves toward Harrison Ford’s face, as he studies the golden idol he is about to steal in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s in the way my heart breaks when Al Pacino opens his mouth and lets a lifetime of regret emerge as an animal howl at the end of The Godfather III. It’s Morgan Freeman’s eyes in Seven, the Orca sailing out to sea through the teeth of a shark in Jaws, or John Hurt starting to cough during dinner in Alien. It’s two hours in another world. It’s magic.

It started with my father. And, no doubt, some genetic predisposition, since my brother did not develop the same passion. From an early age, dad passed to me this love of cinema. I would sit and watch countless movies with him, while he would explain to me why certain shots were set up a certain way. How, for example, Hitchcock would often frame his characters claustrophobically, using stair banisters to simulate bars and signify their entrapment. Through years of viewing, I began to understand the language of cinema, recognising the style of certain directors, the signatures that appeared in their work. I would smile when Spielberg used a shadow because I could name all the other times he had done it. I recognised the way John Carpenter took the basic premise of his favourite movie, Rio Bravo, and made a series of brilliant horror movies from it. I saw the symbolism of oranges in the Godfather movies. No, honestly. Oranges. Oranges signify death. Watch all three movies again and you’ll see.

I’ve accumulated a vast wealth of, let’s face it, potentially useless movie knowledge. I mean, who cares if Scorsese slowed the frame rate of a certain zoom on Robert De Niro in Goodfellas, just ever so slightly, because it made him appear more menacing? Who cares that Hitchcock made Psycho in black and white because he didn’t have enough of a budget to make it in colour? I care. Because this is my passion.

I’m old enough to remember a time when movies were almost a once only experience. It was either a trip to the cinema or catch them on television, three years later. So, I look back very fondly at the early eighties, and the advent of home video. The sense of wonder I felt at the fact that it was now possible to own a movie, in a box with a cover, was absolutely overwhelming. The local video rental store became a holy place for me; thirteen years old and staring, wide-eyed, at the store walls, lined with movies. In boxes, with covers! I could choose one of those movies, take it home and watch it whenever I felt like it. It was incredible. And what a choice! At the cinema it was a choice of three. Here, I had a choice of hundreds. My appetite increased in direct proportion to the nourishment available.

Of course, when I try to convey that sense of awe to my son, himself now thirteen, I’m met with the same kind of amused condescension I used to give my dad when he told me how cool his Davy Crockett hat was when he was thirteen. The wheels keep turning.

Movies have been the one constant in my life. While other loves have come and gone, my love for film has remained, concrete and undiminished. This, I’m afraid, is carried through to my love of movie memorabilia. I’m not an insane collector. I can’t afford to be, but I do have my own little movie shrine set above the fire in my lounge. And on the walls. And a few other places. They say that men never truly put away their toys, they just move up to more expensive ones. For some it’s cars or bikes, for some it’s sports, and for some it’s hi-tech gadgets. For me, it’s movie memorabilia. Posters, books, and yes, toys. You can call them that, if you must. I mean, I don’t run around playing with them. They just sit there, which to my mind puts them under the category of ‘ornaments’, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I always had aspirations towards working in the movie industry. As a child, I vacillated between all manner of the more whimsical ambitions. Actor, stuntman, special effects, storyboard artist. Each month I moved onto a new career path. In my early thirties, I took the more pragmatic step of running my own video rental store. I hoped I could recapture the magic of those places from my childhood, but by that time the rental industry had become commonplace, corporate and regimented. The magic had gone. I was just a faceless guy in a T-shirt, handing out video cases to an undemanding public.

So, finally, I sat down one night and decided to start writing a movie. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before, and I couldn’t tell you why I decided, on that particular night, to start. Something in my head just clicked. A few months later, I had my first completed screenplay, Dark Road. I immediately started another, and shortly after that, Dark Road was optioned. The option was dropped a few years later, but my fourth screenplay, Debunking Dad, won the BAFTA/Rocliffe New Writers Forum in 2008. There have been successes and failures, and the ultimate success has not yet been reached, but I’m confident I will get there.

Who knows? Maybe one day, a scene from one of my movies will give someone a shiver down their spine. Maybe one day, something I wrote will inspire someone else to do the same. And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be magic. And toys.

Sorry, I mean ornaments.