Admittedly, this came up after watching a recent editorial done by Nostalgia Critic on what he thought were the 11 best television intro sequences. To some extent, I was in agreement with quite a few of them, since you’d think opinions are likely to overlap or connect in one way or another. Back on topic, that list embodied what he felt best prepared the audience for the show ahead or helped to establish the general mood. Or at the very least, got them excited for the rest of the 22/46 or so minute time slot. Genre fiction works in particular inject that sense of ambiance and expectation within the intro, so that way viewers can get immersed into the world as soon as the show truly begins. So with that, here are 10 of my personal favorite openings to sci-fi and horror themed TV shows!
First off, honorable mentions!
– The Walking Dead: It’s frantic, melancholy, and eerie throughout. Imagery of a ruined world mixed with Chronos Quartet-esque soundtrack readies an audience for the zombie filled hellscape ahead! It contains the excitement, the drama, the despair, and the horror of the TV show; all in a quick paced intro sequence! Plus, one of the other bumpers/teasers made an homage to the first Fallout game, which is a plus in my book!
– Battlestar Galactica: A little bit expository, sure; but you can’t deny those opening notes of the intro don’t get you pumped for that week’s episode! With an intro like this, how wouldn’t you want to know where the conflict between the Cylons and the Humans goes next?
– Star Trek Voyager: While far from my favorite, I’ll be damned if the intro didn’t get me excited to watch. While we don’t have the iconic narration, we see Voyager parting through astral mists and beyond several worlds, creating that familiar sense of space exploration, right up to the famous warp into space.
– Star Trek Enterprise: Overall, not a huge fan. Also, not digging the song either, it’s sappy and cheesy, but overall the intro showcases one of the major themes of Star Trek, progress of humanity! So, I give it some major props for that. Plus, the last episode had that tribute to the Enterprise that brought a fanboy tear to my eye. Also, the Mirror, Darkly intro threw me for quick the loop!
I know what you’re thinking, “this intro is as ’90s as you could be.” And by all means, you’re right. It’s cheesy, it’s hokey, but it gives you an idea of what lies ahead. The ship itself (also called LEXX) is gross and kinda suggestive, while life both inside the ship and outside is pretty brutal. The intro shows that the world’s a really dark place that’s chaotic, kinda sleazy, filled with danger, but also kind of fun. Life may be Hell, but there’s plenty to enjoy along the ride as well… and this intro does a pretty damn good job of showing it! Sure, some could argue it’s not the best science-fiction around, but it was a delightful dystopian series to check out none the less.
9. Outer Limits.
Few shows start with lines so iconic, the opening has transcended the show itself. As Outer Limits begins, the audience overhears a sinister narrator who attempts to reassure us that there’s nothing wrong with our TV set while an ambiguous “we” take control of our TV sets! In terms of visuals, it’s simple… really simple! But, what does it is the dark droning and speech from the host. Plus, it’s proof that with even a minimalist approach, you can create a pretty engaging environment. But, when your budget was constrained as much television shows (especially science fiction) in the ’60s, you had to work with what you got. None the less, few things are as ominous as this soft spoken monotone over waving lines informing us that we are no longer in control, we’re at the mercy of this vague yet menacing master. We have no choice but to witness the events of the Outer Limits, as the enthralling narrator has commanded us to do so.
8. American Horror Story.
While the show itself falls victim to dubious quality and sloppy writing, the introduction is pretty damn captivating and relatively creepy. Each season builds upon the last in terms of suspenseful and creepy atmosphere with a wide variety of dark visuals and droning background sound. The visuals themselves are sporadic and chaotic, giving a sense of anxiety and urgency, as if something dreadful is lurking around the corner. Close zooms on eerie characters and bizarre scenes tell the audience there is little room for comfort or safety in the dark worlds that lie ahead. The most recent one, Freak Show even has a twisted circus theme as an assorted troop of performers hobble, shamble and shuffle across the screen. While there was little to fear from the actual characters in the show, this intro was a perfect creation of the “sinister carnival” trope.
7. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
While the show itself had episodes of varying quality and scares, when the show hit the nail, it was a source of absolute trauma for countless children all over the world. And that’s one of the things that made it awesome. Now, one of the things that got me most amped for the show was the spine tingling intro sequence; an abandoned shore, an eerie old house, among other images slowly swaying in fandom with the droning score in the background. Sure, it might seem a bit “horror cliche” driven by dutch angles and stereotypically spooky imagery, but this was the stuff of nightmares for a young audience… or rather, the tip of the iceberg for the young viewers awaiting their weekly terror. Plus, it’s still fun to come back for nowadays for a sense of nightmarish (or at least in some moments) nostalgia.
The first introduction splices the distress call of a displaced astronaut, John, mixed with imagery of said character dealing with a wide variety of aliens both hostile and friendly. After being shot through a wormhole, John’s call is mixed with the adventures of a ship of escaped prisoners throughout the distant edge of space. The imagery feels as stressed and fast paced as the character himself, trying to survive the new realm around him in hopes of getting home while fighting alongside a cast of fascinating and diverse characters from across this vast cosmos. To make this even better, the puppetry and animatronics of Hanson’s creature shop really bring this fantastic universe to life! However, there’s still plenty of room for wonder and amazement, when things aren’t turbulent and wrought with panic. A classic intro for a classic work of spacefaring science fiction.
5. Doctor Who.
I won’t deny it by any means, I’m a pretty big fan of the show. I jabber about it whenever news regarding the show (or about that awesome LEGO Dimensions addition coming up), I collect ample amounts of merchandise, you get the general idea. However, the introduction to the show gives you a taste of the wild adventures throughout space and time ahead. Since the beginning in 1963, we’re introduced to a strange cosmic space narrated by (early) electronic music, which leads into swirling vortexes and abstract, ethereal forms. In a sense, we feel like we’re traveling along with the Doctor through reality itself and going on an adventure with him! While this isn’t the first show to give that sense of dimension jumping, it’s one of my favorite looks into it. Plus, newer incarnations of the show go for a literal interpretation of this. The TARDIS itself leads into a wormhole with whirling colours and magnificent sights as all sorts of chaos is happening around the craft. We truly feel like we’re hopping along for the ride. While the earlier version of the intro has a sense of mystery and suspense, the newer version has action packed into the score alone. Plus, I gotta mention how the current incarnation upped the visuals to go for a literal interpretation of traversing time. While I like the abstract nature of earlier visions, this one gives plenty of space-time eye candy to view!
4. Star Trek: TNG (and TOS)
While Doctor Who’s intro gives a sense of mystery leading to adventure in a mysterious and open sense, TNG gives a sense of wonder, perhaps in the vein of Sagan’s original Cosmos. It beckons us to learn about the vast universe around us, to speak with countless beings throughout the galaxy, and observe the interactions of the Enterprise. We start in our familiar galaxy before taking off into a marvelous galaxy beyond with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard giving the classic lines to lead the way. While the rest of the intro amounts of the Enterprise cruising around the screen amidst the title credits, the music makes the sequence feel bold, powerful, and at the same time filled with the same fascination the first part of the sequence had. All of this leads up to the Enterprise leaping at warp speed into its next adventure. In many regards, the original opening is awesome for similar reasons. Though, one could argue TNG built upon the original opening, updating it and adding more to what helped to gather countless viewers in the first place.
3. The X-Files.
While the show itself holds a special place in my heart, one of the things that dragged me in from a young age is the relatively terrifying introduction sequence. It’s weird, borderline incomprehensible, and sets you up for the strange conspiracy-laden mysteries ahead. The introduction splices imagery of Scully and Mulder on the case to unveil the truth behind the strange and paranormal with disturbing images of a stretching face, weird oozing alien things (which are actually seeds germinating), a ghost pacing down a hall; all while discomforting titles of “paranormal activity”, “government denies knowledge”, and “the truth is out there” flash on the screen. Plus, what tops off a memorable intro is the haunting score by Mark Snow. While I view synth pieces as a product of their time, the X-Files theme transcends into something more timeless by not trying to belong to a certain trend or style. Instead, we get this intentionally retro sounding sci-fi opening that feels right at home with the Midnight Monster Movie scored with a theremin. Instead of being goofy, it’s chilling and helps set the pace for the downright surreal and scary stuff on the screen.
2. The Twilight Zone.
One must pay credit where credit is due. One of the first television shows to embark upon dark worlds beyond space and time was a suspense thriller known as the The Twilight Zone. Like many shows of its era, it made due with small funding through clever camera tricks, incredibly written stories, and actors who truly grabbed your attention. And few grabbed their audience like the equally entrancing and ominous Rod Serling. The moment you heard his voice, you knew you were no longer in the comfort of your own home, but a strange dimension where our world’s logic and proportion no longer apply. Combining this with surrealist imagery that is both nonsensical and perfectly in tune and you have the recipe for a trek through a dreamland into the realm of the impossible. And even more iconic than Outer Limits’ phrase is the variations of Serlings’ soothing yet chilling speeches accompanied by 4 chords that have resonated for viewers for generations! When you think of things defying all laws of reality, you think of and then promptly enter… The Twilight Zone.
1. Tales From The Crypt
As an avid fan of both horror fiction and comic books, this one seems like a no brainer for me. Few shows evoke a weird mix of nostalgia, sinister laughter, and fear like this show. A creepy, yet oddly fun tune crafted by Danny Elfman sets the stage for a trek through a disturbing haunted house. In short, the intro itself is more than just a teaser of what’s ahead, it’s a Haunted Mansion-esque thrill ride through the twisted, macabre and gothic. Plus, as you go deeper into the Crypt Keeper’s layer, the lights become more unnatural, the setting becomes more fantastical, and we dive deeper and deeper into the crypts. This of course leads to the big reveal we’ve all been waiting for, the Crypt Keeper himself welcoming us to his vile domain. As others have pointed it, the sequence drips with a really intense mood that just screams gothic horror! A haunted mansion, a thunder storm, twisting halls and secret corridors, spiraling stairs, a dank and dark crypt, a private sanctum of doom; it’s all here and it’s all awesome in addition to terrifying. While the episodes ahead were lined with corny humor and all sorts of simply bizarre scenery, the introduction is the build up to a delightful evening of horror and mayhem… and really bad puns.
So there you have it. This list is purely based on my opinion, but I’d love to hear what intro segments inspired you; whether to keep on watching or just think about?