A good opening credit sequence can be more memorable than the TV program it introduces. Luckily, science fiction shows are rife with sleek, quirky, and flat-out bizarre show intros. Here are over 30 of the best.
Also, be sure to check out our round-up of the most eye-gouging opening credits.
Big thanks to Alasdair Wilkins and Annalee Newitz for their input. Image via StarKeith.
The Prisoner intro is a little television program unto itself — in a whopping three minutes, Patrick McGoohan blasts down a highway in his Lotus Seven, angrily quits his job, and gets gassed by a mysterious assailant. Debonair!
Shinichirō Watanabe's anime about a bunch of squabbling bounty hunters had not only one of the best openings for a scifi TV show, it had one of the best openings in TV history, period. The Seatbelts make Yoko Kanno's jazz ditty "Tank" smolder. Bebop as a whole had incredible music, as did Watanabe's hip-hop-infused samurai show Samurai Champloo (RIP Nujabes).
Heat Vision and Jack
Sure, it never made it past a pilot, but this parody of The Six Million Dollar Man and Street Hawk uses Yaz, spasmodic snippets of stock footage, and Ron Silver playing himself to push these credits over the top.
Batman: The Animated Series
The intro to Bruce Timm's first DC Universe animated series is perhaps his best. Some crooks rob a bank, Batman beats them up, and the sequence deftly establishes the series' noir tone.
X-Men: The Animated Series
And on the opposite side of the 90s animation spectrum, here's the totally not understated X-Men opening, which is a 60-second blurt of mutants flying and running and leaping and grimacing. It's exciting and frenetic, and the theme song will pinball around your head for weeks.
While we're on the topic, the Japanese opening to the X-Men cartoon makes the American version look downright soporific. Wolverine's flying, Cable's barely aiming his guns, and everything's blowing up willy-go-nilly. The absurd heavy metal's just icing on the cake. (For more remake madness, see the Japanese Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles intro).
Also, few shows Japanese or American can top the lyrical prowess of the Japanese Spider-Man theme. Hey hey wow!
Who knew that getting hopelessly lost in the most remote reaches of the universe could be so funky?
Dystopia, espionage theatrics, and scorpion fighting. A well-spent 30 seconds of surrealist animation. This aired on MTV. Unthinkable these days, no?
The Doctor Who opening music is undoubtedly one of TV's most iconic themes, but which of the 13 versions of the intro is your favorite?
Puppets + explosions + Supermarionation = priceless. Does Thunderbirds have the most smash cuts in this article?
No, UFO does. It also contains purple haircuts, mesh shirts, gratuitous cheesecake shots, and an ultra-1970s theme. Incidentally, UFO is pulling double duty on our list of the most painful science fiction credits as well.
In this intro for Genndy Tartakovsky's stylish time-displaced samurai cartoon, the villain explains exactly what the show is about and we get to see the protagonist battle a ton of monsters...in a little over 60 seconds.
Swamp Thing wins points for being the only TV opening I can think of in which the titular character openly threatens the audience. Do not confuse this with the terrible animated Swamp Thing theme song.
The Twilight Zone
Rod Serling's voice could make a bunch of newborn kittens absolutely ominous.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Conversely, Patrick Stewart's dulcet tones imbue any performance with a quiet dignity.
Angelo Badalamenti's theme over placid shots of nature shouldn't be disquieting, but when juxtaposed with the show's Lynchian weirdness, they absolutely are.
True Blood is the opposite of understated, but its opening credits offer tantalizing, oblique glimpses into a grimy world where horndog nosferatus prowl.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Nerf Herder's opening theme is the soundtrack to the never-ending supernatural pep rally in my heart.
Land of the Lost may be more iconic, but when it comes to Sid and Marty Krofft, nothing's more high concept than "giant top hat filled with terrifying puppet dimension."
Beauty and the Beast
The intro makes me want to move into a cozy septic tank with Ron Perlman.
The Walking Dead
Sure, it's still on its first season, but the show's winning, arpeggio-crazed theme will fill you with undead dread.
The opening credits for this HBO fantasy series were so good that they won an Emmy...
...as did the iconic opening for Chris Carter's paranormal drama. It was also the best part of those Pure Mood commercials (sorry Enya).
Awfully cheesy like all late 1990s WB dramas, but it wins points for having a cover of The Smiths and introductory shots of its cast looking super serious. Acting!
The opening for this short-lived, Sam Raimi-produced series combines Dixie twang with ordinary (but creepy) shots of small-town South Carolina.
Joss Whedon was audacious enough to sell a spaceship drama with a folksy ballad. Also, be sure to check out Garrison Dean's 1980s remix of this theme.
Given its reality-switching plots, Fringe likes to alternate between red and blue intros. The best opening they've ever done was the throwback credits for their 1985 episode. Personal computing is a fringe technology!
The Greatest American Hero
This theme song is so infectious it became George Costanza's answering machine song.
Those darn Cylons always had a plan. How did we know? The ominous opening credits to BSG always filled us in.
War of the Worlds
The second season of War of the Worlds was controversial for its massive overhaul of the plot, but its "falling-to-Earth" intro was pretty cool.
Satoshi Kon's horror anime opens with the show's characters silently laughing and floating. It's a jarring visual, and the loopy theme makes it all the more off-kilter. It's the only TV opening more unnerving than Baywatch Nights.
Cleopatra 2525 wasn't high art, but it's nigh impossible to hate on Gina Torres singing Zager and Evans' "In the Year 2525" while syndication TV CGI arbitrarily detonates around her.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Most of the intro is made out of garbage, there's a robot roll call, and the show acknowledges its premise doesn't make a ton of sense. Perfect.
Fist of the Northstar
Guy wanders around the post-apocalypse and punches bad guys until they explode. You a shock, indeed.
The show was no Thundercats, but Thundercats didn't have metallic fetish suits, a starship that shoots rainbows, and a cowboy guitar solo.