Top 11 TV Show Intros
June 30, 2015
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. What is it about a good TV show intro that just gets you hyped up?
(Clips from various intros play as he speaks)
NC (vo): It's almost a dying art. A lot of shows will just show a title card, hell if even that, and be done with it. But with those that know the importance of it, a lot of work is put in. The intro to a show is like a trailer for your product, and years of advertising have made it clear that that's pretty damn essential. From the music to the visuals to the explanation of what you're about to see, it has to be the best representation you can put out there.
NC: And we're going to look at the best of them here today. Now, there are a few limitations here. First off, I'm only doing American shows.
(Cut to more footage of show intros)
NC (vo): The reason? Well, if we include Japan in there, (scoffs) they'd all win! I'm also not just going for the catchiest theme, and it has to be more than just some clips thrown together. A lot of it has to be created for the opening. The song, the visuals, and just how much it gets you hyped up to see the show.
NC: With that said, let's take a look and see which 11 incorporated these qualities the most. Why 11? Because I like to go one step beyond. So sit back and enjoy the Top 11 Best TV Show Intros!
(The opening sequence features fireworks exploding with the "Can-Can" playing in the background.)
NC (vo): Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures. A clever little send-up to the '60s cartoon, this '90s reboot did a good job at keeping the retro feel while also updating it with some modern touches, True, it does seem rather simplistic, just flying through a CG backdrop of green lines while images from the show play, but again, it's how uniquely they display them. If it was only clips edited together, it wouldn't be as interesting, but here, flying past them in a seemingly interactive landscape, it suddenly brings everything to life.
(Clip from the intro plays)
NC (vo): The music also does great at building up the adrenaline. Just listen to those opening notes!
(Start of the intro plays)
NC (vo): Hell, yeah, it's like a mix between Terminator and Batman, it's just the right combination of '90s cheese and... really, kind of '80s cheese. If '80s shows had this kind of technology and music at the time, it'd probably look very similar. The only thing that bothers me is unlike Batman, where it reveals what it is you've been flying through during the credits, this one tries to do so, too, but... what the hell is it? Was it a virtual reality petri dish? Is it a canyon if Wile E. Coyote was in the Matrix? It just looks like lasered scrambled eggs behind your logo, what does that have to do with anything? Ah, well, it's still a pretty cool intro to get you prepared for some really cool adventures.
(End of the intro, with the virtual reality world zooming out to reveal it's behind the show logo)
NC (vo): Jack of All Trades.
NC: How did I never hear of this show?
NC (vo): This is totally off-the-wall. In the vein of the enjoyably corny escapades of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess, this was an adventure series set in the 19th century starring Bruce Campbell as a kind of Zorro / Scarlet Pimpernel action hero. It's as silly as it sounds, and it doesn't hide it in the least. While this intro does show some clips from the show, its effort and staging of a fully choreographed musical number more than makes up for it.
(Start of intro plays)
Singers: ♪ In eighteen-hundred-one, the Revolution had been won, which brought Jack to a lady, both beautiful and smart ♪
NC (vo): It's like something out of a Disney production. Hell, even Disney wouldn't quite go this silly! But that's part of what makes it so unique and bizarre.
(cut back to intro)
Singers: ♪ From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, sailin' round the bloody world to defend democracy ♪
NC (vo): Look at everybody, they are totally owning how ridiculous this all is, but it looks like they're having such a great time we kinda get sucked in right along with them. I don't know who thought this up, but you don't see many live-action intros quite like this... although maybe for good reason, seeing how it only lasted two seasons, but it's still amazingly fun.
(cut back to intro)
Singers: ♪ He'll halt the bold advance of Napoleon's attack ♪
NC (vo): It's clearly playing by its own rules and cheerfully asking us to join in.
(cut to end of intro)
Singers: ♪ Just ask the bloke right next ta ya... ♪
Parrot: Damn right!
Singers: ♪ ...It's... Jack! ♪
NC (vo): Pee-wee's Playhouse. This intro has a little bit of everything - live action, puppets, stop-motion, and of course, our terrifying grandmaster of batshit insanity.
(cut to intro)
Singer: ♪ Mr. Kite's soarin', Conky's still a snorin', there's the flashing Magic Screen... ♪
Pee-wee: Ha ha!
NC (vo): What's so funny about this intro is not only how long it is, ranking in at two-and-a-half minutes where most show intros are only about thirty seconds, but how the first half is surprisingly laid back. It's almost like a soothing vacation in a fantasy land.
(cut to the intro as we zoom out of the house)
Announcer: Pee-wee's Playhouse.
NC (vo): This, of course, offsets the rest of the segment, which is loud, fast-paced, and totally crazy.
Singer: ♪ Pee-wee's so excited... ♪
Pee-wee: Ha ha!
Singer: ♪ 'Cause all his friends have been invited... ♪
Pee-wee: That's you!
NC (vo): Adding to the random madness is the fact that (a shot of the following appears in the corner...) Cyndi Lauper is the singer of the song. Yeah, I'm not even kidding, they got Cyndi Lauper to do that voice! It makes no fucking sense!
Singer: ♪ 'Cause you've landed in a place where anything can happen... ♪
NC (vo): But that's also part of what's so fun about it. It's surreal, energized, and will make you question what the hell you drank today. It's crazy fun as only Pee-wee Herman can supply.
Singer: ♪ Golly, it's cuckoo at Pee-wee's Playhouse! ♪
Pee-wee: Ha ha ha ha ha!
NC (vo): Bucky O'Hare. This is another show I didn't really see much of growing up, but... by God, I wish I did! What the hell is all this? I mean, I get the basics: some sort of space bunny stopping evil toads from taking over the universe. Justifiably silly enough, but... Jesus Christ, look at all this!
Singers: ♪ Bucky! Captain Bucky O'Hare! He goes where no ordinary rabbit would dare! ♪
NC (vo): It's like Mad Max: Furry Road, it's just a rush of violence and fucking crazy imagery!
Singers: ♪ Bucky! Captain Bucky O'Hare! Mutants and aliens and toads, beware! ♪
NC (vo): Look at how fast it goes; there's no way to keep track of all of it. Hence, you'd have to come back to the show just to see what you missed getting blowed [sic] up in the opening! You practically have to pause it, it goes so fast.
Singers: ♪ He's a funky fresh rabbit who can take care of it! ♪
NC (vo): And I swear to God, that's Chris Rock's voice doing the singing.
Singer (who sounds like Chris Rock): ♪ If you're looking for adventure, well, this is it, with Jenny, Deadeye, and Willy DeWitt! ♪
NC: (imitating Chris Rock) I wanna sing about a cat who's got bigger teeth than me!
NC (vo): It's not even really that long, but when you're done, you feel like you've gone through a war! You feel like you've survived one of those (images of the following pop up:) Tank Girl, Earthworm Jim, Resident Evil apocalypses. With a bunny!
NC: Which... yeah, would still fit into any of those.
NC (vo): Definitely an intro to get whatever color your alien blood is, pumping.
Singers: ♪ Bucky! Captain Bucky O'Hare! I said Bucky! Bucky O'Hare! Let's croak us some toads! ♪
NC (vo): X-Men. Aside from the awesome guitar work, there's just something to how grand and huge the imagery is. It really looks like something out of those classic '80s Marvel comics: flying through space, laser beams everywhere, a... strange obsession with the color yellow, it still feels huge. Even the letter X, it's such a cool-looking letter. That's why they throw it in the middle of the ocean and have it explode! 'Cause it's the letter X, and X is cool! Seeing their names fly by each character as they display their powers and fight off evildoers, how can you not get excited for this?
(Cut to footage of the Japanese intro for the show)
NC (vo): I should also include the Japanese intro for the show, which is even more amazing. And yeah, I know what you're thinking: (mockingly) wait, I thought you said no Japanese titles! Well, it turns out it was so good that they actually put it at the end of the American end credits. So it counts!
(NC is seen flicking his thumb from his teeth)
NC (vo): God, how can you not get the chills every time you hear that bell? (the bell tolling in the opening is heard) It's the bell that says, "Your homework is done, even if it's not. There is only X-Men now. We have a cool letter exploding in the ocean. Your ass is ours!" Ending with an army of enemies rushing toward an army of heroes with civilians panicking in the middle, how can this not get you jacked up? (singing to the end of the X-Men theme) ♪ X-Men is a kickass show! Now you know! ♪
NC (vo): Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Okay, this might not be as epic in, say, drama or action, but... come on, who doesn't know every lyric to this intro and sing along whenever it's mentioned?
Fresh Prince: (singing) ♪ In west Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days... ♪
NC (vo): It's a perfect representation of the show: it's silly, it's over the top, it's kid-friendly, but not insultingly so, it's colorful, it's creative, and it's a complete time capsule to the late '80s and early '90s.
Fresh Prince: (singing) ♪ She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket. I put my Walkman on and said, "I might as well kick it." ♪
NC (vo): But the funny thing is, just like Demolition Man, engulfing it in its time period surprisingly made it more timeless. It is so in your face and unapologetic in its goofiness that it gives it its own sense of fun that people can laugh and enjoy at any time. You can be a grown adult or a little kid and still get the same amount of joy from this.
Fresh Prince: (singing) ♪ I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8, and I yelled to the cabbie, "Yo home smell ya later!" I looked at my kingdom, I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel-Air! ♪
NC (vo): One of the few instances of a TV show being both dated and timeless all at the same time.
Fresh Prince: (singing) ♪ Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside-down... ♪
NC (vo): The Twilight Zone / The Outer Limits. Not only do both of these shows have similar premises, but they also have the same goal with their intro: to make you feel like you're being teleported. And through very simple means, they pull it off. Who doesn't know those famous four notes from The Twilight Zone? Hell, any time something weird happens, people still hum those four notes!
(The opening notes of The Twilight Zone are heard)
NC (vo): The effects in the opening have never been that great, but they were so surreal and matched Rod Serling's brilliant writing and narration. Despite how fake it looked, you really felt like you were entering a different realm of reality, almost like you were being put in a trance.
Rod Serling: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
(Cut to the opening of The Outer Limits)
NC (vo): Outer Limits is even more minimal in its approach. All you're looking at most of the time is just a line. But again, the writing and the tones suck you into a different world. Only this time, it seems a bit more like a hostage situation. You're under the control of whoever is talking to you on the television set.
TV Voice (Vic Perrin): There is nothing wrong with your television set. We are controlling transmission. For the next hour, sit quietly, and we will control all that you see and hear.
NC (vo): Imagine seeing this for the first time back then. It would probably catch you a little off your guard.
TV Voice: You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... the Outer Limits.
NC: (looking around shiftily) Wow. These are the most eloquent and... abstract terrorists I've ever seen.
NC (vo): Both knew how to take you into an altered state of being, and each one is still remembered years later for doing it so well. It was the perfect tone to an uncomfortable night of dimension jumping.
(The end of the Twilight Zone theme plays)
NC (vo): Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yeah, you knew I had to put this on there. Only an intro this awesome could get you so pumped for something as crazily titled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The animation here is so good: the shadows, the light particles, the motion. It makes something so silly seem incredibly badass. While... not forgetting to include the silly stuff, too.
Singer: (about Splinter) ♪ He's a radical rat! ♪
NC (vo): A few seasons later, they changed up the intro, and... while not bad, and you can definitely argue it more adequately fit the more silly tone, it wasn't nearly half as good. This just felt like an action thrill ride; it's still hard for me not to go ape-shit whenever I hear that opening guitar.
(The opening guitar of the theme is heard)
NC: (raising his fists in the air) YEAH! Oh, sorry. (looks around shiftily)
NC (vo): Everybody looks amazing in it, everybody moves amazing in it, and I still don't know how they make that weird high-pitched sound when they say, "Heroes in a half-shell."
Singer: (in said high-pitched voice) ♪ Heroes in a half-shell! Turtle power! ♪
NC (vo): How do you duplicate that? I don't know if you can. It's just so perfectly bizarre.
Singer: ♪ Heroes in a half-shell! Turtle power! ♪
NC (vo): The city looks fantastic, the angles are beyond cool, the song is catchy as all royal hell. Even if you're not a Turtle fan, nobody can deny the awesomeness of this opening. It's cowabunga-tasticoso!
Singers: ♪ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Heroes in a half-shell! Turtle power! ♪
Singer: ♪ ThunderCats! ♪
NC (vo): By far, the best part of any ThunderCats episode was always the intro. And don't get me wrong; I'm mostly indifferent to the show. I don't love it; I don't hate it, but even the most die-hard fans can tell the difference between the incredible opening animation and the downgraded animation of the rest of the show. It's impossible not to get excited for this. I mean, look at that imagery! Swords, lasers, explosions, people running at the speed of light, monsters, staring off into the distance, the fact that Snarf gets only one second of screen time, it does everything right!
Singer: ♪ Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats! ♪
NC (vo): The song and its guitar work is pure '80s awesomeness. Every time you say, "Thunder, Thunder, Thunder," you can't help but get more energized with every breath.
Lion-O: (wielding the Sword of Omens) Thunder, Thunder, Thunder...
NC (vo): It's a word you can't say three times without getting more excited.
NC: Thunder, Thunder, THUNDE– See, you can't do it.
NC (vo): Look how the camera follows them. I mean, yeah, there's technically no camera following them, but the way it's animated, it feels like there is. You feel like you're running right along with Cheetara. You feel like you're doing flips with Lion-O. It's a freakin' blast! It keeps the energy high and the excitement building. What else can you say but...
Lion-O: (raising the Sword of Omens in the air) ThunderCats! HOOOOOO!!!
(To a bright flash, the Sword brings up the title)
Singer: ♪ ThunderCats! ♪
NC (vo): Tales From the Crypt. You might think it's weird I'm putting this so high up when really, it seems like a glorified house tour, but literally, from the first frame, this intro is dripping with Gothic amazingness. Look at the size and scale of it all. Look at the attention to detail. Just feel the atmosphere oozing through every second of film. It doesn't need characters, writing, or even any explanation. It's just a Gothic tour with some Gothic imagery. The lightning, the cobwebs, the creaking doors, the different colors of shadow... Yeah, there's actually different colors of shadow here, going from blue to brown to orange to red. It surprisingly films the darkness in Technicolor. (a snippet of the theme music, appropriately suspenseful, is heard) The music is pitch perfect. Composer Danny Elfman writes of both kind of silly but also kind of creepy theme that carries the bombastic size of any epic ghost story. (the creepy music intensifies the further it goes) They do so much by doing nothing but showing a house. Really think about that. Think about huge, creative and cryptic they come off simply by showing you this place. It's amazing what they can do with such a simple concept. And of course, it's all building up to our big payoff.
(The camera comes upon a coffin; the lid opens, revealing the Cryptkeeper, cackling; the image then creepily melts away to reveal the title of the show, spoken by the Cryptkeeper)
NC: And then there's nothing but terrible puns from there.
Cryptkeeper: (wearing beach-themed duds) It's your old pal, the big scare-huna!
NC: (giving a thumbs-up) Well played.
NC (vo): Even if you thought the show was hit and miss, the introduction always made you happy and clicked on the channel. It's dark, brooding, and has just the right amount of goofy creep. It's dead on arrival in the best way possible.
(The end of the opening titles play again: the Cryptkeeper popping out of the coffin and cackling, followed by the title appearing on the screen, read by the Cryptkeeper offscreen)
NC (vo): And the number-one TV show intro is...
(Both of the openings to Beetlejuice cartoon play, starting with the second one)
Lydia (offscreen): Beetlejuice... Beetlejuice... Beetlejuice!
NC (vo): This intro... what the hell can I say about it? It's just amazing. Every frame could be hung on a wall. Every image is something insane and awesome. When you run it all together, it's literally and figuratively a roller coaster. (in the intro, a roller coaster ride is shown) No, honestly, they put you on a roller coaster in the opening! Look at how much they're throwing at you. It's an onslaught of creativity, both visually and musically, with once again Danny Elfman doing the music. And doesn't it sound fucking great? (a snippet of the theme, sounding very Elfman-esque, plays) The show itself was just as strange; not really super funny, but not really super disappointing either; it's just kind of its own weird thing. It was an excuse to be extremely odd, gross and bizarre. And the intro perfectly represented that. It so enjoyed how totally off-the-wall and nuts it was that you wanted to admire its confidence, rather than question its motives. The show didn't make a whole lot of sense, but with an opening like this, you didn't care. You just got that this was the kind of oddities the show was constantly going to give you and enjoy giving you. And it made no apologies for it.
Beetlejuice: It's showtime!
NC (vo): It sucks you in on this incredible descent into both a fantasy and a nightmare both at the same time.
(A snippet of the first part of the theme plays)
NC (vo): While the first opening is good and captures the crazy spirit of the show, the second one is where shit really gets off the chain. Just look at this. All they have to do is animate him coming up from the ground, but even that's done to an absolute extreme! (Beetlejuice emerging is shown in slo-mo) Watch it in slo-mo. It's amazing the motion and detail they put into it, and all at such an incredible speed. I want to hold up my hands while watching this, it's such a rush!
(Crazy imagery is shown during the show, accompanied by equally crazy music)
NC (vo): There's one moment where they even capture free falling. Look at this! I don't know how they do it, but they create the same sensation of going over a hill on a roller coaster that they do going into this tent. I've never seen an opening of a show do that. There's some damn incredible talent at work in this thirty seconds. When it's done, you feel like you have to take a breath. It's just incredible. It's the ultimate, crazy, unbelievably surreal ride any show that wants to get you excited for should have. God bless every batshit crazy moment of it.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)