Something (most) TV shows have: opening credits. Something only a few TV shows do very well: opening credits. The opening credits are your first initiation into a TV show and can either hook you in or make you completely lose interest. Some shows opt for short and sweet, preferring to jump right into the action. But others draw you in from the very first beat of whatever presages the show. Whether it be a catchy song, stylistic clip, or silly intro to the series, some TV shows get it so right.
Opening credits have really stepped up their game in the modern age. There’s more pressure than ever to draw in viewers immediately, and sometimes that means right from the credit sequence. Some of our favorites over the years have become so good that we don’t even skip them on Netflix. Yeah, that’s definitely a sign of true love. Here are some of our very favorite opening credits sequences of all time!
17. The Simpsons
With more episodes than any scripted TV show ever under it’s belt, it’d be easy to get sick of The Simpsons opening credits. Good thing they’ve been changing it up every episode for three decades! The famed “couch gag” is always different, keeping the show’s credits fresh and funny. Usually, it’ll have something to do with the pop culture of the day, but often it’s just a silly gag. They’ve even used the gag to crossover with other popular animated shows like Family Guy and Rick and Morty. You never know what it’s going to be and that creative energy makes it one of our faves.
16. Mad Men
Simple, stylistic, and the perfect way to describe the show. The opening credits depict an animated scene of a businessman falling through the air. He falls past advertisements and building windows as jazz music plays behind the falling man. It’s a succinct way to sum up the series: Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a man on top, but men on top don’t stay there forever. In a show full of nuance and hidden meanings, the opening credits are the biggest metaphor of all.
Dexter can be a bit of an overwhelming show, and in that vein, the opening credits are total sensory overload. Featuring Dexter (Michael C. Hall) getting ready for the day, with vivid images of blood oranges and raw meats, it almost becomes uncomfortable. And that makes sense since Dexter often turned mundane things into morbid instances. The credits are visually striking and quite eerie for what is really just a man’s morning routine. But he’s no ordinary man; he’s a serial killer. And that completely elevates your credit-watching experience.
With a name like Shameless you’d be right in assuming the opening credits have a lack of shame. And they totally do in the best way. The credits show the revolving door bathroom at the Gallagher household, home to sex, drugs, and more than a few shenanigans. If there was ever an opening segment to warn someone about a show, this is it! You’re not getting cookie-cutter family fun from Shameless. You’re getting some effed up stuff and a whole lot of craziness. Don’t say you weren’t warned!
13. True Detective (Season One)
True Detective is a show built on crime and dismal surroundings, and the credits needed to reflect exactly that. And as one of the men responsible for the credits puts it, “It’s really about world building.” So they did just that, they built a world that was most certainly not seen out of rose-colored glasses. Shots of strip clubs and midwestern landscape lay behind the shadows of our main characters. It’s an eerie and artsy first look at a show that delves deep into a community that has a lot hiding in the shadows.
Is there any ’90s theme song more iconic than “I’ll Be There For You”? I didn’t think so. Friends’ opening credits sequence, with the gang lapping it up in a fountain for some reason, is scored with one of the biggest earworms in TV history. We’re not gonna lie, sitcoms always nail the whole opening credits thing and Friends was one of the best. You know your opening credits are amazing when the song, and it’s lyrics, become such a big part of the zeitgeist. It hasn’t been our day, our week, or even our year either, guys, and that’s why we love this.
We’ll forever associate the word “ticky-tacky” with the show Weeds because of this catchy opening credits song. While the show only used its signature song for four seasons (the first, second, third, and eighth), it’s irrevocably part of the show. The song, “Little Boxes,” was performed by its composer Malvina Reynolds in the first season but in the next seasons, it was covered by a new artist each episode. Some of these artists include Death Cab for Cutie, Regina Spektor, The Shins, and more of your fave indie darlings. The song is all about a quaint, perfect little suburbia like Agrestic, Calfornia and it’s all undercut by the deep irony of what’s really going on in those little houses made of ticky-tacky.
10. Freaks and Geeks
Sometimes a TV show’s opening credits are just funny and silly, and that alone can make them great. Freaks and Geeks shows picture day for all of our freaks and geeks and gives us a glimpse into the personalities of each. It’s a primer for what’s to come in a show filled with high school nostalgia and plenty of laughs. When it comes to opening credits introducing you to the characters, this one tells you a lot without a single word. Plus you have a young, goofy Jason Segal, what’s not to love?
9. South Park
Much like The Simpsons, South Park has the advantage of being animated and being able to change their opening credits on a whim. And they use that opportunity to always keep the opening credits fresh and new. Each season brings new elements and easter eggs to the opening sequence which gives us a tour of South Park itself from the comfort of a school bus. After 20 years on the air, the showrunners realize how essential it is to change things up. Since South Park has never been known for being boring, we’re not surprised the opening credits haven’t gotten stale either.
8. The Sopranos
After a while, an iconic show’s opening credits becomes as essential as the show itself. The Sopranos’ opening sequence takes us on a tour of the Jersey locales that’ll soon welcome us home as we watch the mob drama play out. The credits are set to the song “Woke Up This Morning” by the band Alabama 3, a song that has become synonymous with the series. From the first beat of the song, the tone of the series was set. Few other opening credits encapsulate the show they’re introducing more.
7. True Blood
These opening credits may keep you up at night. Full of goth horror, the credits give glimpses into the main themes of the series: religion, sex, southern living, and blood. These credits give new meaning to the words “southern gothic”! The credits are full of uncomfortable – yet stunning – images. From decaying animals to KKK rituals, you’ll walk away feeling a lot of things. And this is before the show even starts! When the opening sequence makes that much of an impact, you know it’s good.
6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
They’re alive, dammit! It’s a miracle! Sorry, because I know that song is going to be stuck in your head all day now. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s theme song is almost too damn catchy. The series about a girl who was kidnapped and held hostage in an underground bunker cult has some of the funniest credits on TV. Who knew?! The credits song introduces the story via a viral news story from a bystander turned auto-tuned song à la Antoine Dodson. Turning horrifying things into hilarious comedy is just one of the things Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does, and it all starts with the credits.
5. The Big Bang Theory
Whether you love the show or hate it, you can’t deny the opening credits are catchy and educational. The opening song, entitled “The History of Everything,” is performed by The Barenaked Ladies so, duh, you’re not getting it out of your head anytime soon. The song touches on some of the advancements of the world since “the big bang” in a School House Rock-esque way that makes you actually care about the science at hand. There’s even an expanded version of the song that gives even more fun science facts. BRB, YouTube-ing it.
4. One Tree Hill
Is it the most innovative thing in the world? No. But is it the most nostalgic on this list? Definitely. Gavin Degraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” will instantly draw you back to Tree Hill, North Carolina the minute you hear it. The credits are an ode to small-town basketball and the people who shape this show. But it’s also just a great showcase for one of the best TV theme songs ever. Some songs you’ll forever associate with the show they’re tied to. And no matter how many times we hear Degraw’s song on the radio, we always think of Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) dribbling a basketball at the River Court.
3. Game of Thrones
We’re going to be honest, the world of Game of Thrones can get super confusing. There are so many locations, castles, and people to keep track of! This is why the opening credits are super handy. They act as a three-dimensional map of Westeros and Essos, showing you how these areas are connected. The credits also change, too, depending on if new places are introduced in the episode or revisited after a while. There’s also crazy attention to detail, with the sigils of areas changing depending on if someone new is in power in those areas during the current plots. We even saw the expansion of the ice from the frosty Wall right before our eyes in the credits! Like most things in the Game of Thrones universe, it’s beautifully shot and scored and one more thing you don’t want to move your eyes from.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
I think it’s probably illegal not to know all the words to Will Smith’s iconic Fresh Prince rap. The colorfully-shot story of how Will ended up living life in Bel-Air is one of the most entertaining opening credits of all time. No matter how long of a Fresh Prince marathon you watch, you’ll be singing the credits every single time without fail. It redefined what you could do with your opening credits and is most definitely one our favorites for life.
1. Sex and the City
Is there a more memorable opening credits outfit than Carrie Bradshaw’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) pink tutu? Didn’t think so. While many use the show as an example of the idealism of living in New York City, the credits display just the opposite. Much like the show, living in NYC can be messy and complicated. Sometimes you get splashed on when a car drives over a puddle. And sometimes it’s just breathtaking to walk through the city. The layers of positives and negatives to living in the city are the entire point of the TV series. And the opening credits depict that beautifully.