It’s the holiday season — chilly weather and heavy meals. Meaning: the couch calls. As a result, we’ve been watching way too many movies and, being the graphic design hounds that we are, we’ve become infatuated with the designer’s small but important place in the medium of film: title credits.
Design legend Saul Bass, we all remember, designed some of the biggest corporate logos in history (AT&T, Kleenex, etc.), and yet he is perhaps better known for showing the world the artistic potential of the title credit with innovative sequences like the ones for The Man with the Golden Arm and Vertigo.
Taking Bass as our starting point, we decided to trace the lineage of the title credit up through the present, pulling out its most shining examples. Check these bad boys out:
Golden age of title sequences: 1950s and ’60s
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Saul Bass’ major breakthrough in title credit design. The strips represent heroin needles.
Bass uses abstract, gryroscopic forms to simulate the titular balance disorder.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Bass’ famous array of cut-out limbs.
North by Northwest (1959)
Another Bass. Here, abstract orthogonal lines reveal themselves to be the exterior of a city skyscraper.
Dr. No (1962)
As the first ever James Bond film, Dr. No established the franchise’ tradition of the iconic gun barrel shot as well as the psychedelic opening credits sequence. This one really sets the standard; keep in mind it was accomplished without the aid of digital software.
Another killer, old-school Bond credit sequence.
Movie title design’s digital rebirth in the 2000s
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Stephen Spielberg’s film about a clever con man uses slick silhouette illustration and stretching typography to convey the movie’s 1960s vibe.
The Incredibles (2004)
Definitely one of Pixar’s best works, The Incredibles also boasts a clever and dynamic credit sequence.
Spiderman 2 (2004)
Easily one of the coolest sequences on this list, Spiderman 2 entangles its credited actors in a web of digital animation, hand illustration and striking photographs.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
This satire mobilizes the language of cigarette packaging design to present its credited names.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
One of this list’s more sophisticated sequences, the credits for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang suggests a striking narrative in and of itself.
Check out those moves! An awesomely dorky throwback to 1970s colors and groove.
I am Love (2009)
This Italian film evokes cinema of the 1940s and early 50s with its classic typography and snowy shots that could pass for black-and-white film.
Enter the Void (2009)
Those prone to seizure or fluorescent typographic overload: watch at your own risk.
Blue Valentine (2010)
An elegant mixture of attractive typography and still shots, rendered dynamic with firework effects.
A History of the Title Sequence (2011)
And, summing up this marvelous transition from analog to digital in the art of movie title design…
In researching the most beloved title credit designs in cinematic history, we discovered an interesting trend that you have surely noticed: the 1970s, 80s and 90s produced very little to speak of. Did flamboyant design go out of style after the 1960s, only to come back in the retro-obsessed 2000s? Or did it take new digital technologies to re-invigorate the art? Or are we simply overlooking three decades worth of brilliant title credits!?