The Ten Best TV Main Title Sequences of All Time

I love main title sequences, so coming up with a list of the 10 Best TV Main Title Sequences of All-Time was no easy feat. But here goes, in no particular order:

Hawaii Five-O

Mission Impossible

Game of Thrones

Mary Tyler Moore Show

Star Trek

Gilligan’s Island

The Avengers

The Twilight Zone

Law & Order

The Outer Limits

To me, these are the sequences that best combine great visuals and a killer theme with a clear statement of the series franchise. Also, every one of these sequences became instant and stylistically influential icons. (Note: The Mary Tyler Moore Show sequence in the video playlist below is *not* the version I would have used… but it was the only one available on YouTube)

You can watch them all here:

23 thoughts on “The Ten Best TV Main Title Sequences of All Time”

  1. It’s a good list. But which is best?

    “Game of Thrones” and “Law and Order” are eliminated first. “Game” is too mechanical, no characters at all. “Law” has characters but doesn’t characterize them, so, in both, there’s little audience connection. Nice music, though.

    “Mary Tyler Moore” is eliminated. It’s an obvious attempt to manipulate the audience into liking Mary. So its a bit suspect. Catchy tune, though.

    “Mission Impossible” has great music, but the visuals don’t tell a clear story, so the narrative is too diffuse. What’s it about?

    “Gilligan’s Island” is eliminated. It’s absolutely fabulous the first hearing, fabulous music, compelling narrative, very clear characterization, hugely likeable, but because it is based on lyrics, not just music, it wears. Wears well, though.

    Also eliminated are “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” for the same reasons as “Gilligan.” Both are spine-tingling. Both are unforgettable. Both rivet the attention. But it wears off with repeated viewing. Love the narrators, though.

    This leaves “The Avengers” and “Hawaii Five-O” and “Star Trek.” All three are fabulous.

    But “The Avengers” goes on a bit too long. It’s just a bit too cute. So, regrettably, it is eliminated.

    “Hawaii Five-O” has one of the very best scores ever. It never wears., The visuals are stunning. But beyond Jack Lord, the cast is unknown, and their roles in the story are too undefined, so, doubly regrettable, this show is eliminated.

    The very best main title sequence of all time is “Star Trek.” The space ship is thrilling. The premise is thrilling. The voice-over is short and incredibly focussed. The music is haunting. But very best of all is, unlike most of the other candidates, “Star Trek” delivered a better show than the main title sequence promised. And it touched the deepest sources within the audience — the desire to explore the unknown — which was always marvellous to behold.

    Anyway, two other shows that deserve honorable mention are “Get Smart” and “Rockford.” “Get” is always hilarious each time it is viewed. “Rockford” has fabulous music and a novel beginning in each show.

    Well, I’m sure a lot of persons will disagree, but that’s the way it seems to me.

    Nice choices, Lee.

    • Interesting analysis. But we are using different metrics. I am looking for the best balance between visuals, a great theme, and a feel for the show’s franchise. Given all of those elements, the winner would have to be MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

    • Really the only two I would eliminate from the top ten are Game of Thrones, boring…and I’m a gamer…been one since 1979, and Gilligan’s Island…not enough Ginger…lol… I’m leaving in Mary Tyler Moore, for the same reason you are excluding it.

      It Takes A Thief beats out both by four furlongs.

      Then there is the “Psych” main title sequence although it doesn’t appear until six to eight minutes into the show. It has to beat Gilligan and Thrones also.

      Monk, with which Lee was involved, had a great main title sequence, easily better than either.

  2. Very fun post! A couple of comments:
    1. The fact that you went back to the original orignal Mission Impossible shows you have class. It went seriously downhill with Peter Graves et. al.
    2. I agree (mostly) with Dan’s process of elimination to the final three – but would have taken Mission Impossible. I never got tired of it.
    3. And, completely unrelated, I liked your McGrave story on many levels. One, it was very good and very long for a giveaway – way to exceed expectations! Two, I didn’t know it had origins in the world of screens, but when I read your afterward I realized I was “watching” it the whole time. Nicely done.

  3. It was great, especially Star Trek, The Avengers, Mission Impossible, and Gilligan’s Island. But you forgot The Dick Van Dyke Show, Friends, The Simpsons, F Troop, The A-Team, Wise Guy, Hill Street Blues, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Prisoner, Babylon 5, MacGuyver, Kung Fu, Kung Fu, The Legend Continues and Stargate SG-1. Also, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Relic Hunter, Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, NCIS, Get Smart, Cheers, The Jetsons, Futurama, Voyage To The Bottom Of TheSea, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Bat Masterson, Bonanza, Dallas,, The Millionaire, The Adventures of Superman and The Lone Ranger.

  4. This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message and I’ll get back to you.

    Jimmyyy old buddy buddy, it’s Angel! You know how they allow you one phone call? Well this is it…

  5. I think one of the recent successes in title sequences is PERSON OF INTEREST. Intriguing, haunting theme. Interesting visuals and a great set up for the franchise. I also am enamored of their playfulness with their title sequence for special episodes. It shows a desire for creativity and good storytelling within the format of network television.

  6. I think THE PRISONER could take the place of a couple of these picks. And maybe MIAMI VICE as well. It doesn’t get much more iconic than that one.

  7. Actually, it’s only thirty–three, counting C54WAY. But my point was that at least area of them deserved to be in the top ten.But I agree with The Aveners, Hawaii Five-0, Star Trek, Mission Impossible and The Twilight Zone.

  8. That’s a good list, though I’d suggest Mash, Hill Street Blues and Thirtysomething as contenders for GOT, the Avengers and Law and Order… Then of course there’s Friends and more recently, the Newsroom. Point made: a top 10 list is a tall order, well done!

    • I don’t think the main titles of THIRTYSOMETHING or HILL STREET BLUES have had any lasting impact nor have they become iconic (though I love them). MASH and FRIENDS though, were two I wrestled with including. No offense, but I’d argue the two different main titles for NEWSROOM aren’t memorable at all…and haven’t caused the slightest ripple in our TV culture.

  9. I’d also nominate The Green Hornet, with its amazing triple-tongued rendition of the title theme by Al Hirt. I still get tingles when I hear it. Perhaps the graphics could have been a bit better–all those still photos at the beginning are a little jarring, but as a kid I couldn’t wait for the opening sequence.

  10. Lee, I agree that the main title sequence of “Mission Impossible” is great. It’s not as focussed on narrative as I would like, but you see it as representing the franchise quite well. Okay, I can see that. But when I step back and view the effect of the show upon the culture, it seems there is no comparison — “Star Trek” exploded energy into the culture whereas “Mission Impossible” — for all its virtues — is not in that league. In fact, no show before or since is.

    But I’d go a step further. It seems to me that the concept of ‘main title sequences’ has run out of steam. The trend now is towards ‘minimalism.’ What the audience wants is not a ‘glorification’ of the actors in a series, but just the drama. So shows start immediately with a scene. For instance, “The Mentalist” begins with a scene or two, then the main title sequence starts, and all it is, is several still shots of Simon Baker, six bars of music, and a title naming the creator — cut to commercial. And this pleases me. For I don’t want the actors in my face. I don’t want to watch ‘Simon Baker’ playing a part in a show — I want the story-telling to take me away — I don’t want to think of Simon Baker at all, I just want to think of Patrick Jane struggling to solve the mystery. And such a minimalist main title sequence is all I need, I don’t need to know the names of all the actors.

    The “Star Trek” main title sequence stressed the premise of the show, not the actors. This, I believe, is what made it great. “The show” is the star, not the actors.

  11. Gah! How to possibly get it down to ten?

    Somebody already mentioned The Rockford Files, but I’ve got a link:
    Loved the rotating answering machine gag.
    Also, Space 1999. Gerry Anderson wouldn’t have known a good script if it hit him in the face, but he knew how to do an exciting opening, and the trick up flash clips from the upcoming episode later became a trademark of the NCIS franchise.
    And The Wild Wild West
    And finally some love for a current show, “Elementary.” So stylishly photographed, visually inventive, and evocative of the show’s themes, that it’s hard to believe that it’s on a modern US network program. Nice theme music too.
    Oh, crap. one more: The Prisoner. Too long by a mile, but it tells a lot of story in three minutes.

    • You wrote: “Gerry Anderson wouldn’t have known a good script if it hit him in the face, but he knew how to do an exciting opening, and the trick up flash clips from the upcoming episode later became a trademark of the NCIS franchise.”

      Actually, Gerry stole it from another Martin Landau show.. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. They were doing the episodic clips in the main titles back in the 1960s!


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