The Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Show Openings (Part 1)

Photos and YouTube links updated 5/7/09.

I suffer from insomnia, and you benefit. Here are my picks for 10 Best and 10 Worst Opening Credits for Genre TV Shows.

By “genre,” I mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I only included shows made in English. I also decided to limit myself to those credits sequences I could find online – but this turned out not to be a problem. Hooray for YouTube! Hooray for copyright violations!

I was worried that I would subconsciously rate the title sequences not on their own merit, but based on the quality of the show overall. But I ended up with one of the worst shows of all time on the “Best” list, and one of the best on the “Worst” list. And they both have the same title!

Numerical order is approximate.

The 10 Best

BSG v.110. “Battlestar Galactica” (1979)

One of the most common mistakes made by sci-fi TV openings is the “expository monologue,” with which jittery television executives try to explain the show’s premise to viewers who don’t “get” sci-fi. As I researched this list, I learned how ubiquitous this problem is. Blah blah blah.

The original BSG features a long, long, loooong expository monologue. Yeah yeah, Toltecs and Mayans, got it. But the monologue is well written, and it’s read with tremendous gravity by the brilliant Patrick Macnee, who also voiced the Imperious Leader. The theme song kicks ass. And most importantly, the edited scenes (viewed through a circle — why?) really make the show look impressive. Too bad it sucked ass.

The Greatest American Hero9. “The Greatest American Hero” (1981-83)

It’s all about the theme song, baby. Mike Post’s theme song is goofy, poppy, cheesy, and almost but not entirely unrelated to the content of the show. And once you hear it, you will NEVER get it out of your head. This credits sequence is fun, funny, and engaging, and it has no expository monologue whatsoever. That UFO, left over from one of Steven Spielberg’s garage sales, is also very cool.

Watch for snakes!8. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (1988-1999)

“Robot roll call!” We’re only concerned with the first two credit sequences here, the original Joel Hogdson credits and the first Mike Nelson opening. After Frank Conniff left, the show jumped the shark; and once it moved to the Sci Fi Channel, well, it’s just best not to think about it. Catchy song, goofy models and puppets, and the iconic “corridor crawl” a la “Get Smart.” And the theme song doubled as the expository monologue, which was a real time saver.

Make it so.7. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994)

What do you get when you cross the theme from “Star Trek The Motionless Picture” with the Shakespearean monologing skills of Patrick Stewart and a clever tribute the opening of the original “Star Trek?” Um, this opening, duh. By the way, the original “Star Trek” opening was pretty weak (“whoosh! whoosh!), although nowhere near bad enough to make the “worst” list. As far as I can tell, “Space… the final frontier…” invented the expository monologue.

Like Babylon 5, but slightly less sucky.6. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999)

There was nothing special about the DS9 opening until season four, about the time the show started to not completely suck. The morose theme song got a boost from a bouncy backing track, and the CG guys added a bunch of business involving spaceships, little space-suited construction workers, and the Defiant flying into the wormhole. Suddenly, Deep Space 9 became a place you might conceivably care about. Then, in season seven, they screwed the whole thing up. This award goes to seasons 4-6 only. (Special props to DS9 for dropping the “Final Frontier” speech.)

What if the bad guys had salads for heads?5. “Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001)

Finally, the “Star Trek” credits sequence perfected. Great theme, excellent effects. Voyager actually interacts with its surroundings, which gives the sequence more reality.

Of course, in 9 out of 10 episodes, once the opening credits ended it was all downhill from there.

This show was saved near the end by exactly two things — marginally better writing, and Jeri Ryan.

So, what's the plunger for again?4. “Doctor Who” (1963-89, 1996, 2005-present)

First let’s discuss that theme song. When some hack isn’t ruining it by trying to “update” it, Ron Grainer’s “Doctor Who” theme is spacey, dramatic and memorable. Most of the “Doctor Who” credits sequences have been mediocre or terrible (see this – Jesus Christ, did that Zardozian giant floating head just wink at me? Exterminate! Exterminate!), but two really stand out. Coincidentally, they’re the openings for the two best Doctors to date. Tom Baker’s (1974-81) was modeled after previous openings, and included the dreaded “head shot.” But the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. In the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant credits (2005 – present), the music was great, the effects were cool, and you got to see the TARDIS fly around. And no headshot! Plus, “Doctor Who” has never burdened us with an expository monologue. Can you imagine trying to explain “Doctor Who” in 30 seconds?

D-d-d-d-d-d duh duh duh duh duh.3. “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1974-78)

The awkwardly-titled series that made Lee Majors a star had opening credits as heart-pounding and dramatic as anything on TV. Steve Austin’s whole origins story was presented in under a minute – and they didn’t tell us, they showed us. Sure, Richard Anderson (no relation to Dean) talks through the credits, but he’s in the story, trying to convince his unnamed listener that blowing $6,000,000 in 1970s dollars to turn a crippled astronaut, and the astronaut’s girlfriend and dog, into cybernetic freaks isn’t a violation of the public trust. This opening is artistic and beautifully edited; and the cheesy theme song doesn’t cut in until the last 15 seconds.

SEPT!!! 13!!!! 1999!!!!!2. “Space: 1999” (1975-77)
This is a really interesting case. Some openings, like “The X-Files” or “Farscape,” were good, but not good enough to make it onto the “Best” list. (To answer your question – “The X-Files” had a great theme, but the visuals were dorky as hell. Oh look – Mulder is falling into an eye! Spooky!) Some were bad, but not terrible enough to make the “Worst” list (see “Lost In Space”). Only “Space: 1999” almost made it onto both lists.

The great: brilliant music, heart-pounding action, real drama, and no expository monologue. The terrible: it’s overwrought to the point of silliness – “SEPT 13!!!! 1999!!!!” In the end, the good beats out the bad. BTW, we are ignoring the hideous second season opening, just as we ignore the hideous second season.

(For more Gerry Anderson goodness, check out “Thunderbirds,” which just barely missed the Best list.)

Gorram Fox Network!1. “Firefly” (2002)

Wow. Just… wow. I’m not going to ruin it with words. If you don’t get it, nothing I say can help. Burn the land and boil the sea – you can’t take the sky from me.

(And Gina Torres gets to be the only actor on both the Best and Worst lists, unless you count Richard Hatch.)

Now read… the 10 Worst!

98 Comments

  1. Loved LOVED Firefly the show.
    Hated HATED the opening song.

    Somebody mentioned Carnivale earlier. Did it turn into sci-fi in the second season cuz it sure wasn’t in the first season.

  2. WAY< WAY OFF!
    First, the Firefly opening is way down the list.

    Second, the new BSG is on the WRONG list. Its is dynamic, it gets the blood and adrenaline, flowing, amd you can’t honestly know the plot based on the intor until the event occurs. Thats not called a spoiler, is called forshadowing, a lost art in television.

  3. I love Firefly, but you have it in the wrong list. Any show theme that starts out with similar wording and pace as “The Facts of Life” shouldn’t be a ‘Top 10 Best’.

  4. Wow waaaay off. I care nothing for Enterprise or Firefly, but Enterprise has a much better opening.

    Also no Amazing Stories? Quantum Leap deserves to be on there. No original Twilight Zone. No Red Dwarf??? You really need te re-examine your list.

    Waaaay too much Trek, not enough other series..

  5. Absolutely dead on – Firefly is the only intro I don’t skip on DVD. And the song is my phone ring tone. I catch myself singing it…

  6. Firefly’s intro was partialy responible for the low amount of people that watched it while on air. The intro makes it seem like “western” is the primairy theme of the show when it is not. I think your’re incredibly wrong about that being a great intro. It actualy has to be one of the worst intro’s for a great show.

    But since you can’t sleep and that leaves the mind void of good thought, I forgive you.

    rofl the NEW BSG is a GOOOOOOD intro. The OLD BSG intro sucked assssss. Seriously. I grew up with that show and always found something to do till that damned long title sequence was over.

  7. Just got done reading both lists. What a bunch of flamebait if I have ever seen any. He knows that Babylon 5 fans really get into the show and that the new BSG fans are likely the same. Good try at trolling for reactions.

    HAHA listing 3 Startreks in a row. Priceless bait.

  8. A fine list indeed. Thought Lexx could have featured on the best (or worst), but then we could go on forever listing the ines we thought had been missed.

  9. I always liked the opening to Superman, with George Reeve.

    In black and white.

    and Commando Cody.

  10. I think you should have considered the openning theme and credits from UFO as one of the best from a sci-fi TV series.

  11. It looks like the Firefly opening is a Marmite phenomenon, as we say here in the UK: you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it.

  12. Have to agree about the lack of Outer Limits (original series). They really should have figured in there somewhere.

    But you’ve all missed out on the utterly fantastic titles to the original series of The Tomorrow People (not the one that aired on Nickleodeon in the 90s, but the one that aired in the UK in 70s): that was just the eeriest thing you ever did see, although the actual series itself was criminally bad.

  13. The original Star Trek opening is a classic, hands down. The theme music is perfect and I get goose bumps when I hear it in unexpected places…

  14. Not that anyone’s gonna care, but I hate country music and yet Firefly’s theme song was soooo appropo for the series that I can’t help singing it in my head for the rest of the day whenever I think of it.

    Hear hear!

    Sorry, I meant to say the original Red Dwarf opening was great…the one with just the exterior of the ship and the slow haunting music. The newer opening sux.

    Hear hear!

  15. No Farscape? Hmmm, OK, the music was kinda over-the-top. I can’t believe “Space: Above and Beyond” was left out. WWAAYY better than Space 1999, or the original BSG (give me a break!). The new BSG makes us all forget the original, thankfully. However, you did leave out two shows that really started the whole sci-fi opening “genre”: the original Outer LImits, and, of course, The Twilight Zone!! HELLO!!! (I know I’m talking about shows most of you have never seen. Best intros ever).

  16. Please explain, you list the new BSG as bad because it spoils parts of the episode yet you claim space 1999 is great when IT DID THE SAME EXACT THING.

  17. Please explain, you list the new BSG as bad because it spoils parts of the episode yet you claim space 1999 is great when IT DID THE SAME EXACT THING.

    I’ll be happy to explain. Lots of shows have done the “clips in the credits” thing. But they are usually careful to make sure the clips are not spoilers. BSG seems to go out of its way to show clips that actually give away dramatic plot points. This is a very bad thing — bad enough to put an otherwise excellent credits sequence near the top of the Worst list.

    And, as I said, it doesn’t have enough Grace Park.

  18. seriously, stop thinking with your dick. Grace Park is not the end all be all of scifi babes (while she is hot)

    Have you ever thought that the show choses the clips they show in the spoilers on purpose? You sir are a world class idiot.

  19. Have you ever thought that the show choses the clips they show in the spoilers on purpose? You sir are a world class idiot.

    A “world class idiot?” Really? Wow. No one’s ever called me “world class” before.

    No, I thought they chose the spoilers accidentally. OF COURSE they choose them on purpose. I know a former FOX TV executive who explained that TV promos often give away key plot points because research shows more people will tune in if you give away spoilers.

    But that doesn’t make it any less wrong. You’re ruining the viewing experience, and sabotaging the efforts of the writers to create drama.

    Did it ever occur to me they do it on purpose. Um, YEAH. Asshat.

  20. You seem to think that they are “ruining the viewing experience, and sabotaging the efforts of the writers to create drama.”

    I see it as the head writer himself (RDM) choosing the clips he wants to show in opening. His choices (while sometimes extremly spoilerish) have built a very nice thought into the viewers head of what is to come.

    But then, for someone who thought B5 was crap I guess I shouldn’t expect much more than a 3rd grade intelligence.

  21. Re: Firefly theme, if you saw the actual pilot and knew the backstory to Malcolm Reynolds–the pilot that was meant to introduce people to the Firefly universe–you’d understand the theme.
    Me? I like the opening credits to Firefly.
    And someone mentioned Carnivale? Yep. Great opening sequence.

  22. No Twilight Zone? Simply the best opening ever:

    “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

  23. Firefly – absolutely brilliant – theme tune a dirge, Serenity had a similar problem, music was OK but simply not Dramatic or Stirring enough, probably the single reason why Serenity was not the massive hit that Joss and the actors/actresses deserved.

  24. Just a note, Faye Grant, starred in “V” but also had a recurring supporting role as one of the students in “Greatest American Hero”.

    Btw, “V: The Second Generation” is now in production 🙂

  25. I know the list doesn’t include foreign openings, but just for the fun of it, you might wanna check these two out:

    German Captain Future opening (bad quality):

    Raumpatrouille Orion opening (started the same month as Star Trek, so it’s not a cheap rip-off):

  26. Obviously someone has to bring some sense to this whole I love the Firefly theme – I hate it debate

    (now I never sow it with Book’s exposition added by Fox, so those of you who have might legitimately differ) but, if you saw it on DVD thisnk back to settling down to watch the pilot…

    The battle of Serenity… gripping, emotional, but pretty standard Sci-fi.

    Then (IIRC) cut to Mal in his space suit, upside down, and the savage scenes… nice to see some gratutous spacewalk action, rare in TV shows ‘cos the the expense, but not unknown… so we could be watching Voyager… and the Dortmunder, that brilliant pastiche of a Trek sytle Starfleet vessel. Funny as hell but not… different.

    All this time there’s some background music, but its muted strings a cello maybe, a few notes here and there… nothing that screams “wake up this is different…”

    Until Serenity lights up and shoots off, acompanied by… Fiddle music?! what the Fu…?

    And then those opening credits… Oh

    my

    god…

    In short, if you hate this … well I guess that’s a valid emotional response…

    but…

    YOU’RE WRONG

  27. Raumpatrouille Orion opening

    Coool. I wanna watch that. Ja volt, mein sexy General!

    I do have to point out that a flaming planet is not a “supernova,” and that a planet careening out of another solar system at a high speed would hit the Earth in about half a billion years.

    (now I never sow it with Book’s exposition added by Fox, so those of you who have might legitimately differ)

    What?!?! God, what DIDN’T Fox do to ruin “Firefly???”

  28. The original BSG, Greatest American Hero, and Six Million Dollar Man make the list but no Babylon 5. Pfft. 5 minutes of my life I’d like back, please.

  29. Wow. Firefly is hands-down, the worst opening ever. Twangy, 6th-grade-level song lyrics penned by Joss Whedon? The guy can write telescripts, but that opening actually makes me ashamed to like the show.

  30. Your countdown is absolutely ridicuilous. Firefly? That is truly sad. And why no mention of the X-Files?

    Um, except, I did mention “The X-Files.” Try reading the article, dumbass.

  31. So happy Firefly made #1 ^.^ Love the show, and although the song annoyed the crap out of me at first, it grew on me. Huzzah for the browncoats.

  32. Firefly as numero uno is a stellar choice! 14 episodes of gold is always going to be worth celebrating. Not many shows of any genre are worth seeing the first time.

  33. Wow. The only reason I visited this site was that it came up in a (semi-unrelated) search, and I immediately had the thought “Surely Firefly will make it onto the 10 Worst list”. Instead … number 1? Number ONE?!

    I get that you probably liked the show itself, but sweet mother, lets be honest here, that opening is terrible. That is the single worst theme song in the history of television.

  34. You say the clips in the opening of Space 1999 episodes weren’t spoilers. I guess it depends on what you consider a spoiler. In one episode, they find a mysterous ship. What’s on the ship? We won’t know until later. I hope it’s something cool! Then the opening. And… Agh! They showed us who they found on the ship! That’s a spoiler in my book. Now I only watch the opening up until the clip-fest. And whether you think the Space 1999 clips are spoilers or not, one of your arguments still applies — we’re already watching the show, so why are you trying to woo us with clips?

  35. WTF?!?! Where is Andromeda, where is Farscape, Enterprise should be here too (oh yeah it is in the top10 worst…) Did you’ve ever watchet thous shows, i think not… fool

  36. Just started watching Firefly on DVD. The show is pretty good but I keep having to skip past the opening credits because that song is god awful. Just painful to listen to. It’s like an emo kid whining about life when he’s a little too old to still be emo (plus a fiddle). I googled “firefly opening credits annoying” to see how many people agreed. Instead, I found this list. #1, really? I mean, really? To each his own, I suppose. I wish Stargate SG1 had made the list!

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