In a motion picture, television program or video game, the opening credits or opening titles are shown at the very beginning and list the most important members of the production. They are now usually shown as text superimposed on a blank screen or static pictures, or sometimes on top of action in the show. There may or may not be accompanying music. When opening credits are built into a separate sequence of their own, the correct term is title sequence (such as the familiar James Bond and Pink Panther title sequences).
Opening credits since the early 1980s, if present at all, identify the major actors and crew, while the closing credits list an extensive cast and production crew. Historically, however, opening credits have been the only source of crew credits and, largely, the cast, although over time the tendency to repeat the cast, and perhaps add a few players, with their roles identified (as was not always the case in the opening credits), evolved. The ascendancy of television movies after 1964 and the increasingly short "shelf-life" of films in theaters has largely contributed to the credits convention which came with television programs from the beginning, of holding the vast majority of cast and crew information for display at the end of the show.
In movies and television, the title and opening credits may be preceded by a "cold open," or teaser (in other words, a brief scene prior to the main acts), that helps to set the stage for the episode or film.
Up until the 1970s, closing credits for films usually listed only a reprise of the cast members with their roles identified, or even simply just said "The End," requiring opening credits to normally contain the details. For instance, the title sequence of the 1968 film Oliver! runs for about three-and-a-half minutes, and while not listing the complete cast, does list nearly all of its technical credits at the beginning of the film, all set against a background of what appear to be, but in fact are not, authentic 19th-century engravings of typical London life. The only credit at film's end is a listing of most of the cast, including cast members not listed at the beginning. These are set against a replay of some of the "'Consider Yourself" sequence.
Some opening credits are presented over the opening sequences of a film, rather than in a separate title sequence. The opening credits for the 1993 film The Fugitive continued intermittently over several opening scenes, and did not finish until fifteen minutes into the film. The opening credits for the 1968 film Once Upon a Time in the West lasted for fourteen minutes.
The first sound film to begin without any opening credits was Walt Disney's Fantasia, released in 1940. In the film's general release, a title card and the credit "Color by Technicolor" were spliced onto the beginning of the film, but otherwise there were no credits, although closing credits were added to the 1990 re-release and are on the videocassette. This general release version has been the one most often seen by audiences. In the roadshow version of the film, unseen by most audiences until its DVD release, the title card is seen only at the halfway point of the film, as a cue that the intermission is about to begin. The intermission was omitted in the general release version.
Orson Welles' Citizen Kane begins with only a title credit. This practice was extremely uncommon during that era.
West Side Story (1961) begins with a shot of an ink sketch of the New York City skyline as it was when the film was made. As the background of the shot changes color several times, we hear an overture medley (not in the original show) of some of the film's songs. As the overture ends, the camera pulls back and we see the title of the film. The rest of the credits are shown as graffiti at the end.
Most Disney films released between 1937 and 1981 had all the film-related information in the opening credits, while the closing consisted only of the credit "The End: A Walt Disney Production". However, Mary Poppins was the first Disney film to have longer closing credits, in which all the principal cast members (and the characters that they played) were listed.
Most Soviet films presented all film-related information in the opening credits, rather than at the closing which consisted of only a "THE END" (Russian: КОНЕЦ ФИЛЬМА, Konyets Fily-ma) title. A typical Soviet opening credits sequence starts with a film company's logo (such as Mosfilm or Lenfilm), the film's title, followed by the scenarist (the Soviet Union considered the scriptwriter the principal "auteur" of its films), followed by the director, usually on separate screens, then continuing with screens showing other credits, of varying number, and finally, the film's chief administrator-in-charge, the production director (Russian: Директор картины, Direktor kartiny). Following this came the cast, usually in actor-and-role format for all principal and major featured players, and perhaps then a screen only naming, in an alphabetical cluster, some additional character players. The final credit screen identified the studio corresponding to the logo at the beginning, and the year of the film's production. It could also contain the frame with the technical information about the cinematographic film manufacturer (e.g., Svema).
This basic method was also followed in most American films from the 1930s through the late 1980s. American films also tended to list the names of the actors before the names of the directors, screenwriters, and other principal crew members. Exceptions were made in the films of director Frank Capra, whose name was usually billed before the film's title. Director Victor Fleming's name was also billed before those of the actors in films such as The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Joan of Arc. Capra, Fleming, and James Whale were some of the few directors who received the credit "A [director's name] Production" even though they did not produce their films.
François Truffaut's 1966 film Fahrenheit 451 uses spoken opening credits instead of written ones, in keeping with the film's story of a world without reading matter, as well as Jean-Luc Godard´s Contempt of 1963.
Many major American motion pictures have done away with opening credits, with many films, such as Van Helsing in 2004 and Batman Begins in 2005, not even displaying the film title until the closing credits begin.
George Lucas is credited with popularizing this with his Star Wars films which display only the film's title at the start. His decision to omit opening credits in his films Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) led him to resign from the Directors Guild of America after being fined $250,000 for not crediting the director during the opening title sequence. However, Hollywood had been releasing films without opening credits for many years before Lucas came along, most notably Citizen Kane, West Side Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Godfather.
Nevertheless, "title-only" billing became an established form for summer blockbusters in 1989, with Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2 and The Abyss following the practice. Clint Eastwood has omitted opening credits (except for the title) in every film that he has directed since approximately 1982.
With regard to television series, it is now an accepted practice to credit regular cast members for every episode of a season, even if they did not appear in each episode. One example is the American television series Nip/Tuck, in which the appearance of all credited characters is rare. Another television series that credited all regulars for a season in every episode (regardless of whether or not they appeared) was Lost, most notably from season two onward, in which the complete credited cast appeared in only two episodes out of 23. During Lost's fourth season, Harold Perrineau was credited for all thirteen episodes, despite only having appeared in five of them (fewer than some guest stars, such as Jeff Fahey).
The series Charmed also began by crediting every regular cast member even if they did not appear in the episode. The season two episode "Morality Bites" is the only episode in which only the three leading actresses were credited, and later the male cast members were only credited in the episodes in which they appeared. If a regular actor was not featured in that particular episode, the opening credits were edited with their images omitted and the actors not being credited.
The television series Police Squad!, in keeping with its parodic nature, featured a character who only appeared in the credits ("...and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln").
Traditionally, actors in daytime soap operas are not credited in the episode opening sequences; this has been the case because of the escapist tone of the soap opera genre and as such, producers of soaps did not want cast members credited in the opening sequence in order to keep this intact. The drawback to this is that cast members are often identified by fans as their soap opera personas and not as themselves, as opposed to actors on other television programs who, in many cases, were identifiable by their own name.
In the 2000s, some soap operas began using an opening sequence where the actors are credited. The Young and the Restless was the first such show to credit, at least, most of the actors on contract with the series. The Bold and the Beautiful, which is produced by Bell-Phillip Television Productions (a subsidiary of Y&R producer Bell Dramatic Serial Company), began crediting all contract cast members in its opening titles in 2004, four years after The Young and the Restless implemented it (however, unlike Y&R, The Bold and the Beautiful cycles between different title sequences depending on the episode's running time: two that feature credits – including one shorter sequence – and one that does not feature any credits or cast member visuals). ABC Daytime soaps began implementing the process in October 2002 with the debut of the All My Children 'Scrapbook" opening used until May 2004. One Life to Live began featuring character credits within the title sequence during the same time period with its "Blue and White" opening. The most recent soap to include credits for all contract actors in its opening titles was General Hospital after a February 2010 revamp of its opening credits (a credit-less introduction resumed in 2012 with the introduction of a shorter title sequence), though during the final years of its "Faces of the Heart" sequence from April 2003 to September 2004, the names of the main characters were shown alongside video headshots of the cast members in the opening title sequence.
Often, only the Friday episode of a daytime serial would run closing credits listing the actors. All performers from the preceding five episodes would be listed. Starting in the 2000s, complete end credits began running more frequently. Days of Our Lives in particular currently credits all actors, those on contract, on recurring status and with guest starring roles on the show that week, alternating every other episode with a closing credit sequence showing the program's crew members; in either instance, either version is shown after the producer, director and writing credits (General Hospital, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful credit all performers during their closing credits, although the latter two only credit recurring and guest cast members are credited for their appearance that week only and General Hospital mainly credits only main and recurring cast members).
British soaps have never credited cast members or crew members in their opening titles nor do they show video or images of the cast members. However, in recent years these programmes have listed the writers, producers and directors over the first scene of the episode and episode titles if they apply. The opening titles of Hollyoaks feature regular characters in short (less than one second) scenes intended to capture their character.
While there are numerous variations most opening credits use some variation of the basic order. In the absence of opening credits, these roles will often be credited in reverse order at the beginning of the closing credits.
As a variation some of the below may be noted: