Hate the Movie, Love the Credits Sequence

By  · Published on August 4th, 2016

This summer’s best 3D spectacle can be found in motion graphics.

When you dislike a movie, the best part is the ending. But this summer that jokey truth is more apt than usual.

First there was the Ghostbusters reboot, which I didn’t actually dislike but also didn’t exactly like, either. My favorite part was genuinely the end credits sequence, which features some modified clips from the movie along with a sort-of deleted scene dance number led by Chris Hemsworth. That footage and the titles are overlaid with special spectral effects flying around the screen, and seemingly off the screen thanks to the 3D format taking full advantage of the black bars above and below the frame of the picture.

Now comes Suicide Squad, which features nothing of value during the actual movie to support the 3D surcharge you may have paid, but again the end credits are pretty amazing and employs the format perfectly. Not quite as in-your-face as the Ghostbusters sequence, but still strikingly mesmerizing compared to what plays before it. Perhaps studios are realizing that audiences are staying in their seats in anticipation of a post-credits scene so they might as well give them a little extra show.

“If you have something fun at the end of the movie, then you are sending people out in a great mood,” says Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. He is specifically referring to the dance bit, but his words still ring valid for the rest of that whole grand finale of graphic fireworks. I walked away still disappointed but smiling as a result of those stunning visuals, and I’m still thinking about them nearly a month later. I don’t know if it’ll be the same for Suicide Squad but I’m at least still humming the twenty one pilots tune.

The title design for Suicide Squad may not go down in history with the likes of Saul Bass and Imaginary Forces’ opening credits for Se7en, but even the movie’s trailer graphics have been celebrated, and they’re inspiring artists wanting to do similar work (you can find many tutorials on how to copy the effects on YouTube). These days it’s common to have flashy titles and to have them close out your movie. So what’s special about these? For me, it’s the vibrance, texture, and depth. It’s not just basic motion graphics animation.

Eye-catching title design has also been a big deal on the small screen this summer, as a lot of fans of the Netflix series Stranger Things seem to be initially hooked not by characters, story, or even the much-discussed ’80s pop culture allusions, but by the opening credits sequence. One half of that is the John Carpenter-inspired synth theme by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. The other half is the graphics – primarily just focused on stunning red typography – by 88-year-old designer Ed Benguiat, for Imaginary Forces.

The font of the Stranger Things credits is actually called ITC Benguiat, named after the designer, and it’s been used for The Smiths albums and the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, among other things, and was chosen because it reminds viewers of old Stephen King book cover designs as well as ’80s movie titles by Richard Greenberg (Alien, Superman: The Movie). Now, Stranger Things is not something I personally dislike, but there are certainly people who aren’t fans who still were impressed by its opening.

What’s interesting about the series’ titles regardless is that obviously a lot of thought was put into them, and a lot of viewers noticed and have in turn themselves put in a lot of thought into them. We’ve all paid attention to credits sequences before, particularly the one for the series True Detective — the design of which has been copied and parodied to death now – but even though this is also getting lampooned it’s a more loving kind of mockery. It’s rare a title designer gets as many great write-ups as Benguiat has for this.

Stranger Things: meet the design genius behind TV’s most talked about title font

The question of why not an Oscar for Best Title Design also comes up constantly, but while artists involved in this craft are deserving of prestigious awards, the thing about the Academy Awards is a lot of the categories align closely together for the honoring of movies with a certain overall quality. Sure, there are windows for bad movies to find their way in and embarrass the organization (Norbit is a nominee, Alice in Wonderland is a winner), but not for anything so peripheral as credits sequences. Well, maybe Best Song.

If the Academy introduced such an award this year, my current pick for a frontrunner would probably be Suicide Squad, which has few merits outside of those graphics that come in at almost the two-hour mark. It might be strange to see the movie as an Oscar contender (I guess it could still be one for best makeup and hair), but I also find it strange that titles aren’t discussed more and that I can’t even find a direct credit for whom or what studio is responsible for the one here. The Oscars turn the spotlights on.

For now, there’s at least the SXSW Film Festival, which annually gives awards for poster design and title design. Often the movies and shows that win are bad, forgettable, or unknown (True Detective was a big winner in 2014, though), and that’s fine because a lot of the nominees are not, and either way the honor helps us to discover and discuss artists involved in cinema and television we wouldn’t normally know about and who are probably doing great stuff for better clients, too.

While I can not recommend sitting through Suicide Squad simply to see the end credits titles, hopefully enough buzz about them will lead to them showing up separately online for your appreciation, of the work itself and the people behind it.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.