More than any other type of television programming, science fiction shows are most often defined by their opening credits. In part it’s because these shows are usually complex, and require some sort of set up either to explain the plot, define a setting, or at least set up the tone of what you’re about to watch. In larger part I suspect it’s just because making great, bombastic, silly, catchy, rock and roll show opens is a lot of fun, and it’s even more fun when you’re playing with outer space, aliens, time travelers, or sword-wielding immortals.
But which sci-fi show intros were the best? We locked ourselves in the GIANT FREAKIN ROBOT labs over the weekend, watched endless hours of programming, and came up with this perfectly ranked list. These are the twenty best sci-fi series intros ever aired on television.
20. Doctor Who | Series 1 – 4
When the new version of Doctor Who launched in 2005 one of the most interesting things about the show was they way they managed to take the previous series’ iconic yet sort of annoying theme song and not only make it palatable, but kind of fun.
They didn’t change much, just made it feel better inside your ears, and that combined with the motion of the TARDIS flying through the time vortex gives the whole thing a sense of excitement and motion which is completely in keeping with the personality of The Doctor himself, without ever actually showing us really much of anything. They started updating it a little for series 5 and now that they’re on series 11 it’s changed a lot more. The version above is from series 2 with David Tennant and I prefer it to any of the other openings, which are themselves still pretty good.
19. Lexx | Season 3 & 4
Lexx was without a doubt the weirdest, most confusing, freakishly sex-obsessed series in the history of television. And show’s the opening is just as weird and confusing, featuring the ass ugly, bug-eyed ship they ride around in and a big jumble of images. But in Season 3 they added the Brunnen G fight song (used elsewhere in previous seasons) as their opening music, and that changed everything. It’s haunting, beautiful, completely epic.
The images still aren’t great but the sound of those voices singing their way into battle is so good it almost doesn’t matter. Sing along: Yo A O, Hom Var Ray. Yo A Ra, Jerhume Brunnen G…
18. The Jetsons
The Jetsons vision of the future was sort of a swinging 60s thing, but the music somehow still stands the test the time. So does all that crazy futuristic design where people live above the clouds and ride around in bubble cars. Somehow there’s never been anything else quite like it.
The closing credits, in which George gets stuck on the treadmill and screams “Jane stop this crazy thing!” are probably even more iconic, but The Jetsons intro, which sets up all the members of the Jetsons family and leaves George settled in at work where he’s sure to get yelled at by Spacely, is nearly as good.
17. Battlestar Galactica | 1978
This is the original opening used for Battlestar Galatica when it debuted in 1978, complete with that insanely cool narration which attempts to hint that what you’re about to watch could really be happening out there somewhere.
The music’s brilliant too, one of the best television scores of all time. The images, unfortunately, don’t quite live up to the rest, but only because they chose for some strange reason to wrap them in a bubble. Still, considering the time period, the original Battlestar Galactica opening is unbelievably epic. Life here began out there…
16. Mystery Science Theater 3000 | Seasons 1 -5
16. Mystery Science Theater 3000
In theory it’s a show about watching other shows, but for me the highlight of any Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode were the bits they did in between movies with the hosts engaged in shenanigans.
The series’ open embodies the fun of those segments better than just about anything while also containing information important to your enjoyment of the show. These are primarily things like, if you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, then repeat to yourself it’s just a show, you should really just relax. In the not too distant future, next Sunday A.D…
15. Sliders | Season 1 Opening Credits
Though they eventually ruined the show in subsequent seasons, for the first year it was on the air in 1995 Sliders was an insanely cool sci-fi show with a pretty cool opening sequence to match. The intro sets up the series premise of multiple Earths and, though parallel worlds is a familiar thing to sci-fi fans, for a lot of people this was the first they’d ever heard of the concept. Sliders explains it perfectly in just a few seconds. “Same Earth, different dimension”.
The season 1 opening is as fun as the show itself was, for a few brief years on Fox. My favorite part of the intro is the last two seconds or so, when the show’s title appears and pulses as a voice whispers the name: Sliders…
14. Red Dwarf
The Red Dwarf opening credits were actually almost respectable when it debuted back in 1988. The show opened with a guy painting the ship, and then pulled back for a big reveal of the entire, massive vessel. But Red Dwarf is not a respectable show (and we wouldn’t have it any other way), so eventually they got it right in season 3 by speeding up the tempo of the music and adding a bunch of utterly ridiculous, completely stupid, totally fun clips to it which as it turns out were the perfect setup to a show involving a self-loathing hologram of a dead crewman and a robot who really likes to iron. Here’s every Red Dwarf opening used.
I’m particularly fond of the shot of Smeghead Rimmer hammering himself in the crotch, used in Season 8. Give it up for the boys from the Dwarf!
13. The Six Million Dollar Man
Television’s top bionic man didn’t have much of a theme song, but everything else about The Six Million Dollar Man’s opening credits is insanely cool. How many other shows start by showing you both a plane crash and a dangerous surgical procedure each and every week?
Steve Austin. Astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster…
12. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Back when it first aired, Deep Space Nine was the Star Trek show everyone overlooked. That has since changed and in retrospect it has earned respect. Utterly different from every other Trek series in nearly every possible way, the show’s opening reflects that. The beautiful them music is more bombastic than adventurous and gone is the narration. It still contains shots of stars, but instead of exciting flybys it takes you on a grand tour around this place, stuck in one spot in space. DS9 takes Trek and credits sequences, in a different direction.
The show and the opening actually got even better in later seasons with the addition of a great little starship called the Defiant, and I’ve used the credit sequence from seasons 4 through 7 which contains the Defiant doing its flyby of the station below. Like the show, this opening has weight. It’s grand.
11. Battlestar Galactica: 2006 Opening
The Battlestar Galactica opening credits underwent a lot of alterations during it’s time on the air. In 2004 when the show debuted, for instance, the opening didn’t feature any of the text we became used to, counting down the number of survivor left and telling us of their search for a new home, called Earth. The BSG credits didn’t even air at the start of the show most of the time. Usually the show kicked off with a 30 second “and the have a plan” intro, telling us what the Cylons have been up to, and it wasn’t until 8 minutes in that the actual title sequence would show up. This is the best version of that title sequence, complete with the survivor count and everything which made it so utterly haunting and perfect in its best possible form…
10. Knight Rider
The show may have been cheesy, but the opening credits were a cut above. The music is of course iconic but what’s pretty underrated about the opening to Knight Rider back in 1982 is the stylistic approach they took to it. It starts out with a weird, almost purple shot of KITT blasting through the desert which in a dark and edgy kind of way matches up to the fantastic voiceover from Richard Baseheart. That intro, more than anything that happened in the show, gave Knight Rider underground, outlaw feel that few other shows have ever captured. A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man… who does not exist…
9. Star Blazers
Originally released in Japan as Space Battleship Yamato, this animated show was heavily re-edited and renamed as Star Blazers for consumption in the United States. Most of the changes made to Americanize the show for its 1979 airing weren’t particularly good, but the one that absolutely works is the Star Blazers opening credits. It helps that the images they use are pretty arresting, but mostly it’s the themesong, which sets up the tone of everything that’s about to happen perfectly. Listening to it is like preparing for battle every week, and the words tend to stick in your head. The Earth will survive with… our… Star… Blazers!
8. Star Trek
Perhaps one of the most famous opening credits sequences of all time, what’s most interesting about the Star Trek original series intro is how simple it is. In large part they were limited by technology, but the simple flyby of the Enterprise against a starfield really works. It helps that the ship is beautiful and that William Shatner’s narration is the stuff of legend. Even casual Star Trek fans can usually recite at least part of it and everything they did here went on to influence every great Star Trek title sequence which followed. It’s worth noting there are actually two version of the credits. Below I’ve gone with the classic, season 1 version from 1966 without the kind of annoying “la la” singers you may remember from other versions. Boldly go…
7. Quantum Leap
The Quantum Leap opening credits are a perfect blend of gripping narration, a fantastic themesong, and tons of interesting images. The narration changed a little throughout the years, in season one for instance Sam Beckett narrated it and blamed what was happening to him on an experiment that went a little “caca”. But I think the Season 4 version of it is the best, with a female narrator who talks about his journey with just a hint of sadness, and clips from all the best moments of the previous seasons worked in. Watch as Dr. Sam Beckett steps into the quantum leap accelerator, and vanishes. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home…
6. The X-Files
X-Files wasn’t just a science fiction show, it was a successful thriller and horror program. The opening credits of the series reflect what the show was about with precision. The iconic whistle, inspired by a Smiths song that series creator Chris Carter liked, mixed with a haunting melody can still give you shivers years after Moulder and Scully left our screens. Whispers of the supernatural and unexplained pop up in imagery throughout the sequence, interspersed with shots of more realistic items like FBI badges and paperwork. It left the viewer with a clear message that this show is going to mix hard fact finding, perhaps even mundane, investigations with something unique. The music alone is some of the most memorable in the history of television, coupled with the images the X-Files opening credits stands above the crowd as one of the creepiest and most hauntingly beautiful starts to a television series. I want to believe…
5. The Twilight Zone
The theme music is iconic. You probably hear it in your head, every time someone mentions the show’s name. Rod Serling’s narration is epic. It’s the kind of thing that haunts your dreams. The lack of color, somehow makes it even better. “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone…”
4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
The opening credits for Star Trek: The Next Generation took everything that was great about the original Star Trek opening and took it to another level. I imagine this credits sequence does everything the original series one would have done, if it had the technology available to make it happen. For that reason, as much as anything else, I’m actually ranking The Next Generation opening higher. I prefer Shatner’s narration but the music is a vast improvement and the sweeping shots of planets and the long slow shots of the ship really convey the sense of space and alienness in a way that the original, great though it was, just couldn’t. These are the voyagers of the starship Enterprise…
3. Babylon 5
It was the dawn of the third age of mankind. Babylon 5 arrived on television with those words back in 1994 and, for five season, those words changed with the launch of each new year. B5’s opening is epic. The music swells and the narration, no matter who does it (it changes every year) sets the tone for the intense story and characters which are about to follow. It’s brilliant and made even more brilliant by the way they’re able to completely change it, building tension every time, yet keep it feeling exactly the same for five different openings. Watch all five Babylon 5 opening credits sequences in the video below. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5…
Farscape made a couple of minor tweaks to its opening credits over the course of its 4 season run on television from 1999 – 2003, but it was in Season 3 they finally got the music right. The first two seasons played pretty much the same tune, but with a more alien quality to it which ended up sounding shrill. By toning that down in Season 3 they matched that now eerily cool music to Ben Browder’s pitch perfect, echoing narration and a series of stunning, gripping images to create on of the greatest science fiction show openings of all time. If you can hear me, beware. If I make it back, will they follow? If I open the door, are you ready? Earth is unprepared, helpless, for the nightmares I’ve seen…
1. Highlander: The Series
During its run from 1992 – 1998 Highlander: The Series used several different opening sequences, but the one they used in season 3 was perfect. Utterly perfect. It starts in a foggy alley, with Duncan in a trench coat stalking a foe. While he moves, we hear brilliant narration from Jim Byrnes, who plays a watcher named Joe Dawson on the show, explaining who Duncan is, and the battle he’s about to fight. Duncan walks towards the camera, pulls out his sword… strikes… and then Queen blasts out of your speakers. You just can’t beat a Queen song used in your opening credits. While Queen totally owns, various highlights from the show rip across the screen and mostly involve a lot of perfectly timed sword fighting, decapitating, and the occasional explosion of lightning. It’s rock and roll. It’s perfect. It’s the best opening credits sequence not just in science fiction, but maybe in the entire history of television. “He is immortal. Born in the Highlands of Scotland 400 years ago, he is not alone. There are others like him. Some good. Some evil. For centuries he has battled the forces of darkness, with Holy Ground his only refuge. He cannot die, unless you take his head, and with it his power. In the end, there can be only one. He is Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander…”
This one is a special credits sequence made for one time use on a specific episode, so it doesn’t qualify to make our list. But we love it so much, here it is anyway.
– Fringe 1985 Remix Opening
Like the show itself the theme to Fringe is reminiscent of classic TV series such as X-Files and The Twilight Zone. The text fading in and out as the camera seemingly flies through a space where you can imagine fringe science happenings go to hang out, and the simple tonal motif repeated over and over is quintessential science fiction. The credits for Fringe is such a distinctly styled opening that there have been numerous versions created for the prime storyline, alternate universe, future, and an 80s remix. The theme for an episode of Fringe that would have aired in 1985 strips the music down to a synth mix and text font that is immediately recognizable. Simple music, moving around within a few notes, growing a little more intense, paired with phraseology from the show’s lore makes the opening credits to Fringe one of the most recognizable and memorable openings in TV sci-fi.