There’s no title at the beginning of Avatar, and no opening credits either. It’s just the Fox logo and fanfare and it starts, wham — an overheard moving shot of the Pandoran forest as Jake’s murmured narration kicks in, and we’re off to the races.
Films occasionally begin without a title sequence but not many. No titles is a way of saying to the audience. “You’re in for something ambitious, no fooling around…get ready.” Somehow it wouldn’t play if Paul Blart Mall Cop or Fifty First Dates didn’t have them. It has be a major-type film from a name director or the conceit doesn’t work.
The first film to play without any opening titles was Francis Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (1979). It was mildly startling (in a cool way, of course) when Coppola introduced this 30-odd years ago. I wonder how many films have begun this way? Not more than 15 or 20, I’m presuming. Maybe a few more than that.
Avatar and all other opening-title-free films end with closing credits, of course. It would be heresy not to do this. All the contributors need their screen time for posterity.
There was at least one film to play without any titles whatsoever, opening or closing, and that was also Apocalypse Now. The 70mm roadshow version, I mean. Closing credits were added on for the 35mm general release version.
Update: A filmmaker friend just wrote to say that “many films now have no opening credits… including two of my films. It’s a very classy approach. Some filmmakers like to have credits at the start of the films because they think an audience will be trucking out of the theater at the end; others feel that the film has to earn the right for the audience to give a fuck who made it.
“I’ll bet ya that more than half of the Oscar winners over the past, say, twenty years are end-credit films.”
I wrote back in response, “When I say no opening credits I mean no title either…..I mean no nothin’ whatsover as the film begins, like Avatar and Apocalypse Now. Are you sure this is as common as you say?”