Awesome Opening Credits: 1951’s ‘The Thing From Another World’

screenshot of the opening title for the 1951 movie
RKO Radio Pictures Inc./Screenshot

Over my decades of watching scary movies, I’ve been impressed by how some films can use a combination of graphics and music to immediately instill thrills and terror in a viewer right off the bat through their title sequences.

The opening credits to Psycho (1960), The Haunting (1963) and Halloween (1978) are fine examples of horror movie title sequences that I’ve found memorable, but my favorite spooky opening has to be the one for the 1951 sci-fi/horror classic The Thing From Another World.

I have a fondness for this film for a few reasons: It is well-crafted and suspenseful, and and it was one of my late dad’s favorite movies.

The film’s iconic opening credits sequence, featuring the glowing letters of the title slowly burning through the background and accompanied by Dimitri Tiomkin’s ominous score, really sets a tone of dread much like what the film’s characters will face as they are trapped in the Arctic with a deadly alien. Even the music accompanying the RKO logo that leads into the actual film score contributes to the overall thrilling impact of this sequence:

The Thing From Another World also has a memorable final scene, which trails off with an insistent warning to “Keep watching the skies,” and everything in between the opening and closing of this Howard Hawks production is terrific, as well. That is despite the fact that it is not as close to its original source material, the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, as John Carpenter’s superb 1982 remake, simply titled The Thing, was.

Although the titular threat of the 1951 movie is not a shapeshifter as in the story, it is still memorably and menacingly portrayed by James Arness in an early, pre-fame role. Director Christian Nyby (with Hawks contributing, to a degree, and the realistic, fast-paced and overlapping dialogue heard in this movie is certainly one of his trademarks) effectively creates suspense with the claustrophobic conditions surrounding the group of military and scientific minds trapped with the Thing at an Arctic base (even as they are also at odds with each other on how to deal with the situation), and there are some moments that still have the ability to surprise viewers.

The cast works well together and is led by Kenneth Tobey, who would become familiar playing similar military character types in other ’50s sci-fi classics like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), along with Margaret Sheridan and Robert Cornthwaite.

Speaking of Carpenter, seeing The Thing From Another World must have made an impact on him at some point. Nearly 30 years after that film’s fantastic opening established its own eerie ambiance very effectively, it also added to the background terror of Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween when the sequence was featured in a scene where Laurie and Tommy are watching it on some creature-feature show:

Four years after that, of course, came Carpenter’s own version of Campbell’s story, which begins with a nice re-creation of the 1951 film’s opening title treatment: