Awesome Opening Credits: 1981’s ‘The Cannonball Run’

shot from the opening credits title sequence to
© 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Screenshot from
The opening credits sequence of The Cannonball Run certainly sets the movie's comedic, fun and anarchic tone

In the past 15 years or so, it seems like a lot of movies, especially blockbusters, have saved their more spectacular credits sequences for the closing credits, with some often eschewing opening titles completely (or maybe just showing the film’s title at the start). While opening titles do remain in some movies, they aren’t quite as prominent, or often as memorable, as they once were.

With Awesome Opening Credits, we will revisit and celebrate the lost art of opening title sequences for movies with examples of some from decades past that have remained in our memories.

Up first is the cross-country race action comedy The Cannonball Run, which hit theaters on June 19, 1981, and set the tone for its fun and frantic pace with a funny car chase in its intro.

movie poster for the 1981 movie "The Cannonball Run." It is an illustration of several of the film's stars drawn in a caricature-like manner gathered around a "Speed Limit 55" sign that has a red sports car bursting through it. Gathered around the sign, clockwise from bottom left, are characters played by Adrienne Barbeau, Dean Martin, Farrah Fawcett, Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom Deluise, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jamie Farr. These actors' names, as well as those of costars Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis, are listed at the top of the poster. To the left of the illustration is a tagline: "You'll root for them all ... but you'll never guess who wins." Just below that is the title "The Cannonball Run" in stylized red lettering.

© 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

Actually, this tone began being set even before the title sequence. The film had a little fun with the famous 20th Century Fox logo that preceded the movie, with the Fox fanfare and spotlight suddenly interrupted by the sounds of squealing tires. An animated red car can then be seen being pursued by a police car around the logo. When the car finally gives the cops the slip, it enjoys its victory by breaking into star Burt Reynolds‘ memorable laugh.

The opening titles then start, and feature a similar scenario. Along a desert highway, the sound of a roaring car engine can be heard.

And as the words “An Albert S. Ruddy Production” and “A Hal Needham Film” come onscreen, a black Lamborghini Countach — which we later learn is driven by the Cannonball Run race teammates Marcie Thatcher (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill Rivers (Tara Buckman) — is seen being pursued by a squad car, which is hilariously outmatched by the sports car and the women driving it.

As Marcie and Jill continue to burn rubber and play cat-and-mouse with the cops, the movie’s catchy theme song, by Ray Stevens, begins to play, and the credits begin listing the main stars of the film.

It’s a terrific roster of major names who are, unfortunately, no longer with us. Reynolds is listed first, of course, followed by Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Elam.

And those are all just the above-the-title stars. More famous names follow later, but first the title of the movie begins to come onscreen once the Lambo makes a brief stop for Jill to come out of the passenger side and quickly spray-paint a red “X” across the “Speed Limit 55” sign. During all of this, the title The Cannonball Run zooms into closer view on the screen.

Marcie and Jill then kick it into high gear once again and resume their little game with the police, as the credits roll into the “Starring in Alphabetical Order” segment.

Barbeau is top of this list, followed by Terry BradshawJackie Chan, Bert ConvyJamie Farr, Peter Fonda, George Furth, Michael Hui, Bianca Jagger, Molly Picon, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Mel Tillis.

Eventually, there is even a roster of “co-starring” credits featuring some less-high-profile, but still notable, names, including Buckman and John Fiedler, before the Lambo eventually tires of toying with the cops and leaves them in its dust, zipping away into the sunset as the credits end and the film begins.

The Cannonball Run‘s intro sets up the spirit of the film very well; so well, in fact, that they tried a nearly identical intro three years later in the sequel, 1984’s Cannonball Run II. That one, like the movie itself, was not quite able to capture the magic of the original.

Of course the end credits for the Cannonball Run films are well remembered, too, for the outtakes shown as the credits scroll:

I was never big on blooper reels like this, and always preferred The Cannonball Run‘s opening title sequence. It’s fun (and funny) and exciting, just as the film itself is.

Have a favorite movie opening title credits sequence you’d like us to feature? Let us know in the comments!