I grew up on 80s action shows. While other kids watched Silver Spoons, I caught up on my Simon & Simon. As a result, I saw a lot of cops, detectives, bounty hunters and others stop a lot of crime. But how did I know what shows to watch? Back then the Internet didn’t exist, and there were pretty much only 3 major television stations.
The only thing people had to go on really were the opening credit sequences.
Nowadays, it seems many television shows have eschewed the opening credits to go right into the story. And I miss those sexy montages of explosions and buffoonery. That’s why I’ve created this list of the top 25 opening credits from 80s action shows.
To create this ranking I’ve come up with a fairly complex equation. Each show is rated on a scale of 1-10 in each of the following categories:
Judging was based on credits alone, with no points awarded or deduced for the quality of the actual show. Had that been the case, Simon & Simon would win hands down.
Without any more words, here are the top 25 action show opening credit sequences:
#25. Miami Vice
Sexiness 4 (not even a head shot of Philip Michael Thomas?)
Aside from the popular song the show introduced, these credits are lame. Trying to be too cool for school back in the 80s does not translate well here in the 20whatever-it-is century. I will give points for the jai lai scene though.
#24. Cagney & Lacey
Action: 2 (That’s generous)
Sexiness: 3 (This one even more so)
Quite possibly the most sexist entry in the list, the opening credits barely have the two women detectives unholster their guns. When they do the action is almost nonexistent. What we do get are a lot of suggestive scenarios, because, ha ha these cops are women! I mean, do we really need the flasher scene? If I were a woman, this would offend me.
Sexiness: 4 (it IS Erick Estrada)
Homoeroticism: 5 (they do share a nice smile as they ride side by side on their bikes)
Surprisingly low on the list, these credits are boring. I remember the birds-eye view of the motorcycle cops on the California highway, but thought there was more. Nope – just weird cutaways to parts of their uniform. We get it, they’re cops. No disco Estrada?
#22. Rockford Files
Cheesiness: 0 (it’s more sad than anything, especially the shot of Jim Rockford shopping alone in the frozen food section)
Intangibles: 11 (The song is fantastic, and the credits perfectly set up what you’re getting: a detective barely making ends meet.)
I remember watching Rockford Files when I would get home from school. I loved James Garner from age 7 on. I’m not sure what that says about me. I do know that it’s a risky move using still photos in the credits here. I also wish that the dialog at the end of the answering machine message was switched to: “and yes, I’ll go out with you,” instead of the lame set up about his finances followed by the date talk. That’s just poor writing. I would write more, but I doubt the two people reading care too much about a throwaway line in the opening of a forgotten detective show.
#21 Remington Steele
Surprising amount of action for a show you remember your mother liking. Take for example, the weird hanging corpse scene. I have no idea where they were snooping around to bump into dead bodies hanging from the ceiling. Possibly the set of Coma?
#20 Jake and the Fatman
I didn’t watch this at all, so I’m not sure who Jake is or why he hangs around with a fatman (William Conrad). The credits start out great with gunplay from 80s television staple Joe Penny, but really bogs down with the sudden overuse of city shots mucking up the remaining two thirds.
#19. Buck Rogers
For a show that was set in the future and featured dog fights in space and aliens, the opening credits lack excitement. And what country green lights a solo space mission these days?
Action: 8 (Someone actually dies in the opening credits)
Sexiness: 2 (Helicopter flight suits don’t lend themselves to sexy)
Intangibles: 7 (Ernest Borgnine!)
There’s no missing the helicopter in this show, because it’s about one. I wonder if this is the only opening credits where someone actually dies? I also love the shot of the helicopter reaching Mach 8. Is that even possible for a normal plane?
Dan Tanna had a sweet candy-apple red convertible and the city of Vegas lends itself quite nicely as a sexy location to host a show. No idea where the clip of the boat marina is from though. Driving around with a lion in the passenger seat was a nice touch.
TIE: #15. Quincy
Has the required car crash and explosion shots. And of course, the slow reveal at the end where we find out Quincy wasn’t examining a body all along, but the gams of a beautiful dame is a great touch. But there is something bothering me. When Quincy begins the autopsy in front of the police cadets, and 2 fall immediately when he reveals the corpse, why doesn’t he stop? Is he that callous, or does he not notice? Either one isn’t a great answer.
TIE: #15 Knight Rider
For such a great show, the credits leave me a little ho hum. And KITT was clearly gay, right? Michael Knight, the jury’s still out.
#14 Blue Thunder
Another helicopter show, but with a little more humor infused with the addition of a pre-SNL Dana Carvey. Guess he’s happy the show didn’t take off (though possibly less so now). I can only assume Butkus and Bubba Smith were used for comic relief as well – it couldn’t’ have been for their acting.
#13 Hardcastle and McCormick
Hardcastle (or McCormick) drives around in a cool racecar stopping crime, I guess. The other one is a judge I guess. Hardcastle (or McCormick) then come back to the judge and then probably have pillow fights until the next crime is committed. While I wish it was some weird Star Chamber vigilante driven series, I really doubt it.
#12 Tales of the Gold Monkey
Homoeroticism: 6 (Almost non-existent until the end when Roddy McDowell shows up with a parrot)
This “nothing-like-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark” series definitely looks cool, and seemingly has 2 female leads for the main character to bounce back and forth between. Plus, who doesn’t laugh at a dog wearing an eye patch?
Not sure where to start. Let’s just say you knew what you were getting into with this show when they introduce an animated “cursor” as himself. Clever. They also manage to shoehorn a helicopter in there. Many of you will question the very idea that this was even on the air, but trust me, it was. I'm pretty that including the producers, I'm one of 4 people that have see every episode.
#10 Simon & Simon
Homoeroticism: 2 (if they weren’t brothers on the show, let’s just say this number would have vaulted them into first place)
I loved Simon & Simon as a kid. 9 o’clock, Thursday nights, right after Magnum P.I. The opening credits let you know exactly what you’re going to get: 2 guys – one a little proper, one a little rough – bickering and solving crimes. We all know what happened to Gerald McRaney (Major Dad) but where did Jameson Parker go? Simon & Simon was that good to him that he could live off residuals?
#9 Hart to Hart
As far as needing a millionaire detective couple to solve your murder, you could do a lot worse than Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers. For being a show about an attractive couple solving crimes, it does suggest a good amount of action coming the viewers’ way. I’m not sure why it was “murder” when they met. Maybe, their first date was at one of those murder mystery dinners.
I would have loved to sit in the pitch meeting for this one. I think it started from the clever title and went from there. This opening hints at a tremendous, nonsensical back-story as to how this guy came to be able to turn into an animal at will, involving an African tribal guy, a full moon, his father’s dying ramblings, and then his disappearing corpse. Huh?
Guns, car chases and scowls. That pretty much defines Hunter’s opening credits. That and the pretentious act of the female lead choosing to spell her name, “Stepfanie.” Was Fred Dryer the best of the former football stars turned actors of the lot, or am I forgetting someone>
#6 Magnum P.I.
Everyone is familiar with these opening credits. Hawaii… the Ferrari… helicopter… explosions… Selleck’s stache… it’s all there. Watching it now though, I really have to start wondering if Magnum was gay. I mean, he lived on an estate with Higgins, who was clearly homosexual, had a mechanic that liked to wear nothing under his overalls, and was buddies with Rick, the flamboyant club owner. Hmmm.
#5 The Fall Guy
What better way to portray a stuntman/bounty hunter in the opening credits than to create a montage of action movie stunts? Then, get Lee Majors, (the star) to perform the original song, mix in a smattering of Doug Barr (and I do mean a smattering) and a gratuitous Heather Thomas-in-a-bikini shot, and you’ve got yourself one of the all time openings for an 80s action show.
#4 Matt Houston
If there’s one thing I learned watching this opening: you do not want to piss off Matt Houston. Jesus, this guy is tough. And it doesn’t hurt to start off sporting a turtleneck-with-a-sports-jacket look. The opening credits here are packed with all the action clichés we’ve come to love: helicopter, guns, car chases, tires screeching, boats, shirts off, etc. Then of course we’re treated to Buddy Epsen, so all is right with the world. And Lee Horsley is sporting a mustache to rival Selleck’s! I know this was a Magnum ripoff, but c’mon, why wasn’t this more successful?
#3 The A-Team
Arguably the most popular 80s action show of the lot, this one has everything. It thrives on violence, explosions and guns. Watch the opening again before you start complaining about the high cheesiness score. When Dirk Benedict is the most responsible member of your team, you have problems.
Sexiness: 8 (they actually write a break in the action-oriented song to work as an “homage” to California pop, right as bikini-clad models stroll by)
Homoeroticism: 8 (Watch the volleyball scene again)
Lots of gun play, lots of boats and lots of Joe Penny. There isn’t too much else you could add to make it better. The last of the shows revolving around a helicopter (indirectly) is also the best. It’s mix of action and humor is so perfect that it should have easily cruised into the #1 spot if it weren’t for…
#1 TJ Hooker
I don’t know how he does it, but Adrian Zmed singlehandedlt makes these opening credits score high in both sexiness and homoeroticism. A young Locklear doesn’t hurt either. And then there’s good ol’ Resue 911 narrator Bill Shatner. I love his roll across the roof, and I love his intense/stoned/crazy look when he draws his gun at the start of this. Is there anything he won’t do to catch his perp? He jumps on the wing of a bi-plane for Christ’s sake! All this, and he’s a beat patrolman. I can only imagine how many “Policeman of the Year” plaques he has in his house.
So what have we learned today, other than to be some type of law enforcement agent in the 80s you needed boats, explosions and black sidekicks? Admittedly, not much. But there will always be a place in my heart for awesome 80s television, and it all starts with the opening credits montage.
Agree? Disagree? Was there something I missed? Let me know what YOU think in the comments section.
We need to budget some time during our busy weekend for a more thorough review and analysis of this article. Went quickly through it and got all tingly.
Quincy (love, love, love the fainting cops and Klugman throwing some serious game) and Simon & Simon (never watched the show, but ALWAYS watched the credits for the awesome sax work) are too low.
Was a huge Matt Houston fan, and now I remember why. 'Stache, Ebsen with an automatic weapon, homages to North By Northwest and swashbuckling pirate movies.
Manimal & Automan were part of a ludicrously incredible double-bill on ABC back in the day, right? They will always be linked in my mind.
Had a major hard-on for the car Hardcastle & McCormick. And a minor one for Brian Keith.
Simon & Simon cracked the top 10 - Quincy other than those 2 things you called out, really don't give you much in the credits. Seriously, watch TJ Hooker. I could watch that 1000 more times and not grow tired of it.
Awesome. The only thing I say, though, is that music was so crucial to the classic 80's opening sequence that it deserves its own scoring category instead of being merely lumped in with "intangibles." I think I literally had a 45 of that Fall Guy theme song (don't ask me what was on the B-Side). And music alone would significantly bump Miami Vice (dated, but classic), Chips, and even Magnum and Simon & Simon higher on the list. Music was an obvious afterthought on a lot of these, which lessens their legacy.
Only obvious oversight I can think of? Dukes Of Hazzard ... classic song, plenty of action, a degree of homoeroticism (hey, they were cousins, not brothers), plenty of outright buffoonery, and a good dose of Catherine Bach sexiness (not to mention Schneider).
... also, I don't understand this analysis: "I can only assume Butkus and Bubba Smith were used for comic relief as well – it couldn’t’ have been for their acting."
Have you never seen Hang Time?
You're probably right - the song is definitely important. In my defense, it literally took me a week to write this, and I had to limit myself somewhat. Trust me, I had A LOT more written for each one. And Simon & Simon cracked the top 10; it's problem is it's lack of (female) sexiness.
Check out Butkus' IMDB page
He guest-starred on half of these shows.
How many times in his life did Richard Herd hear, "Hey! It's Karl Malden!"
Only to have to explain that, "No I'm Richard Herd."
I'm betting in the 4000's.
With regard to the Quincy Autopsy scene you mentioned, that entire sequence is from the pilot episode. In the scene, as originally run, Quincy is investigating a case, but he has a scheduling conflict w/ a training lecture he's supposed to do for some cops, so he does an unneccicarily grisly autopsy causing them all to faint within about 90 seconds, just to get rid of them, then goes off to do his thing. It was the funniest gag in the pilot, so they chopped it up and recycled it in the opening credits.
How can you leave off McGyver? HOW!?!?!
Here's one you missed: The Greatest American Hero
Homoeroticism: 8 (the supersuit outfit alone is worth 6) Intangibles: 10
Nice flashback of high quality 80's programming. Automan? That was ridiculous, but then again, so was friggin' Manimal. I always loved how Matt Houston rocked the office Jacuzzi!
Good god, man, how did you miss 'The Equalizer'!?! HELLO!!!
Great list. too bad your Airwolf intro is not the actual intro to the show but a fan creation.
One of the greatest blog posts in the history of the Internet.
Jamison Parker was shot by his neighbor after a lengthy dispute. Seriously. He lived, thankfully.
patrick d.: The Equalizer was badass and had an awesome song, but 0 action, 0 bikini babes, 0 homoeroticism, 0 cheesiness.
100% FAIL due to no MacGuyver. Also could have included a fond memory from my youth, Sledge Hammer. Action and comedy rolled up into one.
While I'll admit I may have overlooked McGyver, I think a lot of giving it too much credit - especially with the criteria that is being used. Action is great, but there is little sexiness (only RDA's) 0 homoeroticism (he's the only one in the intro) and aside from making his own stuff, the intangibles aren't all that great. His anti-gun thing would really hurt him as well. Assume it would be ranked in the 20s.
And Sledgehammer obviously was a comedy, which makes it ineligible for this list. Trust me, I love Sledgehammer.
Not sure where you got that Airwolf clip from, but that's not the real opening (and a good reason why you shouldn't choose the top YouTube pick all the time).
Here's the real opening (crappy video, yes). It ups the sexiness a lot, I'd say.
Yeah, why do you hate Airwolf so much?
As for TJ Hooker, only two things need be said:
Heather Locklear: Damn.
What about "The Equalizer" starring Edward Woodward. It had one of the toughest opening credits in the late 80's.
Well, at least we finally beat A-Team!
Not good! Taking a sick day from school to correct papers, and I find this blog?! My students may never get their grades. That being said, Jameson Parker was, indeed, shot in the chest, but now he and his family live far outside the reaches of Hollywood where he writes cowboy fiction. Apparently, he's doing quite well.
Thank you for this. It made my day. Do the seventies. I beg you. "Hawaii Five-0" is begging to be rated on that shock of hair alone! Sexiness, homoeroticism and action all in one neat, gelled package.
genius post, so many memories. Have a look at all of those titles and wonder how many cars they had to replace after the jumps, some of them you can actually see the damn things falling apart on landing
Wasnt Airwolf mach 0.8 instead of mach 8?
Dude, no Spenser: For Hire? Man, Robert Urich is spinning like a top in his grave. Your list is now irrelevant
As you have both Automan and Manimal, how could you leave off Street Hawk? Rex Smith raises both the homoeroticism rating as well as the sexiness rating by appearing in his bikini briefs in the opening, lots of action, a super motorcycle "capable of incredible speeds up to 300 mph and immense firepower", and a great score by Tangerine Dream.
The homoeroticism factor should have been much higher for The Fall Guy. In that scene where Majors and Barr jump off a bridge together they're both disguised as nurses. If two guys in drag isn't a 10, I don't know what is.
I thought this was the TOP 25 opening credits. You're really hard on the ones at the bottom of the list, so why did you include them? You seem to have just picked 25 random opening credits sequences and ranked them, you didn't pick your 25 favorites, or else you would have liked them all. Maybe 25 is too much, how about Top 10?
Make it 5 !
I also saw all episodes of the great show: Automan.
This was a great post as I have had the theme song to "The Greatest American Hero" stuck in my head all day. I used to love watching Simon & Simon when I got home from school. It was my favorite.
What about The Equalizer? That was another favorite in my household.
How could you leave out "Crime Story"? The updated version of Runaway, all the cool old cars (OK, they could have done without Billy Campbell giving the guy that pitiful uppercut), and at the end the whole team stands there with their guns drawn. Awesome.
I was really glad to see Riptide included. That was one of my favorite shows from the 80's, but hardly anyone else has ever even heard of it. Nice pick.
The best part is how long the opening credits were, and how they showed them every single week.
Very fucking enjoyable. The Fall Guy was the best show though.
Thought it worth mentioning, every episode of The Rockford Files had a different message left on the answering machine. You can see them listed on Wikipedia.
Excellent post. Several of your shows may be ineligible, however, as being more 70s than 80s:
-CHiPs: 1977-1983 - Deep enough into the 80s, I'd might it a pass and say it qualifies.
-Rockford Files: 1974-1980 - Definitely a 70s show. Disqual.
-Buck Rogers: 1979-1981 - Barely into the 80s, but barely 70s. I'd be tempted to disqual, but can see an argument for passing.
-Vega$: 1978-1981 - 70s show. Disqual
-Quincy: 1976-1983 - like CHiPs, borderline, but I'd give it a pass.
-Hart to Hart: 1979-1983 - More 80s than 70s. Let it pass.
What, no "Strike Force"?
Pretty good list, but the Incredible Hulk ('78-'82)might be one significant omission. Not very sexy, but the homoeroticism is off the charts.
Dukes of Hazzard perhaps? action, Sexy, chessy, homoerotic-check, check, check, check
the deal with the cops
the Q man want to get out of a class on showing cops what he does , so he got the oldest body in the mourge and open the sheet and there you cops go down
what about 'the master' - this wins all for me, hands down!
What a great list. I remember these themes and some of them had different versions. In it's first season(s) Hart to Hart ended with "and their hobby is murder" instead of the "when they met" line.
Remington Steele had a whole narrative about being a solo female detective and creating an alter ego that suddenly showed up. This was before Doris Roberts joined the cast.
T.J. Hooker crashed a car a week, how did the LCPD afford to keep him around?
The TJ Hooker titles reminded me of something you don't see any more in TV title sequence - people spinning around then holding "action" poses that last just that bit too long to be natural :)
Shame about having the wrong Airwolf titles (I wish YouTube could get rid of all those really bloody awful fan-made title sequences, they're all crap), but great list apart from that.
Wha? No Mannix? a PI running around from a helicopters' POV and jumping over Park benches. Speaking of park benches, where's the Mod Squad? this guy is crazy. and what does homo eroticism have to do with anything? "Was Magnum Gay?"
this guy or gal has this on the brain and it clouds everything. How about I-Spy? Johnny Quest? Dan Friggin August? sheesh. all this guy wanted to do was put out how gay he thought he might be.
Arrrrgggggg! im sorry. i didnt see the top of the article about 80's' tv shows. ill have to give the guy a pass
Come check out so-eighties.com! :)
Obviously you haven't seen many episodes of Magnum, P.I.
If you had, you would have seen T.C. constantly working on his chopper (or fixing the Ferrari), or Magnum sleeping with (female) clients, or Rick falling in love with every other woman he meets, or Higgins talking about the "awesome" time he had with three daughters of a Bedouin Prince in Alexandria. Gay? in your dreams maybe.
Hey dude you almost make cry, when I remember all this series like Manimal, The A-team, Chips, Airwolf, and others more that you mentioned in this list, I think this kind of series was unique and in this moment there's no one who can produce a serie like those one.
What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!
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My cousin asked me if I know which shows have top series rank. I think Hollowman and Grey Matter are the ones. Am I right? As he laughed off when I told him this.
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