Rod Serling may be gone, but his hard work as the creator of The Twilight Zone has ensured that his memory and the show live on.
Countless television and film productions have paid homage to the series or worked in reference or parody of it. It is nearly impossible to grow up without seeing an episode or two. The original program’s anthology format makes it easy for people to frequently debate the best episodes and assemble guides to them.
What are the best episodes of this seminal American work of art? Can one enjoy those shot on a soundstage with a lower budget? Are there any bits of the revivals which have some merit? Well, we pondered it all.
Here are our picks for the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. We counted the original series, as this is what the public remembers most and what has allowed for future works to even exist, but threw in some honorable mentions, too.
Warning, there may be mild spoilers below.
10. The Monsters are due on Maple Street (1960)
Serling was known for pushing the envelope on a number of controversies, and that tendency shines through in this episode, which serves as an allegory for McCarthyism and the paranoia which swept through America during the 1950s. A timely lesson is told about not giving into fear and letting a community destroy itself. As a result, the premise remains just as relevant today in the age of terrorism.
9. A World of Difference (1960)
The show’s first season leapt out of the gate like a bullet from a gun in terms of its quality and ideas and, man, does it show here. In this episode a person’s life seems to be turned upside down when they suddenly seem to have become an actor living out their previously believed real life on a set. Doing meta before meta was “in” earns a spot on our rankings.
8. Living Doll (1963)
You never have a brush with supernatural stories without hearing one involving an evil doll, and this episode has the concept in spades. It would go on to inspire Don Mancini to create the Child’s Play series but beforehand, there was just “Talky Tina,” an infertile man, and some light child abuse. Man, earlier times were wild.
7. Walking Distance (1959)
Here, a man has the chance to literally revisit his youth and, in contrast to so much entertainment, Serling and his team hit viewers with a message which runs against nostalgia. Essentially, yes, the past is fine, but one should also live in the moment, because, if you constantly look at where you’ve been, you’ll not get to where you need to go. Really powerful stuff.
Honorable Mention – Replay (2019)
While Jordan Peele’s revival of the show did not last, its best episodes honor the spirit of Serling by commenting on major issues, which this one does so perfectly. No spoilers, but there is something topical, a great lesson about moving on and what it means to truly grieve for someone when the person who takes them is able to escape any accountability.
6. Twenty Two (1961)
The best episodes of this show either make you think or scare you with very little effort, and this one is in the latter category. It was shot on videotape in an experiment, which provided a different look, and as a result has an ominous dread throughout every scene. It was a loose adaptation of an earlier story published elsewhere, but the final scene still packs a punch you will be thinking about long after you’ve finished watching.
5. A Nice Place to Visit (1960)
A bad man finally gets everything he ever wanted but also learns such luck is not all it is cracked up to be. No spoilers for this episode, which was able to tackle some pretty interesting philosophical directions for its time. The episode does a lot with a limited cast and will make you feel for someone you wouldn’t think twice about if they were in handcuffs.
4. Dust (1961)
A subtle (for the time) challenge to bigotry taking place in the days of the American frontier. This episode is worthy of a spot on our list for its dark ending, the prominence of performers of color for the era, and Serling’s powerful closing message about division. Many could learn from it today.
Honorable Mention – It’s Still a Good Life (2003)
The earlier revival of the show with Forest Whitaker came and went without so much as a whimper, but does deserve some praise today for being different and introducing sequels to earlier episodes in the anthology. Here we revisit the infamously powerful toddler as an adult and see his abilities and problems have grown with time. It ends on a disturbing but interesting note. Truly, it would have been interesting to see another installment of this series.
3. Mirror Image (1960)
An inspiration for Jordan Peele’s Us, this episode stands out for making hay out of a simple premise. It would be disturbing to see someone who looks like you and more disturbing to find they are not friendly. One wonders how this classic episode would have been translated in the hands of someone less creative than Peele. Probably a misfire, which would have been legend.
2. Eye of the Beholder (1959)
Another episode with a message about the subjectivity of beauty, which millions could still stand to hear today, is “Eye of the Beholder.” It is rare to see anything so creative and must have been even more amazing to witness for the first time on television. For eschewing convention, challenging viewers, and zigging when society at the time zagged this is our pick for the second best Twilight Zone episode.
1. Deaths-Head Revisited (1961)
When it comes to episodes of this show, there is only this one which stands as the G.O.A.T. A sharp, scary look at the hate of the Second World War, it is Serling’s best piece of writing. An acute reminder of what can happen when good men go along with bad, it deserves great praise for connecting everyone in the cast to the subject at hand. If you ever watch this series, start with this one.