Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

30 Best Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes Ranked

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" is a cult classic TV show based on an irresistible premise: mad scientists capture an ordinary working Joe (Joel Hodgson and, in later seasons, Michael J. Nelson), sending him into space on the Satellite of Love to watch B-movies like "The Giant Gila Monster" and "The Girl in Gold Boots." Luckily, the host has his robot companions Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot to join him in poking fun at cheesy movies.

Created by Hodgson for a Minneapolis public access channel, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (or "MST3K," for short) moved to cable and became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring a feature film, comic books, live tours, and a revival series crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Over the show's classic ten-season run from 1989-1999, "MST3K" changed networks and cast members but always thrived on riffing B-movies. Here are 30 episodes of "MST3K" that show how bad movies can make great television.

30. Fugitive Alien (Season 3, Episode 10)

"Fugitive Alien" (1986) is the re-edited version of the 1978 Japanese television series "Star Wolf," dubbed into English and released by Sandy Frank Entertainment Inc. (Sandy Frank would become something of a mortal enemy for Joel and the Bots — they riffed nine of his films.)

Earth is under attack from alien raiders known as Star Wolves. A Star Wolf named Ken (Tatsuya Azuma) refuses to shoot a child, and in the ensuing melee, accidentally kills his partner. He flees to outer space, becoming the "Fugitive Alien" of the title. Rescued by the Earth spaceship Bacchus 3, Ken joins the human crew. But not everyone trusts him, leading to a bizarre confrontation where a crewmember tries to kill Ken with a forklift. This risible scene is the inspiration for one of the show's catchiest songs, called, naturally, "He Tried To Kill Me With a Forklift." The "Fugitive Alien" saga would conclude later in Season 3, when "MST3K" riffed on the sequel "Star Force: Fugitive Alien II."

29. Catalina Caper (Season 2, Episode 4)

A late entry in the wave of beach party movies that crested over the 1960s, "Catalina Caper" (1967) sucks college student Don (Tommy Kirk) and his squeaky-clean friends into a mystery a about a stolen Chinese scroll and. Don also encounters a Swedish beauty (Ulla Strömstedt), her loutish boyfriend (Lyle Waggoner), and, in a special guest appearance, Little Richard ("The only talent in this film," according to Crow) who sings a single song for the go-go dancing teens and then disappears.

"Catalina Caper" is an ideal film for "MST3K" with its improbable plot (Tommy Kirk and Lyle Waggoner have a scuba contest to find the missing scroll) and cartoonish characters (look out for the comedic pratfalls of "Fingers O'Toole"). Still, even Tom Servo would admit it has its charms — in one host segment, he sings a romantic ode to Strömstedt, whom he only knows as "Creepy Girl."

28. The Giant Spider Invasion (Season 8, Episode 10)

"The Giant Spider Invasion" (1975) is so cheesy it could only come from Wisconsin. The magnum opus of director Bill Rebane, "The Giant Spider Invasion" begins when a meteorite crash lands on a farm and unleashes a wave of alien spiders on an unpleasant cast of rural stereotypes. (Character actor Robert Easton has a ball as the farm owner Kester, taking huge bites out of lines like, "You been hittin' the BOOZE again?") A NASA scientist (Steve Brodie) and an astrophysicist (Barbara Hale) team up with a jolly small-town sheriff played by "Gilligan's Island" star Alan Hale Jr. to destroy a giant spider that looks like a furry Volkswagen Beetle with legs.

Tom Servo and Crow have great fun at the expense of Mike Nelson's home state, yelling "Packers won the Super Bowl!" over countless scenes of Wisconsinites running and screaming. Irresistibly goofy and as subtle as a sledgehammer, "The Giant Spider Invasion" is the kind of low-budget horror film "MST3K" fans dream about.

27. Warrior of The Lost World (Season 5, Episode 1)

Robert Ginty is the "Warrior of The Lost World!" Dubbed "The 'Paper Chase' Guy" by the Bots due to his role in the eponymous 1970s TV series, Ginty plays a motorcycle-riding loner in this 1983 post-apocalyptic action film. To save a beautiful, brainwashed rebel leader (Persis Khambatta) from the evil Omega regime, Ginty unites the gangs of the wasteland in launching one final attack.

Donald Pleasance plays the Orwellian villain Ossar, but both he and Ginty are overshadowed by the true star of the film: a giant armored truck called Megaweapon. In the best running joke of the episode, the Bots gleefully switch their allegiances to Megaweapon, cheering on its wanton destruction. Their fandom is rewarded at the end of the episode when they get a phone call from their cycle-crushing hero (voiced by Mike Nelson).

"Warrior of The Lost World" channels "The Road Warrior, "The Warriors," and "1984" while being a pale imitation of all three — which makes it a perfect fit for "MST3K."

26. The Day The Earth Froze (Season 4, Episode 22)

The quest is on for a mystical Sampo in 1958's "The Day The Earth Froze." What is a Sampo? Unfortunately, that's not very clear. But Ilmarinen (Ivan Voronov) is the only man who can forge one, putting him in the crosshairs of the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko). Louhi extorts Ilmarinen by kidnapping his sister (Eve Kivi), and though the siblings escape the witch's clutches, the Sampo is partially destroyed. Enraged, Louhi steals the sun and seals it in a cave, making it "The Day The Earth Froze."

With a story based on Finnish folklore, "The Day The Earth Froze" features many fantastical elements like talking trees, magical steel horses, and an army of trolls — making it one of the most visually interesting films featured on "MST3K." Joel, Crow, and Tom Servo mull over the meaning of the Sampo, and though many options are offered (including a can opener, an evening dress, or the "capacity to love and be loved"), the Sampo puts the "mystery" back in "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

25. Teenagers From Outer Space (Season 4, Episode 4)

"Teenagers From Outer Space" (1959) is a quintessential 1950s sci-fi B-movie. The key ingredients: a far-out title, 30-year-old "teenagers," ray guns that turn people into model skeletons, and an alien monster played by an ordinary lobster. Derek (David Love) lands on Earth as part of a mission to turn the planet into a habitat for deadly creatures called "Gargons" (aka lobsters). Unwilling to destroy all life on Earth, Derek flees, quickly befriending perky Earth girl Betty (Dawn Bender) and her grandfather (Harvey B. Dunn). In pursuit of Derek is the alien Thor (Bryan Grant), armed with a disintegration ray that leaves a trail of skeletons in his wake.

Written, directed, and produced by auteur Tom Graeff, "Teenagers From Outer Space" shares the oddball charm of Ed Wood's similarly-titled "Plan 9 From Outer Space." The scenery-chewing Thor's pronunciation of "torture" ("TORCHA!") becomes the rallying cry of Joel and the Bots throughout the episode.

24. The Touch of Satan (Season 9, Episode 8)

"The Touch of Satan" (1971) suffers from a misleading title: Satan never physically appears in the movie, let alone touches anyone. After the opening scene in which a scarred, elderly woman murders a farmer with a pitchfork, the story shifts to Jodie (Michael Berry), an aimless young man smitten with farmer's daughter Melissa (Emby Mellay). Melissa teases the skeptical Jodie about being a witch, claiming she used her powers to save her sister from being wrongly burned at the stake. Jodie learns the hard way that she's telling the truth; her sister is the elderly woman, now dangerously insane. It will take a miracle to save Jodie and Melissa — too bad Melissa already sold her soul to Satan.

Ponderously slow and nearly devoid of supernatural elements (Satan is heard only as a disembodied voice), "The Touch of Satan" is a disappointment for horror movie fans, but a delight for "MST3K" fans. It features one of the most quotable lines in the show's history, as Melissa stops Jodie's lakeside monologue to tell him, "This is where the fish lives."

23. The Brain That Wouldn't Die (Season 5, Episode 13)

The riffing debut of Mike Nelson, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" (1962) leaves an unforgettable first impression. Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) has an unorthodox solution to the untimely decapitation of his fiancée Jan (Virginia Leith). He runs away with her head, reanimating it on a tray in his secret laboratory. Jan (henceforth known as "Jan in the Pan") is horrified by her unnatural existence and begs him to let her die. Unmoved, Bill insists that he will find her a new body and haunts the streets looking for the perfect victim. But Jan is far from helpless and soon makes friends with the previous "experiment" still locked in Bill's closet...

Gruesome and creepy, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" is one of the bleakest films shown on "MST3K." Mike Nelson's upbeat riffs lighten the mood, as does an end-of-episode visit from "Jan" (Mary Jo Pehl) who tells the Satellite of Love that she found a new lease on life after the film, complete with a loving husband and a job as a doorstop.

22. Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders (Season 10, Episode 3)

In "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders," Academy Award-winner Ernest Borgnine spins stories for his grandson about the wizard Merlin opening a shop in modern times to share magic with the world. What follows is probably the most terrifying kid's movie of 1996.

In the first story, an abusive critic takes Merlin's spell book and experiments with dark magic, burning his cat alive and terrorizing his wife before the ironic conclusion. The second story features Merlin's evil toy monkey falling into the hands of a suburban family. Whenever the toy clashes its symbols, something dies, endangering everyone in the house. (A pet dies in this story too.)

One reason for the surprisingly large body count in a children's movie is that director Kenneth J. Berton re-edited his 1984 horror film "The Devil's Gift" into the second half of "Merlin's Shop." Crow's impression of Merlin sums up the film's conflicting message: "Remember to believe in magic ... or I'll kill you."

21. Santa Claus (Season 5, Episode 21)

With every year comes a new slate of Christmas movies, but none of them can compare to 1964's "Santa Claus." It stars St. Nick, his wizard assistant Merlin, a herd of mechanical reindeer, and Satan himself. This English-language version of a Mexican fantasy film features a Santa Claus (José Elías Moreno) who has moved out of the North Pole and into outer space, where he lives in an orbital castle and plays the organ for his army of child "helpers." In the underworld, Satan appoints Pitch (José Luis Aguirre), a jumpy demon in red pantaloons, to turn all the world's children against Santa, including little Lupita (Lupita Quezadas), whose parents are too poor to give her a doll for Christmas. Santa Claus will need every trick in his bag (and a little help from Merlin) to outwit Pitch and save Christmas for the children of Mexico City.

The only Christmas episode of the Mike Nelson era, "Santa Claus" is the spiked eggnog of Christmas movies. Brightly colored and charmingly surreal, this episode is essential viewing for "MST3K" fans no matter the season.

20. Jack Frost (Season 8, Episode 13)

No, "Jack Frost" is neither the 1998 film about Michael Keaton turning into a snowman nor the 1997 film about the serial killer who also turns into a snowman. No one turns into a snowman in this "Jack Frost” — it is a 1964 fantasy feature based on Russian fairy tales.

"Jack Frost" begins with Nastenka (Natalya Sedykh), a gentle young woman abused by (who else) her wicked stepmother. A blonde braggart named Ivan (Eduard Izotov) falls in love with Nastenka at first sight, but a curse transforms his head into that of a bear. Seeking to undo his curse and prove his love, Ivan runs afoul of the witch Baba Yaga; meanwhile, Nastenka is left alone in the woods to die. Only the magical intervention of the kindly "Grandfather Frost" (Alexander Khvylya) can bring the lovers together — but beware Frost's staff, which instantly freezes anything it touches.

With its vividly-realized setting, larger than life characters, and a story run on fairy tale logic, "Jack Frost" has all the hallmarks of a classic "MST3K" episode.

19. Godzilla Vs. Megalon (Season 2, Episode 12)

"Godzilla Vs. Megalon" (1973) is the first of two Showa-era "Godzilla" films to be featured on "MST3K" (it was immediately followed by the Season 2 finale, "Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster"). Despite the brawling behemoths in the title, "Godzilla Vs. Megalon" is more of a starring vehicle for the mecha Jet Jaguar.

When nuclear testing upsets an undersea kingdom, the Seatopians steal humanoid robot Jet Jaguar to guide the monster Megalon in destroying the cities of the surface world. Jet Jaguar's inventor regains control of the mecha, sending him to Monster Island to seek Godzilla's help. In a towering team-up, Godzilla and the kaiju-sized Jet Jaguar battle Megalon and late-comer Gigan, ending the film with a firm and hearty handshake. "Godzilla Vs. Megalon" was Jet Jaguar's only appearance in a "Godzilla" film, though decades later he would be heavily featured in the Netflix anime series "Godzilla: Singular Point."

18. Soultaker (Season 10, Episode 1)

There are many films that artfully explore the boundary between life and death, the nature of the human soul, and the existence of the afterlife. "Soultaker" (1990) is not one of them.

Inspired by screenwriter/star Vivian Schilling's real-life near-death experience, "Soultaker" stars Joe Estevez and 90s horror icon Robert Z'Dar as the angels of death. A car crash dislodges the souls belonging to young lovers Natalie (Schilling) and Zack (Gregg Thomson); they need to be reunited with their bodies before Estevez claims them or the hospital pulls the plug, whichever comes first. Estevez's leering performance and the film's confusing metaphysics — souls can take off their clothes and press elevator buttons, but they can't be shot — provide plenty of riffing material.

"Soultaker" is a special episode for "MST3K" fans, as former host Joel Hodgson returns to the Satellite of Love for the first time since his departure in "Mitchell." Back on Earth, Frank Conniff also makes an appearance as the dearly-departed TV's Frank, now a Soultaker with designs on the soul of Pearl Forrester's loyal hench-ape Professor Bobo.

17. Laserblast (Season 7, Episode 6)

Originally airing as the "MST3K" series finale before its revival on The Sci-Fi Channel, "Laserblast" begins with mustachioed mad scientist Dr. Forrester pulling the plug on the Satellite of Love. Set adrift in the corners of deep space, Mike and the Bots become beings of pure energy. Forrester meets his final fate in a parody of the ending to "2001: A Space Odyssey" — complete with a monolithic VHS tape of "The Worst Movie Ever Made."

One of the many low-budget science fiction films released in the immediate aftermath of "Star Wars," "Laserblast" (1978) is "Death Wish" with ray guns. Kim Milford plays Billy, a troubled teenager who finds an abandoned alien weapon in the desert. Billy begins "laserblasting" the bullies and cops who harassed him, unaware that the gurgling, stop-motion aliens are coming back for what they left behind.

"Laserblast" would be the final episode for original cast member Trace Beaulieu as Crow T. Robot and Dr. Clayton Forrester. Fittingly, Beaulieu gets the final word, ending an era with the immortal words, "Oh, poopie."

16. Hobgoblins (Season 9, Episode 7)

"Hobgoblins" (1988) is not a film that is seen so much as survived. This direct-to-video horror comedy was one of the many "little monster" movies that clung onto the coattails of Joe Dante's "Gremlins," though the titular hobgoblins appear to simply be unarticulated, inexpressive hand puppets.

A security guard named Kevin (Tom Bartlett) is eager to prove his manhood after losing a rake fight on his front lawn to his soldier buddy Nick (Billy Frank). While searching for a burglar, Kevin opens a (suspiciously unlocked) vault and frees the hobgoblins. Elderly guard McCreedy (Jeffrey Culver) explains that the hobgoblins are aliens who can make a person's wildest fantasies come to life, though the fantasies always turn deadly. The hobgoblins stalk Kevin's relentlessly horny friends, leading to several squirm-inducing sexual encounters and an explosive finale at the seedy dive Club Scum.

"Hobgoblins" is a poisonous mixture of side-ponytails, cheesy effects, shrill characters, and queasy sexual politics. At one point, Mike, Tom, and Crow try to flee the theater, replacing their silhouettes with cardboard cutouts. Their contempt for the film was so deep that they brought out another cutout to play "Hobgoblins" director Rick Sloane, digging into him so much that the real Rick Sloane was stunned. Still, Sloane had the last laugh — he directed "Hobgoblins 2" in 2009.

15. Prince of Space (Season 8, Episode 16)

Season 8 introduces us to the Japanese superhero known as "Prince of Space." Hailing from 1962, this tokusatsu film stars Tatsuo Umemiya as the masked hero of the title, who may have a secret identity as the humble bootblack Wally. The Dictator Phantom of the Planet Krankor (or "Krankor" for short) leads an invasion of Earth, though his chicken-like prosthetics and ill-fitting tights do not make him an imposing villain. Prince of Space has a spaceship and a blaster but is low on superpowers. He frequently boasts, "Your weapons are useless against me!" and then dodges Krankor's ray guns anyway.

"Prince of Space" is silver-coated kitsch, complete with a cheesy English dub that gives Wally's young foster son a thick Brooklyn accent. Adding to the chaos are the episode's host segments, in which the Satellite of Love falls through a wormhole and becomes lost in time and space. Mike switches places with his alternate universe self, who is a robot like Tom and Crow; though the Bots tease him for looking like a ventriloquist dummy with an antenna, robot Mike joins the riffing of "Prince of Space."

14. Gamera (Season 3, Episode 2)

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" would air not one, not two, but five "Gamera" films in Season 3, starting with the titanic turtle's very first appearance. "Gamera" (1965) is the story of a legendary prehistoric monster awakened by a nuclear explosion. In true kaiju fashion, Gamera stomps on several cities while helpless soldiers and scientists look on. A lonely, turtle-loving boy named Kenny (Yoshiro Uchida) insists that Gamera is not evil, and when Gamera is rocketed to Mars, Kenny promises to visit him.

"Gamera" was the beginning of a unique experiment for "MST3K," as they would never tackle that many films in a series ever again. Though the later films would be in color and more kid-friendly (see: "Gamera vs. Guiron," where the turtle performs a gymnastics move on a giant bar), "Gamera" is a bit grittier and sadder. Joel and the Bots still recognize the inherent silliness behind the destruction, with Crow remarking, "Do you realize a robot just sang a love song to a turtle?"

13. Eegah! (Season 5, Episode 6)

"Eegah!" No, it's not the sound the audience makes leaving the theater, it's the name of the towering caveman played by future James Bond villain Richard Kiel. Palm Springs party girl Roxy (Marilyn Manning) has a "meet-cute" with Eegah after she almost hits caveman with her car. Investigating her claims of seeing a "giant," Roxy and her father are abducted by the prehistoric caveman and learn the secret behind his longevity. After Roxy's boyfriend rescues her in his dune buggy, Eegah follows her back to civilization and an ending straight out of "King Kong."

Independent producer Arch Hall Sr. (directing under the name "Nicholas Merriwether") made "Eegah!" as a starring vehicle for his son Arch Hall Jr. Playing Roxy's boyfriend, Hall is dubbed "Cabbage Patch Elvis" by Tom Servo for the many songs he sings in the film. The scene in which Eegah licks shaving cream off his face while Roxy shaves his beard was selected by the "MST3K" writers in the "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide" as one of "The Most Disgusting Things We've Ever Seen."

12. I Accuse My Parents (Season 5, Episode 7)

Charged with manslaughter, a seemingly straightlaced young man named Jimmy (Robert Lowell) stands before the judge. When asked to speak in his defense, Jimmy can only cry out the movie's title: "I Accuse My Parents!"

The oldest film in the "MST3K" Top 30, "I Accuse My Parents" (1944) hails from the golden age of exploitation films to warn families about the dangers of juvenile delinquency. Flashbacks reveal Jimmy's dilemma: embarrassed by his neglectful, alcoholic parents, Jimmy begins compulsively lying to maintain the illusion of a happy home. Jimmy's lies spiral out of control, and he blunders into a romance with a torch singer (Mary Beth Hughes) and a job with a gun-toting gangster (George Meeker). Joel, Tom, and Crow have a ball psychoanalyzing Jimmy, chanting "Liar! Liar! Liar!" like a Greek chorus after his fibs. But nothing in "I Accuse My Parents" is funnier than the concluding title card, which indicates that the producers screened this cheesy exploitation film for soldiers overseas fighting World War II.

11. Overdrawn at The Memory Bank (Season 8, Episode 22)

Very few of the low-budget B-movies featured on "MST3K" have genuine star power; a glance at the opening credits often reveals a cast of relative unknowns. So it is always a jolt when a famous face appears on "MST3K," like the Season 4 celebrity sightings of Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman in "Space Travellers" or James Earl Jones in "City Limits."

Watching the Season 8 episode "Overdrawn at The Memory Bank," that jolt comes from seeing the late, great Raúl Juliá. Filmed on videotape for public-access television, "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" (1984) is a dystopian techno-thriller starring Juliá as computer genius Aram Fingal. Caught illegally watching "Casablanca" at work, Fingal's mind is digitally "doppled" into a baboon to cure his rebellious streak. Due to a mix-up, Fingal's body is lost, and his consciousness is uploaded into his corporation's supercomputer. Appolonia James (Linda Griffiths) falls in love with Fingal while monitoring him, becoming his accomplice as he builds a virtual world inspired by "Casablanca" and tries to take down the dystopian government from inside.

Raúl Juliá gives a solid performance in a film otherwise devoid of them, though the dated digital effects, endless technobabble, and reliance on "Casablanca" take their toll. "Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie," says Tom Servo, and it's good advice.

10. Time Chasers (Season 8, Episode 21)

The Vermont-based time-travel thriller "Time Chasers" (1994) has one thing that sets it apart from the other films on this list: it's actually pretty decent! Physicist-turned-pilot Nick (Matthew Bruch) transforms his small plane into a time-machine. He reveals his breakthrough by tricking a plucky reporter (Bonnie Pritchard) and a pink-suited executive (Peter Harrington) into a quick flyover to 2041. After selling his technology to GenCorp, Nick learns that time-travel is being misused to destroy the future and tries to stop himself from ever revealing it, leading to a "time chase" to the Revolutionary War.

The use of planes as time machines gives "Time Chasers" an original hook, and the fast-paced story spanning from the far future to the distant past is engaging. So what's the catch? Ultimately, the ambition of "Time Chasers" exceeded the independent film's small budget. (The futuristic architecture of 2041 looks like a mall's food court.) The scenery-chewing cast — including the GenCorp CEO Mike instantly dubs "Bob Evil" — also prevents the film from taking off. These conflicting elements result in a highly entertaining episode, one of the show's best.

9. Cave Dwellers (Season 3, Episode 1)

"How much O'Keefe is in this movie? Miles O'Keefe!" One of the earliest gems in the "MST3K" canon, "Cave Dwellers” (1984) is the second sword-and-sorcery film to star Miles O'Keefe as Ator, the Fighting Eagle. The world's greatest swordsman-alchemist-engineer, Ator is recruited by a young maiden (Lisa Foster) to destroy the Geometric Nucleus, a weapon of terrible power, before an evil warlord can misuse it. Surviving encounters with soldiers, cannibals, and a snake-worshipping cult, the handsome prehistoric hero builds the world's first hang glider to bomb the villain's castle.

Miles O'Keefe was the first performer to contact the crew of "MST3K" after their film was featured on the show, saying (per Wired), "Man, I've been waiting a long time for something like this to happen to one of my movies." Not just one movie either, but two — the original "Ator, the Fighting Eagle" was riffed in 2018 as part of Season 12.

8. Werewolf (Season 9, Episode 4)

Few honors can be bestowed on "Werewolf," but it did have the distinction of being the most recent film shown on "MST3K" when it aired as part of Season 9 in 1998. Released in 1996, "Werewolf" is the story of an ill-fated archaeological dig in Arizona that uncovers a werewolf skeleton. Foreman Yuri (Jorge Rivero) fixates on the idea of creating a modern-day werewolf, eventually succeeding when he hits his coworker Natalie's (Adrianna Miles) boyfriend Paul (Federico Cavalli) with the werewolf skull in a fit of rage. Paul soon transforms into a ravenous werewolf, and Yuri learns — painfully — that some things should remain buried.

Describing the standard horror movie plot of "Werewolf" doesn't quite do the film justice. A simple summary misses many of the strange details that make it perfect for "MST3K," like the werewolf who drives a car, Paul's armed militiaman housemate, or Natalie's dead-eyed delivery of the line, "This is absolutely fascinating." "Werewolf" is a howling good time.

7. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Season 3, Episode 21)

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964) deserves a spot on this list simply for having one of the greatest movie titles ever conceived. Luckily, the film lives up to it, even if Santa Claus (John Call) technically doesn't conquer any Martians. Instead, he's kidnapped from the North Pole by headgear-sporting Martians who have seen him on TV and wish to bring Christmas to their little green children (among them future camp icon Pia Zadora). Teaming up with tots Billy and Betty, along with Dropo, "the laziest man on Mars," Santa must return to Earth before Christmas is canceled forever.

The first Christmas episode of the series, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" has it all: Santa, Martians, robots, and even a guy in an unconvincing polar bear suit. Featuring Crow T. Robot's ode to the 80s action flick "Road House," titled "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas," this episode is a perennial holiday favorite for "MST3K" fans.

6. The Pumaman (Season 9, Episode 3)

Superheroes rule Hollywood. Over the last two decades, comic book-inspired superheroes have exploded in popularity, becoming billion-dollar spectacles and the dominating force in the media landscape. In the 20 years since "The Pumaman" (1980) was lampooned on "MST3K," it has only become funnier, because it is increasingly difficult to imagine a superhero film as unintentionally inane as this one.

Thousands of years ago, the Aztecs worshipped aliens as gods, and in their gratitude, the aliens sired a "man-god" known as The Pumaman to protect the people of Earth. The present-day Pumaman is Tony Farms (Walter George Alton), an American in London whose powers fully awaken when he puts on a mystical belt gifted to him by the Aztec warrior Vadinho (Miguel Angel Fuentes). Despite being the superhero of the movie's title, Pumaman is portrayed as a whiny coward, especially compared to Vadinho, his more heroic "sidekick." Much of the movie's runtime is spent on Pumaman clumsily flying in front of badly-angled rear projections of major cities — but he somehow manages to save the world from the evil Kobras, played by Donald Pleasance in a full leather outfit.

Released the same year as Richard Donner's "Superman II," "The Pumaman" tries to steal the fire of the gods only to crash and burn.

5. Pod People (Season 3, Episode 3)

"Your experiment today is called 'Pod People'! It has nothing to do with pods, it has nothing to do with people. It has everything to do with hurting." Dr. Forrester's warning follows Joel, Crow, and Tom into the theater, and "Pod People" (1983) is one of the weirdest films in the show's original ten-season run.

Like a strange hybrid of "Alien" and "E.T. The Extraterrestrial," the movie follows two plot threads. In one, a furry, inhumanly strong alien stalks and kills a rock band camping in the woods. In the other, the alien's newborn offspring befriends a curly-haired tot who gives it the unfortunate name "Trumpy." Uncommitted to being either a horror film or a family film, "Pod People" suffers from jarring tonal shifts. In one scene, Trumpy uses his telekinesis to bring the boy's playroom to life, and in another, the parent alien murders an innocent woman in the shower.

"Pod People" also deserves a spot on this list for "Idiot Control Now," Joel's parody cover of the doomed band's badly dubbed rock song. Joel's verdict? "It stinks!"

4. The Final Sacrifice (Season 9, Episode 10)

In Season 9, "The Final Sacrifice" introduced an iconic hero to the "MST3K" canon: Zap Rowsdower.

This 1990 Canadian adventure film stars Bruce J. Mitchell as Rowsdower, a denim-wearing drifter with a pickup truck and a dark past. Rowsdower reluctantly comes to the aid of Troy (Christian Malcolm), a young boy running from the cult that killed his father. Cult leader Satoris (gravel-voiced Shane Marceau) plans to sacrifice Troy in a rite to restore the lost city of the Ziox, an advanced but extinct civilization. Rowsdower is Troy's only hope for survival, though the boy has no idea that Rowsdower was once part of the Ziox cult himself.

Middle-aged, hungover, and sporting a magnificent mullet-mustache combination, Zap Rowsdower is an unconventional hero — but his lack of polish makes him more relatable than a generic Hollywood action star. More sensitive too, as Crow T. Robot sees Rowsdower looking at a beautiful sunset and asks the big question: "I wonder if there's beer on the sun?"

3. Mitchell (Season 5, Episode 12)

A glance at the list so far reveals that "MST3K" has a fondness for fantasy/sci-fi flicks featuring alien invaders, giant monsters, and prehistoric cavemen. But one of its best episodes is a gritty cop drama from the 1970s. "Mitchell" (1975) stars Joe Don Baker as the alcoholic anti-hero of the title, a cop who yells at children and busts sex worker Greta (Linda Evans) after sleeping with her.

Baker's disheveled performance as the trigger-happy cop led to merciless riffing from the Satellite of Love. ("Mitchell! Even his name says, 'is that a beer?'") According to writer/performer Kevin Murphy in "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide," a rumor got back to the cast and crew that Joe Don Baker allegedly hated the riffing and wanted to "take a swing" at them. Undaunted, "MST3K" riffed another Baker film, "Final Justice," in 1998.

"Mitchell" is the swan song for show creator and original host Joel Hodgson, who returns to Earth in an escape pod hidden in a box marked "Hamdingers." The Bots aren't alone for long — this episode is also the first appearance of towheaded temp worker Mike, played by head writer Michael J. Nelson.

2. Space Mutiny (Season 8, Episode 20)

"Space Mutiny" (1988) is a gift from the B-movie gods. A Frankenstein's monster of 80s action movie clichés and spaceship footage pillaged from "Battlestar Galactica," it's big and loud and dressed head-to-toe in silver lamé.

The "Southern Sun" spaceship is on a generations-long mission to populate a new world. Not everyone onboard is content with spending their entire lives off-planet, and the perpetually-cackling villain Kalgan (John Phillip Law) has engineered a mutiny that will hijack the ship and take it to another system. Opposing him is blonde beefcake Dave Ryder (Reb Brown, the Captain America of the 1970s) and his leotard-clad love interest Lea (Cisse Cameron, Brown's real-life wife).

The spaceship looks remarkably like an industrial warehouse, providing countless railings for extras to fall over after Kalgan shoots them. (Still, keep an eye out for the continuity error in which a lieutenant killed by Kalgan shows up for work the next day.) The "railing kill" running gag is only surpassed by the Bots' many names for our hero Ryder, including Blast Hardcheese, Gristle McThornbody, and Big McLargeHuge. Action-packed and incredibly quotable, "Space Mutiny" is a perfect entry point for viewers new to "MST3K."

1. Manos: The Hands of Fate (Season 4, Episode 24)

"Manos: The Hands of Fate" (1966) is virtually synonymous with "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and its cultural impact. Texas fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren bet that anybody could make a film, and "Manos: The Hands of Fate" was the result. A family takes a wrong turn and ends up at a lodge run by the satyr Torgo (John Reynolds), who serves a cult leader called "The Master" (Tom Neyman) and his many wives. Warren plays the unlucky patriarch; the wives have a protracted catfight; Torgo is sacrificed to the god Manos; it's all over. Or is it?

Poorly written, poorly filmed, poorly edited, and poorly dubbed, the film is so bad that even Joel's tormentors Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank apologize for going too far. "Manos" is so inept that it becomes a kind of anti-film, an object of outsider art. As Joel says, "Every frame of this film looks like someone's last known photograph."

Exposure on "MST3K" lifted "Manos" from obscurity and turned it into a cult classic. Interest in "Manos: The Hands of Fate" has led to a 2018 sequel, "Manos Returns," with Tom Neyman reprising his role as The Master, as well as a crowdfunded restoration of a 16mm workprint. There is no "MST3K" without "Manos," and no one who sees the film will soon forget it.