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30 Best X-Files Episodes Ranked

The truth is out there, and chronicling the hunt for it is the essence of one of the most prolific television series to ever grace the airwaves. "X-Files" ran for nine seasons from 1993 to 2002 and returned for two additional seasons starting in 2016. It dominated television throughout the '90s with its intriguing conspiracy plots and controversial horror. The series' success was thanks to its enigmatic star duo (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson), genre-pushing suspense, and a brilliant writing staff — not to mention an opening tune that has become one of the most recognizable sound bites in history.

Prior to its inception, the marrying of science fiction with mass appeal was thought to be unachievable. Turns out everyone wants to believe. Aliens, paranormal monsters, and supernatural horror are among a slew of elements featured across the show's resoundingly positively reviewed run. "The X-Files" still continues to garner admiration even more than 25 years after its series premiere, and it boasts an impressive 218 episodes. Selecting the cream of the crop is tough when a majority of the sample pool rises to the top, but we scoured the show's haunting resume and endured the goosebumps to present you with the 30 best episodes of "The X-Files" ranked.

30. Tooms (Season 1, Episode 21)

"Tooms" is a sequel to the previously aired episode, "Squeeze." It stars Doug Hutchison as a humanoid creature that hibernates for 30 years at a time and emerges to consume human livers. He comes with a distinct ability to distort his body and squeeze through extremely small openings. This episode is packed with everything we have come to love about "The X-Files" — monsters, camaraderie, and the sinister presence of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Hutchison's eerie representation of Eugene Tooms also marks a career-best for the actor, as the show fully capitalizes on the slimy essence he so adeptly portrays.

29. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)

Even if you are an avid fan of "The X-Files," it might have been some time since you revisited the episode that started it all. The pilot episode of the series lays plot foundations efficiently while rapidly building on the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The latter is initially brought into the X-Files department in order to debunk Mulder and his theories, but their first case together is wrought with so many unexplainable factors that she can't help but wander further down the rabbit hole. It's a textbook example of how to kickstart a successful series.

28. Tithonus (Season 6, Episode 10)

Most people would love the gift of immortality, but Alfred Fellig (Geoffrey Lewis) considers it a curse. He is the focus of attention in "Tithonus," which tells the tale of a man who can't die. His nights are spent as a photographer with a knack for arriving prior to the moment of people's death. The objective behind his hobby is a desperate attempt to capture an image of death so he can look him in the face and finally die. Scully's skepticism is truly put to the test in this episode, and we honestly cannot comprehend having doubts after what she survives here.

27. X-Cops (Season 7, Episode 12)

Told in the style of the show "COPS," this episode chronicles a fantastical story of true fear. Mulder and Scully arrive to assist local cops with victims who claim to be seeing a mysterious monster. The difficulty arises when each victim claims to see the monster under a different visage, so Mulder theorizes that the entity changes its form to correspond with each individual's worst fears. As it turns out, the creature indeed zeroes in on those who exhibit raw, primal fear. It's an episode of "The X-Files" wrapped in a unique package, but it still contains the show's trademark horror.

26. Memento Mori (Season 4, Episode 14)

The fate of the show's star agents is always hanging in the balance. "Memento Mori" grounds that quality in grim reality with Scully facing down a cancerous tumor. Scully operates under the assumption that the tumor is inoperable, but Mulder and Skinner refuse to accept her fate. They embark on an investigative journey involving more machinations of the alien bounty hunters and a face-to-face with the Cigarette Smoking Man. It's another episode of "The X-Files" displaying Scully and Mulder's unique bond, as well as the unspoken sacrifices endured by Skinner.

25. Darkness Falls (Season 1, Episode 20)

In this episode of "The X-Files," Mulder and Scully venture into a national forest to investigate the disappearance of a group of loggers. As viewers, we are aware of their demise: they were devoured by a swarm of glowing green insects. The agents are stranded when eco-terrorists' caltrops incapacitate their vehicles, and the plot reveals that the doomed loggers had been illegally chopping down old-growth trees. Unfortunately for them, one such tree contained an invasive species of insects that had been lying dormant. These feisty, ancient predators are repelled by light and ravage by way of the dark.

24. Je Souhaite (Season 7, Episode 21)

The classic tale of the genie through the lens of "The X-Files" is certainly worthy of inclusion on this list. The genie in question is a mischievous one and can be seen pictured with the likes of Mussolini and Richard Nixon. It all begins when Scully and Mulder are called in to investigate the cause of a man having his mouth magically sealed shut. When their path leads them to a mobile home, they find a massive boat perched on the home's tiny yard. "Je Souhaite" is a classic tale of "be careful what you wish for" told only as creators of one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever could.

23. Arcadia (Season 6, Episode 15)

This whimsical story must have been born of the writer's shared hatred of homeowner associations. In a community called the Falls at Arcadia, a mysterious creature materializes at night and slaughters community members who go against any of the association's guidelines. Mulder and Scully go undercover to investigate the neighborhood disappearances and wind up having to face a tulpa, a Tibetan concept involving a conjuring of beings through spiritual energy. "Arcadia" is a perfect representation of when "The X-Files" successfully blends horror and humor.

22. Unusual Suspects (Season 5, Episode 3)

An essential part of "The X-Files" canon, "Unusual Suspects" elaborates on the origin story of The Lone Gunmen. The trio is caught in the middle of government espionage when they unwittingly help a woman hack into a government computer network. They attempt to uncover the truth, but that, of course, leads to even more questions. Interestingly, this episode was conceptualized out of necessity — the creators had limited access to its stars during their filming of "The X-Files" movie and needed an episode to help fill their void. The result is one of the most entertaining backstories of the series.

21. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)

"Pusher" veers into slight comic-book territory with its involved superpower. It tells the story of a man named Robert Patrick Modell (Robert Wisden), who has the ability to will others into doing whatever he wants. The sociopathic antagonist goes so far as to force a SWAT lieutenant to pour gasoline on himself and set himself on fire. His capture only results in him using his ability to have the judge release him. It is one of the most exhilarating episodes of the series and shows us that the game of Russian roulette can get even more terrifying.

20. Drive (Season 6, Episode 2)

Before his hilarious run as Hal in "Malcolm in the Middle," Bryan Cranston played Patrick Crump in this incredible episode from Season 6. After a high-speed car chase, Crump is pulled from his vehicle by police officers, and his female passenger suddenly begins smashing her head against the window until it explodes. Events lead to Mulder traveling with Crump, who suffers from an anomalous condition that builds pressure in his head. The only way to alleviate the pressure is to travel west at high speeds. The episode was written by "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan, and it likely helped pave the way for one of the greatest television shows of all time.

19. Field Trip (Season 6, Episode 21)

This episode is a real mind-bender. It strengthens the bond between Mulder and Scully and warped all sense of reality. The story begins with a couple falling asleep in bed, lying in each other's arms, only to pan out to show their skeletal remains lying in a field. When Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate, they unwittingly stumble across the same hallucinogenic that preyed on the couple so that a mysterious nearby cave could slowly digest its victims. We found ourselves getting "Inception" vibes while viewing this essential "X-Files” episode.

18. Duane Barry (Season 2, Episodes 5)

The titular character of this episode is an ex-FBI agent who claims to have been abducted by aliens several years earlier. At the time "Duane Barry" takes place, he is now a patient in a mental institution with violent tendencies. His escape results in a hostage situation at a local travel agency, and given his claims of alien abduction, Fox Mulder is called to the scene. Theories surrounding his condition suggest Barry is a delusional psychopath, but this is "The X-Files," and nothing is ever as it first appears.

17. Humbug (Season 2, Episode 20)

The opening of "Humbug" involves some classic misdirection. A mysterious figure is shown sneaking into a backyard pool with two brothers. After a moment of suspense, he emerges and scares the boys. The figure who scares them is known as the Alligator Man and is the boy's father. After the kids go inside, Alligator Man is attacked by another mysterious figure. Scully and Mulder are brought in to investigate the case, which we learn is the newest addition to a 28-year series of similar attacks. The episode takes place in a community of former circus sideshow performers, and it's a grizzly story that we can confidently say doesn't go in any direction you would suspect.

16. The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5)

After an appearance on "The Jerry Springer Show," Mulder's paranormal expertise is requested by a single mother with an intriguing story — she claims to have been impregnated by an unknown presence 18 years earlier. Now, a similar attack has occurred, and the woman is pregnant again. Eventually, Mulder and Scully's investigation leads them to a mad scientist of sorts. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is a fun retelling of the classic Frankenstein story and reminds us that while suspense and horror are a staple of "The X-Files," the show's creators know how to have fun.

15. Triangle (Season 6, Episode 3)

"The X-Files" never hesitates to tap into the mythos that came before it, as seen in "Triangle," which dives into the mystique contained within the Bermuda Triangle. Before the opening melody, Mulder is shown floating amongst the wreckage of a small water vessel. British sailors fish him out of the water and question him on his origin. When Mulder states his position in the FBI, the sailors claim to have never heard of such an organization. Events back at FBI headquarters inform us Mulder had gone searching for a ship that disappeared back in 1939, and it appears as though he found it.

14. Folie à Deux (Season 5, Episode 19)

The title "Folie à Deux" is also a term for shared psychosis, which lends a hint to the story contained in this episode from Season 5 of "The X-Files." Initially, Mulder assumes he is being sent to Kansas City to assess the possibility of a threat after a taped manifesto surfaces mentioning a company named VinylRight. An employee of the company believes that his boss is secretly an insect-like monster that is turning employees into undead minions. After a hostage situation results in the death of the employee in question, Mulder begins seeing things that make him wonder if the man's claims are true.

13. Ice (Season 1, Episode 8)

"Ice" opens up with a standoff between two men in an isolated research station in Alaska. Rather than shooting each other, the men each point their guns at themselves and pull the trigger. Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate, and they discover the existence of extraterrestrial worms that bury themselves in the back of their victims' necks. These parasites have an unknown objective, but we learn they do not like being in the same room with others of their kind. When Mulder and Scully's pilot dies and leaves the agents stranded at the station, seeking out the truth becomes a matter of life and death.

12. Paper Hearts (Season 4, Episode 10)

A crucial element of "X-Files" has always been Fox Mulder's willingness to believe. "Paper Hearts" tosses a wrench into his belief system with the introduction of serial killer John Lee Roche, one of the first murderers Mulder profiled. Years of chasing the killer created a unique connection between the two, and Roche uses it to his advantage. Using Mulder's tragic past, the serial killer manipulates Fox and causes him to question everything. This episode is great at building on David Duchovny's already fascinating character.

11. Colony (Season 2, Episodes 16)

In the opening moments of "Colony," Mulder is shown being rushed into a hospital in the Arctic with a severe case of hypothermia. When doctors lower him into a warm bath, Scully bursts through the door to tell the doctors the cold is what is keeping him alive. Mulder's heart monitor flatlines, and we are thrust into the show's iconic opening sequence. This episode introduces the Alien Bounty Hunters (aliens who possess shapeshifting abilities and hunt down alien/human hybrids) and contains the return of Mulder's sister, who was abducted by aliens when Fox was a child.

10. Monday (Season 6, Episode 14)

"Monday" is a fun, mind-bending addition to the "X-Files" series. The cold open shows Mulder nursing a gunshot wound while Scully tends to him. The two are shown to be in the midst of a bank robbery gone wrong, and the robber has a bomb strapped to his chest. When police storm the building, the robber detonates the bomb, seemingly killing everyone. But, alas! Mulder wakes up in his water bed. In the essence of "Groundhog Day," the robber's girlfriend has been trapped in a time loop for an undisclosed amount of time, and breaking through the temporal anomaly hinges on Mulder's willingness to believe.

9. Small Potatoes (Season 4, Episode 20)

Mulder and Scully are sent to West Virginia to investigate the birth of five babies born with tails. Their investigative abilities lead them to a janitor working in the hospital named Eddie. This humorous episode features show writer Darin Morgan as Eddie Van Blundht, a mischievous criminal with a unique ability. As the plot reveals itself, we discover that Eddie can shapeshift, which obviously poses the agents a great deal of difficulty. "Small Potatoes" is intended to lighten up a bleak fourth season of "X-Files," and we'd say it succeeds.

8. Jose Chung's From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20)

Three episodes on our top 30 list were penned by writer Darin Morgan (big marks, considering he only wrote four episodes), and this addition to the "X-Files” repertoire represents his wonderful blend of humor and mystery. It centers around the alien abduction of two teenagers. Scully and Mulder interview the two, as well as someone who claims to have witnessed the abduction. "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is a hilariously cheeky episode that involves conflicting testimonies, a sci-fi novela, and a law enforcement officer who audibly replaces his swear words with "bleep."

7. Home (Season 4, Episode 2)

"Home" has become a benchmark for horror in television since it first aired in October 1996. As reported by The New York Times, it called the TV rating system into question (the TV Parental Guidelines rating system was introduced only two months after it aired) and was actually banned from airing for three years after its initial showing. The episode begins with a group of inbred brothers (the Peacocks) burying a deformed baby in a field and continues the horror train until the very end. It's a true monster-of-the-week installment of "X-Files" and showed us its creators aren't afraid to push the envelope. We'd say two brothers clubbing a sheriff and his wife to death while Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful, Wonderful" plays makes their message crystal clear.

6. The Erlenmeyer Flask (Season 1, Episode 24)

The finale to Season 1 of "X-Files" contains a massive dose of conspiracy theory. The episode opens with a high-speed police chase that ends with the driver being shot. Although he escapes, he leaves behind green blood, prompting the arrival of Mulder and Scully. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) makes an appearance and tells Mulder to dig deeper. An Erlenmeyer flask found at a related murder scene is revealed to have a liquid of extraterrestrial origin inside, and every major player comes into play. This episode contains all the "X-Files" mystery we've grown to love and lays the foundations for future conspiracies in the show.

5. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7)

The mystery of the Cigarette Smoking Man is packed with intrigue, and "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" elaborates on his past without exactly robbing us of the man's mystique. Notably, his relation to Mulder's father helps explain why Fox has been allowed to continue his obsessive investigation into the government's most well-guarded secrets. Elsewhere, this chain-smoking adversary has been involved in the UFO landing at Roswell, the assassination of JFK, and the controversy behind the Rodney King trial. At the end of the day, "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" expands on his story and is essential to "X-Files" canon.

4. Paper Clip (Season 3, Episode 2)

This episode picks up from the cliffhanger we were left with in Season 2, where Mulder's demise was left in limbo. Scully, Skinner, and the Cigarette Smoking Man all believe Mulder to be dead. Upon his return, we are given an overwhelming amount of information, including the past sins of Mulder's father, more information on his sister, and government extraterrestrial experiments that date back to World War II. Any "X-Files" aficionado would be lost without the information contained in "Paper Clip." This episode also expands on Skinner's role (an unsung hero of the series) and establishes him as an ally to Scully and Mulder.

3. Anasazi (Season 2, Episode 25)

"X-Files" episodes deftly leap back and forth between monster of the week episodes and an overarching plotline involving government conspiracies; "Anasazi" is the latter. Mulder is unhinged throughout its events, with his evasion of both death and banishment from the FBI being owed entirely to Scully's calm thinking. The appearance of a tape containing all the government's UFO information sparks a chain of events that involve the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder's father. Ultimately, "Anasazi" elevates Scully and Mulder's relationship to something truly unique and expands on a storyline that would continue for the duration of "The X-Files."

2. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)

It is well known that "X-Files" is adept at suspense, but the show also knows how to not take itself too seriously. Sprinkled throughout the seasons are episodes with a wonderful sense of humor that helps ground the series and keep us on our toes. "Bad Blood" is one such episode. This episode is another classic penned by Vince Gilligan. It contains a cold open with Mulder killing a teenager he believes to be a vampire, only to discover a set of fake teeth in the deceased kid's mouth. The hijinx center around Mulder and Scully's separate versions of events as they try to explain themselves to their superiors. While the subject matter seems dark, it may help to know that vampires are very real in this world, and "X-Files" knows how to do comedy.

1. Clyde Buckman's Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)

This episode launched "The X-Files" from a cult hit to a massive phenomenon. It won two Primetime Emmys (one for show writer Darin Morgan and one for its guest star, Peter Boyle), beating out hit shows like "ER" and "NYPD Blue." The episode's plot centers around a crotchety prognosticator (Boyle) with the ability to foresee people's deaths. Through a series of events, he joins forces with Mulder and Scully to catch a serial killer who targets psychics. It's a departure from the show's typical paranormal and extraterrestrial content and veers into the existential with a cheeky grin. "Clyde Buckman's Final Repose" opened the door for countless "X-Files” storylines and paved the way for innumerable science fiction shows in the future. It deserves its place in history and at the top of this list.