11 Best ‘Twilight Zone’ Episodes From the Original Series, According to IMDb

11 Best ‘Twilight Zone’ Episodes From the Original Series, According to IMDb

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The Twilight Zone, from 1959 to 1963, is one of the most influential television programs of all time. There have been several reboots, the most recent of which was produced by acclaimed writer-director Jordan Peele just a few years ago, but it seems that no iteration has been able to reach the heights of the first. Of course, The Twilight Zone was an anthology series, which is by nature much less predictable than any other kind of show. Every episode tells its own unique story, and some are better than others.


IMDb has thoughts on what are the best of them, many of which are largely considered classics in popular culture. Based on thousands of votes, the episodes that comprise the top 10 (technically 11, since there is a tie for 10th place) by turns induce horror, contempt, empathy, and even hope for the human condition. Mostly horror, though.


11 “The Shelter” (Season 3, Episode 3)

IMDb Score: 8.6/10

image via CBS Productions

The Twilight Zone doesn’t exclusively portray the supernatural. In fact, some of its best episodes realistically cover topics that people outside the fifth dimension worry about every day. “The Shelter” is a perfect example, as it’s driven by the Cold-War fear that a nuclear holocaust would destroy humanity in short order. On the night of a suburban birthday party, a warning over the radio heavily suggests that nuclear missiles are coming.

The doctor is the only one on the block with a bomb shelter, and there’s only enough room for him and his family. So, when other families on the block show up, desperate for shelter of their own, they quickly lose their cool. Rod Serling closes the episode with “a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized.” Unfortunately, this message is still relevant today.

10 “The Obsolete Man” (Season 2, Episode 29)

IMDb Score: 8.6/10

Black and white image of People shouting at a table during a trial in The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

This entry begins with a trial, in which a librarian played by Burgess Meredith is in trouble because of his profession. As the judge reminds the audience a distracting number of times, the librarian’s name is Mr. Wordsworth (a rather obvious reference to the co-founder of Romanticism). Since both religion and books have been labeled “obsolete” by this authoritarian regime, Mr. Wordsworth is found likewise.

Interestingly, he is allowed to choose how he dies—which leads to a clever trick that allows the individual to triumph over the whole, in his own way at least. This episode may be a bit overgeneralizing, but its basic message still holds today: the freedom of the individual and the pursuit of knowledge can be suppressed for only so long. Though considered among the scariest Twilight Zone episodes, its conversation-heavy approach and protagonist’s calm demeanor make it more reflective than anything else.

9 ‘The Masks’ Season 5, Episode 25

IMDb Score: 8.6/10

Black and white image of Rod Sterling, Virginia Gregg, and Brooke Hayward in The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

Jason Foster from “The Masks” has all the money in the world, but his offspring are cynical, greedy, and rude. On his deathbed, Mr. Foster invites them to his opulent home in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. If they can fulfill his last request, they will inherit his vast fortune and estate. The request is simple – everyone must wear the mask he assigns to them until midnight – and is responsible for one of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes of any version.

This might sound like a task so easy that its participants would happily go along, but Mr. Foster’s children and grandchildren are so spoiled that it takes some insistence to even have them put the masks on. These masks are ugly, even grotesque, and they are uncomfortable to wear. Of course, if a dying man can wear his, then healthy youngsters should be able to endure it, too. The twist at the end cements this as one of the best and most satisfying episodes in the series.

8 ‘It’s a Good Life’: 8.6/10

Season 3, Episode 8

Black and white image of a family sitting in the living room in The Twilight Zone
Image via CBS Production

In “It’s a Good Life,” the only town left in America is this small one in Ohio. It’s ruled over by Anthony Fremont, a sociopathic narcissist who can read minds and either kills or grotesquely deforms anyone who thinks badly of him or what he’s done. The epitome of a child spoiled rotten, Anthony makes up for his lack of play dates by putting dinosaurs on TV (and nothing else).

While everyone in town is so terrified of him, they only think happy, enabling thoughts. Anthony’s aunt just doesn’t get it. She’s challenged her nephew before, and he gave her a disability for it – yet she still complains in front of him, albeit mildly. This episode stands as an excellent display of someone with too much power and no capacity to admit that he’s wrong about anything. Contemporary and historical comparisons to authoritarian man-children abound in this ever-relevant episode.

7 “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (Season 2, Episode 28)

IMDb Score: 8.7/10

Black and white image of a cop and people in a diner in The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

This fun mystery begins in a snowstorm, where two state troopers investigate a trail that starts from a frozen pond and leads to a nearby diner. An unidentified flying object recently crashed into the pond and disappeared – clearly an alien spacecraft. So there’s no doubt about it: one of the patrons inside the diner is not of this Earth, and no one leaves until they figure out who. Hence, the episode’s classic title, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

It’s a classic puzzle: everyone besides the bartender was on a bus that pulled up to the joint, but there’s one more patron present than there were people on the bus. What follows is some good logic (the couples should be crossed out, since their better half can vouch for them), lots of missing information, paranoia, half-crazed laughter from a guy who apparently couldn’t care less about the situation, and a twist-ending that will probably catch the audience off guard.

6 “Living Doll” (Season 5, Episode 6)

IMDb Score: 8.7/10

Tracy Stratford holding Talking Tina voiced by June Foray in Living Doll from The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

Her name is Talky Tina, and she has precious little patience for mean stepfathers. Annabelle just bought an expensive doll for her daughter, Christie, who is an only (and lonely) child. This little girl’s new Talky Tina is here to make her feel less rejected and alone. No doubt the rejected part is because of her selfish stepfather, Eric, who cares about neither her feelings nor his wife’s.

‘”Talking Doll” is one episode where it’s easy to take the monster’s side. Stepfather Eric is a bitter man who openly complains about the doll’s purchase in the first place. They can’t afford it, he insists, and wants it returned immediately. With such an aggressive stance, there is only one solution. As Rod Serling himself says: “[t]o a child caught in the middle of turmoil and conflict, a doll can become many things: friend, defender, guardian.” From an era with no CGI, this episode proved that all you need is good dialogue, solid acting, and focused direction to make a toy doll come alive in macabre and palpable fashion. This episode would go on to inspire movies like Toy Story 4 and Child’s Play.

5 “Time Enough At Last” (Season 1, Episode 8)

IMDb Score: 8.9/10

Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis sitting on steps surrounded by stacks of books in Time Enough At Last from The The Twilight Zone
Image via CBS

The title of Most Bookish Person in The Twilight Zone is shared by two characters played by Burgess Meredith: the librarian from “The Obsolete Man,” and Henry Bemis from this particular episode: “Time Enough at Last.” Mr. Bemis is more interested in David Copperfield than counting money at work or spending time with his wife, so both she and Henry’s boss go to absurd lengths to keep him from reading. What Mr. Bemis needs is a divorce and a different job, but he wishes for all the time in the world instead.

Well, he gets his wish. The H-bomb blows up the world while he’s taking a reading-break in the bank vault, and when he emerges he finds there’s no one left. A man who loves books more than anything now only has books for company, which is probably the darkest way his dream could have come true. In any case, the end of this apocalyptic episode suggests that maybe you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.

4 “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1, Episode 22)

IMDb Score: 8.9/10

Neighbors gossip and stare at viewer in The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street in The Twilight Zone
Image via CBS 

In “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” the electricity goes out in the neighborhood, and nobody can fix it. However, there is one car that’s able to function. All of a sudden, everyone starts suspecting each other of being an alien. Importantly, they point fingers according to what they view as unusual behavior. A man stares into space late at night, which can either be proof that he’s actually from outer space or that he has insomnia and likes to watch the stars.

These prejudices aren’t even based on gender, ethnicity, race, or religion, aptly demonstrating how people will find the pettiest reasons to single each other out when things go wrong. “Weirdness” is an arbitrary term that transcends physical appearance or personal beliefs. Likewise, paranoia is a finger that can point at anything and make it out as something to fear. As Rod Serling states: “a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn.”

3 “To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24)

IMDb Score: 9/10

Black and white image of a man with a hat talking to an alien in The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

Told in retrospect, “To Serve Man” foreshadows from the beginning that something is going to go wrong. 9-foot-tall aliens called Kanamits have invaded Earth, and the United Nations decides to speak to their leader. These Kanamits have a superior intellect, and request to help the countries of this world efficiently grow enough food to end world hunger. There are other seemingly-impossible benefits they offer, including world peace.

So when professional code-breaker Michael Chambers tries to figure out the language of a Kanamit book, it seems at first impossible and then unnecessary. Thanks to his brilliant co-worker, he learns that the title reads, “To Serve Man.” The narrative structure of this episode really telegraphs a sinister twist, and those who haven’t seen this episode have probably watched a parody of it somewhere, but this legendary episode’s reveal is so clever that it’s worth the watch anyway.

2 “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Season 5, Episode 3)

IMDb Score: 9.1/10

William Shatner as Bob Wilson looking out the window at Nick Cavet as the Gremlin on the wing in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet from The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

In “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” William Shatner shines as a man who has just spent six months in a sanitarium after having a nervous breakdown on an airplane. His doctor has said he’s cured, but now he’s on another plane about to fly into a storm and isn’t feeling very comfortable. His wife is on one side, the window and emergency exit on the other. But these things he can deal with; the real problem is that, once the aircraft takes off, he sees some kind of gremlin-man on the wing of the plane—launching this story into one of the most suspenseful Twilight Zone episodes of all time.

Shatner’s performance is utterly convincing, causing the viewer to feel almost as bad for him as freaked out by the image of this creature staring straight at him, just inches away, through that window. The fact that this repugnant gremlin jumps away before anyone else can see it makes the audience wonder, too, if this is all in the poor man’s head. Viewing it again, one is reminded why it’s among the best of all time.

1 “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6)

IMDb Score: 9.1/10

Woman lying in hospital bed with bandages on her face in The Twilight Zone
image via CBS Productions

A disturbingly ugly woman called Ms. Tyler has had about a dozen procedures on her face, and to no avail. Her condition is so severe that the doctors have run out of options; this is her final shot at normalcy, acceptance, happiness. As Ms. Tyler waits for her face to heal, her visage is covered in bandages. All she can see is darkness. If the surgery proves unsuccessful, she will be sent away by the government, which emphasizes conformity and segregation as positives.

“Eye of the Beholder” boasts great overhead shots that skillfully prevent the audience from seeing what anyone looks like (there is a part in the beginning where we actually do see the nurse’s face as she walks into Ms. Tyler’s room, but mostly the show does a good job of consistently masking everyone). With its creepy mood, iconic twist, and emotionally moving performances, this episode offers a great counterpoint to blind conformity and authoritarianism. This also has one of the most (unexpectedly) wholesome endings in The Twilight Zone.

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NEXT: ‘The Twilight Zone Episode That Puts a Dark Spin on It’s a Wonderful Life’Sources: IMDb



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