With The Simpsons being the most popular Western cartoon show of all time and the longest running animated TV series, it’s hard to choose any set of “best episodes”—especially only 10 of them.
Creator Matt Groening has been in charge of the family-centric animated sitcom since 1989, which currently spans over 700 episodes across 32 seasons (and still going).
While most fans would agree that The Simpsons peaked somewhere between seasons 9 and 12, it’s still being renewed for more seasons, proving the adage that too much of a good thing is bad. That’s why most of our picks come from earlier seasons.
But when The Simpsons was good, it was REALLY good, providing countless hours of witty humor and pop culture references. Check out the best Simpsons episodes of all time!
10. Bart Sells His Soul (Season 7, Episode 4)
This one’s not only one of our favorites, but also a favorite of Nancy Cartwright (voice actor for Bart Simpson)!
As punishment for a prank, Bart is made to clean the church organ pipes with Milhouse. There, he proclaims to Milhouse that there’s “no such thing as a soul” and sells his own for five dollars.
However, the piece of paper reading Bart Simpson’s Soul proves a lot more valuable than Bart initially realized. Strange phenomenons start to unravel before him: automatic doors won’t open, his breath won’t fog up glass, and he no longer finds his favorite TV show funny.
Lisa warns Bart about the dangers of losing his soul, giving viewers some philosophical theories to mull over. Panic-stricken, he tries to buy back the paper, only to find that Milhouse has already sold it.
9. And Maggie Makes Three (Season 6, Episode 13)
The Simpsons is a comedy, but the best episodes are the ones that tug on the old heartstrings. You wouldn’t be judged for shedding a tear at the end of “And Maggie Makes Three.” Who knew yellow cartoon drawings could have such an emotional impact!
One of the show’s many flashback episodes, “And Maggie Makes Three” tells the story of why there are no baby pictures of Maggie in the photo album. As it turns out, Maggie’s arrival was less than good news, forcing Homer to quit his dream job at the bowling alley.
After begging for his old job back, Mr. Burns nails a plaque to his office wall, reading: “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever.” Of course, once Maggie arrives, Homer is over the moon. He sticks the photos where he “needs them most” to remind himself to “Do It For Her.” (Wipes tear.)
8. Homer’s Enemy (Season 8, Episode 23)
One of Homer’s main character traits is his sheer dumb luck. Homer almost meets his demise in pretty much every episode, from nuclear meltdowns to organ failures. But he pulls through a remarkable number of times—even for a cartoon character!
Homer’s luck is why Frank Grimes Jr. finds him so annoying. The inverse to Homer, Frank has had a life plagued by hardship and misery. After being hired at the power plant, he’s struck by Homer’s seemingly perfect life despite his laziness.
Grimes declares Homer his mortal enemy and basically has a mental breakdown. Considered one of the darker episodes of the show, Grimes’ bad luck literally runs him under the ground.
7. Bart of Darkness (Season 6, Episode 1)
The Simpsons loves inter-textual references, evidenced by its frequent modeling of scenes, gags, and entire episodes on other stories. “Bart of Darkness” is a brilliant example of this, inspired by the classic Hitchcock thriller Rear Window.
When the Simpson family decides to buy a swimming pool, Bart’s dream summer is ruined after breaking his leg. Now he’s stuck in his bedroom, watching the whole town enjoy his pool without him.
While Lisa is off becoming Miss Popular, Bart thinks he’s witness to a murder at the Flanders house. Cast on, telescope out, Bart becomes a crazed recluse fixated on watching. The title itself refers to Joseph Conrad’s famous 1899 novella Heart of Darkness.
6. The Mysterious Voyage of Homer (Season 8, Episode 9)
Prepare to trip out on some funky 1960s psychedelia. During the annual chili cook-off, Homer flexes his threshold for spicy foods—even the glowing Guatemalan insanity peppers are no match for him once he’s coated his mouth in wax to block the burn.
Homer swallows a bunch of them at once, causing wild hallucinations and a spiritual awakening. He meets his spirit guide in the form of a coyote, who makes him question whether Marge—currently mad at him—is really his soulmate.
Homer roams a vast desert that’s littered with symbolic imagery and shifting objects. For a cartoon, this episode explores some majorly deep metaphysical themes, taking us on a journey through the human psyche and into the soul.
5. One Fish, Two Fish, Blow Fish, Blue Fish (Season 2, Episode 11)
For all of Homer’s near-death experiences, this one’s certainly the most memorable. After accidentally eating a poisonous fish at a sushi restaurant, Homer is told he has only 22 hours to live.
Here, the show takes a serious tone as it moves away from comedic blunders and into heartfelt goodbyes.
With his last few hours on earth, Homer makes a list of things to do: listen to Lisa play her sax, make a tape for Maggie, plant a tree, make love, have one last beer. Homer’s reconciliation with his father takes up far more time than he planned for, making him lose out on half the day.
He kisses his loved ones good night and weeps alone in an armchair. Even though we know he makes it through, we can’t help but feel a little pang of sadness when his head drops down.
4. A Streetcar Named Marge (Season 4, Episode 2)
Another reference to a classic movie, “A Streetcar Named Marge” follows Marge as she auditions for a part in the local theater show.
Oh, Streetcar! is a musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire, where the role of Blanche is supposedly a “delicate flower being trampled by an uncouth lout.” Feeling unappreciated by her family, the director witnesses Homer’s lack of support and immediately casts her.
Parallel to this plotline is Maggie leading another classic movie re-enactment: while Marge is off rehearsing, Maggie is enrolled in a strict daycare center that prohibits pacifiers.
Maggie’s iconic red pacifier is intrinsically linked to her character, almost like an extra limb. She goes to great lengths to claim it back, with an escape plan reminiscent of The Great Escape.
3. Lisa’s Substitute (Season 2, Episode 19)
Prepare to shed another tear for season two’s touching episode “Lisa’s Substitute.” Dustin Hoffman stars as the voice of Mr. Bergstrom, Lisa’s new substitute teacher who steps in as a replacement father figure.
He’s smart and understanding. He reads and cries and listens to what Lisa has to say. He has a sharp mind and a creative nature, qualities that Homer distinctly lacks but Lisa desperately seeks.
Of course, being a substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom eventually has to leave. After a mad dash to the train station, Mr. Bergstrom hands her a note to read any time she feels alone.
It reads: “You are Lisa Simpson.” (This is the part where we try not to cry!) Though Homer and Lisa’s relationship initially takes a toll, they are eventually brought back together again, closer than ever before.
2. Who Shot Mr. Burns? Parts 1 & 2 (Season 6, Episode 25 & Season 7, Episode 1)
The only two-parter in all of The Simpsons, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” ends season six on a cliffhanger and makes viewers wait for the seventh season’s premiere to find out the culprit.
This animated take on the traditional “whodunnit” murder mystery has Part 1 concluding with the supposed death of Springfield villain Mr. Burns, who’s shot during a town meeting. Everybody has a motive and therefore everyone is suspect.
These two episodes are iconic for one big reason: it was the first show to host a contest that married TV with the internet as it prompted fans to call in and guess who the killer was.
Various conspiracy theories have even been put forward to suggest that the one shown to be the killer is, in fact, not the real killer! Krusty the Clown even looks suspiciously like Homer in one of the scenes.
1. Homer the Heretic (Season 4, Episode 3)
“Ah. I’m just a big, toasty cinnamon bun. I never want to leave this bed.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Homer. Our favorite episode of The Simpsons goes to an early one in season four, where Homer decides to quit church and start his own religion.
While Marge and the kids are frozen in church one early Sunday morning, Homer is sleeping at home, making waffles and dancing in his underwear like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
Sometimes it takes something bad to make you appreciate the good. Homer’s lazy Sunday is made pure bliss with the knowledge that he should be shivering through Mass. After abandoning his faith, his lounging causes a house fire that almost leads to his death.
Homer agrees to give God another go, and in a dream he meets the Big Man himself who tells him about the meaning of life.
A Few More Honorable Mentions
There are just so many good epsiodes, we couldn’t help but cap off this list with some honorable mentions:
- “Stark Raving Dad” (Season 3, Episode 1)
- “Lisa the Beauty Queen” (Season 4, Episode 4)
- “Deep Space Homer” (Season 5, Episode 15)
- “Homer the Great” (Season 6, Episode 12)
- “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” (Season 7, Episode 3)
- “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” (Season 8, Episode 14)