The Twilight Zone is one of the earliest shows that challenged the status quo of television. To this day, Rod Serling’s sci-fi/horror anthology series influences media and pop culture.
This amazing show was the pioneer that paved the way for later excellent anthology series, like Black Mirror, American Horror Story, and the classic Are You Afraid of the Dark?
The Twilight Zone has been rebooted three times for a total of four different series—1959, 1985, 2002, and 2019—but the first version still contains most of the series’ best episodes.
Whether you’re an avid fan or a curious viewer, here are the best Twilight Zone episodes with the deepest themes, sharpest writing, and most iconic moments.
10. “The Obsolete Man” (Season 2, Episode 29)
In the future, a tyrannical state designates people as “obsolete” for not conforming to their standards. One librarian named Romney Wordsworth is declared “obsolete.”
But before his execution, he makes odd requests to the Chancellor—requests that only test the patience of the Chancellor, leading to an unexpected fate for them. The true tension of this episode comes from the exchanges between Wordsworth and the Chancellor.
Burgess Meredith, a Twilight Zone regular, is truly amazing as Wordsworth, who relies on his wit and calm to outsmart the authorities. It makes for a thought-provoking episode about dystopia and religion.
9. “Living Doll” (Season 5, Episode 6)
A girl named Christie receives a wind-up doll named “Talking Tina” but her disgruntled stepfather Erich disapproves of the doll. He tries to give the doll a chance, but hears threats voiced by the doll—and every time he gets rid of the doll, it finds its way back.
Many horror films like Child’s Play and Annabelle owe their success to this episode for laying the ground for creepy and murderous dolls. Talking Tina’s creepy voice, eerie look, and blinking eyes make for a nightmare-fueled episode with an ambiguous ending.
8. “The After Hours” (Season 1, Episode 34)
While searching for a golden thimble inside a department store, Marsha White is directed to the 9th floor—a floor that doesn’t exist. Marsha later faints and wakes up to find herself trapped inside the department store with no one but mannequins around.
Like “Living Doll,” the creepy factor of this episode comes from our inexplicable fear of inanimate objects. In this case, the mannequins that accompany Marsha while trapped inside the store make this one of the show’s scariest episodes.
And the twist here subtly plays on the theme of gender roles, which makes it one level more unnerving.
7. “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (Season 3, Episode 14)
A US Army Major finds himself trapped in a huge cylinder with a clown, a hobo, a ballerina, and a bagpiper. All five of them have no memory of how they ended up inside the cylinder. But the more desperate they are to escape, the clearer their situation becomes.
While this isn’t a scare-fest, there’s something unsettling about waking up with no identity but to escape. And as with the best of The Twilight Zone, this episode pays off in the end with a clever twist. You’ll never see the Salvation Army the same way again.
6. “To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24)
A group of 9-foot-tall extraterrestrials (known as the Kanamits) arrive on Earth and offer help for humanity’s growing problems.
When the United Nations opens up to the Kanamits’ assistance, several citizens travel to the Kanamits’ planet. Unfortunately, cryptographer Michael Chambers is too late when he learns of their sinister side.
One of the most popular episodes of the show, “To Serve Man” is best known for its ending. Not only is it a staple of pop culture, but it’s also a cautionary tale of blindly trusting strangers. It has all the hallmarks of a great Twilight Zone episode.
5. “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6)
A woman named Janet Tyler undergoes her eleventh facial reconstruction surgery in hopes of looking normal.
While her face is wrapped in bandages, Janet overhears her doctors and nurses sharing their doubts about the procedure—but Janet insists on going through with the procedure, only to end with a stunning discovery.
While a classic in its own right, “Eye of the Beholder” was one of the most technically-challenging episodes to produce for the show. The production team stretched their skills with camerawork and worldbuilding to gradually escalate to its shocking ending.
4. “It’s a Good Life” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Six-year-old Anthony Fremont lives an idyllic life in Peaksville, Ohio—all thanks to his mental powers that allow him to control the realities of his family and his town. No one has a choice but to live under his rule.
Then, one day their reality reaches a breaking point when they gather to celebrate Dan Hollis’ birthday.
This episode of The Twilight Zone is a disturbing ride from start to finish as we’re left to witness the psyche of an out-of-control child. Anthony’s actions are frightening enough, but viewing through a contemporary lens and seeing its present-day parallels is alarming.
3. “Time Enough at Last” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Henry Bemis is a bank teller who prefers reading books over tending to his daily obligations. His ignorance earns him the ire of both his boss and his wife, which he endures.
One day, Henry’s desire for more reading time results in him becoming the sole survivor of a nuclear attack—for better and for worse.
“Time Enough at Last” is one of the most memorable Twilight Zone episodes. Its legacy on pop culture can’t be ignored, and its themes can’t be underestimated. It’s a rightful classic.
Henry’s unhealthy fondness for books speaks to themes of social isolation, intellectual decline, and information overload.
2. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Robert Wilson is a salesman recovering from a nervous breakdown. While traveling by plane with his wife, he spots a stalking gremlin on the airplane wing. Robert tries to alert his wife and the cabin crew but no one believes him, leaving him to reevaluate his own sanity.
Directed by Richard Donner and penned by Richard Matheson, the episode’s premise makes it the perfect template in how to use the fear of flying’s scare factor. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” has been the source of inspiration for all kinds of later media.
1. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1, Episode 22)
When a shadow lurks over the suburban neighborhood on Maple Street, a power outage affects the entire lot.
At first, they assume that the blackout is due to natural causes. Soon, the adults begin accusing each other of being aliens, plummeting the neighborhood into chaos and conspiracy theories.
This Twilight Zone episode is an utmost classic that perfectly balances suspense with social commentary. The episode speaks to a time when McCarthyism was on the rise in the US—and watching it now, you’ll see how paranoia still remains a powerful sociopolitical issue.