The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files (So Far)


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files




I want to believe.  That is the mantra of every X-Files fan in the world, and we will all be collectively losing our shit tomorrow night when The X-Files premieres a new episode for the first time in over a decade.  I’m fairly certain our cries of glee will be audible to any Motherships that might be passing through our solar system Sunday night.

Stay tuned for the special two-hour series finale of THE X-FILES airing Sunday, May 19th (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ª©2002 FOX BROADCASTING COMPANY. CR: FOX

For those who are already members of the show’s rabid cult following and those that are about to be newly initiated, I present a loving look back on the dark, adorable and spooky (yeah…bad joke, I know) episodes that made this series what it was, which is sheer genius dipped in delicious sci-fi/paranormal awesomeness.  So here, in chronological order (since it would be impossible to choose which one would be THE best episode ever), I give you…



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Oct. 13, 1995


Clyde Bruckman, played by Peter Boyle, plays a cynical (and hilarious) psychic insurance salesman who unwittingly taps in to a psychic serial killer’s mind.  He helps Mulder & Scully track the homicidal maniac with limited success since his visions only reveal how someone is going to die.  We also learn how Mulder will eventually meet his end in this episode, when Bruckman makes a remark to him about autoerotic asphyxiation being an undignified way to go.  Given Mulder’s unwavering love of porn, which is firmly established throughout the series, such an end, while undignified, seems a rather plausible (though unfortunate) way for him to bite it.  (As many as 1000 people die from autoerotic asphyxiation in the US each year – most notably Kill Bill and Kung Fu star, David Carradine.)



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Jan. 5, 1996


Coprophage, for those who are blissfully unaware, means shit eater.  A perfect title for an episode dedicated to the world’s most hated pest, the cockroach.  Mulder investigates a town under attack by biomechanical cockroaches the origin of which is never discovered.  Between brief and amusing phone calls to Scully, Mulder manages to enlist the help of a sexy entomologist (named Bambi) while making Scully jealous of his obvious interest in the bug obsessed, pouty lipped scientist.  A literal shit storm ensues as chaos erupts, a building explodes and feces is flung far and wide.

This episode is unlikely to appear on many best-of lists, but my reason for including this episode is sound:

After binge watching the first few seasons, this episode stood out as a subtle turning point for the series.  The back and forth banter that we’ve come to know and love between Mulder and Scully makes its first solid appearance here.  It’s also a bit campy, which is something the show came to embrace as the series progressed.

This is THE episode that transformed and firmly established The X-Files into the series we adore so deeply for its compelling paranormal/sci-fi/occult storylines, its willingness to be campy and serious all at once as well as the damn near perfect relationship (which is, as of this episode, not just platonic or that of two co-workers, but one of definite romantic leanings) between two beloved characters.  And all thanks to cockroaches…



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, April 12, 1996


A prominent author, Jose Chung, interviews Scully and others involved in an alien abduction for a new “nonfiction science fiction” novel he’s writing.

This is the first time in the series we see the same story told from the viewpoints of other characters and the result is fantastic.  It fully embraces the over the top comedic opportunities this type of storytelling has to offer and puts the camp mentioned in War Of The Coprophages front and center.   With what I assume is a nod to Ray Harryhausen (the special effects artist best known for his work on The Clash of The Titans), the episode begins with brilliantly awful claymation and lays the cheese on extra thick from beginning to end.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


From Mulder’s girly scream as a ‘mandroid’ and bizarre sweet potato pie inquisition to Alex Trebek and Jesse “The Body” Ventura guest starring as the infamous men in black, Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ successfully opened the door for the writers to be more playful, more experimental and push the envelope with their narrative choices for future episodes.



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Nov. 30, 1997


Strange things are afoot in a small Indiana town.  Women are mysteriously becoming pregnant.  But that’s not all.  Genetic experiments, mutants and Cher (yes, Cher) are the key components of the story as ’The Post-Modern Prometheus’ pays homage to classic monster movies, not only through its storytelling but stylistically, too, complete with black and white film and dramatic use of lighting.  This episode also features the only ending in the entire series that I would describe as adorable.  If you can think of another one, I’d love to know.



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Feb. 22, 1998


Vampires living (so to speak) in a small Texas town?  Pizza boys drugging dinner and draining innocent victims while rocking fake fangs?  Luke Wilson?  Yup.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


Guest Starring Luke Wilson as your friendly neighborhood vampire sheriff, ‘Bad Blood’ is the second episode in the series to be told from different perspectives (in this instance Mulder and Scully) and it is done beautifully.  Can any of us forget Mulder’s face the first time he laid eyes on the sheriff (in his version of the story) or when he sang the theme from Shaft (in Scully’s version)?  Yeah.  I didn’t think so…



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, May. 10, 1998


Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye?  Something not quite right?  In the dark?  Did you think it was your imagination?  According to the plot of ‘Folie A Deux’ it might be more real than you think.  It might be a creepy insect-like monster posing as a human that sucks out the souls of his victims leaving them as walking zombies; human husks still able to function and appear normal on the outside but who are literally the walking, talking dead.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


If you ever get a call from a freaked out aluminum siding salesman who starts whispering about how it “hides in the light” tell him to get the hell out of there and call 9-1-1.  And you, if you ever see that thing that’s not quite right out of the corner of your eye moving towards you in the darkness…keep your back to the wall and turn on the lights as fast as you can.



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Nov. 22, 1998


Finally, The X-Files tackles time travel…sort of.  Mulder manages to get swept back in time while in the Bermuda Triangle.  Swept back to when?  To September 3, 1939, where he finds himself aboard the missing passenger ship the Queen Anne which has been boarded by Nazis who are in search of something called Thor’s Hammer, the acquisition of which would ensure a swift victory for the Nazis.  Obviously not an ideal outcome for the world.

A wild ride ensues as Mulder tries to outfox (come on…the pun had to be made at some point) the Nazis, protect Thor’s Hammer, kiss Scully (who’s not actually Scully but still…HELLO!), get smacked down by Scully-not-Scully (ouch!) and stop the ship from reaching Germany.  Oh, and let’s not forget returning to his own time…the series would have been much different if he remained trapped in 1939.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


This episode, with its 2.5 million dollar budget, is a fan favorite for many reasons, not least of which are the direction and cinematography, which are outstanding.  Shot in real time (and making use of some super-fun split screen action), the episode is comprised of several continuous shots that were seamlessly edited to create the illusion of four eleven minute acts, ‘Triangle’ does an exceptional job of visually drawing you into the story.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


It is stunning.  Taped in widescreen, it was the first X-Files episode to be aired in letterbox.  Throw in the riveting storyline, the costumes, the set design (Chris Carter actually had portions of the Queen Mary, a moored WWII ship-turned-hotel where it was filmed, completely redecorated to match the era), killer music (it doesn’t get much better than ‘Sing! Sing! Sing! (With a Swing!)’) and a fun and amazing climax (seriously…I can’t stress enough how gorgeous the filming is in this episode) and it’s easy to see why the budget went over 2.5 million…and why it pulled in a whopping 18.2 million viewers when it premiered.

This one is true work of art.



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Nov. 29, Dec. 6, 1998


I don’t even know how to begin to explain this two-parter.  It’s the best of both worlds – they combine elements of the alien/UFO conspiracy story arc with a stand-alone episode and are easily two of the funniest episodes of the series.  How couldn’t they be with the comedic genius Michael McKean guest starring as the truly despicable slime ball, Morris Fletcher (who also happens to work at the infamous Area 51, a.k.a. Dreamland).

Mulder swaps bodies with Fletcher and does some booty shakin’ in the mirror.  People’s faces are atomically rearranged and merged into each other (pretty painful and disgusting).  There are spies.  There are lies.  And we meet the world’s brattiest children and shrew of a wife (which begs the question, was Fletcher a disgusting jackass before he got married and had kids or did it happen after?  Chicken?  Egg).  It also sets the stage for “Monday,” as the waterbed (complete with mirrored ceiling – gotta love, Morris…what a manwhore) that Fletcher-as-Mulder buys for Mulder’s barren bedroom plays a key role in the day’s events.



The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Dec. 13, 1998


Possibly one of, if not the best, Christmas ghost stories ever.  It’s a little spooky, a little gross and a little sentimental – it’s the perfect blend.  On Christmas Eve Scully meets Mulder at what appears to be a vacant Victorian house, complete with fog gently hugging the front lawn.  As Bing Crosby croons on the car’s stereo the tale begins.  The ever curious Mulder and always loyal Scully enter the home to investigate reports of its infamous haunting by two lovers who had a suicide pact that return every Christmas to spread their own brand of Christmas cheer.

But what’s this?  Upon entering, the house doesn’t appear vacant at all.  In fact it appears quite occupied.  Things start to get interesting when they discover two very decayed bodies that closely resemble themselves (all the way down to the clothing) under the floorboards.

Enter the ghosts (who are brilliantly played by Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner).  The story turns into a bit of a fun house nightmare with doors that lead to nowhere and rooms that become inescapable as the ghosts begin their mind games in an attempt to drive Mulder and Scully insane.  What follows is some of the best dialogue…from any series…ever.





And just like any good ghost story it ends with scared living people running from the haunted house, fleeing to the safety of the world they know as they narrowly escape the clutches of the dead ne’er-do-wells.  (And I know I said I wasn’t ranking episodes but I lied…a little…this is easily in the top 5.)


10) Terms of Endearment

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Jan. 3, 1999


Demon babies and Bruce Campbell is the father.  Do I really need to say anything else?  I do?  Let me try this again…


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


Bruce.  Campbell.

The end.


11) Monday

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Feb. 28, 1999


Boy…and I thought I hated Mondays.  Taking a page from Groundhog Day, it’s the Monday that never ends…


“Well, what if there is no tomorrow?  There wasn’t one today.”
– Bill Murray, Groundhog Day


…and it’s a horrible day to have on repeat – unless you consider getting blown up by a bomb wielding bank robber a fun way to get out of work.  In an ironic twist of fate, Morris Fletcher (who made his appearance in Dreamland) inadvertently and indirectly sets off the chain of events that lead to Mulder and Scully’s deaths in the Monday from hell by purchasing the waterbed for himself/Mulder that springs a leak, shorting out Mulder’s alarm clock subsequently causing him to be at the bank during the robbery.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


This episode is fascinating to contemplate, not only because it begs the question of whether or not we would realize it if we were stuck in a loop, reliving the same day over and over but because of the interplay of cause and effect – the idea that the smallest, most inconsequential events – like the purchasing of a waterbed or oversleeping – can eventually lead to your death…or your soul mate…or any other major, pivotal life event.

I also dig the reference to Hinduism with the reincarnation of Mulder into the same body after each of his deaths and his eventual use of a mantra (“He’s got a bomb.”) to retain information as he passes from this life into his next, in much the same way that some Hindus try to achieve moksha (the liberation of the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth) through the use of mantras.

This episode is nice and meaty.  It sticks with you.


12) Milagro

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, April 18, 1999


Creepy, beautiful and strangely romantic in a completely dysfunctional Sid and Nancy sort of way, this is a tale of obsession.  An author and neighbor of Mulder’s reveals his obsession with Scully while a character in the novel he’s writing is unleashed and begins committing murders…murders that are straight out of his manuscript.

With his attention firmly fixed on Dana, he delivers some of the most beautiful and insightful monologues the series has ever given us.  This episode is for all the lit and word nerds out there (if you love iambic pentameter throw your hands in the air!)  who can’t resist the beauty of a well-turned phrase.


13) Hungry

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1999


You’ll never look at fast food the same again as we witness and explore the struggles of a flesh eating mutant who is trying to be a productive member of society while attempting to suppress his urge, his biological imperative to consume sweet, buttery human brain-y goodness.  Apparently we don’t taste like chicken and we melt in the mouth, not in the hand.

It’s hard not to empathize with the “bad guy” in this one.  He tries to be good.  He really does.  But in the end his biology overrides his humanity every single time.  He proves not all monsters are bad during his final act of desperation: no longer able to live with himself, his overwhelming craving and all it entails he ensures his own demise…finding peace at last.


14) The Goldberg Variation

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Dec. 12, 1999


Oh, goodie!  We take another fun (and bizarre) look at cause, effect and the balance of the universe in ‘The Goldberg Variation,’ as a man with exceedingly good and improbable luck (and who spreads equally astounding bad luck…gotta have balance after all) tries to save the life of a little boy with acute liver failure.  And in case that little boy’s face looks familiar, despite its yellow pallor, it’s because he’s a very young Shia LaBeouf.

Seriously…The X-Files is like a high school yearbook of Hollywood stars.  It’s bananas how many of these small guest starring roles were played by people who are now well established in Hollywood.  What are the odds?  (Well…if this episode’s plot is to be believed then odds schmods.  Who cares about the stinkin’ odds?)


15) The Amazing Maleeni

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2000


In ‘Humbug’ Scully asserts that “…everybody’s uncle’s an amateur magician.”  The magicians turned felonious scam artists we meet in this episode are far from amateur, performing such an elaborate hoax that it almost boggles the mind.  How could they be so many steps ahead of so many people and just how predictable is human nature in its response to external stimuli that it can be predicted accurately enough to perpetrate such a hoax?  Truly magical.


16) X-COPS

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2000


This episode could have easily jumped the shark with the COPS crossover, but where others failed, The X-Files succeeded.  Mulder and Scully accidentally stumble into the filming of COPS while on a investigation of what Mulder initially believes to be a werewolf but turns out to be something never encountered before – a shapeshifting being that chooses its victims and preys upon them using their own fear.  A monster that isn’t only ferocious but utilizes its victims’ own psychology as a weapon?  Terrifying and brilliant…brilliantly terrifying.

Fun little side note:  Mulder makes a comment to Scully about how she’d look good with bubble gum pink hair as they pursue a prostitute who was an eyewitness to a murder.  This was actually a cute, friendly little dig by Duchovny at Anderson who was a punk in London as a teenager…and she did, in fact, dye her hair.  I know.  It just makes you love her more, doesn’t it?  Gillian Anderson is my spirit animal.


17) Hollywood A.D.

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, April 30, 2000


Mulder (who’s played by Garry Shandling) and Scully (who’s played by Duchovny’s real life now ex-wife, Tea Leoni) are used as inspiration for a movie.  Shadowed by a Hollywood producer and sent out to L.A. for the premiere we learn more about our favorite paranormal investigatory duo than ever before…like what side Mulder dresses on and how Scully runs in high heels.  Just like a Hollywood movie, this episode has a little of anything you could possibly want: death, religion, politics, sex (well…cheesy innuendo), dancing zombies, Jesus cracking jokes while raising Lazarus and assistant director Skinner drinking champagne while taking a bubble bath.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


Like I said…a little of anything you could possibly want.

super-nerd moment:  I was shocked at the casting of Shandling as Mulder when the episode first aired but while I was recently watching another episode (I think it might have been Jose Chung…but I honestly can’t be sure so don’t quote me) I saw it.  Duchovny was speaking in slow motion and the camera was pulled in tight on his face.  It clicked.  If you compare Duchovny’s and Shandling’s mouths they are surprisingly similar…almost freakishly so.  their bite, the shape of their lips, the way they move.  I’m convinced that someone saw this similarity and thought it would be an excellent comedic casting choice.  I know.  It’s kinda pitiful that my brain actually notices these things and finds them important enough to warrant my attention.  Some people would call it obsessive…or geeky…or sad…I like to call it ‘attention to detail.’


18) Je Souhaite

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, May 14, 2000


If you had three wishes what would they be?  Such is the conundrum faced by those who are unfortunate enough to encounter the jinn (or genie).  Found wrapped in a rug, this mischievous minx keeps chaos as her companion as granting people’s wishes (including Mulder’s) brings unexpected and unintentional consequences.  No matter how selfless or selfish the wish, the outcome is always the same…and the outcome is not good.  Just ask Nixon.  I’m pretty sure he’ll tell you some rugs are best left unrolled.


19) Lord Of The Flies

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2001


Teenagers and their hormones.  They’re a force to be reckoned with…especially when that teenager is part insect and can kill you with creepy crawlies that he can command with his ultra-potent teenage insect/human pheromones.  And kill he does.  Is it indiscriminate?  Not at all.  He doesn’t run around killing people all willy nilly.  He, just like the mutant in ‘Hungry,’ is a victim of his own biology…he cares about people and wants to love and be loved (and, in fact, does love a very confused, scared and slightly grossed out girl)…which makes it hard to view him as a mutant or monster…especially when he writes his love notes with real fireflies in the night sky.

Bonus points for the incredibly cheesy entomologist.  Not fair that Mulder gets Bambi and Scully gets…him.


20) Improbable

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, April. 7, 2002


Here’s another one that lands squarely in the top five list.  The oldest of conflicts.  Evil.  Good.  Dark.  Light.  Satan.  Burt Reynolds…?

Good ol’ Burt guests stars as the big I Am.  It seems an apt casting choice considering he seems to think he’s God already. (Just look at his behavior.  Slapping people on the red carpet?  That’s some serious God complex bullshit right there.)  I hate to admit it but he seriously rocks the role.  Who knew God wears Hawaiian print shirts and enjoys a good game of…well…it seems just about anything from checkers to poker to dominoes.


The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files


Add in the music (could it be more perfect for this episode?  No.  No it could not), the interesting, almost musical approach to the direction, the concept of fate versus freewill (one of my personal favorites) and the heavy use of numerology and it’s easy to say this episode is damn near perfect.  The only problem, the only one, is that Mulder isn’t back with the team yet.  That’s it.  If it weren’t for that this episode would score a perfect 9 (which is the number of completion in numerology.  Just ask Monica Reyes.  She knows.)


21) Jump The Shark

The Top 20 Episodes of The X-Files

originally aired on Sunday, April 21, 2002


How appropriate that we end with an ending.  This episode is trashed by fans and critics (and even the show’s creator).  The plot was even negated by the release of subsequent comics.  So why, if everyone thinks this episode was complete crap, so much so that they even have to joke about it in the show’s title, did it make my list?

Because of my beloved Lone Gunmen.  How do you not love them?  My precious little super-nerds, always fighting the good fight.

This makes the list as a runner-up, number twenty-one, because it is the final curtain for the three unlikely heroes.  This episode was used to conclude their short-lived spin off ‘The Lone Gunmen.’

They died, but they didn’t just die.  They died heroically.  They died being brave, protecting others…fighting the good fight.  And they were buried in Arlington Cemetery…which is only appropriate for men who always did their best to protect the people from threats, be they real or imagined.

This episode made the list because I’m proud of my brave little super-nerds.  Plain and simple.


So there you have it.  My top 20 list.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Could you not care less about The X-Files?  Which episode did I leave off that you think should have been included?  Come on.  Nerd out with me.  And tomorrow night join me as we raise our voices to the sky and we say…




Okay.  I’m ready.  Let the countdown begin.


Alien Kisses & Paranormal Chaos,
Alli Woods Frederick


Honorable Mentions  ::  Syzygy  ::  Unruhe  ::  Sanguinarium  ::  Arcadia


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