With Halloween just around the corner, it felt like an appropriate time to binge-watch Rod Serling’s original 1959 Twilight Zone series. The show is spine-tingling and creepy, and there are over 150 episodes to choose from that have featured actors like Cloris Leachman, Robert Duvall, and Robert Redford. For this article, I’ve compiled a list of episodes that combines my personal favorites with episodes that are widely considered “classics,” in chronological order.
Disclaimer: I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’re really sensitive to spoilers, or if you think that just saying something has a twist at the end is considered a spoiler, you may want to tread carefully.
Season 1, episode 1: “Where Is Everybody?”
As the premiere episode for the series, “Where Is Everybody?” is practically required material for any Twilight Zone binge-watcher. While this episode is slightly more tame than some of the iconic episodes that followed, it set the precedent for the series. Just like any pilot episode, “Where Is Everybody?” serves as a solid introduction to the show as a whole while also being entertaining as a standalone episode. If you’re only going to watch one episode of The Twilight Zone ever, make it this one.
Season 1, episode 5: “Walking Distance”
“Walking Distance” is a personal favorite of mine, as well as being consistently ranked in the top ten Twilight Zone episodes by every list ever. Like “Where Is Everybody?”, “Walking Distance” shies away from the science fiction elements seen in much of The Twilight Zone as a series in favor of a more personal appeal. The episode follows burnt-out businessman Martin Sloan as he revisits his childhood home, only to realize the town hasn’t changed since 1934. “Walking Distance” is an episode that forgoes an element of fear, and instead leaves you questioning everything about your life.
Season 1, episode 8: “Time Enough At Last”
I take it back. If you’re going to watch only one episode of The Twilight Zone, make it “Time Enough At Last.” Seriously. This is it. “Time Enough At Last” follows bookworm Henry Bemis in his wish to have endless time to read, but the wish is not without consequences. This episode has been parodied so many times that you probably already know how it ends, but it’s truly one of the most ironically Shakespearean tragedies to air on television.
Season 1, episode 22: “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”
“The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” is a Halloween classic, and also one of the episodes of The Twilight Zone that you could probably write a full analytical paper about, considering that its themes draw from the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Centered on a pending alien invasion, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” is rife with suspense and boasts an incredible twist. Watch this back to back with Clue: The Movie for a McCarthyism-inspired Halloween marathon.
“A Stop At Willoughby” plays off similar themes as “Walking Distance,” like fast-moving modern life and nostalgia. Rod Serling once cited it as his favorite episode of the first season, and I have to agree. Whenever people ask me to recommend a Twilight Zone episode, I usually tell them about “A Stop At Willoughby,” because it will either leave them wanting to endlessly consume more episodes, or it will completely devastate them. The impact of the twist at the end of this episode is the kind that The Twilight Zone is known for—big, unexpected, and gut-wrenching.
Season 2, episode 6: “Eye of the Beholder”
“Eye of the Beholder” is a crazy famous episode, mostly because of the twist ending and the way the episode is filmed, and it was even remade for the 2002-03 series. “Eye of the Beholder” undermines the expectations of the audience, and is one episode where the ending shouldn’t be spoiled.
Season 3, episode 14: “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”
If you’re going to play a drinking game with The Twilight Zone, do it with this episode and drink every time someone comes up with an outrageous theory as to what’s actually going on. The premise of the episode is in the title: there are five characters in search of an exit. The episode is so entertaining because the twist isn’t as sudden as it seems, and a keen viewer will pick up on it before the big reveal, but it will keep you guessing.
Season 3, episode 24: “To Serve Man”
“To Serve Man” is consistently ranked in the top 10 best Twilight Zone episodes, as well as once being named “The Greatest Twist Ending Of All Time” by TV Guide. I don’t want to spoil anything with this one, so I’ll just say it’s about alien abductions, cryptography, and the Cold War.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” has two really great things going for it: 1) it stars a young William Shatner, and 2) it inspired the “there’s a colonial woman churning butter on the wing” scene in Bridesmaids. This episode doesn’t exactly have the trademark twist ending we’ve come to associate with The Twilight Zone, but it’s a solid contribution to the series and provided a whole lot of fodder for pop culture references.
So there you have it, my top 9 Twilight Zone episodes. Some honorable mentions not included here are “The Long Morrow” (S5, E15), “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (S5, E22),”One More Pallbearer” (S3, E17), and “Nothing In The Dark” (S3, E16). Now you can begin your own binge-watching marathon of this wonderfully strange show.