Top 25 Greatest Episodes of “The Twilight Zone”

We live in a jaded world surrounded by repetition and regurgitation. It is a sad statement of the times, but it is a harsh reality. More often than not, the television shows we watch are nothing more than tired re-treads of other premises and ideas. Luckily for us. We have shows like “The Twilight Zone”.

Originally aired on CBS Television from 1959-1964, “The Twilight Zone” came to us from the brilliant mind Rod Serling, a man eons ahead of his time as far as television programming and original storytelling are concerned. Week after week, audiences were pulled into the darkest recesses of the human mind, presented with tales of curiosity, suspense, and sheer terror. Every episode was a different and original story, giving the show itself a freshness that few television shows before or since have been able to duplicate.

Through the myriad of episodes, there stand a select few that manage to be superior than the already stellar episodes that surround them. I would be lying if I said that making a list of the best episodes from the series was easy to do. Quite frankly, I think that the entire show is absolute genius and I consider it to be television at it’s finest. However, I have somehow managed to whittle the list down to my all-time favorite episodes. Don’t worry, I’ve tried to keep everything as spoiler free as possible; I sure wouldn’t want to ruin the fun now, would I? So sit back, relax, and enjoy! Here are The Top 25 Greatest Episodes of The Twilight Zone! (according to me)

25. The Invaders

With almost no dialogue spoken, this episode manages to convey shear terror in the idea that aliens can attack the planet, no matter how big (or in this case, small) they appear to be. Much like many classic Twilight Zone episodes, this one ends on a very big surprise ending.

24. The Little People

Two astronauts land on a distant planet basically void of intelligent life… or so they think. While surveying the area, the two stumble upon an entire civilization the size of ants. Immediately, one of the men decides that he shall be a god to the people of this colony, menacingly crushing their buildings and demanding they build a statue of him. This is a morality tale that attempts to teach the audience of the consequences in abusing power. This particular story has been parodied several times, so you may be able to see the ending of this episode coming, but it is still worth a view.

23. The Howling Man

While backpacking through post-World War I Europe, a young man finds himself lost in a violent storm. He seeks refuge inside of a large castle, and immediately becomes invested in the screams of a man coming from a prison cell inside of it. Though warned, the man attempts to discover who is screaming and how to help him. The story takes a turn when you realize just who the howling man is and what he is truly capable of.

22. Five Characters in Search of an Exit

This episode features a very simple premise; five people trapped in a cylindrical room are attempting to find a way out. I can’t reveal too much more about the episode without giving away the ending, but it is a brilliantly told story that will most certainly pull on your heart strings.

21. The Silence

A group of aristocrats in a Men’s Club feel that one of their contemporaries is far too annoying, and something must be done to stop him. A fellow member wagers that the annoying man cannot stay silent for an entire year. Yet another episode with a truly crushing ending, but in this case none of the people involved are necessarily likable characters.

20. Steel

In the not too distant future, the sport of boxing has been banned, leaving the contestants to be replaced by androids. The episode revolves around a robot boxing promoter (played by Lee Marvin) whose boxer is outdated and broken beyond repair. In an attempt for one last payday, Marvin attempts to take the place of his robot in the ring. It’s a story of dealing with your own aging self while attempting to fit in to an ever changing world. And if this story sounds familiar, it’s probably because a film recently came out called “Real Steel” that mirrors this same story. But stick with the 30 minute Twilight Zone episode, it’s much shorter and certainly superior.

19. The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms

During a routine training exercise in Montana, three soldiers find themselves transported to 1876, in the middle of the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn. Much like several Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of traveling back in time to change history is present and, in an odd twist ending  kind of way, a successful endeavor

18. A Game of Pool

This particular episode stands out as one of the better episodes involving two characters in a situation. Jack Klugmen plays a man who considers himself to be the best living pool player. However, he feels as though he can never truly be considered the best because the best is a man who died years ago. However, the deceased man (Jonathan Winters) offers him a chance to play him one on one to officially earn the title of the best. This is a fantastic episode that tackles the eternal question “What is the meaning of life?”

17. Back There

After a long discussion about time travel and changing history, a man (who I should note is The Professor from Gilligan’s Island) discovers that he has been transported to 1865 on the eve of President Lincoln’s assassination. The episode once again attempts to show how no matter what you do, the past has already been written and the history you have changed may or may not be for the best.

16. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

One of the few times that the story wasn’t from Mr. Serling, this brilliant episode was from the mind of Ambrose Bierce and turned into a 30 minute adaption by Robert Enrico. So amazing was this version of the story that it won Best Short Film at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. I don’t even need to tell you anything about it, just believe me when I say that it’s worth the watch. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list was because it isn’t exactly a true Twilight Zone original creation.

15. A Stop at Willoughby

A depressed businessman traveling on a train travels back in time (trust me, re-occurring concepts like time travel, aliens, and nuclear war NEVER get stale on this show) and briefly spends time in a quaint little town called Willoughby. When he is brought back to reality, he goes home to tell his horrible wife about his experience. Not only does she not care, but you discover that she is only with him because she considers him to be a human cash machine. The tragedy that is this man’s reality and his desire to live in a much simpler time leads to another somber Twilight Zone ending that is both beautiful and poignant.

14. Living Doll

This episode, along with several others on this list, have transcended into popular culture to where people who have never seen the episode knows of its terrifying premise. To me, there are few things more horrifying than an evil doll with a desire to kill you, and this story is by far one of the best interpretations of this idea.

13. It’s A Good Life

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you gave an 8 year old boy infinite power? This classic Twilight Zone episode answers this question in spades. Little Anthony basically is holding his family hostage, as they are forced to deal with his demands or suffer the deadly consequences. It is one of the most unsettling episodes in the series when you see just how tense the environment is for the characters.

12. Probe 7, Over and Out

An American astronaut is stranded on a deserted planet after World War III destroys any contact with civilization and any hope of rescue. Suddenly, when all hope of human interaction appears to be lost, the astronaut meets a female, also stranded. Unable to communicate with one another, they realize that they must rely on one another in hopes of surviving. This story’s conclusion is a unique take on a tale that many of us a very aware of. And that unrelenting uniqueness is exactly what makes this show so great.

11. Walking Distance

A definite favorite among many die-hard fans (including the likes of director J.J Abrams), “Walking Distance” involves a man who, upon dealing with the breakdown of his car, realizes that he is not far from the town he grew up in. Upon further investigation, the main character finds himself face to face with his 11 year old self. The story focuses mainly on the idea that you should enjoy the present and not to always dwell on what could of been. After all, you can’t change your past, you can only change your future.

10. The Masks

A wealthy man on his deathbed assembles his greedy family for his last moments. He requires all of them to wear masks specifically designed to show on the exterior just how ugly they are on the inside. He berates them for their greedy nature until his death, when it is revealed exactly what his intentions were.

9. To Serve Man

A classic premise that has been parodied many times, “To Serve Man” gives us a glimpse into a possible “What if?” scenario involving humanity making first contact with alien life. It proves that there is validity to the old adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Another classic twist that few will see coming.

8. A Kind of Stopwatch

An annoying man is given the power to stop time by means of a stopwatch given to him by a stranger (never trust strangers in “The Twilight Zone”). In another example of ones lust for greed and wealth, the man abuses this power and suffers the ultimate price. This episode is a personal favorite of mine because whenever I have been asked as to what my super power would be if I were to be given one, I have always chosen the ability to stop time. Think about it, you can basically become a god if you use it right… but I digress.

7. Will the Real Martian Stand Up?

This episode acts almost as a “Who Done It?” caper, but with an extraterrestrial twist. A bus full of passengers are forced to hold up in a diner due to a snow storm blocking passage over a bridge. They soon discover that one of the people in the diner was not on that bus, and in “The Twilight Zone” that can only mean one thing… aliens! Good luck trying to figure out who the real martian is, you may be pleasantly surprised.

6. The Monsters are Due on Maple Street/ The Shelter

I’ve put these two in a tie simply because the overall theme of both episodes are generally the same. In both, we are witness to the deconstruction of humanity through different means (alien invasion and nuclear war, respectively). More important than the threat presented to the people involved is how quickly civilization can crumble when ones life is put at risk.

5. Nightmare at 20,000 ft.

An essential for anybody attempting to discover exactly what “The Twilight Zone” is all about. A man (played gloriously by William Shatner) who has just been released from a mental institution is returning home with his wife via airplane. Oh, did I forget to mention that the reason he was put in the looney bin was because of a incident he had in an airplane? Oh, and did I also forget to mention that a creature has taken up residence on board the wing of this plane with the intent to make it crash, and Shatner is the only person who can see him? Yeah, welcome to the Twilight Zone.

4. Time Enough At Last

An absolute classic example of heartbreak, a bumbling banker(played by the always amazing Burgess Meredith) is in a world who doesn’t understand his love for reading. He is fired from his job because he is too busy reading under his desk, and his wife goes so far as to do black out all of his books at home with a black marker simply because he is a dreamer who lives in a world of fiction. The story takes an odd turn when civilization is destroyed by nuclear war (a common theme in “The Twilight Zone”) and Meredith is the lone survivor. I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending of this episode, you simply have to see it for yourself.

3. The Eye of the Beholder

This episode is one of the series’ most original based solely on how it’s presented to the audience. We bare witness to a woman recovering from a major surgery performed on her face. It is discovered that this surgery is a last ditch effort to make her look “normal” to the rest of the world. The mood, the setting, the execution, all fascinating and beautifully handled. A perfect story to help convey a common concern that most people have with vanity and trying to fit in to a world that focuses more on outer beauty rather than inner beauty.

2. I Shot an Arrow Into the Air

Three astronauts, stranded on a desolate planet with no means of communicating with Earth, are faced with their own mortality. With limited supplies, the three men begin to descend into the darkest recesses of the human condition and turn on one another. This episode is accompanied by probably my favorite twist ending in the history of “The Twilight Zone”. It is a moment that is so devastating that you will always remember it.

1. The Obsolete Man

Another tour-DE-force performance by Burgess Meredith as a librarian on trial in a futuristic society that finds him “Obsolete”. He is sentenced to death by an execution of his choosing. What transpires is 30 minutes of some of the best storytelling ever created. It shows the impact that one man can make on the world. It teaches us to stand up for what we believe in, even as you take your final breath. Not only is this my favorite episode of “The Twilight Zone”, it is also one of my favorite moments in all of television. I implore you to give this episode a watch, I promise that you won’t regret it.

Honorable Mentions:  Where is Everybody?, The Hunt, The Fever, Printer’s Devil, What’s in the Box?, Showdown with Rance McGrew, The Lonely… and many, many more.

So there you have it; 25 amazing episodes of television gold. I am sure that this isn’t a list that will be seen as the definitive 25, and that is the beauty of this show. No two people have the same favorite episodes, but it is the overall love of this series that unites us and keeps this spark of originality bright and everlasting.

Thank you Mr. Serling; your genius has helped influence and inspire countless individuals... present blogger included.

Agree with the list? Is there anything you felt that I missed? Feel free to join in on the discussion! And please enjoy your stay… in “The Twilight Zone”!

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~ by Brandon Gnuschke on February 4, 2012.

3 Responses to “Top 25 Greatest Episodes of “The Twilight Zone””

  1. Well played sir, not everyone includes “Arrow” and I call them assholes!

    • I agree, I can’t believe how many lists I’ve seen that have snubbed that episode entirely. That’s just one of the many reasons why I decided to make this list. Have to give love to some of these episodes that truly deserve to be acknowledged.

  2. Nice list dude. I would have reordered some of the order, but I can’t disagree with your choices. Well done!!!

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