10 of the Best 'The X-Files' Episodes
On September 10, 1993, the world of science fiction expanded in an all-new way when The X-Files debuted its premiere episode. Its blend of classic sci-fi themes and more sophisticated storytelling took the genre in unexpected directions, becoming one of the most iconic TV series of the decade, thanks to creator Chris Carter and stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny.
In the quarter of a century since its debut, the series has earned 11 seasons of television, two feature films, comic books, video games, and endless amounts of fan fiction.
The theme of each episode typically fell into one of two categories, either a complicated narrative that expanded the series' overall mythology or a "Monster of the Week" episode, which was typically a standalone story that even a casual viewer could enjoy. The overall mythology episodes work much more effectively in consecutive couplings of episodes, making it difficult to single out only one episode to best highlight the storyline. With that in mind, our favorite single episodes lean more into the Monster of the Week category, which were made even more enjoyable as we learned more about Agents Scully and Mulder.
To celebrate its 25th-anniversary, scroll down to see some of our favorite episodes of The X-Files!
"Beyond the Sea" - Season 1, Episode 13
As is the case with many TV shows, The X-Files didn't immediately offer audiences the quality we would come to expect later on in the series, with a majority of the early episodes leaning into corporate cover-ups and alien abductions that remained a staple throughout the series. With "Beyond the Sea," the world expanded into the realm of the afterlife and possession featuring one of many of Anderson's standout performances.
After the sudden passing of Scully's father, a criminal (Brad Dourif) claims to have a connection to the deceased, proving this connection in a number of surprising ways. The criminal offers advice about a kidnapping in exchange for his death sentence being commuted, forcing Scully to determine if he is lying or if he really shares a connection to her father's spirit.
Anderson's performance while trying to balance her cynicism with her hope to speak to her father again makes for one of her most compelling stories, with Dourif's deranged criminal also offering audiences a captivating character.prevnext
"Humbug" - Season 2, Episode 20
With Mulder and Scully regularly chasing monster and aliens, it was sometimes hard to take the storylines seriously. With "Humbug," the show creators leaned into the inherent silliness of the series to deliver an episode that offered both laughs and a sense of unease.
Mulder and Scully are called to investigate a series of murders affecting a community of circus sideshow performers, with rumors emerging that a mythical creature has been targetting the residents.
Featuring actual sideshow performers who are more than happy to put their abilities on display, "Humbug" also showed no fear when it came to embracing the concept of Special Agents investigating the paranormal, delivering audiences a relief from the self-serious series.prevnext
"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" - Season 3, Episode 20
Another one of the series' more humous episodes, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" drew its humor from an unreliable narrator, different perspectives of the same event, and surprising cameos to entertain the audience.
When two teenagers disappear one evening, Mulder and Scully investigate, with one claiming they were abducted by aliens while the other insinuates it was a case of sexual assault. The "Jose Chung" from the episode is an author questioning Scully about the incident, exaggerating the detachment and recreation of the events even further and into ludicrous territories.
Easily one of the more high-concept episodes of the series, this episode and its appearances from Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura as men in black delivers entertainment value as ambitious as its storyline.prevnext
"Home" - Season 4, Episode 2
The legacy surrounding "Home" gives it a mythical quality, but the unsettling nature of the episode, whether you enjoy it or not, makes it arguably the series' most memorable entry.
The Agents are sent to investigate the discovery of the body of a newborn with countless birth defects, pointing towards the idea that this could have only occurred after multiple generations of inbreeding. Unsurprisingly, the body was found near an old farm owned by the Peacock family, leading the Agents to investigate not only what happened to the baby, but also other members of the family.
While it wasn't entirely paranormal, the events of the episode were immensely disturbing, easily making it the most straightforward "scary" episode of the entire series.prevnext
"Paper Hearts" - Season 4, Episode 10
Much like Season One's "Beyond the Sea" and the ways it allowed Gillian Anderson to shine, David Duchovny gets another chance to show off his acting chops in an investigation that pits his emotions against his logic.
A criminal (Tom Noonan) who takes credit for a number of child abductions and murders claims that he can help authorities determine the locations of some of his victims that had never been found, which includes Mulder's sister who disappeared at a young age. His entire life, Mulder had believed it was an alien abduction, having been present during the incident, but the criminal offers eerily accurate insight into the situation, forcing Mulder to admit he has been wrong his entire life or debunk the word of the criminal.
Duchovny and Noonan's work in this episode is exceptional, while the question about Mulder's sister that audiences have had from early on is explored in an unexpected fashion.prevnext
"The Post-Modern Prometheus" - Season 5, Episode 5
By the time the series entered its fifth season, its passionate following allowed the creators of the series to get more ambitious than ever, delivering fans not just humorous episodes, but also outright bizarre installments, much like "The Post-Modern Prometheus."
Agents Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a series of reports about middle-aged women mysteriously becoming pregnant, with some sources blaming this on a strange "monster."
Putting aside the messy morality of unwanted impregnation, this episode offered an homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through a signature X-Files lens. Additionally, the final moments of the episode offered viewers a hint of hope in the will they/won't they romantic tension between the lead characters, which unfolds at a Cher concert.prevnext
"Drive" - Season 6, Episode 2
Given the nature of the series and its exploration of government cover-ups, the series was often at its best when it showed the scope of conspiratorial efforts by multiple parties. With "Drive," fans are given an incredibly insular tale and a captivating guest appearance by Bryan Cranston.
During a high-speed car chase, Mulder gets into the vehicle with a man claiming the only way to prevent fatal physical damage is to drive fast. The man claims that the government did this to him, which Mulder begins to believe as they spend more time together.
In addition to delivering audiences a compelling storyline where the audience and the characters themselves are shown a more human side to the concept of government experiments, the episode was written by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who credits this episode for casting Cranston as Walter White.prevnext
"Triangle" - Season 6, Episode 3
The Bermuda Triangle is arguably one of the most well-known locales in the paranormal community, even if the powers of the region have been debunked by science. Regardless, Mulder's trip into the region created another high-concept episode featuring time travel and Nazis.
According to The X-Files, the Bermuda Triangle is home to a portal through time, leading Mulder to end up on a World War II vessel as a result of an investigation. In the present, Scully is sent to explain Mulder's disappearance, putting her on the very ship which Mulder has traveled to, separated by decades.
While the episode got gimmicky at times by depicting split-screen scenes of characters occupying the same space years apart, the editing methods and overall narrative are both highly entertaining, with this episode pulling off an ambitious installment.prevnext
"Dreamland" - Season 6, Episodes 4 & 5
An exception to our decision to focus solely on isolated episodes, the successes of "Dreamland" are just too hard to ignore.
During an encounter with government officials near Area 51, a mysterious vessel causes Mulder and another government agent (Michael McKean) to swap their corporeal forms, forcing the agent to head to Mulder's apartment while Mulder has to learn about his newfound and unwanted family life. While Mulder and his new body seeks a method to reverse the occurrence, the agent takes full advantage of all Mulder's life has to offer, mainly leading him to seduce as many women as possible, even putting Scully in his crosshairs.
McKean's comedic talents are on full display in this Freaky Friday episode, which is well deserving of two parts, even if the events of the story are ultimately erased from the overall narrative.prevnext
"Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" - Season 10, Episode 3
The two recent "revival" seasons of The X-Files are far from being their strongest, with the exception of this episode, which ranks up with the series' most entertaining entries.
Mulder and Scully are tasked with investigating a series of bizarre deaths, ultimately thinking that they are dealing with a "were-monster" which only makes its horrific appearance known during the day.
From writer Darin Morgan, who delivered audiences numerous fan-favorite episodes, this episode brought back not only the humor the series regularly displayed, but also the playful sexual tension between Mulder and Scully as well as exciting guest stars with Kumail Nanjiani and Rhys Darby.prev