24 Best X-Files Episodes of All Time
For centuries, space and the supernatural have fascinated humans. The questions about extraterrestrial life have puzzled the greatest minds dating back to the beginning of time. In moments like this, the brilliant minds turn to the experts, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The critically and commercially acclaimed The X-Files is one of the greatest series to hit the airwaves. It was more than just a television show. The X-Files was a cultural phenomenon, with millions of people rushing home to catch the latest episodes. In the days before streaming, fans would arrange their week around watching and dissecting the newest episode. That leads to the natural debate about the best X-Files episodes.
Chris Carter created the iconic sci-fi series, originally airing from 1993 to 2002, to universal praise. More than ten years later, The X-Files revival aired from 2016 to 2018. Plus, the franchise includes two feature films, The X-Files in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want To Believe in 2008. The series follows FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they investigated possible paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrial cases. David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson became TV’s biggest stars for portraying UFO-believer Mulder and skeptic Scully, respectively.
The X-Files features two distinct styles of episodes. First, some episodes deal with the long-term story and complex mythology connected throughout the series. However, The X-Files also features stand-alone episodes known as “monster of the week” episodes. The monster of the week episodes has no connection to the mythology or long-term storyline. The series produced memorable and iconic episodes across 11 seasons. Here’s a look at the 24 best X-Files episodes.
24 Best X-Files Episodes of All Time
1. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
During season three, The X-Files raised the bar with the iconic episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” The Emmy award-winning episode follows Mulder and Scully as they investigate a series of killings targeting psychics. They team up with psychic Clyde Bruckman (portrayed by Peter Boyle), who can only see a person’s death.
Fans and critics credit the episode with taking the series from a popular show to a cultural icon. Writer Darin Morgan brilliantly takes the monster of the week concept in a new direction. He finds a way to add the right amount of comedy to this dark and complex storyline. Morgan and Boyle both won Primetime Emmy Awards for the episode.
2. Leonard Betts (Season 4, Episode 12)
Airing after Superbowl XXXI, “Leonard Betts” is the highest-rated episode in the show’s history with a whopping 17.2 rating. It had fans talking about a shocking revelation that significantly impacted the series.
FBI agents Scully and Moulder go up against EMT Leonard Betts, who can regenerate and feed off cancer. Directed by Kim Manners, the classic episode ends with Betts revealing to Scully that she has cancer. The shocking twist reverberated throughout the universe. Scully’s illness played a significant role in seasons four and five.
3. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)
Agent Fox Mulder overcomes a vampire and slays the demonic creature. It’s only after he checks that body that Mulder realizes he didn’t slay a vampire but killed a young man with fake teeth. Mulder and Scully have two very different versions of events leading up to the incident as they report to their superior, Walter Skinner (portrayed by Mitch Pileggi).
Written by Vince Gilligan, “Bad Blood” explores Mulder and Scully’s relationship and romantic feelings. It’s a departure from the more dark storylines and is one of the funniest in the series. It takes inspiration from The Dick Van Dyke Show with a heavy emphasis on comedy. Plus, it also includes an epic guest appearance from Luke Wilson.
4. Drive (Season 6, Episode 2)
In 2008, Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston teamed up to create the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad. However, they unknowingly planted the seeds for the series ten years earlier on The X-Files.
In the episode “Drive,” Cranston portrays, Patrick Crump, a man dying of a mysterious illness. Crump is forced to drive at high speeds to prevent himself from dying. Mulder ends up trapped in the car with Crump while Scully tries to untangle the mystery.
Fans and critics praised Gilligan’s writing and Cranston’s thought-provoking performance. When casting Breaking Bad, Gilligan showed this episode to AMC to convince them to cast Cranston as Walter White.
5. Duane Berry (Season 2, Episode 5)
Agent Fox Mulder finds himself pulled into an intense hostage negotiation with psychiatric patient Duane Berry. Berry claims aliens abducted him several years ago and promised to return for him.
The gripping episode, “Duane Berry,” gives Mulder and fans insight into the X-Files mythology. However, the situation becomes dire when Berry kidnaps Scully. The shocking cliffhanger elevated the series as it gained a cult following. It was the number one topic at the water cooler that week as fans discussed the mind-blowing conclusion.
6. Ascension (Season 2, Episode 6)
The critically acclaimed episode “Ascension” picks up where “Duane Berry” left off. Mulder’s now in a race against time as he hunts for Scully after Duane Berry abducted her. The episode is famous for revealing more about the X-Files mythology while keeping fans on the edge of their seats.
Gillian Anderson threw a monkey wrench into the plans for the season when she announced her pregnancy and needed time off. However, the series brilliantly handle the situation with this thrilling storyline.
7. One Breath (Season 2, Episode 8)
After the events of “Ascension,” Mulder’s lost without his partner Scully and finds it difficult to concentrate on work. However, Scully mysteriously shows up in a coma in the hospital. Mulder sets out on a mission to find out how Scully ended up in a coma and her abduction.
Unforutanley, Mulder is met with opposition from The Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Mulder has to accept that he’s powerless to gain revenge and the only thing he can do is sit by Scully’s bed. The emotional episode expands the X-Files mythology while exploring Scully and Mulder’s deepening friendship.
8. Memento Mori (Season 4, Episode 14)
After discovering she has an inoperable brain tumor, Scully accepts her fate and unavoidable death. In the episode “Memento Mori,” Mulder refuses to accept Scully’s fate and attempts to uncover the truth about her abduction.
The emotional episode dives deep into the reality of Scully’s illness. At the same time, the episode also reveals more about the long-term storyline and X-Files mythology. Gillian Anderson won the Primetime Emmy Award for Leading Actress in a Drama Series for her outstanding and unforgettable performance.
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9. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20)
From the brilliant mind of writer Darin Morgan comes one of the series’ best episodes, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” Morgan mixes the perfect amount of mystery, humor, and suspense into this classic episode.
Dana Scully and Fox Mulder take on a case of two abducted teenagers that tell different versions of the same story. On top of that, famous author Jose Chung is writing a novel about the case. It takes meta to a new level as the episode satirizes The X-Files. It features guest appearances from Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as the men in black.
10. Home (Season 4, Episode 2)
In the season four episode, “Home,” Mulder and Scully travel to the small town of Home, Pennsylvania, to investigate the murder of a baby. The plot brings Mulder and Scully into direct conflict with a terrifying family of farmers, The Peacocks.
The episode is famous for its disturbing content and intense violence. At the time, “Home” was viewed as a polarizing episode that divided viewers. However, fans and critics now agree that it’s one of the best episodes in the series.
11. Triangle (Season 6, Episode 3)
While searching for a ship in the Bermuda Triangle, Agent Mulder time travels to the start of World War II in 1939, where he encounters German soldiers. The episode is famous for featuring prominent cast members William B. Davis, Mitch Pileggi, and Chris Owens, portraying alternate characters from the past. Director and series creator Chris Carter filmed the episode similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s style in Rope.
12. Beyond the Sea (Season 1, Episode 13)
After Dana Scully’s father suddenly dies, the skeptic Scully switches roles with the believer Fox Mulder. The duo meets the psychotic death row inmate Luther Lee Boggs (an excellent Brad Douriff). Boggs claims to be a psychic and taunts Scully that he has a message from her dad.
For the first time in the series, Mulder’s the skeptic, while Scully wants to believe Boggs. Despite the episode’s low rating, it was an early stand-out that garnered the series praise. Gillian Anderson impressed fans with her stellar performance.
13. Paper Hearts (Season 4, Episode 10)
The disappearance of Mulder’s younger sister, Samantha, is one of the show’s longest-running mysteries. Written by Vince Gilligan, “Paper Hearts” has Mulder questioning her abduction when child killer John Lee Roche claims he murdered Samantha. Mulder always believed that aliens abducted his sister while he was paralyzed and couldn’t help her. Her disappearance had such a profound impact that it led him to work on The X-Files in the FBI.
Despite being a monster of the week installment, the episode deals with the larger mythology of The X-Files and Samantha’s disappearance. Fans praised David Duchovny’s incredible performance in the heartbreaking and dark episode.
14. The Unnatural (Season 6, Episode 19)
In present-day, retired FBI agent Arthur Dales tells Mulder the fascinating tale of an alien who landed on Earth in 1947 and fell in love with baseball. He loved the sport so much that he took on the appearance of a black baseball player, Josh Exley, and played for the local Roswell Grays to avoid detection.
Star David Duchovny took his first shot at writing and directing with this universally praised episode. The episode is a favorite of fans and the cast. It brilliantly uses a science fiction format to deal with racism, stereotypes, and segregation.
15. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)
FBI Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder go up against one of the most powerful villains in “Pusher.” In the episode, Robert Modell, aka Pusher, gains the ability to control people due to a brain tumor. The intense episode follows the FBI’s finest as they try to stop Pusher from causing more harm.
At one point, he wills a SWAT member to set himself on fire and gives another man a heart attack. The episode ends with an intense game of Russian Roulette between Mulder, Scully, and Pusher that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
16. Improable (Season 9, Episode 13)
In later seasons, Robert Patrick joined the series as John Dogget when David Duchovny took on a minor role. In the episode “Improbable,” Dogget teams up with Dana Scully and Monica Reyes to track down a serial killer using numerology to pick his victims.
During the investigation, a mysterious man who may be God (portrayed by Burt Reynolds) helps the team with the case. The brilliant episode deals with complex themes, notably fate vs. free will.
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17. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7)
For three seasons fans wanted to know more about the mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man and his larger role in the series’ mythology. Directed by James Wong and written by Glen Morgan, “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” dives deep into his backstory, past, and role in JFK’s assassination and the Rosewell Incident. It’s a popular episode that unpeels a bit of his mystery but stays true to the character.
18. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
The legendary first episode of The X-Files set the tone for the rest of the series. It brilliantly introduces the two main characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who would define the sci-fi genre. It all starts when the government assigns Scully to debunk Mulder’s insane theories. Of course, Scully teeters between skeptic and believing “spooky” Mulder.
It establishes the mythology and introduces vital characters, notably The Smoking Man. “Pilot” also subtly sets up the budding romance between Mulder and Scully that grows over the years.
19. Je Souhaite (Season 7, Episode 21)
Agents Mulder and Scully encounter a lot of bizarre monsters of the week, however, nothing compares to the complex and deep hijinx of the genie in the classic episode “Je Souhaite.”
Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the plot follows Mulder and Scully facing off with a genie who grants wishes with dire consequences. Fans and critics praised the episode for Gillian Anderson’s performance, the humorous tone, and groundbreaking special effects.
20. Ice (Season 1, Episode 8)
Set in an isolated research outpost, Mulder and Scully travel to the frigid cold of Alaska to investigate the death of a research team. The FBI agents soon realize that extraterrestrial worms can control humans. To make matters worse, the worms can’t stand being in the same room and must kill each other.
Both “Ice” and the classic horror movie The Thing take inspiration from the 1938 novella Who Goes There? “Ice” was one of the early episodes to get fans and critics talking all week about the series.
21. Unusual Suspects (Season 5, Episode 3)
At the beginning of season five, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were unavailable due to shooting The X-Files Movie. It forced the writers to create one of the most fascinating episodes. “Unusual Suspects” traces the origins of Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald, and Ringo Langley, better known as The Lone Gunmen.
In a flashback to 1989, the three conspiracy theorists come together to help a woman hack a computer system to fight against her violent ex-boyfriend Fox Mulder. The episode peels back layers of a long-running mystery in the series.
22. Tithonus (Season 6, Episode 10)
In the episode “Tithonus,” Agent Scully finds herself literally coming face-to-face with death. Inspired by real-life photojournalist Alfred Fellig and the Greek myth of Tithonus, Scully faces deep questions of mortality and death in this gripping episode.
The FBI gives Scully a new partner in an attempt to break up her partnership with Mulder. She investigates a photographer who’s always the first to a crime scene. Well, it turns out he’s immortal and trying to capture a picture of Death to release him from his personal nightmare.
23. Tooms (Season 1, Episode 21)
Mutant serial killer Eugene Victor Tooms returns in the episode “Tooms” to exact revenge on Agent Mulder. Tooms was first introduced in the third episode of season one, “Squeeze.” Tooms is a creature that hibernates for 30 years and can manipulate its body to squeeze into tight spaces.
This brilliant episode keeps the series’ newfound momentum going. Not only is it one of the best episodes, but Eugene Tooms is one of the best and scariest monsters in The X-Files.
24. The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5)
The monster of the week episodes allowed the series to play with different styles and genres. For instance, the black and white episode “The Post-Modern Prometheus” retells the classic tale of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Mulder and Scully travel to a small town to track a creature, The Great Mutato, who mysteriously impregnates a woman for the second time. The plot deals with dark and heavy subjects but maintains a lighthearted tone throughout the episode.
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