One of the most profoundly influential television series of all time, The Twilight Zone has managed to live on far past its original air date and remain a source of terror, imagination, and social commentary in the decades since its release. Check out The 15 Best Twilight Zone Episodes of All Time:
10. Five Characters in Search of an Exit
It sounds like the start of a bad joke: an army major wakes up in a metal cylinder and meets a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and a clown. Things are never quite as they seem in The Twilight Zone, and there aren’t a lot of laughs to be found in this premise.
Instead, these five characters trapped in a strange tube seek to not only escape, but also figure out where they are. The results are as surprising as you’d expect given the history of the show. This was season three’s Christmas episode, but hardly filled with mirth and good cheer. It did inspire Vincenzo Natali’s cult classic film Cube
9. It’s A Good Life
The fantasy of every child — to have unlimited power against grown-ups — is made horrifyingly real in 1961’s “It’s a Good Life.” Bill Mumy plays six-year-old Anthony Freemont, a boy with incredible psychic powers who holds everyone around him hostage. It’s sort of like Game of Thrones, if little King Joffrey could simply think you out of existence for displeasing him. The adults tiptoe around the kid, but it never really matters, because he’s six, and six-year-olds aren’t particularly rational in the first place. That ever-present sense of menace exuded from the adorable face of Mumy is what makes things work. Like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the episode was remade for the Twilight Zone movie. It also got a sequel in the 2002 Twilight Zone revival series, entitled “It’s Still a Good Life,” wherein Anthony is now a grown-up and his daughter has inherited his abilities. Bill Mumy and Chloris Leachman reprise their original roles, and Mumy’s real-life daughter serves as the story’s new tyrant.
8. The Hitch-Hiker
One of Inger Stevens’ two appearances on The Twilight Zone, “The Hitch-Hiker” is a simple-yet-cryptic story of young woman traveling cross country while being pursued by an unnamed hitcher. The unexplainable phenomena, Stevens’ lonesome paranoia and the twist ending is textbook Twilight Zone. However, under its enjoyable thrills is a message of finding peace in unsuspecting tragedy.
7. Living Doll
No doubt some type of ancestor to 1988’s Child’s Play, Talking Tina is a loveable child’s toy—with murderous, psychopathic tendencies. Erich Streator, an estranged step father, is less than pleased when his daughter brings home her own Talking Tina. At first, he dismisses the dolls cryptic messages as an elaborate prank, but he soon realizes the fake dolls threats are all too real.
6. A Stop at Willoughby
The Twilight Zone is known for the weird, the macabe and the dark. However, this episode isn’t so black and white. Well, the show’s physically still in black and white, but in the case of Gart Williams, a tired and overworked advertising executive, life is a nightmare and The Twilight Zone offers relief every evening on his train ride home. Williams pictures an idyllic society, one that he feels at ease in. “A Stop at Willoughby” is about man’s search for paradise. Some call it heaven, Williams calls it Willoughby.
5. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
“Nick of Time,” the wonderful fortune-teller episode, deserves a quick mention, but Shatner’s second appearance on the show, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” is even more memorable. Shatner plays a salesman who’s recently recovered from a nervous breakdown and boards a flight home, but soon discovers that there’s some thing on the wing of the plane. “Nightmare” shows how fragile sanity can be, especially if you’re right and everyone else only thinks you’re crazy. Luckily, Shatner’s fear of flying was overcome three years later as he joined the cast of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.
4. To Serve Man
“To Serve Man” is a lesson in the importance of context. Earth enjoys a period of unparalleled prosperity as the nine-foot-tall Kanamits abolish the need for war, hunger and poverty. As humans leave in droves for the Kanamits homeworld, a scientist makes a startling discovery that makes the aliens “peaceful occupation” much more sinister. The underlying theme: Maybe you shouldn’t immediately trust nine-foot-tall extra terrestrials.
3. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
An eery comparison to Cold War America circa The Red Scare, “Monsters” centers around the residents of Maple Street, a quintessential American suburb. As they witness unexplainable phenomena, hysteria quickly turns to finger pointing. Quickly, the term “monster” in the title becomes an ambiguous term as the accusations become more and more hostile. At it’s time, “Monsters” was a bitter social critique. Now it’s a powerful glimpse into an unfortunate period of American history—another example of The Twilight Zone’s timelessness.
2. Time Enough at Last
And so begins what is perhaps the most beloved of all Twilight Zoneepisodes, 1959’s “Time Enough at Last.” In many ways, this first season ep is the epitome of everything The Twilight Zone stands for. A poor, put-upon man (Burgess Meredith, in his first of several appearances in the series) finds things finally going his way, only to watch the inherent cruelness of the universe twist everything in a terrible manner, usurping his moment of victory. Rod Serling sure loved to kick the audience in the gut, and this particular blow is one of the series’ most unforgettable.
Meredith stars as Henry Bemis — a man who just wants to get away from the everyday world and bury his nose in a good book. Henry gets his wish when the rest of humanity is wiped out in a nuclear attack. He discovers an untouched library — a place where he can read in peace for the rest of his existence. Thrilled with his discovery, Bemis settles in. As he gets ready to crack open his first book, he breaks his glasses. Virtually blind, Bemis is now stuck in a world with all the time and books he could ever want and no way to enjoy them. This unhappy twist ending would become a common feature during the show’s run, but this one always stood out as particularly cruel. Perhaps it’s because so many of us can relate to it.
Serling himself listed “Time Enough at Last” amongst his favorite episodes of the series.
1. The Eye of the Beholder
So many episodes could hold the stop spot, but “Beholder” combines everything that makes Twilight Zone a cherished television show. The audience is dropped in media res as Janet Tyler lies hospitalized with gauze wrapped around her head. The camera movement and light is inventive and screens the audience from truly discerning what’s going on. The slow unwrapping of the gauze is possibly the most tense moment in the entire series, and the surprise that follows has left an indelible mark on television and audiences alike.