It’s been more than 25 years since the premiere of The X-Files, the award-winning series starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson that debuted in 1993 and made everyone believe “the truth is out there.”
FBI Agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) returned to the spotlight in recent years for a successful revival of the hit show, which returned to television for its 10th season in 2016 after a 14-year hiatus from the small screen (and an eight-year layoff since The X-Files: I Want to Believe hit theaters in 2008). The warm reception to that six-episode revival prompted the Fox network to deliver a 10-episode 11th season in 2018. While there are currently no plans for a season 12, there are more than 200 television episodes, two feature films, and countless tie-in novels and comic books to keep fans immersed in Mulder and Scully’s adventures tracking aliens, monsters, and strange phenomena.
With that in mind, we compiled a list of 10 episodes that best exemplify why the series is so beloved by those who know it. After considering all 218 episodes across 11 seasons, here are the 10 best installments of The X-Files. If you’re feeling ambitious — or a little nostalgic — you can stream the entire series now on Hulu, or purchase individual episodes and seasons to watch on , iTunes, and other streaming platforms.
10. ‘Detour’ (Season 5, episode 4)
You won’t find this episode on many best-of lists, but it’s one of our personal favorites. The story follows Mulder and Scully as they investigate a series of murders that seem to involve an invisible killer, which doesn’t seem like anything special until you finally get a glimpse of the killer and, well — let’s just say this is the only episode of the series that still gives us nightmares.
9. ‘Memento Mori’ (Season 4, episode 14)
One of the series’s most heart-wrenching episodes, this 1997 story introduced Scully’s aggressive cancer diagnosis, which would become a recurring plot point throughout the rest of the series. The episode unfolds from two perspectives: Scully’s own efforts to come to terms with her fatal diagnosis and Mulder’s desperate quest for both answers and a cure. Duchovny and Anderson’s characters were brought closer than they ever had been before in this emotional arc that reverberated from this point to the end of the series’ run, and the script earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz. It also earned Anderson a lead-actress Emmy for her performance in this episode, as well as the entire fourth season.
8. ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’ (Season 10, episode 3)
It’s no surprise that this episode is generally considered to be one of the best chapters of the X-Files revival seasons, given that it brings back the series’s most acclaimed writer, Darin Morgan, for a monster-of-the-week episode featuring two of the most talented comedic actors on television: Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). The story has Mulder and Scully investigating a grisly murder in Oregon that might have been committed by a mysterious creature. Darby proves to be the episode’s big scene-stealer in the role of Guy Mann, a mobile phone store employee who may or may not be able to transform into a giant lizard creature. Funny, touching, and thought-provoking in all the right ways, this episode simultaneously served to renew Mulder’s faith in himself and fans’ faith in the series.
7. ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space‘ (Season 3, episode 20)
Typically considered to be either the best episode of the series or simply one of the best, writer Darin Morgan’s eccentric alien-abduction story is a constantly shifting narrative that doubles back on its own story countless times, and ends up being a brilliant satire of the series itself. It’s the most meta episode in the show’s entire run, making playful use of its unreliable narrators — including Mulder and Scully — to craft a story that only comes close to making sense when you step outside the universe the series had spent three seasons drawing its audience into. It speaks volumes to how groundbreaking a series The X-Files was that one of its greatest episodes is a satire of its own conventions.
6. ‘Drive’ (Season 6, episode 2)
One of the greatest legacies of The X-Files is how many now-famous television and movie legends once appeared in the series or had a creative role in it at some point. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan had been a regular writer on the series for quite a while before he penned this episode about a loathsome man who takes Mulder hostage and forces him to drive across the country due to a mysterious affliction that will kill him if he slows down. While the episode itself is excellent, it’s the casting of Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as the aforementioned anti-semitic, racist bigot that really makes it fascinating to watch. This was the episode that Gilligan recalled when casting for his own iconic series years later, and it’s worth checking out as a great example of The X-Files’ long-term place in television history.
5. ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ (Season 5, episode 5 )
One of the weirder episodes in the series (which is saying a lot), this surreal spin on the Frankenstein story was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter, and it’s a perfect example of how much fun Carter was willing to have with the series — and how strange the series could be, in all the right ways. At this point in its run, X-Files was already a big hit, so Carter had the freedom to tell a quirky, standalone story that let him toy with fans and show them the series was more than just a weekly scare. Oh, and it was also nominated for seven Emmy Awards the year it aired, winning for Outstanding Art Direction.
4. ‘Home’ (Season 4, episode 2)
This grisly, nightmare-inducing episode about an inbred family of killers was so terrifying and controversial that Fox famously decreed that it would never be aired again after its initial broadcast prompted a flood of complaints from concerned viewers. Ask almost any fan of the series to name the scariest episode, and nine out of ten will say “Home” (and then shudder uncontrollably, most likely). This was the episode that truly established The X-Files as a vehicle for horror stories as much as conspiracy theories, urban legends, and sci-fi tales.
3. ‘Paper Clip’ (Season 3, episode 2)
Many consider the third season of The X-Files to be one of the series’ very best, with a multitude of episodes that find the happy medium between monster-of-the-week stories and the overarching alien investigation mythology of the series. The show’s alien element gets the focus in this episode, tying up some of the loose ends from the previous season’s finale. This episode collectively draws on the previous season’s conspiracies and secret government department schemes to add complexity and suspense to the story. All of these elements culminate in a masterful display of graphic production that will astound you and stay with you as one of the most striking finales of the series. (Spoiler: It involves aliens.)
2. ‘Squeeze’ (Season 1, episode 3)
Just barely after the pilot episode, ‘Squeeze’ revealed that the X-Files would go beyond suspicious UFOs and alien investigations. A tone-shifter that tells the terrifying story of a killer who can get in and out of any space — no matter how small — in pursuit of his prey, the episode became the first of many monster-of-the-week stories that became one of the hallmarks of the series. As Scully becomes the killer’s intended prey, the episode also represents a milestone in Mulder and Scully’s dynamic relationship.
1. ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’ (Season 3, episode 4)
The X-Files built its overarching plot and character development that continued season after season, and much of that focused on the subject of mythology. However, the show featured some knockout-standalone episodes. In some cases, these shows were among the best of the entire series. One of these standalone episodes tops our list of the all-time best X-Files shows, starring Peter Boyle, which aired in October 1995. Boyle took home a Primetime Emmy Award for his role as the cynical psychic Clyde Bruckman, recruited by Mulder and Scully to help solve several murders. The brilliance of this episode transcends the X-Files to be regarded by many critics as one of television’s most excellent episodes in any show. Writer Darin Morgan won an Emmy for his part in the project. In this episode, viewers will take a multifaceted look at the idea of life and death by seeing it as a series of external events in the plot and an internalized psychological study of our perception of the subject.
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