The 27 Best X-Files Episodes, Ranked

"The X-Files" followed FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they handled a wide range of bizarre, disturbing, and unexplained cases that often feature supernatural and otherworldly elements. So much of the strength of the show came from the perfect casting of its leads: David Duchovny is wonderful as the conspiracy theory-obsessed Mulder, always ready to attribute the mysterious cases to uncanny causes; Gillian Anderson was equally delightful as the skeptical Scully, generally fueled by her attachment to the scientific method.

"The X-Files" is one of the most defining TV shows of the 1990s, and for good reason. While much of the show was serious and suspenseful, its creators weren't afraid to take chances and incorporate more whimsical and comedic elements, often to great effect. Over the course of 11 "X-Files" seasons and two movies, the franchise has had its share of disappointing moments. However, it has had far more highs than lows, so let's take a look at the 27 best "X-Files" episodes.

27. Never Again (Season 4, Episode 13)

Agent Mulder takes a week off from work so he can go on vacation at Graceland, leaving Agent Scully on her own for the next assignment, which is in Philadelphia. When it turns out to be a dud, she goes on a date with a man named Ed, who's been showing erratic and violent behavior ever since he got a tattoo of a pinup girl on his arm. Scully begins to suspect that the tattoo may have a sinister hold on Ed.

As much as I love Mulder, it was great to see Scully get the spotlight here and see some aspects of her personal life we normally hadn't previously seen much of. It was an absolute delight seeing the usually uptight agent cut loose a bit by impulsively getting a tattoo with a man she barely knew, and even having a one-night stand with him, showing her to be more than just a generic, business-only government employee.

26. Humbug (Season 2, Episode 20)

"Humbug" follows Agents Mulder and Scully as they head to Gibsonton, Florida to investigate a series of unexplained murders that have been taking place there for years. Making this case even more bizarre is that the town is home to a group of circus freaks and performers, and it's up to the agents to uncover who knows what about the one behind the killings that have plagued Gibsonton. Is human blockhead Dr. Blockhead the culprit? What about the former Dogface Boy? Or The Conundrum?

This episode is one of the first genuinely comedic in the series, and it pulls off whimsical humor quite nicely. There's a colorful cast of characters here who add to the zaniness of "Humbug," with plenty of familiar faces. Despite the comedic elements, however, the episode also offers a deeper message about how humans too often ostracize those they deem different and abnormal, all without being too preachy.

25. Tithonus (Season 6, Episode 10)

Agent Scully is assigned to a case with Agent Peyton Ritter in New York City to investigate a mysterious man with a camera who always appears whenever someone dies. They suspect police photographer Alfred Fellig, who, despite working in this profession for around 35 years, hasn't aged a day since 1964. Fellig's tendency to show up when someone's about to die leads Ritter to suspect him of their murders, but Scully believes that he's harboring a deeper secret.

"Tithonus" covers similar thematic and narrative territory as the classic "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" — an old man who has a supernatural connection to death — without coming off as redundant, offering a poignant perspective on the downsides of living forever. Most of the episodes of "The X-Files" Season 6 were arguably not up to par, but this episode manages to not only be the best of the season, but also one of the best of the series.

24. Rm9sbG93ZXJz (Season 11, Episode 7)

"Rm9sbG93ZXJz" opens with an ominous admonition about artificial intelligence and how humans must be careful with what they design it to learn. The episode then follows Agents Mulder and Scully as they experience some trouble at a sushi restaurant run entirely by robots. However, the trouble follows each of them home as their smartphones are besieged by countless notifications, Scully deals with "smart" appliances that have run amok, and Mulder contends with an army of aggressive drones.

Season 11 will probably never be on anyone's list of the best "X-Files" seasons, but it did produce a few solid episodes, including this one. "Rm9sbG93ZXJz" is interesting in that it's more standalone than most other episodes, containing few, if any, references to the wider canon. However, that's actually one of the episode's strengths; by sticking to its own timeline, it's able to freely convey the dangers of our reliance on technology and artificial intelligence, making it even creepier.

23. all things (Season 7, Episode 17)

While Agent Mulder is in England for an assignment involving heart chakra-shaped crop circles, he has Agent Scully reach out to Colleen Azar, an expert on new age beliefs, for some information that might help him. During her mission, Scully reconnects with an old professor of hers, Daniel Waterston, who she was once romantically involved with years earlier, and is now suffering from a mysterious illness. Complicating things are the appearances and disappearances of a woman who may have some mystical ties to Scully's task.

Gillian Anderson directed and co-wrote this terrific episode, leading us to wonder why she never helmed another one after this. While it could be tempting to dismiss "all things" for its exploration of spiritual beliefs as pretentious, it adds a new dimension to the show. The typically stoic Scully is given a chance to shine here, as she's forced to confront the decisions of her past, all while having her skepticism challenged.

22. Dreamland (Season 6, Episodes 4 & 5)

"Dreamland" is a two-part storyline that follows Agents Mulder and Scully as they receive an anonymous tip from someone claiming to have classified info on UFOs. Their contact is at the infamous Area 51, but when the agents arrive at the secretive base, they experience a strange occurrence that results in Mulder switching bodies with Morris Fletcher, who works there. Mulder uses this as an opportunity to infiltrate Area 51, while Fletcher escapes life working for the government.

While "Dreamland" doesn't contribute much to the wider mythology of "The X-Files," it makes for a clever break from the more serious overarching plot of the series. It was only a matter of time before everyone's favorite FBI agents made their way to Area 51, but I doubt anyone could have expected to focus on body-swap antics over conspiracy cover-ups. A standout scene is when Mulder (in Fletcher's body) dances in front of a mirror in a hilarious reference to the classic Marx Brothers routine.

21. Beyond the Sea (Season 1, Episode 13)

Agent Scully visits her parents for the holidays when something strange happens: Scully catches her father speaking quietly one night, only to immediately get a call from her mother that her father died of a heart attack. Scully then goes on an assignment with Mulder involving a serial killer who claims to have psychic abilities that may help them find a missing couple. The two agents are skeptical, but Scully begins to believe that there's a connection between him and her recently deceased father.

"Beyond the Sea" is one of the few episodes where Mulder and Scully trade roles; here, Mulder is the skeptic while Scully is the believer. However, it works extremely well, as Scully is still reeling from the death of her father, justifying her need to find any sort of connection to him. As a bonus, Brad Dourif delivers an absolutely chilling performance as the serial killer with supposed psychic abilities who agrees to help the agents.

20. Arcadia (Season 6, Episode 15)

A husband and wife are mysteriously and brutally murdered by something in the seemingly cozy little planned community of Falls of Arcadia. To investigate, Agents Mulder and Scully go undercover as a couple and move into the home where the murders took place. It turns out that there are a strict set of rules for those who live in the neighborhood, as well as severe consequences for those who disobey them.

A stellar "monster of the week" episode, "Arcadia" is a darkly comedic send-up of life in a tightly-knit community. Because this took place before the romance between Mulder and Scully finally blossomed, we're treated to a clever tease of what their married life might look like. One of the few flaws in this episode is the monster, which could have benefitted from a little more work. However, Mulder's rebellious flouting of the neighborhood's rules is a standout here.

19. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)

FBI Special Agent Dana Scully is tasked with investigating the X-Files — cases that involve mysterious occurrences — with Special Agent Fox Mulder. Their first assignment revolves around the curious death of high school student Karen Swenson, who is found with two unexplained marks on her lower back. Making the case even more bizarre is the fact that she's the fourth student from her school to die in this manner. Mulder believes there may be an extraterrestrial force at work, while Scully, of course, doesn't.

The inaugural episode of "The X-Files" is surprisingly strong; Mulder and Scully's personalities are perfectly defined here, and it does a spectacular job of laying the foundation for the rest of the series. The main plot is suspenseful and packs many of the twists and turns that characterize the show's best moments. It's a testament to just how clear the vision was for "The X-Files" in its infancy that its first episode is as impactful as many other shows' later episodes.

18. Ice (Season 1, Episode 8)

"Ice" sees Agents Mulder and Scully head to Icy Cape, Alaska, where a group of geophysicists has died under mysterious circumstances. While on the surface it seems that their deaths were a large-scale murder-suicide, things take a more ominous turn when they discover a dog that appears to carry an ancient disease. More shocking discoveries are made, but with an approaching storm, Mulder and Scully have no choice but to remain at the outpost and solve the case.

Fans of John Carpenter's 1982 classic sci-fi horror film "The Thing" will find much to love here. The single isolated location raises the stakes of the story considerably, especially when the suspicion among the protagonists devolves into anger, all while having to contend with an archaic and seemingly extraterrestrial entity that has reawoken after countless years. "Ice" may be a one-off episode, but it still manages to pack massive amounts of tension into its 45-minute runtime.

17. Paper Hearts (Season 4, Episode 10)

Based on an ominous dream he had, Agent Mulder finds the remains of a young girl in a park in Manassas, Virginia. Mulder deduces that the little girl's murderer was John Lee Roche, a serial killer he had arrested years earlier. However, as Mulder and Scully delve deeper into Roche's history, they discover numerous links he had to Mulder's past and begin to suspect that he was the one responsible for Mulder's sister Samantha's disappearance.

The otherworldly aspects of the show are more subdued here and are mostly contained to the bizarre dreams that plague Mulder. Still, "Paper Hearts" is an incredibly chilling episode that, while not furthering the overall mythology of the series, gives us a deeper look into how Mulder's sister's mysterious disappearance led to his becoming an FBI agent. Plus, Tom Noonan gives a wonderfully creepy performance as Roche that's arguably every bit as good as, say, Hannibal Lecter or Anton Chigurh.

16. Small Potatoes (Season 4, Episode 20)

"Small Potatoes" sees Agents Mulder and Scully embarking on one of their weirdest cases to date: There have been five babies born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, all of whom inexplicably have tails. After concluding that all of the babies were sired by the same father, the agents believe the culprit is hospital janitor Eddie Van Blundht. However, their search for answers gets tricky when they suspect that Van Blundht has the ability to shapeshift and take the form of anyone he wants.

While much of "The X-Files" is generally suspenseful in tone, it still manages to deliver some laughs while still capably delivering the thrills we fans savor. Because of the villain's ability to instantly transform into anyone, there are plenty of delightful instances of mistaken identity. A standout scene is when Van Blundht as Mulder nearly succeeds in seducing Scully, as the attraction between the agents had only been hinted at during this point in the series.

15. Je Souhaite (Season 7, Episode 21)

Anson Stokes is none too happy about working at a self-storage facility, but his fortunes drastically change when he discovers a woman in a storage locker who has the ability to grant her owner three wishes; Anson proves this to be true when he wishes for his boss to shut up, only for the boss to end up without a mouth. Of course, Agents Mulder and Scully get wind of this phenomenon and set out to put the genie back in her bottle to stop her extreme wish-granting.

"Be careful what you wish for" is an age-old theme in storytelling, but the creators behind "Je Souhaite" still manage to wring a lot of clever material out of it. One of the highlights of the episode is when the ever-skeptical Scully performs an autopsy on the unseen corpse of someone who wished to become invisible and she still tries to rationalize the supernatural condition.

14. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (Season 6, Episode 6)

Agent Scully's quiet Christmas plans are ruined when Agent Mulder convinces her to check out a house that's supposedly haunted by the spirits of a couple who carried out a lovers' pact more than 80 years prior. Apparently, the ghosts only appear on Christmas Eve, and that seems to be the case when the two agents arrive at the old house, only to fall prey to their ability to create realistic illusions.

This standalone episode perfectly balances horror, romance, comedy, and holiday cheer, serving as the perfect Christmas gift for "X-Files" fans. While there are plenty of scares on tap, the episode doesn't skimp on whimsy and even manages to give us a sweet ending without getting too sappy. As a bonus, Hollywood veterans Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin make perfect additions to the series as the mischievous Yuletide spirits plaguing Mulder and Scully.

13. X-Cops (Season 7, Episode 12)

In "X-Cops," everyone's favorite FBI agents find themselves right in the middle of an episode of Fox's "Cops." LAPD has been called into a crime-ridden neighborhood in Los Angeles to respond to a call about a supposed monster plaguing locals. Agents Mulder and Scully arrive on the scene to investigate reports of a werewolf in the area; Scully's not happy about having to work with a film crew following them, but Mulder thinks it's a great way to finally capture evidence of the supernatural.

This episode could very easily have become a cheap gimmick, but the crossover works so well that it ends up becoming one of the best episodes of the entire series. The faux-documentary approach gives the case a level of believability never seen in previous episodes, lending some extra thrills to the story. However, it's so cleverly executed and packed with numerous winks to the audience, we can't help but smile all the way through.

12. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster (Season 10, Episode 3)

Agent Mulder has been questioning his belief in the supernatural and otherworldly, a rare state for him to be in. Luckily, he and Scully have been handed a new case that's bound to set him right again: A corpse has been found in the woods outside of a small Oregon town that has some peculiar wounds, which may not have been caused by anything human.

The revival seasons of "The X-Files" were pretty disappointing, arguably failing to recapture the magic of the original run of the series. However, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" is one of the few gems from this era, managing to even become one of the best episodes of the entire show. It's got plenty of narrative twists and turns and delivers an abundance of thrills. However, what truly makes this episode great are the many in-jokes that only the most dedicated fans will catch and appreciate.

11. The Field Where I Died (Season 4, Episode 5)

Agents Mulder and Scully arrive in Apison, Tennessee to follow up on reports of alleged crimes being committed by a cult known as the Temple of the Seven Stars. The agents apprehend the cult's leader, Vernon Ephesian, and his six wives, and bring them in for questioning. The case takes a turn for the weird when one of the wives takes on a new personality, claiming to be a woman from decades earlier and that she knew Mulder from a past life.

"The Field Where I Died" is a surprisingly tender episode of the series, unabashedly diving into such deep topics as death, grief, and loss. While it may be a tad sentimental for some, it serves as a nice palate cleanser for those who need a break from the intensity that marks much of the rest of "The X-Files." Kristen Cloke is a standout as the cult follower-slash-wife who embodies the spirits of multiple people from the past.

10. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7)

As Agents Mulder and Scully convene with the Lone Gunmen about the Smoking Man, the man himself spies on them from a distance with a sniper rifle pointed at them. The plot then jumps back to the early 1960s, when the Smoking Man is a young captain in the Army, which is when he was friends with Mulder's father, Bill. Soon, the Smoking Man is assigned to various missions that would alter the course of American history for decades to come.

Although this episode came out more than 25 years ago, I'm still hesitant about giving away more plot details, even if you've already seen it. For those who haven't seen it yet, you're in for a treat. The premise had every chance to become a silly gimmick, but all it did was establish the Smoking Man as a character to watch out for while still leaving us with plenty more questions to puzzle over.

9. Squeeze (Season 1, Episode 3)

A businessman in Baltimore, Maryland is murdered and has his liver removed from his body. This unusual case, of course, is handed over to Agents Mulder and Scully, who note its resemblances to murders that occurred exactly 30 and 60 years prior. Mulder and Scully wait at the scene of the crime and apprehend a suspect, who they believe is not only responsible for the earlier murders but also has the ability to manipulate his body to fit into tight spaces.

"Squeeze" has a pretty absurd plot, even for "The X-Files," but it's packed with so much suspense that this early episode stands out as one of the series' high points. However, the real MVP here is Doug Hutchison, who delivers a gleefully creepy performance as Eugene Victor Tooms, the unaging murderer with a morbid fixation. He may have been a "monster of the week," but that only makes his character all the more special.

8. Memento Mori (Season 4, Episode 14)

Agent Scully has just been given the news that she has a cancerous tumor but refuses to let her condition stop her from working. To look for answers to her mysterious diagnosis, Mulder and Scully meet with members of Mutual UFO Network, many of whom share her symptoms. While Scully is expectedly dismissive, Mulder begins to believe that her cancerous tumor may have resulted from the time she was kidnapped and that the government may be involved, as well.

An important episode in the overall mythology of "The X-Files," "Memento Mori" ties together numerous long-running plot threads, while also drastically raising the stakes with Scully's illness. There are thrilling twists and turns aplenty, and the revelations serve both to enlighten viewers while also giving them many new mysteries to speculate on. There's also a fair amount of emotional tumult as we see Mulder fight to save the life of someone who's become more than a partner.

7. Deadalive (Season 8, Episode 15)

By this point in the series, Agent Mulder was largely absent from the field, having been abducted by aliens along with other people, only to have his dead body discovered and put to rest by his colleagues. However, when another alien abductee — previously thought dead — returns to life when he's about to undergo an autopsy, FBI assistant director Walter Skinner arranges to have Mulder's body exhumed, only for Scully and the others to stumble upon even more questions than answers.

An important episode in the series' overall mythology, "Deadalive" features a welcome return of David Duchovny. In any other series, the return of a deceased major character may come off like a dearth of original ideas, but the episode's writers use the plot device to great effect here and deliver plenty of enticing mysteries along the way. While "The X-Files" felt like it was mostly on autopilot during the later seasons of its initial run, "Deadalive" managed to resurrect some of the old magic.

6. Millennium (Season 7, Episode 4)

A former FBI agent's grave has been dug up with blood found around it, and so it's only a matter of time before Agents Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate. They soon discover that the agent was one of three others who recently died by suicide as part of an apocalyptic ritual connected to a mysterious organization called the Millennium Group. Mulder and Scully turn to a man named Frank Black, who has the ability to enter the minds of killers, for help.

"Millennium" features the wonderful Lance Henriksen as Frank Black from his own show, also called "Millennium," turning this into another crossover "X-Files" episode. An unusually dark and ominous episode, the morbid happenings of "Millennium" are balanced by the first truly romantic kiss shared by Mulder and Scully, finally answering the "will they or won't they" question that fans had been asking for years.

5. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)

This episode opens with a man named Robert Patrick Modell, who is apprehended by the FBI, only for a semi-trailer truck to crash into the proceedings, giving him the opportunity to elude his captors. FBI Agent Frank Burst is the only one to survive the incident, and fills Mulder and Scully in on his pursuit of the escaped man, a killer he refers to as "Pusher;" Modell earned his nickname from his alleged ability to mentally "push" people into killing themselves.

Robert Wisden is terrific as the enigmatic Robert Patrick Modell, perfectly portraying a killer who's both complex and completely detestable, resulting in one of the series' best one-off villains. The killer leads Mulder and Scully on a deliciously tense chase, culminating in an incredibly suspenseful climax involving a game of Russian roulette. While "Pusher" feels a little closer to "Se7en" than a typical "X-Files" episode, it's still a must-watch, especially for fans of the crime genre.

4. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)

Clyde Bruckman is an insurance salesman who's going about his day when he passes by a man who kills a psychic named Madame Zelma after she reads his palm. Sometime later, the remains of another psychic are found in Zelma's apartment, prompting the arrival of Agents Mulder and Scully. They're unimpressed with the psychic that the local police have hired to help them solve the crime, but soon learn that the unassuming Bruckman may actually have a special mental gift to help them find the murderer.

"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" has so much going for it: an amazing performance by Peter Boyle in the title role, a wonderfully unique plot, and a perfect balance of humor and depth. While there is an abundance of clever wit here, it still manages to explore deeper themes like free will and the inevitability of death. This episode is "The X-Files" firing on all cylinders, showcasing almost all of its best qualities in a tightly-knit yarn.

3. Wetwired (Season 3, Episode 23)

Agents Mulder and Scully's latest case involves a man who murdered his wife because he mistook her for someone else. They examine his house and notice a cable repairman doing some work nearby. In the house, they discover countless VHS tapes featuring violence recorded from the news, prompting Scully to believe that this may have led the man to commit the horrible crime, which Mulder doesn't buy. Later, a woman kills her neighbor thinking it was her cheating husband, and again, the mysterious cable repairman is seen nearby.

This episode does a terrific job of exploring the idea that violence on TV may lead to violence in the real world, while also fleshing out the expanding mythology of the series. The real highlight here, though, is seeing the typically-skeptical Scully fall prey to a device that induces paranoid delusions in viewers; Gillian Anderson's gradual descent into madness makes for a much-needed break from her usual stony-faced demeanor.

2. Triangle (Season 6, Episode 3)

Agent Mulder's raft has capsized somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, and he later reawakens aboard a British ship, the Queen Anne. However, there's something interesting about this ship: It mysteriously disappeared in 1939 in the Bermuda Triangle, meaning that Mulder has been sent back in time, and has to deal with Nazis who've boarded the ship. Back in present-day 1998, Agent Scully is on the search for Mulder and must contend with a Bureau that is obviously trying to keep her from finding the truth.

"Triangle" is another example of "The X-Files" aiming for multiple targets and hitting them with ease. It comes with a delightfully imaginative premise that sees Mulder and Scully embark on separate quests that converge perfectly. There are plenty of old-fashioned, almost Hitchcockian, thrills on tap that are balanced with just the right amount of whimsy. Watching the main cast play historical versions of themselves is an absolute blast, too.

1. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)

"Bad Blood" opens with Agents Mulder and Scully on the trail of a young man; Mulder tackles him and stabs him under the belief that he's a vampire, only for Scully to reveal that the young man's "fangs" are fake. The two agents must then share their story with Assistant Director Walter Skinner and explain their part in the murder of a boy. However, things take a turn for the bizarre when the boy wakes up in the middle of an autopsy.

Here it is, folks — the best of the best. "Bad Blood" may not contribute much to the overall mythology of "The X-Files" (not that that's a bad thing — the mythology ended up getting pretty convoluted by the series' end), but it packs in everything that makes the show so great. There's horror from the vampire element, but there's also considerable humor in Mulder and Scully's differing reports to Skinner, with each version showcasing the speaking agent as the true hero. This episode proved that "The X-Files" was far, far more than just a sci-fi show, and is why it's so beloved so many years later.