New year, new us, new television. But one thing never changes — the annual Twilight Zone marathon that runs on SyFy to commemorate how far our society has come over the past decades. The Twilight Zone is a cultural touchstone that’s been around since 1959, scaring people all over the world with its haunting plotlines.
Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, was often lauded for his ability to capture modern-day political and societal issues through the lens of science fiction, and many of the episodes are still relevant today over 50 years later. It’s only fitting that every New Year’s holiday, we rewatch the iconic series. So here is our ranking of the 13 best Twilight Zone episodes.
13. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (Season 2, Episode 28)
A bus on its way to Boston is forced to stop in a diner called the Hi-Way Cafe when state troopers investigate a UFO sighting during a snowstorm. The bus passengers realize that one of them is an outsider, a potential alien, as they point fingers at who it could be. But the episode takes a turn when there’s not only one, but two twists, that play on both the Red Scare and our world’s obsession with colonization.
12. “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (Season 3, Episode 14)
A dancer, a clown, a “hobo,” a bagpiper, and a military man are stuck in a room. They don’t need to eat, sleep, or excrete … but they can think and emote. They don’t know where they are, and once we figure it out, we can’t help but feel for how we treat the inanimate objects in our lives.
11. “The Bewitchin’ Pool” (Season 5, Episode 36)
While “The Bewitchin’ Pool” isn’t considered one of the unequivocal best Twilight Zone episodes, it makes the top 11 in our book. For those who watch The Twilight Zone when they’re younger, this tale of children dealing with escapism during their parents’ tumult and divorce is both a fantasy and a nightmare.
10. “The Midnight Sun” (Season 3, Episode 10)
“The Midnight Sun” seems like an allegory for climate change, which makes it all the more impressive considering it comes from the 1960s. It’s just a terrifying look at how little control we have when the world is boiling over… or so it seems.
9. “The Hitch-Hiker” (Season 1, Episode 16)
Most women can relate to “The Hitch-Hiker,” which follows a young woman who’s being continuously stalked by a mysterious hitch-hiker. However, the hitch-hiker isn’t who he appears to be; even still, the reasons she’s afraid of him are all the same.
8. “The After Hours” (Season 1, Episode 34)
Imagine learning that you’re not who you thought you were. In “The After Hours,” Marsha is given the run around by a strange department store with a mysterious ninth floor, in which she uncovers her true identity, which happens to be a lack of any identity at all.
7. “Time Enough at Last” (Season 1, Episode 8)
“Be careful what you wish for” is one of The Twilight Zone’s most popular thesis statements. In this episode, Henry Bemis only wishes to have the time to read and enjoy life’s little pleasures. After an apocalypse leaves him as the last man on earth, he finally has the time, but with one major downfall.
6. “To Serve Man” (Season 3, Episode 24)
The title of this Twilight Zone episode appeals to our fondness for wordplay, but even still, its twist still haunts us to this day. We may strive towards peace and cooperation with other nations — and other alien nations — but there’s always an underlying motive.
5. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (Season 1, Episode 22)
One of the most classic Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is a clear reference to the then-present Red Scare. As neighbors turn on one another to figure out who the alien imposter is, they tear apart their own society, leaving the aliens with no work to do in order to take over.
4. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Some consider “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” the best Twilight Zone episode of all time. Featuring William Shatner as a recently released patient from a psychiatric ward, he’s the only one who can see the monster on the wing of a plane. He ends up back where he started, but was he really seeing things that weren’t there?
3. “Mirror Image” (Season 1, Episode 21)
This episode was the true beginning of our own doppelganger-based fear. Millicent fails to remember moments that others are sure occurred, and she’s beginning to question her own sanity, just as those around her question her sanity. She meets her demise as we meet the truth. The episode also inspired Jordan Peele’s 2019 film Us.
2. “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6)
We’ve all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but we never expected the phrase to take such a dark turn. This episode features a young woman undergoing cosmetic surgery to fit in, but with a major unexpected twist.
1. “Living Doll” (Season 5, Episode 6)
The best episode of The Twilight Zone plays on the common tropes of dolls and toys coming to life. But in this case, the “living doll” is not only evil, but is derived from a young girl’s tortured relationship with her parents. Sometimes our best porcelain friends have their own motives.
All episodes of The Twilight Zone are available to stream on Paramount Plus.