'The X-Files' Turns 25: Ranking the Franchise's 25 Most Important Episodes

After 218 television installments, there is very little Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) haven't faced.
Courtesy Everett Collection

On Friday, Sept. 10, 1993, Fox debuted the first episode of Chris Carter's The X-Files. Twenty-five years later, the series has 11 seasons (the latest wrapped in March) and two feature films in the books while also influencing countless other shows.

For 218 episodes, Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) investigated the unexplained, from widespread government conspiracies to "simple" creatures next door. As the franchise awaits word on its future, The Hollywood Reporter celebrates the genre drama's 25th anniversary with a look back at the show's top 25 episodes — those that were the most memorable and iconic of the series. 

25. "Arcadia" (Season 6, Episode 15)

Mulder and Scully were never the traditional types, so watching them go undercover as a married couple in a neighborhood obsessed with the rules was arguably the most out of their element viewers ever saw them. And the monster of the week is made of trash. Literally.

24. "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)

Scully, a medical doctor, is partnered with Mulder in the X-Files unit in an attempt to debunk the paranormal work he is investigating. The duo are polar opposites, but push one another outside of their comfort zones. After sharing a missing nine minutes (apparently time is not a universal variant!), light vandalism of a public road and a near breakdown in a graveyard, Mulder’s basement office (home of the “FBI’s most unwanted”) gets a permanent second occupant.

23. "Syzygy" (Season 3, Episode 13)

A rare planetary alignment causes mayhem in a small town — and an investigating Mulder and Scully to bicker like children. The digs get personal and passive-aggressive.

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22. "Home" (Season 4, Episode 2)

Although the drama was known for its monsters and supernatural beings, humans often caused the most trouble. Case in point, the incestuous Peacock family. Offscreen, the hour was the only episode of the series to be pulled from reruns/syndication.

21. "The Truth" (Season 9, Episodes 19 and 20)

Of the many potential finales the series had, its original two-part series closer felt the most satisfying. Yes, it could be perceived as a little cliche — Mulder is put on trial (and subsequently sentenced to death) for a crime he didn’t commit, which allows for a lot of exposition, flashbacks, and familiar faces to return — but it wraps things up just enough. Mulder and Scully on the run, prepping to take on a potential 2012 alien invasion, leave viewers with the hope that things would, somehow, work out.

20. "This" (Season 11, Episode 2)

It took 11 seasons and two films, but Mulder and Scully finally become full-on action stars. OK, the idea of living post-death because of artificial intelligence is also fascinating. But just look at this:

19. "all things" (Season 7, Episode 17)

Fans still debate whether this hour is the first time Mulder and Scully slept together. What there’s no denying is the episode, written/helmed by Anderson, is a major one: A blast from Scully’s past causes her to reconsider the path she took in life.

18. "Blood" (Season 2, Episode 3)

Electronics flash messages compelling people to commit murder. “Blood,” an episode that would be perfectly at home in 2018, was way ahead of its time in 1994.

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17. "Beyond the Sea" (Season 1, Episode 13)

Scully’s skepticism briefly fades after her father suddenly passes. The FBI agent channels her inner Clarice Starling as she becomes entangled with Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif), an inmate on death row who claims to have psychic powers.

16. "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space’" (Season 3, Episode 20)

A seemingly routine abduction case for Mulder and Scully drew the attention of author Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly), whose interviews/retelling of the events frame the episode. The episode includes Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as Men in Black, plus the frequently cursing Detective Manners (Larry Musser) was inspired by longtime XF director Kim Manners.

15. "Squeeze" (Season 1, Episode 3)

The key to an abnormally long life? Eating livers and then hibernating for 30 years between killing sprees. Eugene Victor Tooms (Doug Hutchison) is the focus of the first real “monster of the week” episode, but his ability to squeeze into minuscule places and, um, unique lifestyle habits made him memorable from the start.

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

’Twas the night before Christmas, and Mulder drags a reluctant Scully to a haunted house. Fortunately for them, they encounter the mischievous ghosts (portrayed by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin). But it isn’t all merry and jolly: The agents' drama (and unresolved sexual tension) frustrates the long-deceased star-crossed lovers.

13. "Irresistible" (Season 2, Episode 13)

Death fetishist Donnie Pfaster (Nick Chinlund) is very human — and obsessed with Scully. The trauma of the experience finally allows Scully to grieve what she went through with her abduction, and is another standout hour for Anderson.

12. "Small Potatoes" (Season 4, Episode 20)

A number of classic episodes are problematic through a modern lens. This one — about shapeshifting loser Eddie VanBlundht (portrayed in his true form by X-Files writer Darin Morgan) who impregnates women undergoing fertility treatments by sleeping with them in their husband’s forms; it’s discovered because the babies are all born with tails — still works almost exclusively because of how well Duchovny embodies Eddie as Mulder.

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

The Darin Morgan-written episode turns a common genre trope (human gets turned into an evil monster!) on its head when a monster is bitten and turns into a human. The hour dissects humanity and despair in a beautifully X-Files way…an extra impressive feat since the script was originally penned as an unproduced hour of the 2005 remake of Night Stalker.

10. "Ice" (Season 1, Episode 8)

It became apparent early in the series that Mulder and Scully would only trust one another. That is put to the test pretty quickly when they get trapped on an Alaskan outpost with scientists and a worm with potentially extraterrestrial origins. The bottle episode remains one of the most tense hours of the series, as suspicion about the identity of the infected person causes everyone to go a bit mad.

9. "The Unnatural" (Season 6, Episode 19)

If you’re a baseball-loving alien in the 1940s, how can you play the sport you love without drawing too much attention to yourself? In the Duchovny-penned and -directed episode, Exley (Jesse L. Martin) shapeshifted into a black man so he could compete without the threat of being discovered. And though Mulder and Scully are barely in the episode, they do get to play a little bit of baseball.

8. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" (Season 5, Episode 5)

It took five years for the series to do its most blatant Frankenstein homage with the hour's The Great Mutato. The creature and its father want a companion for the lonely Mutato, but they are unable to replicate one; the Mutato is ultimately discovered after it attacks and impregnates multiple women. The hour, filmed in black and white, is told through the prism of a comic book, as the final scene — Mulder and Scully dancing at a Cher concert — transitions from film into a drawn image.

7. "Memento Mori" (Season 4, Episode 14)

The series foreshadowed Scully’s cancer by more than a year before the official confirmation in this hour. Anderson is a powerhouse in the episode as Scully grapples with her potential demise, while Duchovny’s portrayal of Mulder’s denial/deflection/grief is painfully raw.

6. "Triangle" (Season 6, Episode 3)

Mulder’s trip to the Bermuda triangle may or may not have transported him to 1939, where the Queen Anne was taken over by Nazis. As Scully attempts to find her missing partner in 1998, the episode is shot to replicate a continuous-take-style of film. And for long-suffering 'shippers, the hour also features Mulder kissing a 1939 version of Scully, while he tells the real Scully he loves her post-boat trip … but she thinks he is drugged up and delusional.

5. "Redux I" (Season 5, Episode 1)

The X-Files often closed its seasons with Mulder’s life in immediate danger, but the fourth year had a particular challenge: It ends with Scully telling a committee that her partner committed suicide … but viewers knew Duchovny was spending the hiatus filming the first film, Fight the Future. However, the quality of the fifth-season premiere was so good the lack of the designed cliffhanger almost didn’t matter, as Mulder loses his belief in the conspiracy he spent the majority of his life pursuing and Scully comes perilously close to losing her fight with cancer.

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

The death of a fortune teller leads Mulder and Scully to reluctant psychic Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), whose main gift is being able to see how people die. His prediction for Mulder? Autoerotic asphyxiation. Scully, he prophesies, will not die.

3. "Duane Barry" (Season 2, Episode 5)

When the female lead of a series becomes pregnant in real-life, writers have to either write it in or find creative ways to work around it. Anderson’s pregnancy led to one of the most series-defining arcs as a hostage situation by an alleged alien abductee takes a turn when he kidnaps Scully in an effort to have her take his place. Scully’s abduction (and near death) causes ripples that last the rest of the series.

2. "Pusher" (Season 3, Episode 17)

Robert Patrick Modell (Robert Wisden) gets inside Mulder’s head, literally and figuratively, as he is able to mentally push people into doing what he tells them to do. The cat-and-mouse chase includes Modell playing a brutal game of Russian roulette with Mulder.

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1. "Bad Blood" (Season 5, Episode 12)

The he said-she said hour proves that Mulder and Scully have very different interpretations of their cases — and impressions of each other and themselves.

Which episode is your favorite? The X-Files is currently streaming on Hulu.