You unlock this list with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension—a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a list of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into The Best 13 Episodes of The Twilight Zone. With the iconic sci-fi/horror show now available on Netflix Instant, it’s worth noting how well it’s aged.
13. “The Hitch-Hiker” (1960, Season 1)
Memorable quote: “Wherever I go, there he is. Wherever I stop, I see him.”
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.
12. “Twenty Two” (1961, Season 2)
Memorable quote: “Room for one more, honey.”
“Twenty Two” is basically a prequel to Final Destination, but I mean that as a compliment. This episode showcases why The Twilight Zone is still so popular 50 years later. The show takes innate fears—in this instance, the ominous, unshakeable fear that something bad is going to happen—and exposes them. Tie that all in with airplanes, and half the audience will be on edge.
11. “I Shot An Arrow Into The Air” (1960, Season 1)
Memorable quote: “Now I know what you meant! Now I know what you were trying to describe!”
Many argue that once a twist is spoiled, a work loses some value the second time through. Although I never watched The Happening a second time, it wasn’t because of the ending. This episode has one of the more gut-wrenching, soul-crushing twists in The Twilight Zone. With a grounding in science fiction, “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” is really about trust and courage under fire. The twist at the end is just an added bonus.
10. “The Invaders” (1961, Season 2)
Memorable quote: “An incredible race of giants lives here—an incredible race of giants.”
For an episode that says so little (the above quote is among the only few lines spoken), “The Invaders” leaves a lasting impression. An old recluse lives in a house untouched by modernity. She is invaded by a small races of alien creatures who systematically begin to take over her home. It’s not until the episode’s final moments that things are revealed to be bigger than they seem.
9. “Living Doll” (1963, Season 5)
Memorable quote: “My name is Talking Tina, and I’m going to kill you.”
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.
8. “A Stop at Willoughby” (1960, Season 1)
Memorable quote: “Push, push, push all the way, all the time, right on down the line.”
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.
7. “It’s a Good Life” (1961, Season 3)
Memorable quote: “It’s real good, Anthony. Real good.”
“It’s a Good Life” is like watching 24 minutes of people on pins and needles. Enter Anthony: a six-year-old with such a powerful mind he can create and destroy whatever he wishes. The residents of Peaksville, Ohio, live in fear of their child overlord, who could be an interesting comparison to real-world dictatorships—both have the power to instill fear and to kill.
6. “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (1961, Season 2)
Memorable quote: “She’s just like science fiction, that what she is. A regular Ray Bradbury.”
Two is always better than one. The same can be said for “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” the Twilight Zone is masterful in its use of twists, but it’s rare when an episode features two in one episode. Two state troopers discover a crashed UFO near a remote diner. Inside are passengers from a bus that’s passing through. Though the bus only held six passengers, seven customers are in the previously empty diner. After minutes of finger pointing, everyone finally departs, but one returns moments later. Jaws remained dropped until closing credits.
5. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963, Season 5)
Memorable quote: “There’s a man out there!”
“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. “Time Enough at Last” (1959, Season 1)
Memorable quote: “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was, was all the time I needed.”
Henry Bemis just wants to read, but it a world that constantly consumes his attention, the aged, bespectacled bank teller has trouble finding the time. Safely secured in a bank vault, Bemis is protected from a devasting nuclear blast that appears to annihilate the human race. Now Bemis has all the time he needs but quickly receives a tough lesson about the interconnectedness in which we live our daily lives.
3. “To Serve Man” (1962, Season 3)
Memorable quote: “This is the way nightmares begin… or, perhaps, end. Very simple, direct, unadorned. Incredible, and yet so terribly real that even while they’re happening we live with them, attest them, and assimilate them.”
“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.
2. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (1960, Season 1)
Memorable quote: “One to the other. One to the other. One to the other.”
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.
1. “The Eye of the Beholder” (1960, Season 2)
Memorable quote: “Say it over and over to yourself. ‘Beauty is in 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.