Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best

Comedy Lists Best Mst3k Episodes
Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best

Editor’s note: Since publishing, two new seasons of MST3K have come to Netflix, with a total of 20 new episodes. Those shows have now been added to this massive list, bringing its full episode total to an astounding 197.

Watching every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 without commercial breaks of any kind takes 287 hours. Watching it with the sort of commercial breaks it had in its broadcast days is 382 hours. That’s almost SIX TIMES longer than watching the six seasons of Game of Thrones from start to finish. And that’s not including the show’s 21 “season 0” episodes on local Minneapolis TV station KTMA before getting picked up for the official “season 1” on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central in 1989.

Suffice to say, watching all of MST3k from start to finish is a gargantuan undertaking, and one that likely would take even the most die-hard fan years to accomplish. Ranking the entire series? That can take even longer, but I’m happy to report that we’ve pulled it off. Yes, in honor of MST3k’s triumphant return to the airwaves in its new Netflix series, we’ve gone and ranked every single episode of classic Mystery Science Theater. That’s 190 feature-length episodes, plus the 1 feature film, MST3k: The Movie. This ranking arrives just in time for the additional return of classic MST3k episodes to Netflix, as they pave the way for the new, Jonah Ray-hosted series. Shout! Factory announced the return of classic MST3k episodes to the service in the spring; a boon for Netflix subscribers who remember when the show was once available in streaming. Such episodes include fan-favorites such as Space Mutiny, Werewolf, Eegah! and Pod People. The MST3k page on Netflix can be found here. We’ve also ranked those 20 MST3K episodes only available on Netflix.

I’m certain that this list will be contentious. I fully expect it to drag up the old, forever-repeated Joel vs. Mike (now vs. Jonah) flame wars, plus deep discussion of the show’s best seasons/eras. That’s fine. Feel free to have all of those conversations anywhere that you share this piece. I’ll simply state this: I love MST3k more than any other TV show in the history of television. I love both Joel and Mike, and I’ve never given a moment of thought to the debate of one host or another. I’ve interviewed ALL THREE of them for Paste—Mike about the continued success of Rifftrax, and Joel shortly after the new MST3k reboot series was announced. I drank whiskey with Jonah Ray, the host of the new series, in a bar while the #BringBackMST3k Kickstarter closed with a final telethon and blew past $6 million. And I watched in a theater as the entire cast reunited for a riff-a-pa-looza reunion back in June of 2016. My Thanksgivings revolve around the annual Turkey Day marathon. I am a MSTie, through and through, and writing this 50,000-plus word piece has been a marathon labor of love that took roughly 4 months to complete.

So you know now that even when I name an episode as “the worst” MST3k experiment, it’s coming from a place of love.

Are you ready? Then let’s go. WE’VE GOT RANKING SIGN!

197. Ep. 102, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, 1958, /w Commando Cody and the Radar Men From the Moon, Part 1

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel interacts with the film in a unique way by standing up and putting his hand over the mouth of a very shrill, very annoying singer, which actually lowers the volume of the film.

The films at the very bottom of this list—i.e., the “worst” episodes of MST3k—tend to be here for one of two reasons: Either they’re films so bad that they confounded the cast’s ability to make them entertaining and funny to watch, or they’re from very early in the series, before MST3k’s method of presentation was fully formed. This one is both. Any fan of the show should ultimately be able to agree that season 1 is the roughest stretch of MST3k episodes, and that’s unfortunately on display in this disjointed and painful Mexican movie about a mad doctor trying to rob a mummy’s tomb by way of robot. It introduces us to our first series short (usually a good thing), but the fact that it’s the first of nine freaking installments of Commando Cody hints at all the pain to come. The issues here are the same as most season 1 episodes: Bad visual and audio quality, a lower number of total riffs, lower production values and performers who just haven’t settled into their roles yet. In particular, J. Elvis Weinstein as Tom Servo has some funny moments, but his deep, monotonous voice can’t match the vivaciousness that Kevin Murphy brought to the character from season 2 onward. The Commando Cody shorts, likewise, only get more tedious the more of them you see in season 1—it’s no surprise that they more or less stopped showing long-form serials after The Phantom Creeps in season 2. The good news is that MST3k was able to forge ahead into better episodes, even in season 1. It only gets better from here.

196. Ep. 323, The Castle of Fu Manchu, 1969

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “It’s after five, the gateway to eternity is closed!”

If you’re ever looking for the cinematic embodiment of the concept of entropy, look no further than The Castle of Fu Manchu. Good lord, this film is a boring, plotless, confusing, obtuse mess of a movie. I defy you to watch it and have any idea what’s going on, or know who any of the characters are. Fu Manchu’s plot … apparently involves trying to freeze the Earth’s oceans? You wouldn’t know from watching, I can assure you of that. The film does quite a number on Joel & The Bots, as their attempts to mock it slowly devolve into whimpering and open sobbing during almost all of the host segments. They try, but the movie just grinds along at a mind-numbing pace. I’ve read plenty of MST3k fans who describe this as one episode they just can’t make it through in a single sitting, and I agree with them. The one upside: It’s actually pretty refreshing to see the Mads feeling so victorious as they do in this episode, truly reveling in the pain that Fu Manchu is inflicting. At least someone enjoyed it. The Mads rarely catch a break.

195. Ep. 108, The Slime People, 1963, /w Commando Cody, Part 6

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Broadcast: “we are being attacked by the Slime People” Joel: “Send reams of Kleenex”

This might be the hardest to see movie ever featured on MST3k, which is certainly saying something—it’s a bit like viewing the world through a cataract simulator. The obscuring element in this case is fog, which gets completely out of control and ends up obscuring literally everything on screen in many scenes. The fog is created by the titular slime people, who are attempting to use a wall of “solidified fog” in order to entrap Los Angeles. The riffing is lower in terms of volume, as one sees in most season 1 episodes, and the jokes about the fogginess and hard-to-see characters wear thin pretty quickly. Not being able to SEE the damn movie simply doesn’t provide the Satellite of Love crew with a lot of solid material for riffing in this one. Plus: More Commando Cody. More Commando Cody is never good.

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194. Ep. 619, Red Zone Cuba, 1966, /w Platform, Posture and Appearance

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “John Carradine! …was he always 100 years old?”

Coleman freaking Francis, people. The man I wrote an entire essay about for Paste, detailing why this man is the TRUE “worst director of all time.” All three Coleman Francis movies were covered by MST3k, and all three are exceedingly painful. But if there’s one I’d hope and pray to never have to watch again, it would be Red Zone Cuba. Even a fairly solid short in “Platform, Posture and Appearance” can’t save this episode from a movie that is so damn painful and despicable that it resists all attempts to riff it. Or maybe it’s just that the awfulness of Red Zone Cuba comes seeping out through otherwise normal riffing to infect the viewer. Either way, this is the poster child for an episode of MST3k that is very difficult to watch not because of the crew’s efforts, but because the film truly is that abominable. Ugly, slapdash, mean-spirited and loathsome in every way, it will make you want to put your head in an oven. This is a movie where the “protagonist” at one point drops an old man down a well and then goes on to rape that old man’s blind daughter. Anyone who can sit through Red Zone Cuba without MST3k’s riffing deserves a goddamn medal.

193. Ep. 101, The Crawling Eye, 1958

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “What’s a giant eye going to do, pick you up and wink you to death?”

It all started here—the first “official,” post-KTMA episode of MST3k on The Comedy Channel. The film itself is nothing too special or memorable; not nearly so painful as something like Red Zone Cuba or Fu Manchu above, but it’s met with fairly uninspired riffing by MST3k standards, with a far slower pace of jokes-per-minute and more low-energy or awkward moments where the riffers stumble over lines or talk over each other. I will say, one thing I do like about the season 1 episodes is that the Mads tend to make more of an effort to hype the badness of the movie in advance: I enjoy Josh Weinstein here describing The Crawling Eye: “It’s got a bad audio track, it’s in black and white, and worst of all, it stars Forrest Tucker! Good name, bad actor.” It’s a somewhat inglorious start for the legendary series, but you can at least see a high-quality version of the episode for free via MST3k’s official YouTube channel, which makes it go down a little smoother.

192. Ep. 103, Mad Monster, 1942 /w Commando Cody, Part 2

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “That’s the most casually dressed monster I’ve ever seen.”

In the earliest MST3k episodes, the writers seemed less concerned on picking “entertaining” films and more focused on picking “painful” films. That’s all well and good for a series where the entire premise is torturing a man and his robots via movies, but as for the audience, we’re here to laugh. Mad Monster, a 1942 poverty row-esque horror film starring no one of note (besides Glenn Strange, who played Frankenstein for Universal a few times), is just the type of film that later-era MST3k would likely have ignored as too bland, weathered and uninteresting. The audio is pretty bad, the action drags, and dead air between riffs is far too noticeable. Overall, though, this episode is simply more forgettable than it is painful. You’ll watch it, and then not be able to remember any of it afterward.

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191. Ep. 314, Mighty Jack, 1968

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Oh man, they’re swimming right through Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral!”

Tedium and pain, made malleable in the furnaces of hell, came together to forge the film that is Mighty Jack. Lord, this is a nigh-on unbearable Japanese movie, wherein the secret spy organization Mighty Jack fights the evil organization Q with the help of their magical toy submarine. That kind of makes it sound entertaining, but I assure you that it is anything but. The sheer amount of repeated shots and slowwwwwwwwwww banked turns executed by the little flying jet/submarine hybrid vehicle is beyond belief. The repetitive nature starts out annoying and then becomes truly tortuous. The crew tries their best, but the film is so unintelligible that it becomes a chore to continue watching as the SAME DAMN SHOTS are used over and over and over again. The episode at least has one great host segment, wherein the crew perform that beloved sea shanty of old, “Slow the Plot Down.” To quote: “We’ll scuttle the story and run her aground. We’ll try so hard to slow the plot down!”

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190. Ep. 105, The Corpse Vanishes, 1942, /w Commando Cody, Part 3

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She’s practicing for her role as Camille.”

Poor Bela Lugosi. After his iconic role in Dracula and unwisely passing on Frankenstein, he ended up trapped in increasingly shoddy horror movies, often playing mad doctors, exactly as he does in this Poverty Row snoozer, The Corpse Vanishes. It’s not the worst movie in the world, although it is very weird—Lugosi is for some reason obsessed with specifically kidnapping brides and drawing fluid from their necks to rejuvenate his own shriveled wife. Why it can’t be any random woman is not entirely clear, and the crew doesn’t really key on it the way they would have in a later season episode. Like most of season 1, it just can’t get a good head of steam going in the riff department, and the audience is all too likely to get bored because the energy level is on the lower side. Plus: More Commando Cody, which is as painful as ever.

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189. Ep. 1009, Hamlet, 1960

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “I’ll take ‘To Be’ for $500, Alex.”

This is one episode where the film is so boring that even the crew of the SOL seems to be infected by that virulent strain of boredom. A German television adaptation of Hamlet, this might be the most glacially paced MST3k episode of the entire Mike era. It stands out as a bizarre outlier, because by this point in the series most of the films are much more colorful, vivacious and easier to mock. From start to finish, the film is so completely lacking in any kind of energy that it just sucks the life out of anyone who tries to watch it. For that reason, this might be the ultimate MST3k episode to fall asleep to, because it’s so steadily soul-draining. Immediately after watching it, you won’t be able to remember a single thing that happened in it, except maybe for the basic outline of the original Shakespeare, if you’ve seen it before. Even people who actually are big Shakespeare geeks tend to hate this episode, although I have known one or two MST3k fans who loved it. But there’s a reason you won’t see any other Shakespeare adaptations of this nature in the show’s library.

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188. Ep. 621, The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961, /w Money Talks! and Progress Island, U.S.A.

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Now the rabbit eats Tor and it becomes Night of the Lepus!”

The Beast of Yucca Flats is, without a doubt, one of the most technically inept films ever made, and certainly one of the worst ever shown on MST3k. It’s even more ineptly made than the other two Coleman Francis movies, which is saying a hell of a lot. The most telling of all its damning features is this fact: This movie does not have any on-screen dialog. Not once, in the entire film. It’s as if they forgot to bring any microphones to the set, and relied entirely on dubbed-in dialog when the characters are in medium or long shots and you can’t tell if their lips are moving. Not even the fact that it stars Plan 9 From Outer Space’s Tor Johnson can save it—nor can the fact that it’s only 54 minutes long. I assure you, those 54 minutes will be among the longest of your life. The only thing that keeps this episode from being even lower on the list is that the two shorts are of much higher quality than the main event, which buoys it slightly. But once you get into the heart of Coleman Francis’ most inept film, all the riffing in the world can’t make it into something you’re glad to be watching. All I can say is: “Flag on the moon. How did it get there?”

187. Ep. 819, Invasion of the Neptune Men, 1961

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “They took out the Hitler building! Where’s everybody going to go to see Hitler memorabilia?”

If someone asked me to name the single most painful scene or sequence in the history of MST3k, the final air battle/flying saucer sequence in Invasion of the Neptune Men would be a strong contender. The only highlight is the WTF, out-of-nowhere appearance (and destruction) of “the Hitler building,” which you can see in the video below. Dear GOD, this movie is dull—Castle of Fu Manchu levels of dullness. A ponderous Japanese superhero film about alien invaders, it just melts your brain by refusing to get on with it, to the point that Servo is left sobbing and pleading for an end to it and Mike attempts to flee the theater despite a lack of oxygen in the rest of the ship. Packed with stock footage, it just repeats and folds in upon itself like a Möbius strip. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any more boring, it finds a way. Even solid riffing can’t compete with this kind of non-entertaining awfulness. I’m amazed that the writers even chose to tackle this film. There IS a great host segment, though, where the crew is visited by “Krankor,” the villain of similar Japanese film Prince of Space, which they watched 3 episodes earlier. To quote Tom: “You know, after a movie like this, to check in with a voice of sanity like Krankor, well it’s healing, isn’t it?”

186. Ep. 111, Moon Zero Two, 1969

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “He’s moon Zero Mostel!”

A light, goofy-looking ‘60s sci-fi movie (in color!) makes for a less painful film than many season 1 episodes, which is certainly a plus. All in all, we’re getting into better episodes of MST3k at this point in the ranking, and from about this point onward they’re episodes I wouldn’t mind watching at least one more time. It’s simply the typical season 1 complaints that lower its ranking—longer dead spots, more time between big laughs, and more general awkwardness between the riffers than in later seasons. This seems like a film that the crew could have made into a much more memorable affair if it had come along a few years later, but I do enjoy the riffs about the distracting brass band music throughout. Or as Servo says: “Who decided that freeform jazz was the right thing for the soundtrack here?”

185. Ep. 106, The Crawling Hand, 1963

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “It’s the nighttime coughing, sneezing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you’re being chased by a human hand medicine.”

This movie is honestly pretty damn funny all on its own; the kind of sci-fi sleaze that is still so stupidly sincere that you could never make anything like it today. After a crash-landing astronaut gets blown to bits, a teenager stopping by the crash site finds the man’s severed arm and figures that’s a pretty normal thing to take home as a souvenir. Naturally, though, the now alien-controlled “hand” (it’s a whole arm!) comes back to life and starts strangling people who get in its way. Would you believe that the arm is finally defeated by a cat? Because it is. It’s an amusingly wacky film, but as is the case in most season 1 episodes, the crew doesn’t quite get full mileage out of it. Although it is funny seeing Crow fall in love with the female lead—just one of many crushes that the golden robot will develop on actresses over the course of MST3k’s run.

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184. Ep. 812, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, 1964

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Did you guys just see that, or did I imagine it?”

Sporting one of the longest titles in film history, this episode is a fan favorite among certain MSTies, but I like it much less than some. It is, suffice to say, a brain-meltingly bad movie; the kind of film that makes you feel like you’ve ingested large amounts of hallucinogens in particular. It’s ugly, greasy and deeply unlikable on all fronts, the story of a strange carnival attended by annoying people who get hypnotized and set loose on the world. There is one sequence I love—with the bizarre cymbal monkey that makes the crew question aloud if they all actually saw what happened on screen—but for the most part, this is the kind of movie that simply defies riffing. It is, however, notable for the inclusion of the “Ortega” character, who stands alongside Torgo in the MST3k pantheon of “What the hell is this guy?” supporting characters. In general, Incredibly Strange Creatures often feels like a promising setting that doesn’t quite reach its potential. The cast simply seems baffled by what they’re seeing.

183. Ep. 107, Robot Monster, 1953, /w Commando Cody, Part 4 and 5

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Character: “What time is it?” Crow: “It’s Miller Time!” Character: “And what day?” Crow: “It’s Miller Day!”

One of the more famous/infamous bad movies to ever be featured on the show, Robot Monster is actually pretty harmless fun all on its own. It of course features Ro-Man, one of the worst monster costumes of all time, which came about as a combination of laziness and budget—a gorilla with a diving helmet for a head, zounds! The trouble? You have to soldier through TWO particularly boring episodes of Commando Cody in order to get into Robot Monster, and even then it’s hamstrung by the usual season 1 issues of low joke density/sophistication. The film itself is a classic example of bad, cheesy ‘50s sci-fi, but the MST3k episode is more on the forgettable side. This could have been a classic if it had come along in season 4 or 5.

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182. Ep. 401, Space Travelers, 1991, aka Marooned, 1969

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Peck: “That’s why we live by the rules!” Servo: “Ape law!”

The circumstances of Space Travelers make it one of the stranger and more unique episodes in the history of MST3k. It’s actually a made-for-TV, low budget edit of the 1969 science fiction film Marooned, which starred the impressive cast of Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman. Gregory Peck, on Mystery Science Theater! It happened! And because Marooned won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, it’s also officially the only Oscar-winning film in the history of MST3k as well. Regardless, the movie is quite dry, and honestly pretty boring in either format. You wouldn’t think an episode with so many unique elements would end up being humdrum, but very little about the riffing sticks out on Space Travelers, and the behind-the-scenes history of how this movie ended up on MST3k is ultimately more interesting than the episode it received. It’s an easy watch, but not a memorable one, outside of Crow’s stellar Gregory Peck imitation, which is fantastic.

181. Ep. 1111, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, 1989

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Wise wizard, please teach me how to run.”

It has often been observed by the MST3K faithful that the one genre the show never tackled in any real way was comedy, and the reason is simple: It’s almost impossible to riff a comedy, and especially a bad comedy. You can only groan, or object that “this joke isn’t funny” so many times. In fact, in the entire original run of MST3K, the only movie one might call a “comedy” is Catalina Caper. And so, the fact that Wizards II was intended to make the audience laugh already makes it a very tough riffing assignment, but it gets worse, because Wizards II also fails the sincereness test. These people were simply not attempting to earnestly make a good movie that could stand on its own merits; they were trying to make a schlocky, bad-on-purpose farce and cash in on the fact that the first film somehow recouped its costs on VHS. The movie is just dreadful, and the characters (especially our protagonist wizard and his sour-faced, bowl-cutted boy, Tyor) are excruciating to listen to, which puts Wizards II in a tie with Carnival Magic for the most painful of the films watched in season 11, albeit for very different reasons. The riffers try to zero in on the kid and build a Troy/Rowsdower-type relationship between him and his oafish wizard, but the jokes just bounce off them like so many ineffectual spells. Not even the presence of a surly, almost certainly drunk David Carradine as a master warrior can salvage this thing. This episode isn’t “bad”—it feels more like you would rate it “N/A,” and could have been replaced with an entirely different film. As is, it feels like this movie’s creators would simply shrug in response and say “Look, we weren’t really trying that hard anyway.”

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180. Ep. 104, Women of the Prehistoric Planet, 1966

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Women of the Prehistoric Planet? My sister saw this in junior high; all the boys had to go in the gym.”

This movie is bad, but it’s the right kind of goofy badness that makes for a good MST3k experience. It’s spacefaring sci-fi with an almost fantasy-like twist, featuring marooned astronauts and the classic “Let’s just shoot an Iguana in rear projection and call it a dinosaur” brand of special effects. The riffing is nothing special, as I’ve already said about most of the season 1 episodes, but you’ve at least got to love Women of the Prehistoric Planet for introducing one of the series’ longer-running callbacks—“hi-keeba!” Said phrase is uttered by the annoying comic relief character while demonstrating bullshit karate moves, and immediately became the go-to exclamation of the SOL crew whenever “stunts” or action sequences were being lousily attempted. So this episode at least gets a few more points for inspiring jokes in many episodes to come. I’m also a fan of The Mads’ invention exchange, an extremely cruel restaurant called “Clay and Lar’s Flesh Barn.”

179. Ep. 112, Untamed Youth, 1957

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “It looks like he’s playing football against Claude Rains University.”

This fairly harmless film is a weird meeting point between the “teens in trouble with the law” and “‘50s sock hop musical numbers” genres. It’s mostly notable for starring the absolutely ravishing (seriously, she’s gorgeous) Mamie Van Doren at the height of her considerable powers, and she’s the one doing most of the (profoundly off-key) singing. Unfortunately, although it’s not a hard film to watch, it’s not nearly as entertaining or well-riffed as the later Van Doren-starring feature Girls Town, from season 6. It is interesting as season 1 episodes go though, given that we get a small amount of characterization for Gypsy, often the most overlooked of the “main” robots (Cambot and Magic Voice never really being true characters). She’s malfunctioning throughout this episode, and actually makes a small appearance in the theater, but not to riff—she wouldn’t pull off that feat until season 4. But in general, the show still feels low-rent at this point in season 1—you can’t help but notice when Joel or the Bots trip over a line and they don’t bother to re-film it. That just wouldn’t happen in the later seasons.

178. Ep. 315, Teenage Caveman, 1958, /w Aquatic Wizards and Catching Trouble

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “How about dinner, movie, and a drag by the hair, hmmm?”

The greater number of shorts preceding the movies are one of the best aspects of the Joel era of MST3k, and they almost always make the episode better than it would have been otherwise. That’s the case here, as they elevate this episode—but not quite enough to escape from an exceptionally bland feature film in Teenage Caveman. It’s a Roger Corman classic, and honestly … I love Corman, and have written extensively in praise of his career, but this is among his worst and most tedious as a director/producer. Yes, it’s funny that the so-called “teenagers” are like, 40 years old, but my god, nothing happens in this damn movie. It’s cheap even for a Corman film, packed with stock footage and scenes from other, equally bad movies. But I must say: The bit where Robert Vaughn’s teenage caveman runs headfirst into a tree and knocks himself out is as funny as anything in the history of the series. It’s also notable for featuring the same monster costume that would later serve as the titular character in Night of the Blood Beast.

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177. Ep. 405, Being From Another Planet, 1982

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: (Looking at a bunch of pipes) “Hey guys, I think it’s Coppola’s espresso machine!”

Being From Another Planet is a very painful film indeed; just outside the “extreme” movie pain level. The crew oversells it just a tad by actively comparing it to the likes of Castle of Fu Manchu in the closing credits, but it’s not that far off, either. It’s the story of a living Egyptian mummy that actually turns out to be an alien, and well … it’s just a tedious movie, but the riffing is fairly steady. I appreciate the appearance by James Karen of Return of the Living Dead in particular. But the best parts are when the mummy/alien is stalking around the green-lit basement in POV vision and the bots feign terror and suspense at having to sit through the interminable sequence. Watching them whine and alternatingly attempt to flee the theater is the highlight for me—also, the Mads’ classic invention exchange: “Tragic Moments” figurines.

176. Ep. 415, The Beatniks, 1960, /w General Hospital, Part 2

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “They shoot horse faces, don’t they?”

Shorts usually help these episodes, but the three General Hospital shorts in season 4 are among the least memorable for whatever reason—they’re just as dry as the experiments for the most part. The Beatniks, on the other hand, is an uneven but not horrendous movie that blends into all of the other crime stories (always with a twist of teen-friendly rock music) that make up a ton of episodes between seasons 2-6, and kind of gets lost in the fog as a result. It’s a tale of kids gone astray, and one with a promising music career that gets derailed when a member of his gang commits a crime of passion. That gang member, “Moon,” is the film’s highlight with his completely off-the-wall, scenery chewing performance, culminating with the infamous bit where he screams out a window to the world that he “KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!” He’s simultaneously funny and irritating.

175. Ep. 503, Swamp Diamonds, 1956, /w What To Do on a Date

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel, as a girl nails up animal cut-outs to the wal: “Kay’s worked on the kill floor; she knows where to deliver the blow.”

Another day, another dreary Roger Corman movie. This one is about a group of prison escapees and an undercover cop, searching for a secret stash of, well … swamp diamonds. It’s pretty boring, nondescript stuff, but at least it stars Corman regular Beverly Garland, who is featured a bit more heavily in another episode, Gunslinger. The real saving grace of this episode is the short, as in so many others. What To Do on a Date is classic stuff in the ‘50s educational video mold, featuring the adventures of Nick and Kate on their perfectly pleasant, painfully awkward pseudo-date. Oh boy, a scavenger sale! The romance leaps off the screen! The Bots are pretty brutal toward poor Nick, and the results are hilarious. If only it wasn’t followed by Swamp Diamonds. Oh well.

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174. Ep. 110, Robot Holocaust, 1986, /w Commando Cody, Part 9

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Voiceover: “A knife is placed in the ground.” Tom: “…a voiceover is placed in the script.”

If there’s one season 1 movie that I wish had come along later in the series, it’s Robot Holocaust. It’s notable for being by far the most recent movie the gang watched in season 1, having only come out 3 years before the episode aired! It just feels like something they could have absolutely hit out of the park if they tackled it years later with a more seasoned writing team, with results similar to Overdrawn at the Memory Bank or Future War. The film is certainly memorable enough on its own; a truly bizarre sci-fi action film in a future where most of humanity has been exterminated by robots, but with a twist of sword-and-sorcery as well. It features a post-apocalyptic hero named “Neo,” decades before The Matrix, and a girl whose scientist father gets absorbed into a big green, cabbage-looking ball with only his head sticking out to speak. In short: The film is plenty memorable, but the riffing is typically uneven season 1 fare. Plus: Commando Cody. That never helps.

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173. Ep. 113, The Black Scorpion, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow, during a train crash: “Now, if you’ll look out the left side of the train, you’ll see the right side of the train.”

Pretty solid all-around for a season 1 episode, Black Scorpion feels pretty familiar in the “giant, irradiated (in this case prehistoric) insect” subset of ‘50s monster movies. It’s a little tedious, sure, but the film actually sports some pretty damn cool-looking stop-motion animation special effects, which were created by Ray Harryhausen mentor Willis O’Brien. The story, on the other hand, is instantly forgettable—scientists in the desert, and an annoying kid (why is there always a kid in these movies?) named “Juanito” attempting to survive the wrath of the scorpions. The riffing, however, has markedly improved since the beginning of season 1, and there are more clever observations that feel like they would have fit nicely into later seasons. You could certainly do a lot worse, if you want to check out some season 1 MST3k.

172. Ep. 211, First Spaceship on Venus, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Servo, singing: “…and this is the day the teddy bears fly to Venus!”

I’m actually a little bit surprised that it took this long to get a season 2 episode on the list, but you’ll be seeing more of them in the near future. Season 2 of MST3k is a marked improvement, and features Kevin Murphy getting acclimated to his new role as Tom Servo, but the show is still a little bit uneven at this point. Few of the season 2 episodes stick out as series classics, but at the same time there are really no terrible episodes in the season either—many of them simply fly under the radar. That describes First Spaceship to Venus, a rather dry (but pleasantly colorful and silly-looking) sci-fi story about astronauts journeying to Venus to solve a mystery that may be tied to the Earth’s survival. I enjoy the painfully dorky looking costumes that all of the astronauts are sporting, and the recurring lines about the “magic toothbrush” that is one of their chief scientific instruments. From season 2-4, it feels like we get a whole lot of these cheap, spacefaring sci-fi pictures, so get used to it.

171. Ep. 305, Stranded in Space aka The Stranger, 1973

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “It’s funny how space looks a lot like Sacramento.”

Okay, so in the ‘80s, a film distribution company called Film Ventures international made a business out of buying up any random film they could get their hands on, and then slapping on a new name and opening credits sequence featuring footage from entirely different films. These movies from FVI included MST3k classics such as Pod People and Cave Dwellers, but they also include the likes of Stranded in Space. Originally produced as a TV pilot/made-for-TV movie called The Stranger in 1973, it was never picked up into a full series, and follows an astronaut who crash-lands on a mirror-image version of Earth hidden on the far side of the Sun, which is run by a totalitarian government. Crow describes it as The Fugitive meets Logan’s Run, and he’s not far off. There’s some nice Silence of the Lambs running jokes at the very least, which were very topical at the time, considering that the film was released earlier the same year that this episode aired. And let us not forget the presence of the drunk ‘n surly Cameron Mitchell, whose presence in B movies is always something to be excited about.

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170. Ep. 109, Project Moonbase, 1953, /w Commando Cody Part 7 and 8

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She enters the scene like a parade float.”

Project Moonbase is my tentative pick for the best season 1 episode, although it could easily waffle with Black Scorpion or Robot Holocaust. Even with two insufferable Commando Cody shorts in a row (the horror!), there’s some glimmers of later-season MST3k goodness in there. The movie is a fun, breezy, battery-shaped spaceship-cruising sci-fi adventure with cheesy costumes and flimsy sets, and would qualify as a “low” on the movie pain meter if not for the detestable Commando Cody accompaniment. The pop culture and societal observations are pretty sharp, and in general it simply seems to flow better than other season 1 episodes. I particularly enjoy the crew’s well-deserved jabs at the movie’s fairly misogynistic, ‘50s-era attitude toward women and marriage, which isn’t something you really expect to write about a space adventure, but there you have it. Still, it’s nice to bid adieu to season 1 episodes on this list.

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