Since it first premiered on Fox in 1993, The X-Files has made us all want to believe. The classic sci-fi drama introduced viewers to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, a.k.a. The FBI’s most unwanted. It threw them into some of the most absurd alien-related incidents on television, teased us for an eternity with a “will-they-won’t-they” love story, and the rest is history.
There’s a reason why the show hasn’t left the spotlight in 25 years, racking up nine original seasons, two feature films, and two reboot seasons that all focus on our original dynamic duo. Mulder and Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, will go down in history as one of the sci-fi world’s most iconic pairs, and their undying bond is what has fueled the X-Files fire for more than two decades.
With over 200 episodes to traverse, however, The X-Files can seem a formidable endeavour to even the biggest of sci-fi fans. The confusing and convoluted mythology that runs through each season doesn’t help matters, and the later episodes of the show often lose a bit of the series’ original luster.
In order to boil down this stellar series into only its strongest parts, we’ve selected the best of the best X-Files episodes out there. These are the 14 episodes we’d consider to be the most iconic of all time: whether you’re a casual first time fan or a diehard X-Files lover, these are the ones we feel you should return to again and again.
Grab you comfiest binge-watching pants and a good snack, because these best X-Files episodes will turn any skeptic into a believer.
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Quagmire (Season 3, Episode 2)
Yes, Mulder and Scully take on their own version of the Loch Ness monster in "Quagmire," but this episode is about so much more than just a hunt for a mythological beast.
Alone in a dark, foggy, lakeside forest, our pair find themselves in a place of vulnerability, willing to open up to each other in a way that few X-Files episodes had yet shown. One particular scene in which Mulder and Scully believe themselves to be stuck on a rock in the middle of the lake is memorable to many X-Files fans: while sea monsters are nowhere to be found, the flirting is there in abundance.
RELATED: Is the Loch Ness Monster Real?
Squeeze (Season 1, Episode 3)
The X-Files ups the creep factor from the very beginning of the series, introducing audiences to one of its scariest “monsters of the week” in just its third episode.
Victor Tooms is a calculated, cold killer with the ability to squeeze through small spaces and access his victims in their most intimate settings.
The terrifying episode immediately shows viewers what Mulder and Scully will be up against on a daily basis, and solidifies their ability to work together and save each other (again and again.)
Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7)
Focusing not on Mulder and Scully but instead on The X-Files' main antagonist, “Musings” explores the history of the foe known only as The Cigarette Smoking Man.
This fascinating episode takes viewers on a journey to the past, showing how the Smoking Man may actually have been involved in some of history’s biggest moments, including the assassinations of JFK and MLK.
The reliability of the narrative is brought into question as we hear the events from our antagonist’s perspective, but the episode still sheds a fascinating light on the man’s psyche and reminds us of how much we don’t know about the infamous character.
Monday (Season 6, Episode 14)
This stellar standalone episode gives viewers a whole new reason to hate Mondays. The installment stars a woman who is somehow trapped in a time loop that forces her to relive the day in which her boyfriend attempts to rob a bank and ends up exploding a bomb, killing both Mulder and Scully every time.
As the woman tries to change the events of this Monday to save the victims, the audience must face the deaths of their beloved protagonists again and again. The stakes heighten as Mulder and Scully begin to catch on to what’s happening, and in the end, it’s a selfless sacrifice that allows our favorite agents to fight another day.
An intriguing but profoundly sad episode, we’ll never be able to erase the memory of Mulder slowly dying in Scully’s arms.
Humbug (Season 2, Episode 20)
This episode marks the first entry on our list to be written by series favorite Darin Morgan, and it certainly won’t be the last. Morgan is responsible for some of the best episodes in X-Files history, and “Humbug” was his first foray under the writer title.
Centering on a town full of circus “freaks” and sideshow performers that has been plagued by a series of murders, this episode quickly ventures into the strange, the unknown, and the downright disturbing (as so many X-Files episodes do.) The brilliance of “Humbug,” though, comes in its handling of characters who have been deemed outsiders, and its exploration of what it truly means to be “normal.”
Small Potatoes (Season 4, Episode 20)
Darin Morgan is back for this season 4 gem, but this time, he’s in front of the camera. Morgan plays Eddie Van Blundht, an awkward loner and a shapeshifter who uses his ability to change his appearance to seduce women into sleeping with him.
Eddie’s problematic “romance” tactics aside, the episode finds its success when Blundht manages to transform into Mulder himself, nearly seducing Scully into a kiss and sending the shippers into a frenzy.
While an average joe like Eddie is pleased to take on Mulder’s handsome appearance, he’s shocked to find that someone so attractive could choose the life of a “loser.” In the end, it’s Eddie who urges Mulder to live a little.
RELATED: 10 Books for X-Files Fans
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
While The X-Files would go on to create many, many fantastic episodes in its multi-decade run, there’s no denying the beauty of the one that started it all. The pilot sets off the series with a bang, effortlessly introducing us to our main protagonists (and our antagonist, too) and setting up the greater alien mythology of the series.
Written by series creator Chris Carter, the pilot sees Mulder and Scully take on their first case together, assuming their now familiar roles of the believer and the skeptic. The chemistry between the two is immediately palpable, especially as they share personal details about their lives while spending the night in a dingy motel room. The iconic scene is lovingly recreated in the season 9 finale, demonstrating just how far the pair’s relationship has come.
Triangle (Season 6, Episode 3)
This standalone episode is one of the most unique in the series, following Mulder as he boards a mysterious ship in the Bermuda Triangle and somehow travels back to 1939. While present-day Scully tries to rescue her partner, Mulder encounters a cast of 30s-era characters who look suspiciously like his modern-day companions.
The episode was praised for its stunning direction, as creator Chris Carter chose to film the episode in four 11-minute “acts,” cutting the shots together to look like four long, continuous takes. The result is effecting and beautiful, adding to the drama of the X-Files period piece.
And yes, “Triangle” offers a lot to nibble on for the shippers out there, including Mulder’s first confession of his love for Scully.
Memento Mori (Season 4, Episode 14)
One of the few mythology episodes that stands out among many “monster of the week” offerings, “Memento Mori” deals with the aftermath of Scully’s season 2 abduction, which she now knows has resulted in inoperable cancer.
Uniquely human in its conflict, the episode deals with a powerful foe that Mulder and Scully don’t know how to fight. As a vulnerable Scully comes to terms with her condition in the hospital, we witness her strength as she resolves to fight the disease at all costs with Mulder, of course, by her side.
While the overall plot of the episode is gripping in the way it relates to the larger story, the quiet moments of sorrow and fear the two agents share are what make this episode one of the best.
Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ (Season 3, Episode 20)
Another Darin Morgan offering, this episode is quirky, strange, a bit campy, and one of the funniest in X-Files history. The plot explores the effects of unreliable narration when two teenagers claim to have been abducted by aliens, but neither can seem to get their stories straight.
When Scully recounts the story of the abduction to sci-fi novelist Jose Chung, the events become even more muddled, resulting in a hilarious run-around that plays with the ideas of belief and skepticism that run deep in The X-Files mythology.
A self-referential take that almost turns the show into a parody of itself, “Jose Chung” is pure fun, and The X-Files at its best.
The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5)
“Prometheus” looks and feels completely unique to any other episode of the series, making it stand out as one of the greats. Shot completely in black and white to give it the style of an old horror movie, the episode tells the tale of The Great Mutato, a Frankenstein-like monster who has been created through genetic mutation (and really, really loves Cher.)
A lonely creature, Mutato seeks a mate and ends up impregnating a few unwilling women in the town without their knowledge (a storyline that, admittedly, doesn’t hold up well in today’s times.) While the townspeople initially revolt against the monster, Mulder and Scully help them to find an understanding of his condition.
In the end, the agents take Mutato to his first Cher concert, resulting in a charming final image of Mulder and Scully dancing together.
Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)
Often regarded as the funniest episode in X-Files history, this fun, vampire-fueled romp written by series regular Vince Gilligan is truly a delight to watch.
After Mulder kills a young supposed “vampire,” he and Scully must each recount their versions of the story to their supervisor Walter Skinner. It soon becomes clear that the agents recall the events quite differently, resulting in a fiercely comedic episode that helps to highlight Mulder and Scully’s inner feelings towards one another.
Guest starring Luke Wilson as a charming sheriff who promptly brings out the jealousy in Mulder and eventually turns out to be a vampire, this episode is one to remember.
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Home (Season 4, Episode 2)
While many X-Files episodes are not for the faint of heart, “Home” goes down in history as the most disturbing story in the show’s run. In fact, it was the first X-Files episode to ever recieve a viewer discretion warning for graphic content, and yet it is still proclaimed as one of the series’ best installments.
Written by series veterans Glen Morgan and James Wong, “Home” centers on the Peacock family in a small town in Pennsylvania — a family that has become deformed and monstrous after many years of incest and intense isolation. The episode offers a twisted look at traditional family values and pits our agents against some of the most terrifyingly real monsters they have ever faced.
It may not be the most likeable piece of television you’ll ever watch, but it will certainly be one of the most memorable.
Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
“Clyde Bruckman” is by far Darin Morgan’s greatest contribution to The X-Files and is widely considered to be the best episode of the series to date. Starring a fantastic Peter Boyle as the seemingly psychic Clyde Bruckman, the episode deals with issues of mortality, humanity, fate and free will.
Bruckman, who has the ability to see how himself and others will die, assists the agents with a string of murders, helping to lead them to the bodies and predict what will happen next.
Bruckman is plagued daily by visions of death, and is one of the series’ most complex and effective characters. He brings out a pivotal honesty in Mulder and Scully that we don’t often see.
Darkly funny and hauntingly honest, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is the one episode of The X-Files everyone should see, transcending the sci-fi genre to become a piece of television that examines the human condition and the universal fear we all feel about what’s on the other side.
Featured still from "The X-Files" via Fox