20 Best The X-Files Episodes, Ranked

Summary

  • The X-Files is an iconic sci-fi show known for its unique blend of science fiction, horror, drama, and comedy.
  • The show’s standout episodes feature suspenseful plots, creepy villains, and the strong chemistry between stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.
  • These episodes showcase the show’s ability to balance standalone “monster of the week” episodes with a complex overarching mythology.


The X-Files continues to be an iconic TV show in the sci-fi genre, boasting over 200 episodes, among which several stand out as the absolute best in the series. Premiering in 1993, The X-Files quickly became a cult favorite due to its unique blend of science fiction, horror, drama, and comedy. Following FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they investigate unsolved cases with seemingly paranormal origins, the show balanced standalone “monster of the week” episodes with a complex overarching mythology.

The X-Files ran for eleven seasons and produced two feature films, thanks to sharp writing, compelling dialogue, and the undeniable on-screen chemistry between stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Considered one of the best sci-fi shows about UFOs, The X-Files remains popular in syndication. Out of its 218 episodes, 20 are particularly acclaimed and impactful, highlighting why the show has an enduring legacy. Whether delving into the alien conspiracy storyline or encountering new creepy creatures, these episodes showcase The X-Files at its suspenseful and thought-provoking best.


20 The X-Files Season 1, Episode 3

“Squeeze”

“Squeeze” stands out as an early high point for The X-Files due to its suspenseful plot and creepy villain. The episode introduces Eugene Victor Tooms, an unaging killer who can contort his body to access tight spaces, allowing him to gruesomely murder his victims and remove their livers. Actor Doug Hutchison delivers an unsettling performance as Tooms, leaning into the character’s morbid obsession that makes him truly chilling even though he’s a one-off “monster of the week.” Between this, the unique murder mystery, and Mulder and Scully’s witty banter, “Squeeze” shows The X-Files firing on all cylinders early on.

19 The X-Files Season 7, Episode 21

“Je Souhaite”

Scully looking up wondering in The X-Files

As the final “monster of the week” episode of The X-Files’ original run, “Je Souhaite” is a fun send-off for the show’s classic episodic format. The premise of Mulder and Scully encountering a literal genie who grants wishes allows for humorous character moments, including Scully’s bemused reaction to an invisible corpse and Mulder predictably wishing for information on the alien conspiracy. While the plot embraces the show’s inherent absurdity, the interplay between Duchovny and Anderson grounds the episode, showcasing the duo’s chemistry. “Je Souhaite” demonstrates The X-Files ability to produce entertaining, creative tales that tap into the show’s original dynamic.

18 The X-Files Season 7, Episode 22

“Requiem”

The finale to The X-Files‘ seventh season, “Requiem,” delivers a gripping, spooky episode that piles on multiple major cliffhangers, including Mulder’s alien abduction and Scully’s mysterious pregnancy. It exemplifies the show’s complex mythology regarding government conspiracies and aliens while bringing back recurring figures like the sinister Krycek. The episode leans into the show’s strengths, such as tense atmosphere, paranormal phenomena, and a sense of unfinished business, while packing an emotional gut-punch that could have served as a fitting, if frustrating, series finale. While the show continued on, losing some momentum in future seasons, “Requiem” represents The X-Files at its apex.

17 The X-Files Season 1, Episode 1

“Pilot”

Scully and Mulder in a car in The X-Files

The “Pilot” episode of The X-Files skillfully establishes the show’s premise and central characters in a uniquely suspenseful debut. Agents Mulder and Scully are immediately defined – his belief in the paranormal versus her skepticism – as they investigate mysterious student deaths Mulder links to alien forces. The clever writing lays groundwork for the show’s signature blend of sci-fi, horror, and government conspiracies while showcasing the pair’s contrasting perspectives that ultimately prove complementary. With tight pacing, an eerie atmosphere, and a strong balance of procedural drama and overarching mystery, the pilot stands on its own as a chilling, formative episode.

16 The X-Files Season 6, Episode 6

“How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”

This classic holiday episode masterfully blends horror, comedy, and romance as Mulder convinces a reluctant Scully to investigate ghosts said to haunt a house on Christmas Eve. What follows subverts expectations with frightening illusions courtesy of mischievous spirits played to perfection by Hollywood veterans Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. The scares don’t undermine the festive tone, however, culminating in a good-natured ending. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” encapsulates the show’s strengths while demonstrating versatility through a seasonal theme executed with care and cleverness. The episode stands out as both a scary and heartwarming X-Files holiday treat.

15 The X-Files Season 7, Episode 12

“X-Cops”

Scully and Mulder talking to a cop in The X-files

“X-Cops” ingeniously crosses over with the famed reality show Cops as Mulder and Scully investigate reports of a werewolf, with an ever-present film crew capturing the events. While such a stunt could feel gimmicky, the unexpected TV crossover instead offers a fresh, quasi-documentary style that lends newfound tension and believability to the core X-Files formula. Duchovny and Anderson shine as their characters playfully banter about the cameras following them. It’s a clever homage demonstrating the show’s self-awareness while expanding the bounds of possibility. Seamlessly blending paranormal phenomena with faux-realism, “X-Cops” is a daring meta concept brought to life.

14 The X-Files Season 4, Episode 5

“The Field Where I Died”

“The Field Where I Died” uniquely stands out for its emotional depth and somber tone as Mulder and Scully investigate a cult whose leader claims his members harbor reincarnated spirits. When a follower seems to channel a woman from Mulder’s past life, the story ventures into unconventional territory regarding loss and grief with atypical sensitivity. As a thoughtful detour into more metaphysical themes of the soul and destiny, the episode takes rich advantage of the show’s paranormal premise to focus on life’s profundities without losing dramatic urgency.

13 The X-Files Season 4, Episode 14

Memento Mori

Scully and Mulder looking at x-rays in The X-files

“Memento Mori” marks a pivotal moment in The X-Files mythology when Scully receives a devastating cancer diagnosis but continues working as Mulder pursues potentially paranormal explanations. When they meet with MUFON members reporting similar symptoms, Mulder makes connections to her past abduction, weaving her illness into the show’s intricate conspiracies. The writing explores the emotional resonance of Scully’s fate while advancing key narrative arcs, with Duchovny rising to the occasion as his character battles intimations of losing his steadfast partner. Both an affecting character study and a series touchstone, “Memento Mori” skillfully intertwines personal drama with the show’s expansive lore.

12 The X-Files Season 4, Episode 20

“Small Potatoes”

Scully and Mulder looking behind them while sitting on a couch in The X-Files

This comedic episode shines due to Darin Morgan’s performance as Eddie Van Blundht, a janitor with shapeshifting abilities who impersonates various husbands. The tongue-in-cheek premise allows Duchovny to showcase his comedic chops as Eddie disguises himself as Mulder and awkwardly attempts to woo Scully. “Small Potatoes” subtly examines poignant themes of personal identity and reinvention. However, the episode’s primary strength lies in its continuous humor and Morgan’s cringingly endearing portrait of self-pitying loneliness driving Eddie’s ludicrous ploys. The episode is a standalone masterpiece that gives absurdist humor while upholding the show’s emotional spirit.

11 The X-Files Season 6, Episode 14

“Monday”

A woman being arrested in The X-Files

“Monday” puts a riveting twist on the repetitive time loop trope as Mulder and Scully are doomed to be killed during a botched bank robbery over and over, unknowingly stuck reliving the same day. The groundhog day premise lends itself to dark comedy regarding Mulder’s unfortunate luck, but the plot turns tragic through Carrie Hamilton’s standout performance as the robber’s guilt-ridden girlfriend Pam, the only one aware it’s recurring. Clever directing from Kim Manners keeps the repetitive sequences feeling dynamic. Ultimately a harrowing character study of trauma and remorse, “Monday” takes full advantage of its sci-fi premise.

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10 The X-Files Season 6, Episode 3

“Triangle”

After Mulder time travels to 1939 aboard a ship in the Bermuda Triangle, the plot inserts familiar characters into the WWII era action with meta references. The audacious atmosphere is amped up by emulating Alfred Hitchcock’s long take technique, culminating in a show-stopping sequence where modern Scully roams the FBI. The high-wire concept could collapse under its ambition, but leverages the supernatural premise to thrillingly envision a fanciful what-if scenario. Treading a fine line between a self-contained comedy and insight into beloved characters now disconnected by time, “Triangle” is The X-Files at its cinematic best.

9 The X-Files Season 2, Episode 8

“One Breath”

Scully laying on a wooden table

“One Breath” is a gem of an episode that thoughtfully examines loss and grief when Scully is found comatose after her abduction. As Scully’s family prepares to let her go, Mulder must confront his guilt and focus on being present with her. There’s an affecting sincerity to the episode emphasizing raw emotion over revenge, from Mulder’s aimless wandering to a standout speech by Skinner. In the end, “One Breath” makes a profound statement on coping with despair. More than just spectacularly capping Scully’s arc, the episode cements Mulder and Scully’s profound bond with emotionally resonant characterization.

8 The X-Files Season 4, Episode 10

“Paper Hearts”

Paper hearts from The X-files

When a dream indicates serial killer John Roche took Samantha, Mulder painfully confronts how his alien abduction narrative could be a fantasy masking a darker reality. Directed with nuance by Rob Bowman and buoyed by Tom Noonan’s chillingly muted performance as Roche, the episode introduces new complexity to Mulder through the superb writing and Duchovny’s vulnerable acting. While adding to the explanation of Samantha Mulder’s fate, “Paper Hearts” insightfully explores the psychology underscoring Mulder’s beliefs with rare emotional honesty. This great episode poignantly conveys how devotion can render one unable to face difficult truths.

7 The X-Files Season 7, Episode 4

“Millennium”

Mulder and Scully kissing in The X-files

This crossover with the forgotten 1990s TV show Millennium brings in Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black, whose ability to profile killers aids Mulder and Scully’s investigation of an apocalyptic cult behind FBI agent suicides. The grim plot dealing with disturbing rituals and omens of end times makes “Millennium” unusually ominous. The darkness is tempered by a long-awaited romantic moment between Mulder and Scully. Their kiss cleverly answers lingering romantic questions while organically emerging from a harrowing case. Beyond fan service, Frank Black’s inclusion ushers in a grittier tone and complex dynamic, resulting in a departure tailor-made for devotees of both shows.

6 The X-Files Season 1, Episode 8

“Ice”

This thriller of an episode strands Mulder and Scully in an isolated Alaskan facility with a team of scientists who become violent after coming into contact with a mind-controlling parasite. Directly inspired by the novella that spawned The Thing, “Ice” channels thick claustrophobia as the Arctic setting traps victims together, not knowing who among them is infected. The palpable suspicion tests Mulder and Scully’s implicit trust in each other, only to ultimately reinforce their bond when survival is on the line. The episode’s creeping dread and character dynamics set an early benchmark for a high concept grounded by human stakes.

5 The X-Files Season 4, Episode 13

“Never Again”

Tattoo from The X-files

This Darin Morgan episode of The X-Files features Scully grappling with her all-consuming bond with Mulder during a solo hour on a case involving a murderous hallucinogenic tattoo. Scully’s self-reflection on sacrifices of sainthood is symbolized by her ouroboros tattoo. Confessing to both enjoying and resenting Mulder’s control, the episode concludes with loaded silence as Scully and Mulder obliquely address her brief independence. This flawed liberation and exploration of imperfect relationships anchor the series’ best character study, brought to life through Anderson’s nuanced acting and the writers’ keen psychological insight into the challenges faced by a free-spirited skeptic who believes.

4 The X-Files Season 3, Episode 23

“Wetwired”

“Wetwired” stands out primarily due to Gillian Anderson’s phenomenal acting when her character falls prey to paranoid delusions. Seeing the typically rational agent spiral into intense paranoia and madness provides a riveting departure from her usual characterization. Anderson brings raw emotional potency to Scully’s breakdown, abandoning the character’s customary icy composure with captivating results. The unsettling transformation breaks new ground by tapping into cerebral themes of uncertainty and subjective reality, thereby deepening The X-Files‘ conceptual interests. Ultimately, it is Anderson’s committed performance that makes “Wetwired” exceptional, as she grippingly portrays Scully’s chilling and heartbreaking unraveling.

3 The X-Files Season 3, Episode 17

“Pusher”

Scully and Mulder with guns in the X-files

“Pusher” distills the show’s central theme of mediocre men abusing power into a sharp procedural following a brain tumor patient whose resulting telepathic skills become weapons for manipulation. The concept of mind control is milked for maximum tension, culminating in a Russian roulette standoff that conveys Mulder and Scully’s devotion through palpable emotional anguish. While capitalizing on The X-Files’ core strengths including striking visuals and nail-biting set pieces, the episode ultimately thrives on showcasing the partners’ profound trust despite being pawns to a sociopath, affirming how their bond helps them survive anyone who tries to tear them apart.

2 The X-Files Season 5, Episode 12

“Bad Blood”

A vampire child from The X-files

“Bad Blood” showcases the show’s versatility by embracing full-fledged comedy, presenting conflicting accounts of a suspected vampire case from the hilariously skewed perspectives of Mulder and Scully. Duchovny and Anderson parody their characters, engaging in hilarious dialogue that spoofs their trademark dynamic. The cheeky dual-narrative structure overtly channels The Dick Van Dyke Show, yet the plot remains distinctly X-Files, balancing humor and thrills. With a memorable performance by Luke Wilson as a charming sheriff, “Bad Blood” succeeds by embracing the show’s inherent humor. When The X-Files ventures into comedy, no other episode does so with such riotous meta flair.

1 The X-Files Season 3, Episode 4

“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”

Clyde, Scully and Mulder in the X-files-1

Winner of Emmys for both Darin Morgan’s screenplay and Peter Boyle’s guest performance, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” represents a philosophical high point for the series. Boyle portrays the titular psychic, whose sole ability is foretelling others’ deaths. Through this paranormal premise, Morgan insightfully examines the show’s driving theme of dangerous obsession, concluding that human connection is the vital counterforce. Blending gentle humor with emotional sincerity, the episode muses profoundly on finding meaning when chasing elusive truths. No other installment encapsulates The X-Files’ essence. At once hilarious and wise, this episode is transcendent storytelling only The X-Files could manifest.

x-files

The X-Files

The X-files takes the police procedural formula and applies it to sci-fi mysteries. Conspiracy theorist Fox Mulder and skeptic Dana Scully team up to solve cases surrounding alien invasions and other unexplained, paranormal phenomena.

Release Date
September 10, 1993

Cast
Gillian Flynn , David Duchovny , Robert Patrick , Annabeth Gish , Mitch Pileggi

Seasons
11

Story By
Chris Carter