One of my biggest influences when it comes to writing as well as where my love for horror comes from is The Twilight Zone. Every year I watch certain episodes and always find something to appreciate from one of my favorite television shows of all time. The Twilight Zone is an anthology series where fantastical and often spooky things would happen to people. The show ran from 1959 to 1964 for five seasons.
Rod Serling created the show in order to tell stories that were haunting while having something to say about morality. He would usually introduce the episodes as well as have a closing narration. Many years have passed and The Twilight Zone still is able to resonate with audiences through its creepy storylines. It has been mentioned in numerous forms of media and is easily one of the most influential shows of all time.
Many episodes are shot great, have great acting, and have some of the most memorable twists ever put to screen. It’s hard to single out episodes because there are just so many good ones. Still, the show is definitely worth talking about. Here, in my opinion, are the top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes.
Spoilers Ahead!!! It would be difficult to talk about how great these episodes are without talking about the twist endings. There will be a spoiler warning with each selection.
10. Twenty Two
Liz Powell is a professional dancer who is staying in the hospital overnight due to fatigue. While staying here, Liz has a recurring dream or vision of a beautiful nurse. This nurse leads her to the morgue with the number 22 above it. She says “Room for one more, honey”. Liz is convinced that this is more than just a bad dream, but what could it all mean?
This episode from season 2 was written by Rod Serling himself which he adapted from a short anecdote. The story is definitely a creepy one because we don’t know what is real and what isn’t. The show had bigger ideas in the second season. Ones that cost more money per episode to conceive. Because of this, a few episodes were filmed on video which was more cost-effective.
For this episode, it works. The grainy-looking images give off a dreamlike state. Arline Sax plays the haunting nurse and she is great. Beautiful and inviting yet you know something is off about her smile.
Liz leaves the hospital and goes to the airport to catch a flight. When she is about to board the plane she becomes horrified. The flight number is 22. The stewardess is the woman from her dreams, and she says “Room for one more honey.” Liz runs back to the airport as the plane leaves her behind. After a few moments, the plane explodes and the episode ends.
The episode is insanely haunting as our main character discovers that she is being warned. Very similar to Final Destination, this episode is a strong one simply because of its dreamlike imagery and its shocking ending.
9. Eye of the Beholder
Janet Tyler has been an outcast all her life due to the fact that her face is hideously abnormal. She is in a hospital waiting to receive her 11th surgery. If it is a failure this time around, she will be sent away to a village with other people of her kind.
Eye of the Beholder is one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes for sure. It is filled with great performances, a great script written by Rod Serling, great camera work, and good lighting. It also has a twist that has an important message attached to it.
Janet has her bandages removed and we are surprised to see that she is extremely beautiful. The doctors and nurses fall back in terror and it is revealed that all of them have twisted, misshapen faces. Janet runs off and finds a man who is ready to take her to the village. He lets her know that one day she will be loved.
The twist is a good one as the whole time we are waiting to see what is wrong with Janet only to find out she is perfect. In this world though, she is the odd one out. She isn’t what society wants. The episode is filmed so we don’t see the doctors. They are in the shadows until the reveal. What is interesting is that two different women played Janet. Apparently, the idea back then was that a beautiful woman probably couldn’t act very well. One actress plays Janet under the bandages and another actress plays Janet after the bandages are gone.
The Twilight Zone is full of messages and this episode makes us think about what is normal and how our thoughts truly influence how we see ourselves and others.
8. Long Distance Call
Grandma Bayles and her grandson Billy love each other very much. Grandma gives Billy a toy phone and sadly dies not too long after. Billy starts spending a lot of time on the toy phone and when asked about it, he says it’s grandma talking to him. It turns out that she wants him to visit. Is there someone really talking back or is it all in Billy’s head?
This was a story that long-time Twilight Zone collaborator Charles Beaumont wrote. This is one of the only Twilight Zone episodes that truly manages to be scary while also having a sympathetic side. Once again, shot on video, the quality isn’t great, but the acting is very strong here from everyone.
Billy keeps having near-fatal accidents and claims it’s because Grandma wants to see him. When talking on the phone, Billy’s mom grabs the toy from him and hears breathing coming from the other end. Billy automatically runs out of the house and drowns in a pond. Billy’s father rushes to the toy phone, picks it up, and begs for Grandma to let Billy go. He tells her that Billy has so much more life ahead of him and it wouldn’t be fair to take him away. Suddenly Billy awakes.
The concept of a dead relative leading a child to suicide is a disturbing one, especially for the time that this show was produced. The acting is great, the mystery is great because, for a long time, we really don’t know if Billy is truly talking to anyone. There is also a hint of sadness of an older woman not wanting to leave her grandson. It is definitely worth a watch,
7. Kick the Can
Charles Whitley lives in a rest home with other elderly people and his longtime friend Ben. After he is told by his son that he has to stay, he becomes upset and moody. Charles soon discovers that the key to feeling young again is to act young. He tries to convince the others to kick the can with him and pleads for them not to lose their youth.
This episode is really well-acted with a strong script. Twilight Zone can really creep you out as a viewer, but there were times when it could fill the audience with magic and wonder. This is a tale of youth, friendship, and old age. We are only as old as we feel. We stop living when we stop caring and when we stop taking risks.
Charles continues to play childish games and one night convinces everyone to kick the can with him. Everyone except his friend Ben. Ben rushes outside with the superintendent and discovers only children. Through magic, Charles and the rest have turned back into kids. Ben pleads to go with them but it is too late as kid Charles doesn’t recognize him. The kids run off leaving Ben behind.
Ben didn’t have that drive to remain hopeful and keep going and was left all alone. The acting is superb in this episode, especially the ending scene. It truly leaves a mark and reminds us to believe in magic.
6. It’s A Good Life
Anthony is a 6-year-old boy who has godlike powers. He can read minds, turn people or things into anything he wants, and has the power to send anyone who makes him angry into an unknown cornfield. Anthony who has never been disciplined does not realize what he is doing is wrong. Because of all this, the adults of the town are all afraid. They give him anything he wants, watch whatever he wants, and they are sure not to get on his bad side out of fear of what will happen.
The acting in this episode is beyond fantastic. All the adults act almost monotone which works here because they all come off as people who have trained themselves not to show too much emotion in front of Anthony. Anthony himself does a great job of wanting things his way and not caring who he hurts.
One of the townspeople gets all fed up and starts calling Anthony a monster. He pleads with everyone else to kill Anthony while he is distracted. Everyone else is too scared to even move. Anthony turns the man into a human jack in a box and sends him to a cornfield in the middle of nowhere. Anthony causes it to snow outside which will kill most of the crops outside. Instead of complaining, the people tell him what a good thing he did.
It is a terrifying concept that a child could be in control of a whole town. When Anthony turns the man into a jack-in-a-box, it is horrifying. A really classic episode to check out.
5. Time Enough At Last
Henry Bemis is a bank teller who loves to read. Unfortunately, his wife and boss never give him the chance. During his lunch break, he sneaks into one of the bank vaults in order to read and is knocked out by a shock wave. When he wakes up, he comes to find that a nuclear war has occurred and he is the last remaining man on Earth.
Burgess Meredith who is well known for the Rocky franchise as well as the Batman television series stars as Henry and is perfect in the role. He is a soft-spoken meek man who you just want to win. As a book lover, I feel his pain for sure. The script is also very well written by creator Rod Serling. Serling gave character to Henry, making him likable and unique. It is a simple episode that relies a lot on its main character but that is what makes it memorable.
Henry is about to end his life when he sees a giant library in ruins. It is heaven to Henry. He gets a bunch of books into a pile and sits down to start reading. Suddenly his glasses slip off his face and shatter. The episode ends with Henry stating “That’s not fair at all. There was time now.” Such an amazing episode full of humor, good acting, and tragedy.
4. Mirror Image
Millicent is at a bus station waiting but everything seems odd. The ticket lady says that Millicent has already asked about the bus schedule. Apparently, she already had checked in her suitcase and when she went to the bathroom, the attendant said she already had been there before. Millicent wonders if she is going crazy until she witnesses what looks like an exact duplicate of herself in the mirror. When she goes to check, no one is there.
Serling wrote this script based on an incident where he was at the airport and could have sworn he saw someone there who looked exactly like he did. The story is definitely a dark one that is filled with tension and paranoia. Jordan Peele said that his film “US” is based on this episode which is one of his favorites.
Millicent meets a man named Paul who tries to calm her down. When she is about to get on her bus, she sees her duplicate again and freaks out. She tells Paul that she believes another version of herself has somehow crossed over into their world to probably replace her. Paul believes she is mentally ill and calls the police who take her away. Paul goes to grab his briefcase but someone else grabs it first and runs off. Paul chases them only to stop when the figure turns around and Paul sees that it is his very own duplicate.
This is an extremely well-made and spooky episode. The possibility that there is another version of us somewhere that is here to hurt us or take over is a scary thought. Mirror Image ends on a memorable dark note and is definitely worth viewing.
3. The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
After what is thought to be a meteor passes by, Maple Street loses all power. Nothing works at all, not even cars. A boy named Tommy says it is aliens and everyone laughs it off. When more strange things start happening though, everyone starts to point fingers. Is the alien among them?
One of the best scripts about mob mentality ever written, this episode has a lot going for it. The actors in the mob are all well cast and Rod Serling’s script is a smart one. A real strong message about how when the human race has to deal with something they don’t know much about, they will clash and turn on each other. It is a bleak message but one that is very relevant still today.
After everyone fully loses control, a figure starts walking towards everyone from the dark. The community is fearful and one member raises a rifle and fires. Unfortunately, it was not an alien but another one of their neighbors. After the mistake, the community panics even more as lights flick on and off everywhere. Not too far away, two aliens are nearby watching the chaos unfold. They were responsible for getting rid of the power as a test. They conclude that the human race is weak with how quickly they turned on each other and they plan to invade very soon.
It is a truly great ending to a great episode. Full of suspense great performances, and a very important message, this episode is a must-watch.
2. The Howling Man
During World War 1, a man named Ellington is swept away in a storm and turns up at a sort of monk monastery. The monks are forced to take him in when he passes out. He awakens to the sounds of a howling man and when he investigates, he finds a man trapped in a cell. The man begs to be released claiming the monks are crazy. When Ellington asks the head monk Jerome about this, Jerome proclaims that what is locked in that cell is no man, but the devil himself.
This episode is filled with wonderful things. First of all, the premise is quite intriguing. We see ourselves in Ellington’s shoes and question who would we believe. The episode is also very disorienting. Our main character is confused and each time this is shown, the camera tilts as well. It’s a nice touch. The acting is also once again great in this story, especially from John Caradine as Jerome.
Head monk Jerome tells Ellington that he had captured the devel with the staff of truth which locks the door. He claims the devil has been locked away for 5 years and because of this, the world has had peace. Ellington doesn’t believe him and sneaks away to release the prisoner. The prisoner transforms into the devil and escapes.
Soon after, World War II occurs. There is no more peace in the world. Ellington devotes his life to catching the devil again and actually succeeds sometime later. He plans to bring him back to the monk Jerome and tells his housekeeper not to remove the staff of truth, which is now attached to a door in the house. When Ellington leaves, the housekeeper similar to Ellington doesn’t believe the story. She removes the staff as the door opens quietly and we are left in ambiguity.
Serling’s closing narration says it best. “You can catch the Devil, but you can’t keep him long.” There can be peace but temptation will prevail for a lot of us. It’s a terrifying episode that has a little bit of everything.
1. The Obsolete Man
In the future, books and religion are banned. An organization called the State is in control of everything. This includes deciding who is obsolete or not. If the State decides that you are obsolete you simply need to die. Mr Wordsworth is a librarian who is deemed obsolete. He is sentenced to be executed in a matter of his own choosing. He is also granted some requests which include only his assassin knowing how he dies, and to have an audience.
Burgess Meredith plays Mr. Wordsworth and once again he is sensational. The direction of this episode is great and makes you feel like you are in a nightmare. The State sits in a room with high ceilings and they are always looking down at you. Rod Serling gives us another great script that definitely has one of the best messages in all of The Twilight Zone.
When he is about to be killed, Mr Wentworth invites the chancellor who had sentenced him to death to his room. He reveals to the chancellor that he chose to die by explosion. There is a bomb in the room set to explode in 45 minutes and the chancellor is locked in with him. They are being broadcast to the public so people can see who has more willpower. The State, or the obsolete.
The chancellor acts calm for a bit but after a while pleads to be let go. Mr. Wentworth hands the chancellor the key and he escapes as the bomb explodes, killing Mr. Wentworth. Because he didn’t stay strong though, the chancellor is deemed obsolete next as he waits for his execution.
Burgess Meredith is truly a highlight conveying dignity throughout the episode. Who gets to say who is worthy or not? Is there truly a time when we are obsolete? The message here is a strong one. We have a lot to offer no matter what age we are and no matter what we do. This is my favorite episode for the message and how much it still is relevant today.
This show had many great episodes. Way too many good ones just to make a top 10 list. What are some of your favorite episodes? Can you pick just 10? Do you prefer dark episodes, more comedic ones, or ones filled with more magic? Whichever genre you prefer, you can definitely find it….in The Twilight Zone.