There are 208 episodes of The X-Files and every single one of them is weird. After all, this is a show about government agents investigating frequently inexplicable cases that more often than not involve supernatural beings, mythical monsters, and aliens. That doesn’t leave much room for episodes where Mulder does his taxes or Scully teaches neighborhood kids to stand up to bullies. And why would we want those episodes anyway?
That being said, there are a select group of X-Files episodes that are so downright bizarre that they manage to make every other episode of the show seem relatively normal in comparison. Some are good and some are bad, but each of these episodes are forever set apart by the way they elevate the inherent weirdness of The X-Files to heights that no other show could ever hope to possibly reach.
These are The 15 Weirdest X-Files Episodes of All-Time.
Season 2’s “Humbug” wasn’t the first great episode of The X-Files, but it was one of the first episodes of the show that really showcased how the basic concept of the series could turn the strangest of ideas into something wonderful. The premise here is that Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate a mysterious murder that has occurred at a Florida community for freak show performers. They soon discover that there are quite a few weird things going on in this community, but that the popular theory behind the murders may just be an elaborate hoax.
As an X-Files episode, “Humbug” is weird simply because it was one of the first times that the show really tried to do an almost entirely comedic episode. On a more general level, “Humbug” is weird because of almost every single thing that occur during the episode. The side characters are weird, the community they’ve formed is strange, and the ending that sees a performer capable of eating anything consuming the mutated Siamese twin that’s been murdering everyone is downright bizarre.
By the time that The X-Files had reached its eighth season, the show’s plots didn’t necessarily become more desperate as much as the execution of them began to falter. The writing wasn’t as clever, the performances had started to slump, and the show was running on fumes in general. While hardly the worst episode of the later seasons, “Badlaa” is a pretty good representation of what oddities the show delivered when those involved were feeling a bit uninspired.
On the surface, the premise isn’t awful. People are dying due to mysterious internal injuries that don’t seem to have a medical explanation, and the whole thing is traced back to a legless man who pulls himself around on a cart. While much of “Badlaa” plays out like a standard monster of the week affair, what seals the episode’s spot in the weird hall of fame is the visual of the little man crawling up people’s butts to invade them. Sadly, there’s no more subtle way to convey the oddity of this utterly bewildering villain’s preferred method of entry.
16. The Unnatural
One of the themes you’ll find throughout this list involves attempts to insert misguided social commentary into a typical X-Files episode. It’s not that the show never had good episodes featuring social commentary, but rather that many of its most bizarre outings involved inserting a complicated political issue into a story involving the supernatural . Right from the start of The Unnatural, you know you might be in for one of those episodes, as a group of men in Roswell, New Mexico (where else) are playing baseball when they are attacked by Ku Klux Klan members that ride in on horses. This visual alone is strange enough, but the whole thing goes off the rails when it is revealed that one of the KKK members is an alien.
This episode (which was written and directed by David Duchovny) goes on to tell the story of an alien that fell in love with the game of baseball in the ‘40s. Much of The Unnatural, actually, is a flashback that mixes the plot of an alien being hunted by an extraterrestrial bounty hunter with commentary on race relations. As strange as this all is, what’s really bizarre is that it all adds up to form a really interesting story.
So one day, Agent Mulder decides to go rafting out on the high seas, and he gets into a wreck. He is rescued by a passing ship called the Queen Anne. What’s strange about that is the Queen Anne was believed to have sunk somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle in 1939. Everything until this point is standard X-Files fare, but where things turn weird is when Mulder is accused of being a Nazi spy and finds himself involved in an elaborate plot involving the Nazis and a scientist supposedly on the Queen Anne that they need to for their evil plans.
Perhaps the best word to describe “Triangle” is jarring. So much of it has so little to do with the universe of the X-Files and instead plays out like a WW II-era mystery thriller shot like an Alfred Hitchcock film. Despite this, there is still a rather crucial moment at the end of this story where Mulder encounters a ‘30s version of Scully for some reason and kisses her in a moment that seems to be the writer’s attempt to provide a fan service moment. It’s then you realize there’s a strong possibility that someone wrote this entire elaborate plot just to have Scully and Mulder make out for a bit.
14. The Field Where I Died
“The Field Where I Died” begins with a local law enforcement agency receiving information about abuse occurring in a cult called The Temple of the Seven Stars. The FBI raids the cult’s compound in response to these claims and captures the leader before he can drink poison with his wives. Already, this is a strange beginning to an X-Files episode simply because there is nothing supernatural about it. That all changes when Agent Mulder forms a connection with one of the cult leader’s wives (Melissa) who has multiple personality disorder and tells Mulder that she watched him die on the field of Civil War battle.
While it’s a big part of Mulder’s character that he believes in the otherwise unbelievable, his willingness to accept Melissa’s explanation that he was a Civil War soldier in a previous life is quite bewildering. This claim hits him hard on a personal level for some reason and leads him down a path of personal discovery in which he tries to recount his past lives (which includes a trip to Nazi Germany and other bizarre revelations). This is actually a fairly emotional story at the end of the day, but it’s based around an odd plot device that’s presented as something more significant than it ends up being.
The overall quality of the episodes featured in The X-Files‘ comeback season is a source of great debate among the show’s adamant fanbase, but there’s no doubt that the last season of the show revived the series’ trademark weirdness. Take, for instance, this charming little outing known as “Babylon“, in which Mulder and Scully must investigate a recent suicide bombing that may just be the first in a string of such incidents. As part of this investigation, Mulder and Scully must team up with a young pair of agents who mirror their own personal beliefs.
So far, there’s nothing unusual about the story, but things get a whole lot more interesting when Mulder and Agent Einstein decide that the only way to gather information from one of the now-comatose bombers is for Mulder to take mushrooms and enter a hallucinogenic state. Why? It’s a fair question that the episode can’t be bothered to really explore much. Much of Mulder’s mushroom trip is comprised of him dancing at a cowboy bar and getting into an altercation with the Cigarette Smoking Man. Somehow, though, he does eventually meet a baby version of the comatose man in his dream who tells him the location of the bombers.
12. First Person Shooter
Ah yes, this episode. Not every episode on this list is awful just because they’re weird, but this is generally considered to be one of The X-Files‘ lowest moments. It involves Mulder and Scully responding to a case involving a gamer who was killed while playing a first-person shooter reality game, despite the fact there were no real weapons in the game’s universe. Naturally, as part of the investigation, Scully and Mulder hop into the world of the game and hunt for the murderer.
What follows is one of the most painfully strange portrayals of gaming in popular media. “First Person Shooter” is The X-Files’ attempt to capitalize on that “video game craze”, as well as The Matrix, by presenting a highly stylized virtual universe loaded with action. The problem there is that The X-Files is not an action show, which makes the various scenes of uninspiring virtual action that much more strange to watch. There’s just nothing in this episode that you typically associate with the rest of the series, and its constant attempts at forced humor and action just leave you to wonder what is going on and why it has been allowed to happen.
11. Hollywood A.D.
At the start of this episode, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner invites his filmmaker friend Wayne Federman to get an inside look at the operations of the FBI so that Federman can research an upcoming film he is making on the subject. As part of this process, Skinner suggests that Federman should tag along with Mulder and Scully as they investigate a case of attempted murder against a well-known Catholic Cardinal. Before their adventure ends, they will have all encountered a resurrected hippie that believes he is Jesus Christ, pots with Beatles’ lyrics carved into them, and other various oddities.
As a comedy episode, “Hollywood A.D.” goes out of its way to present something strange at every turn and succeeds in doing so. It mixes several themes together in one story and ties them together with a series of increasingly strange plot twists. The episode’s weirdness hits a definitive peak at the end of the story when Mulder and Scully attend the premiere of the movie based on their recent case and find it to be a highly dramatized retelling of their actual story. Then, in what is undoubtedly one of the show’s strangest moments, the whole thing ends with zombies dancing the night away.
10. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Although you’re never going to find a consensus answer to the question “What is the greatest X-Files episode of all-time?” “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is usually in many fans’ top three picks. This absolutely brilliant story follows author Jose Chung as he researches a potential alien abduction that Mulder and Scully are also investigating. The big gimmick of this episode is that it is told from the perspective of nearly everyone that is involved in the case. As such, everyone has their own interpretation of the events, and these interpretations are all presented in a highly stylistic manner used to imply that they may not be entirely truthful.
That technique is what grants this episode so much of its weirdness and brilliance. From a Dungeons & Dragons fanatic who believes Agent Mulder to be a frightened Man In Black to two actual (maybe?) Men in black played by Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura, every single character in this episode has some bizarre take on what is going on, and the whole thing is edited together in a glorious medley of insanity that makes little sense and is undeniably incredible.
Remember in “The Unnatural” when The X-Files almost went too far in its efforts to tell a story about racism by combining it with mythical elements? Meet the episode where they definitely went too far in doing just that. The gist of “Teliko” is that there vampire-like man on the loose who sucks the pigment of black men he attacks and leaves them as dead albinos. It’s up to Mulder and Scully to find this man and discover how and why he is doing what he is doing.
The basic problem with this episode on a structural level is that it is essentially another take on a previous X-Files episode called “Squeeze”. What makes “Teliko” so very weird, however, are the visuals of the victims and the way that it tries to tie the idea of a pigment-sucking man into a statement about racial inequality. It’s such a “beat you over the head” method of political storytelling that’s made worse by the fact that the creature who sucks pigment is way more bewildering than it is frightening.
8. Hell Money
“Hell Money” might sound like the title of a particularly cheap ‘80s action movie about a mob debt and some kind of lone hero seeking vengeance, but it’s actually the name of a very interesting third season episode of The X-Files. The deal here is that the working class in San Fransico’s Chinatown district have been disappearing, and their disappearances are believed to be linked to an ancient underground society that nobody is willing to talk about. In another show, this might all lead to the revelation that some mafia organization is collecting debts. As you know, The X-Files is not just another show.
It turns out that the disappearing people are all involved in an elaborate lottery game that sees normal people wagering their body parts for the opportunity to win big money. The people organizing this event have rigged it (surprise, surprise) in order to sell body parts on the black market. It’s the nature of this game that makes the episode so weird, as this clearly rigged and hyper-violent lottery is treated fairly casually in the grand scheme of things.
7. War of the Coprophages
On his way to investigate an alien sighting, Agent Mulder stumbles upon a series of mysterious occurrences that have been haunting a small town in Massachusetts. According to the town’s sheriff and many of the local residents, the cause behind these occurrences is a swarm of deadly cockroaches that have invaded the area. As unlikely as that sounds (even the eager-to-believe Mulder has his doubts), it turns out that roaches are involved in nearly every strange incident that’s occurred in the town as of late. So, this is an episode about killer cockroaches?
Well, yes and no. “War of the Coprophages” is perhaps best described as a parody of The X-Files disguised as an X-Files episode. While an episode involving deadly cockroaches would have been weird enough, the cockroaches are more of a blank slate used to explore nearly every explanation the show had previously offered as a conclusion. From fear-induced hallucinations to government conspiracies involving the use of cockroaches, there is no explanation too strange to be explored in this episode. In the end, it turns out that that the whole thing can be tracked to a scientist performing experiments involving methane and animal feces. In a way, then, this whole episode is one brilliantly elaborate fart joke.
6. Fight Club
It’s a testament to the see-saw quality of The X-Files that this horrible weird episode aired just one week after the awesomely weird “Hollywood A.D.”. “Fight Club” doesn’t do itself any favors by featuring the acquired taste that is actress Kathy Griffin in dual roles, but really crosses into absolutely bizarre territory by having Kathy Griffin play twins with powers that appear when they are angry. When the two get together, they cause people to get into incredibly violent fights that typically end in death.
Right from the opening minutes, which features two agents who look exactly like Mulder and Scully for no apparent reason except to play off the twins thing, “Fight Club” is clearly trying to be as weird as humanly possible. The source of many of this episode’s most bizarre moments is the power that the twins wield. They are capable of performing anything that the plot requires them to do, even if it is something useless like turning photocopies black. It all leads to a finale where a professional wrestler and his lookalike engage in a battle because of the twins, while all the people in the audience begin to fight as well. This episode is a rollercoaster of odd occurrences.
5. Fearful Symmetry
Given that “Fearful Symmetry“ aired fairly early into The X-Files‘ initial run, it’s a bit strange to see how far the writers reached into their bag of mysterious events given how many genuinely compelling plots the show still had left in it. The premise here is that an unexplained force is causing havoc in a small town in Iowa. Soon, it is discovered that the force in question was actually an invisible elephant that was running amok. If you’re already thinking to yourself “Wait, what?” then you might want to pace yourself, because we’re only getting started.
During their investigation into how an elephant could become invisible, Mulder and Scully soon discover that the invisible elephant was also mysteriously pregnant. This is interesting given that an animal at this zoo has never successfully given birth. The initial theory is that aliens are impregnating the animals as part of their studies. These aliens are also interested in a gorilla capable of speaking in sign language that sends a message of peace to Mulder before she vanishes into a mysterious bright light. Beyond the premise, what makes this episode so strange is how few attempts are made to explain anything that is happening, which is what the show is usually about.
As the story goes, Burt Reynolds told his friend Robert Patrick that he would like to appear on an episode of The X-Files. Patrick relayed the message to showrunner Chris Carter who decided to write and direct an episode that features Burt Reynolds as God. Now, while Burt Reynolds as God is more than enough justification for this episode’s weird classification, much of what makes “Improbable“ so incredibly odd is that it’s really an episode about numbers. Specifically, it’s an episode about a killer that seems to be following a numerical pattern.
The role of God in this episode is also quite interesting. Generally speaking, God (as he is portrayed here) is unable and unwilling to intervene directly in what is transpiring. Instead, he knows how things are going to play out and just watches them happen. As such, the character’s few appearances in this episode feel less like God is on-screen and more like Burt Reynolds is just trying to have as much fun as possible. This is best evidenced when he’s participating in a game of checkers with two agents and begins to dance like a drunk college student to Mexican music. Actually, there are so many curious music choices in this episode that it begins to feel like the series’ unofficial musical outing. We also have to show some love for the ending of “Impossible”, which features an overhead shot of a town shaped like Burt Reynold’s face.
You don’t judge an X-Files episode by its premise. If you did, then you might be tempted to overlook “X-Cops”, which, on paper, sounds like it would be the absolute worst thing ever. That’s because this is actually a crossover episode that presents the X-Files like it’s an episode of Cops. It’s a crossover that’s so complete, that X-Cops actually starts off with the famous cold open of the Cops series as well as that show’s theme song.
The fact that X-Cops is as good as it is should be considered a testament to the writing of Vince Gilligan, but that doesn’t mean that X-Cops isn’t one of the weirdest X-Files stories ever committed to camera. The entire thing is basically what would happen if the police on Cops had stumbled upon an X-Files case after fielding a routine call or, if you prefer to think of it as the plot does, if Mulder and Scully had let the Cops production crew follow them around. Even better, the creature at the heart of this episode’s story has an ability to morph into whatever their victim fears most, meaning we get out of context references to famous horror movie creatures like Freddy Krueger as well as an ending that features a standard Cops-style raid on a crackhouse with a twist.
2. Gender Bender
Had “Gender Bender” committed to just one of its many plotlines, it would have to be considered an extraordinarily weird episode. The fact that it features several weird storylines makes it an all-time great. The story here is that Mulder and Scully have been called in to investigate some recent sexually-charged murders. Through a series of events, they are actually led to a small Amish community (although the group are referred to as the “Kindred” in the show) in Massachusetts. Unsurprisingly, their presence is met with caution by the community. Surprisingly, the Kindred are actually involved in strange cult rituals that involve gender swapping and rebirth. One of these rituals, along with the Kindred’s ability to instantly seduce anyone they rub hands with, has produced the killer that is on the loose.
Wow. That’s a lot to digest. The idea of a killer that seduces various club-goers and stays hidden by swapping their gender is within The X-Files’ standard operating procedure, but every scene involving the Kindred’s rituals and ability to instantly seduce people just elevates “Gender Bender” to such great heights of disturbing oddness that there’s only one other episode that can look down on it.
1. The Post-Modern Prometheus
The black and white color tone and classic horror allusions of “The Post-Modern Prometheus” may lead you to believe that it’s going to be a more traditional horror episode. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Although it almost feels impossible to condense this plot down into a simple synopsis, “The Post-Modern Prometheus” involves a woman who claims to have been impregnated by an unseen mystical force. Now, she believes that this force has impregnated her again. With this, Mulder and Scully set out to try and discover what is going on.
Meanwhile, the audience is on a similar quest to understand what exactly is going on. This investigation includes everything from lessons learned from The Jerry Springer Show to Frankenstein’s Monster-like creature, from a mad scientist performing experiments on fruit flies to a twist delivered in a surprisingly articulate speech by the monster, and an ending where everyone involved attends a Cher concert to celebrate another victory over the forces of evil. There is so much going on here that it’s nothing short of a miracle when it all comes together to form one of the most intriguing episodes of television ever aired.