The Twilight Zone covers tons of topics by putting society’s fears and anxieties under a microscope. What the show has always done best is tackle these subjects through some of the most entertaining and fun episodes of television ever produced. Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot drops on CBS All Access in less than a month and it will most definitely try to continue the original series’ amazing storytelling. With The Twilight Zone’s release quickly approaching, now couldn’t be a better time for both fans and newcomers alike to revisit these ten classic episodes that completely capture the show’s spirit.
10 Time Enough At Last
Anyone who wears glasses will want to opt for LASIK after watching this episode. Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) doesn't ask for much out of life. He simply wants enough peace and quiet to read his book. However, Henry's marriage and mundane accounting job do not allow him enough time to indulge in his hobby. After a bomb destroys all of the human population, Henry is the only survivor and finally has Time Enough At Last to read his books.
Henry's journey nails the universal idea that everyone has wanted some peace and quiet in their lives. It's also telling the audience that they're foolish to believe that true tranquility exists. This episode is The Twilight Zone at its most empathetic. Conversely, it's also one of the shows most cynical and brilliant endings.
9 Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
Who knew hobo action figures were even a thing? A clown (Murray Matheson), hobo (Kelton Garwood), ballet dancer (Susan Harrison), bagpiper (Clark Allen), and a soldier (William Windom) wake up in what appears to be a giant room with an open ceiling. None of them remember how they've ended up here. Their only hope of escaping is to somehow reach the top of the room. Along the way, the characters have to learn how to rely on one another.
People can go on all day about how The Twilight Zone has some of the deepest messages ever portrayed in television. Yet, what the show also does well is create amazing tension and dread. This episode makes the audience feel the same isolation the characters are going through. It goes without saying that the final twist is mind-blowing, but it's the journey leading up to it that makes everything so memorable.
8 It's A Good Life
Prepare to never look at Jack in the boxes the same way ever again. A little boy (Bill Mumy) posses incredible telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Since the kid can read everyone's mind, the town's residents are terrified of him. If the boy seems unhappy with anyone's thoughts he will then simply make the person cease to exist within the blink of an eye. What follows is a heart-pounding sequence showing which of the town's member the boy decides to eliminate next.
There's a reason why "banish them to the cornfield" is part of the American pop culture lexicon. It's because The Twilight Zone is full of dialogue that cuts right to the bone of people's fears. Is there anything scarier for parents than raising a child who is hopelessly out of control?
7 The Invaders
Don't mess with a lady while she's boiling soup. The episode's premise is simple. A woman (Agnes Moorehead) must protect her home from what looks like miniature spacemen. Nothing more, nothing less.
The beauty of this episode is in its simplicity. Made entirely without any dialogue, everything completely depends on stellar direction and a one of a kind performance by Agnes Moorehead. This is visual storytelling at its purest.
6 The Howling Man
Never before have there been so many amazing beards crammed into a single episode of television. David Ellington (H.M. Wynant) takes a hiking trip through post World War I Europe. Sounds completely safe, right? He takes shelter in a castle that turns out to be a sanctum guarded by a bunch of dudes that look like Moses. What's more, they've imprisoned a guy that they claim is the devil. This mysterious man attempts to convince David that he's not what these Moses-men accuse him of being. The question asks whether or not David will help the man escape.
Easily one of the show's most philosophical episodes, The Howling Man heavily leans into metaphor territory. Specifically, it's telling the viewers that evil is a cyclical thing within men's hearts. The episode is also a ton of fun and super creepy while revealing life's hard truths.
5 Kick The Can
Imagine if Peter Pan took place in an old folk's home. A bunch of retirees in a rest home are under the belief that if they act young, then they will transform back into children. However, Ben Conroy (Russell Collins) thinks his friends are delusional. The central mystery revolves around Ben discovering the truth behind his friends' theory.
What's wonderful about this one is that it shows off The Twilight Zone's range. Rather than relying on scares, the episode opts to tell a heartfelt story told through pure fantasy. The ending dares the viewer not to cry.
4 The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
If anyone desires to move into the suburbs, they shouldn't watch Maple Street. After all of the electricity goes out on in a small neighborhood, the residents meet outside to discuss the problem. A strange rumor starts circulating claiming that aliens have invaded and are demanding that people stay confined to Maple Street. What's scarier is that there's another rumor going around that some of the aliens are actually disguised as a few of the town's residents. Hysteria ensues as the neighborhood attempts to figure out which of them are aliens.
This is The Twilight Zone operating at the top of its game. Things are constantly nerve-wracking as it explores the moral dilemma humans face while confronting the pressure created from a large group of people. It looks the viewer directly in the eye and asks if they are willing to ignore the popular opinion so that they can do what's right.
3 Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
In what is arguably the most iconic episode of all time, Captain Kirk fights a monkey on a plane. What this means is that the episode features an incredible performance by a baby-faced William Shatner. The story centers around Shatner’s Bob Wilson boarding an airplane despite having a horrible fear of flying. Bob looks out the window only to see a monster destroying the plane’s wing. Directed by the great Richard Donner, the episode expertly makes the audience wonder if what they are seeing is real or in Bob’s head.
More than anything, what 20,000 Feet does best is making the surreal feel relatable by centering the entire story on something we’ve all experienced: feeling trapped on an airplane. 20,000 Feet is the only remake confirmed for the upcoming reboot and it stars Adam Scott. Hopefully, it expands on what makes the original so special.
2 Living Doll
An episode that will have you asking: Chucky who? Erich Streator (Telly Savalas) resents his stepdaughter due to the fact that she's not his own blood. When the stepdaughter brings home a spooky doll named Talky Tina, a horrifying game of wits takes place between Erich and Tina.
Not only a memorable piece of television, but also a classic in the “demonic doll” subgenre of horror filmmaking, 'Living Doll' covers so much of what makes The Twilight Zone beloved. Although most viewers will understandably walk away talking about Tina’s reign of terror, this is also an insightful story of fatherhood and divorce during an era when television was barely scratching the surface of those ideas. Living Doll has the eerie ability to be relevant and timeless all at once.
1 Eye Of The Beholder
Has the simple act of peeling off bandages ever felt scarier than it does in Eye of the Beholder? Set in an Orwellian future, the premise focuses on a society where beauty is judged by everyone looking exactly the same. The episode centers on Janet Tyler (Donna Douglas) undergoing facial reconstructive surgery out of fear that her looks do not measure up to society’s standards. What follows is one of the best final reveals in television history.
That’s an important thing to note when discussing The Twilight Zone. Beyond its themes rich enough to fill thousands of Film 101 college essays, it's also incredibly thrilling and fun. With insightful themes about beauty, unforgettable twists and impeccable technical craft, Eye of the Beholder is the quintessential introduction into The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone has always been able to thrill viewers while making them think more deeply about the world. Fingers crossed that Jordan Peele’s reboot will keep the tradition alive. These were our picks for the most essential Twilight Zone episodes. Are there any others that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments!