First premiering in July of 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has become part of worldwide pop culture like very few properties ever have. Created by former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg, the show famously stars the titular SpongeBob, a sea sponge who works at the Krusty Krab (run by Mr. Eugene Krabs), hangs with his best friends Patrick Star (a star fish) and Sandy Cheeks (a squirrel), and attempts to hang out with his neighbor and co-worker, Squidward Tentacles (an octopus, despite his name). Being the most profitable show in Nickelodeon's history, the show has remained popular with critics and audiences both young and old.
But what is it about a sponge living in a pineapple under the sea that's so enduring? We plan to go over that by ranking the best episodes of this series, covering outings that have proven themselves to be funny, clever, and make great use of its characters and narrative structure. There are many beloved episodes, and we've narrowed it down to the ones we believe best represent the series' knack for fun and unique marine mischief.
So if nautical nonsense be something you wish, look no further then the 20 Best SpongeBob SquarePants Episodes.
A simple title for a simple premise, this very early episode has SpongeBob making a stand for the sole purpose of offering passersby the chance to blow bubbles for 25 cents. While Patrick can get with it, Squidward is more annoyed than impressed, especially when the bubbles they're making are keeping him from his clarinet. But like SpongeBob says, "We're not just making bubbles, we're making bubble art!"
Squidward, unimpressed and arrogant, tries to prove that there's nothing challenging or unique about blowing a bubble, only to fail at creating a successful one himself. After frustratingly trying SpongeBob's "technique," he manages to yell a large bubble into existence. Crediting his "genes" and not the "technique," Squid walks away more arrogant than before, and while he celebrates in his home, the giant bubble comes back to lift his home into the air, blow up, and send his house crashing to the ground. Pathetic and broken clarinet sounds end the episode on an ironic but amusing note, serving as one of the earliest demonstrations that Squid's arrogance doesn't win out over SpongeBob's earnestness.
19 Culture Shock
With The Krusty Krab having trouble bringing in customers, Mr. Krabs suggests a sort of gimmick. Squidward enthusiastically prompts the idea of a talent show, which can include Krab's daughter, Pearl ("nepotism is alive and well"). Everyone's excited, especially SpongeBob, who tries to convince Squid to be featured on the show throughout the episode. He ultimately gives him a mop to shut him up, which SpongeBob sees as his way to shape his destiny. So while the show goes from bad to worse (ending with an interpretive dance by Squidward that is immediately booed), it's up to an angry crowd willing to pay money to throw vegetables at Squid on stage and a Sponge ready to clean up after them to save the day.
This episode has many notable gags, such as SpongeBob getting applauded for cleaning the stage (which ends the episode), poetry by Bob's pet snail Gary, and Patrick's constant laughing near the beginning of the talent show. And like many great episodes in the series, it uses amusing bits and a heavy dose of irony to tell its story from beginning to end.
18 Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy III
SpongeBob and Patrick are tasked with taking care of the Mermalair while their superhero idols go on vacation. Then they come across the evil Man Ray, who's actually frozen and not a threat. After being unfrozen enough to speak, Man Ray tricks the duo into freeing him completely. But SpongeBob is too savvy and uses a remote control to activate his belt, which tickles him senseless. Realizing he needs to get out of his situation, Man Ray lies to the duo and says he'd rather be good than evil, knowing that, if he succeeds, the belt is off and he'll finally be free.
Most of the episode consists of the duo trying to teach Man Ray how to be a good person, but due to Patrick's stupidity , his patience is repeatedly tested. Eventually, he desperately asks that the belt be removed (by saying please), and the duo agree to do so. With Man Ray free, he grabs a weapon and incapacitates Bob and Pat. He then attempts to rob a bank, only to realize that the urge to do evil is gone ("I guess I'll just open a checking account").
At The Krusty Krab, SpongeBob and Patrick amuse themselves with a board game: The Flying Dutchman's Treasure Hunt (based on a real treasure map!). They invite Mr. Krabs to play, but he gets a bit too into it, which causes SpongeBob to tell him that "it's just a game." However, the next day, Krabs lets Bob and Pat know that they're going to be real pirates with a real treasure map. Enthusiastic, the trio set sail, where they crash the ship ("The whole ship is underwater, Captain!"), get lost ("East? I thought you said Weast!"), and make Krabs doubt his crew. Eventually, Bob and Pat discover the map was just their original game board taped to a piece of paper. They also eventually find the treasure, but due to their clashing philosophies (All For One vs One For All), they wake up the owner of the treasure, The Flying Dutchman.
This episode is the first time Mr. Krabs is referred to as sweaty, which becomes a running gag throughout the series (mainly by Patrick), and is a running gag itself in the episode. The episode also features the first appearance of the fan favorite character Fred and his catchphrase "MY LEG!"
What starts as the simple task of taking care of Sandy's various Treedome animals becomes the destruction of Bikini Bottom, all because SpongeBob and Patrick were afraid of a butterfly. Featuring up-close shots (and loud buzzes) of a horse fly, "Wormy" sees the duo make friends with a worm (complete with a montage), but don't realize that, the next day, it turns into a butterfly. Due to insects having horrifying nightmares for faces, the butterfly terrifies the duo; they go and tell the rest of the town as Wormy stays safe and unassuming inside a traveling bubble. Only Sandy's return from her trip and trapping him in a jar "saves" the day.
This episode is probably most notorious for its up-close insect shots, but it also stands as a fun example of how these underwater creatures react when faced with something so unknown to them. It also showcases that blind fear and utter ignorance are the true creators of chaos.
Starting off with a live-action artist losing his sole pencil to the depths of the ocean, "Frankendoodle" is a unique and creative episode where Sponge and Pat encounter a magical pencil that makes what's drawn come to life. While this results in amusing little jokes at first, the creation of a bizarre Squidward is our first indication that this pencil may cause more harm than good. SpongeBob decides to prank Squidward with a doodle of himself (DoodleBob), but he only brings into existence a manic and uncontrollable bizarro version of himself.
The magic pencil allows for amusing versions of preexisting things, such as the aforementioned DoodleBob, as well as a "crudely drawn pineapple" that DoodleBob uses as his home. The episode also showcases a lot of creativity, from how the pencil is used to how DoodleBob is ultimately foiled (by getting trapped onto paper). It also includes popular quotes from Patrick ("Where's the leak, ma'am?") and DoodleBob ("MEE HOY NIMOY"), who himself has remained a popular character, even appearing in a few licensed video games.
14 Sailor Mouth
Famous for using dolphin noises to censor swears, "Sailor Mouth" sees both SpongeBob and Patrick using "sentence enhancers" recklessly and without the knowledge that they're actually saying bad words. Mr. Krabs, after letting them know that there are thirteen bad words you should never use ("Don't you mean there are only seven?"), asks the duo to promise him that they'll never swear again. But of course, there'd be no further conflict to this episode if they kept that promise.
The episode mainly succeeds due to its playful handling of cuss words, such as pointing out how many there supposedly are, swearing accidentally ("some things just slip out"), and of course, tattling on others who've cussed. The episode even pokes fun at its use of sound effects to mask the swearing at the end of episode when something Mama Krabs says is masked by a car horn ("What? It's Old Man Jenkins and his jalopy").
Notable for turning "fun" into an acronym ("F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me, N is for anywhere and anytime at all, down here in the deep blue sea!"), this episode sees SpongeBob try to make friends with Plankton (since he's the most hated creature in Bikini Bottom). Plankton refuses at first, but sees the opportunity as a way to steal a Krabby Patty. Not only that, but thanks to SpongeBob's boyish optimism, he learns how to have genuine fun...which doesn't sit well with Plankton's arch rival, Mr. Krabs.
Aside from featuring plenty of great gags, the episode also shows us a nicer side to Plankton that is rarely seen, even if it may not last longer than the episode's run time. It also demonstrates Mr. Krabs' commitment to keeping SpongeBob safe from any harm (as well as keeping his own Krabby Patties safe from Plankton). And we can't forget the F.U.N. song ("F is for frolicking through all the flowers, U is for ukulele, N is nose picking, sharing gum, and sand licking here with my best buddy!").
12 Something Smells
Notable for introducing two popular SpongeBob gags (Patrick's story about The Ugly Barnacle, and the fish that goes "DEUUEAUGH!"), "Something Smells" starts off with Sponge deciding to make a sundae. However, he's out of ice cream, so (for whatever reason) he decides to use ketchup, onions, and the remains of a peanut tree. This results in him having rancid breath, which also results in everyone running away from him. Only Patrick sticks with him due to the starfish's lack of nostrils. Since he can't smell, he tells SpongeBob that people are probably running away from because he's ugly. Convinced, he retreats to his home until he comes to terms with his ugliness ("Is that what he calls it?").
After an incident at the movie theater, SpongeBob realizes he still has some of his sundae left and Pat eats it. Soon after, Sponge realizes Patrick's breath stinks, too. It's here the both of them realize that, no, SpongeBob did not give Patrick the ugly, they "just stink." And the episode ends with the duo celebrating with cheer ("We stink!") as their breath causes the buildings around them to deteriorate.
11 Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy V
After getting no respect from his partner or Bikini Bottom citizens, Barnacle Boy decides to cross over to the dark side to work with Man Ray (who's clearly found the urge to do evil again) and the Dirty Bubble. This evil trio -- known as Every Villain Is Lemons -- is a tough match for one Mermaid Man, which prompts the senior hero to enlist SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, and Sandy to join the International Justice League of Super Acquaintances.
As one can imagine, the I.J.L.S.A., while at first intimidating E.V.I.L., utterly fails (due to extreme incompetency), and leaves the villains victorious. Barnacle Boy then approaches Mermaid Man, and gives him his demands: to be treated like a hero (not a sidekick), to be called Barnacle Man, and have an adult-sized Krabby Patty. It's in this last request where Barnacle "Man" shows that the entire charade of E.V.I.L. was just to earn Mermaid Man's respect. The episode also showcases that E.V.I.L. are just harmless pranksters (one of their crimes is ringing a doorbell and running away), as well as demonstrating creativity with the episode's superhero concept.
It starts out simple enough: SpongeBob and Patrick are bothering Squidward so much that he decides to sneak to The Krusty Krab to hide from them in a freezer. When he attempts to leave, he realizes he's locked in. But like he says: "I'll be out of here in no time."
Fast forward 2,000 years later, he's thawed out by "SpongeTron" and learns he's in a "chrome" future. Squidward begs to be sent back to his own time period, and lucky for him, there's a time machine. However, he goes too far into the past, meets primitive versions of SpongeBob and Patrick (who learn about jellyfishing courtesy of Squidward), and runs back into the time machine after accidentally angering them. In desperation, he breaks the machine and ends up "nowhere"...which, as it turns out, is worse than being with SpongeBob and Patrick.
This episode is notable for producing the recent "primitive SpongeBob" meme as seen all over the internet, and for premiering on the last day of the 20th century (Dec. 31, 1999). The episode also points out that, due to his past actions, Squidward is the inventor of jellyfishing ("I'm going back").
9 Wet Painters
Mr. Krabs gives SpongeBob and Patrick the basic assignment of painting the interior of his house, with the rule that they must not get paint on anything but wall. The duo try opening the paint cans and very carefully applying it to the walls, until they make two giant paint bubbles. They explode, but lucky for them, the paint splashes all over the walls...until SpongeBob notices a microscopic bit of paint on Mr. Krab's first dollar ("I think you're overreacting SpongeBob, I don't see any paint"). He attempts to wipe it off, but it only gets drastically worse ("Oh, now I see it!"); desperate, the duo try everything to get the paint off, as well as fail in replacing the dollar with just another dollar.
Mr. Krabs eventually gets home, and the two do their best to disguise the dollar, including draw on it with crayon. Krabs then reveals that the paint comes off with saliva, and that he just wanted to mess with them. But due to laughing too hard, his own saliva completely washes off all the paint ("I really gotta learn to say it, not spray it").
8 Can You Spare a Dime?
After a fight with Mr. Krabs over a missing dime, Squidward decides to quit The Krusty Krab. SpongeBob rushes after him, but Squid tells him not to worry, since now he's able to be anything he wants. Cut to Squid begging for change on the street and Sponge finding him; feeling pity, he lets Squid stay at his place. However, Squidward becomes too comfortable being a freeloader, and SpongeBob has become his own personal maid. As much as Bob tries to convince Squid to get up and find work, he doesn't seem to get it, even when it's spelled out in his alphabet soup. Eventually, SpongeBob breaks down and runs all the way to The Krusty Krab to ask Mr. Krabs that Squid have his job back, nearly choking him in desperation.
This episode is noteworthy for being one of the few times SpongeBob loses it, as well as providing jokes such as "A football playing king in space with a mustache," the alphabet soup reading "GET A JOB" and the reveal that Mr. Krab's "dime" looks nothing like modern currency ("This is a dime?" "I've been in business a long time, boy").
7 Rock Bottom
Notable for introducing the titular city with a strange accent, this episode has Sponge and Pat take the wrong bus and leave them in the very different Rock Bottom. While Patrick is (somehow) able to get a bus back to Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob spends almost the entire episode trying to fetch a bus back himself. Whether it's missing three buses in sequence or being too far in line for information at the station, he simply cannot manage to get a ride home. Eventually, a friendly fish who had run after his run-away balloon comes back to offer him a new solution: inflate the balloon and use it to travel back home.
This episode is very different than most episodes of the series, from the ominous music used to the creepy and unknown setting of Rock Bottom. While it ultimately proves to be a harmless enough place, the fact that it's such a night-and-day difference between Bikini Bottom is enough to make SpongeBob desperate to return back home.
6 Idiot Box
An episode that shows us just how powerful our imaginations can be, "Idiot Box" is essentially the story of how Squidward can't figure out why and how SpongeBob and Patrick are able to enjoy themselves so much with a cardboard box. Squidward begins to hear sounds of their imagination, but every time he opens the box to see what's going on, he just sees them playing pretend. There are no ice climbers, space ships, or robot pirates: it's all in their heads. It drives Squidward crazy enough to later try the box out himself; excited and delighted, he really believes he's in a race car, but really a garbage truck is picking up the box and taking it to the dump.
The question of whether the sounds Squidward heard were legitimate or all in his head aren't answered, but it can be assumed that Squidward really does have as much imagination as Sponge and Pat. As for the duo, they demonstrate how a simple box can be a whole world of imagination for them, exhuming a childlike sense of wonder that the older and more grumpy Squid can't get his head around.
5 Krusty Krab Training Video
The most unique entry on this list and arguably the most unique episode in the series, "Krusty Krab Training Video" is literally what is says it is. From the basic black and white opening titles to the old school edits and music cues, this episode's sole purpose is to train a future employee working at The Krusty Krab. The video features Mr. Krabs pointing out a few things here and there, SpongeBob asking if he can make a Krabby Patty, and Squidward being incompetent and uncaring ("Look closely at the I REALLY WISH I WEREN'T HERE RIGHT NOW! button").
There hadn't been any precedence or preparedness of an episode like this, so its surprise is part of its charm. It has a strong dedication to the format, from the very opening seconds to an ending that is so abrupt that people genuinely think it's an error by the broadcaster (a la The Sopranos finale). It's also full of great gags such as POOP (People Order Our Patties) and "The money is always right!"
4 The Camping Episode
Here's another episode where the title lets us know exactly what's going on. Squidward is happy that Patrick and SpongeBob have gone camping for the weekend, but then he learns they've only gone as far as a few feet from his own home. He decides to camp along with them to (once again) prove he knows more about the subject than they do. And as per usual, Squidward just makes a fool (and victim of a Sea Bear attack) of himself due to his arrogance and reluctance to go along with what Sponge and Pat say or do.
The episode serves as a prime example of a fast paced narrative where there's always something happening, featuring gags that never overstay their welcome and actually advance the plot. Easily the most popular thing to come out of this episode is the "Campfire Song Song," a tune that starts off nice and calm before escalating into fast paced and frantic insanity, and ends with SpongeBob smashing his guitar into the ground.
3 Squid's Day Off
After Mr. Krabs suffers an accident, Squidward is made the new manager for the day. He makes SpongeBob wear two hats (literally and metaphorically) as cashier and chef; meanwhile, Squid tells Sponge that he has "boss-like errands to run." Of course, he just wants to take the day off, but as soon as he leaves the restaurant, he begins to have doubts that SpongeBob will be alright by himself.
With every paranoid fantasy and question of whether he's "finished with those errands?", Squidward slowly but surely loses his mind thinking that SpongBob will massively mess up in someway. His paranoia becomes so intense that he eventually runs all the way to the Krusty Krab naked, sure that SpongeBob had been plotting to keep Squid from having a day off. But once he realizes how foolish that is, he decides he'd rather be back at work...and then SpongeBob notices the "Closed" sign was never switched to "Open." "It's almost like we could've taken the whole day off!"
2 Band Geeks
Well plotted with a victorious pay off, "Band Geeks" sees Squidward prove to his arch rival, Squilliam Fancyson, that he does have a band that can play at the Bubble Bowl. After getting a bunch of main characters to help, Squid spends four grueling days training them, but a big fight ("BIG. MEATY. CLAWS!") makes him think he just wasted his time on people who never cared about this band in the first place. After giving a heartfelt speech, it's up to SpongeBob to get everyone together and make sure they're ready to preform. This results in the now famous and very popular "Sweet Victory" ending, featuring Sponge on lead vocals, Patrick on drums, Sandy on guitar, and Plankton on the keyboard.
The episode is notable for being Squilliam's debut, introducing the internet to a few great jokes and memes ("Is mayonnaise an instrument?"), and being one of the few episodes in the series where SpongeBob is a secondary character and has much less dialogue than usual.
1 Pizza Delivery
The most simple and straightforward episode on this list, "Pizza Delivery" is the story of SpongeBob and Squidward's attempt to delivery a Krabby Patty pizza. From the very beginning, where Mr. Krabs makes a pizza out of Krabby Patties to SpongeBob's attempt at hitchhiking (*spoons rattling*), this episode stands as a prime example of supreme comedic narrative. There's always something going on, something that causes the delivery to be delayed, and of course, the interactions between Sponge and Squid and their starkly opposing philosophies ("Who cares about the customer?" "I do!" "Well I don't!" *gasp* "Squidward!").
The episode is notable for its various gags, such as the Krusty Krab pizza song that we won't link to here because it'll be in our heads all day, the pioneers running gag (which pays off near the end), and the ending itself, which features an ungrateful customer ("How am I supposed to eat this pizza without my drink!?") who gets his comeuppance courtesy of Squidward ("Another one? Look, I told your little friend, I ain't payin' for that!" "Well this one's on the house!"). It also features a stellar ending, where it's revealed that the place they needed to deliver the pizza to was just across the street from The Krusty Krab.
Did we miss your favorite SpongeBob SquarePants episode? Let us know in the comments.