The X-Files is an enduring series specifically because of its variety. It’s filled with plenty of horror, comedy, and science-fiction alike. The mysteries are consistently intriguing, though the overarching story pales in comparison to the monsters of the week. Fans were treated to a revival recently, which offered hit-and-miss episodes. You’ll notice that fans’ highest rated episodes on IMDb are all from the first few seasons of the show. That isn’t surprising, since the series shifted its tone, filming location, and even lost Mulder for a while. So, here’s the best of the best, sorted by highest ranking and number of votes. Spoilers included!
On this list, you’ll find a lot of evidence that fans of this show enjoy a good sense of humor. The comedy of the series only works because a baseline of moody seriousness is promptly established. The closest you ever get is Mulder’s consistent dry wit. So, when the show decides to do something as outrageous as the body-swap, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s also frequently observant of the deepest truths in the characters. By allowing Mulder to act so out of character, the laughs come because of our familiarity with the show. So technically, every comedic episode is the best fan service imaginable. On that note, what could be better than Mulder finally visiting Area 51?
9 Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'
This is a comedy about an alien abduction, and nothing could be more appropriate for the show. Much like the highest rated episode below, this episode plays around with points of view. The cameo appearances are also plenty of fun, featuring Jesse Ventura, Alex Trebek, and Charles Nelson Reilly. Darin Morgan, who wrote the best comedic episodes of the show, went out strong on this one, before the revival. The episode delves into interesting alien theories like the prospect of hypnotic memory recovery, and Men in Black. The loving nods to fans and science-fiction itself make for a brilliant and timeless episode.
8 Small Potatoes
In this episode, Luke Skywalker gives birth to a baby with a tail. Sort of. Here’s another hilarious episode, credited to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. This time, comedic writer Darin Morgan gets to play the culprit himself. Gilligan stretched his range here and his foray into comedy is very successful. Of course, Mulder becomes the driving force of the humor, as he oft to do. There’s a shapeshifter in this episode and he ends up spending a lot of quality time as Mulder. There’s a particular scene in front of the mirror, where he pretends to be an agent, that’s especially memorable.
7 The Erlenmeyer Flask
It’s easy to imagine why the Season 1 finale stood out in viewers’ minds. Audiences have to wait surprisingly long periods between monsters of the week to get any crucial plot progression. And this one delivers on the longtime promise of the show. The audience, and skeptical Scully herself, see a legitimate alien fetus. It’s an incredible moment for the ever-doubtful character to reach a truth that monumental. Conversely, Mulder has to yield that the X-Files themselves are going to be shut down. Deep Throat is dead and the Smoking Man is victorious. It’s a bold move to give such a downbeat. When this series pursues its mythology seriously, it can be hit or miss. This one is definitely one of the strongest of the former.
6 Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
William B. Davis deserves all the praise we can muster for creating such an iconic villain. He is the perfect physical embodiment of every shadowy conspiracy and secretive threat the show opposes. He is the indulgence of the audience, who was culturally swept away with cynicism. It’s so much easier to put a face to the sentiment. And Davis does so with incredible gravitas. Cool and collected, he’s the most mysterious character on the show. And his misdeeds are absolutely endless. So, to have The Lone Gunmen deliver his possible backstory is thrilling, and more rewarding than certain other reveals. The reason evil fascinates us is our general failure to understand it. Nothing could be more intriguing than this episode, where the Smoking Man essentially delivers a superb one-man show.
5 Paper Clip
This incredible mythology episode was the conclusion of a three-part story, involving plenty of that long-desired truth. A series of genuinely stunning revelations are balanced with well-paced action. The pacing is particularly effective here, more so than even other mythology episodes. Most significantly, both Mulder and the audience finally learn about what really happened to his sister. Shockingly, it turns out their father was forced to choose between them. This episode has everything a fan could want—a startling new conspiracy, answers, the Syndicate, the Lone Gunmen—and solid action. Also, of course, the Smoking Man, who gets an unexpected moment to stand against the Syndicate.
4 Redux II
This milestone followed in the footsteps of the “Paper Clip” episode. This is also the conclusion of a three-part story, continuing from the Season 3 finale. In fact, after so many seasons of the supernatural, it’s questionable that Mulder would lose his belief now. At least it makes for some good drama. But the real draw here is Scully’s cancer. The possibility that a traitor within the FBI who personally distributed it is pretty intriguing. And it puts Mulder in a very desperate position, forcing him to consider collaboration with the Smoking Man. He’s even offered further truths about Samantha, but ultimately declines. The ticking clock on Scully’s health is a poignant and effective plot point.
This is the first part of the story that led to “Paper Clip” and it revolves all around digital tape. This is impossible to imagine these days, and so is a hacker using “The Thinker” for a nickname. But these are superficial things. The story is pretty compelling and surprisingly, Duchovny actually had a part in developing it. The plot starts off with a bang—an alien corpse discovered on a New Mexico reservation. When done right, mythology episodes are often greatly appreciated by the series’ fans.
Most significantly, Alex Krycek really hits a rivalry with Mulder after killing his father—right before he reveals the truth about everything. The only thing that keeps Mulder from murdering Krycek is Scully. Seeing Mulder totally unhinged is fascinating, and the stolen evidence on tape is a really tantalizing plot point. It’s a brisk, thoughtful episode ingrained with lots of conspiracy. To the point that Mulder’s water is literally spiked.
2 Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
This Emmy-winning episode is a dark comedy that leans towards genuinely touching drama. Peter Boyle, known for Everybody Loves Raymond, plays a psychic who only sees people’s death. As a result, even Mulder ends up contemplating existential issues. Nonetheless, the episode was actually written by Darin Morgan. He’s usually known for generating the most laughs on the show. But here, the comedy functions as an agent for the most compelling drama the show has drawn from the supernatural. Consequently, the episode captures many of the most important themes the series ever invested in. And simultaneously, we get a legitimately superb case for accompaniment.
1 Bad Blood
By now, this episode simply speaks for itself. Luke Wilson’s cameo is iconic, nailing both roles. That is, the bucktoothed idiot from Mulder’s point of view, and the charming man Scully recalls. This episode is all about how the protagonists see each other. There’s even a hint at some jealousy on Mulder’s part. In fact, the entire story is a great deconstruction of their relationship. After so much sullen drama and horror, it’s always a relief to see how funny Duchovny and Anderson can be. However, not just the characters inspire laughs. There’s some great slapstick with Scully’s autopsy, and even Mulder’s beliefs are ribbed. In the cold open, Mulder seems to accidentally stake an innocent person. Generally speaking, we’re usually on his side and frustrated by Scully’s skepticism. This is a classic episode and it says a lot about the fanbase that we most favor a good laugh.