Mulder and Scully with playful looks in "The X-files"

The Best Episodes of ‘The X-Files,’ Ranked

Mulder and Scully with playful looks in "The X-files"
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Ryan Coogler is rebooting The X-Files, according to a Deadline report. I want to believe the all-new, all-different version of the series will be worth watching. The OG series created by Chris Carter is one of my favorite science fiction series of all time, it’s a shame that the latest reboots couldn’t be helmed by someone other than cis men as one of the most significant criticisms of the show has been its lack of women in the writers room.

Ever since the news of the reboot broke this spring, I can’t get my favorite The X-Files plotlines out of my head and have been engaged in what’s probably my tenth rewatch of the series. With all the episodes fresh in my mind, here are the best episodes of The X-Files, ranked.

15. “The Gift” (season 8, episode 11)

Robert Patrick as Agent Dogged in "The X-Files"
(Fox)

After Mulder’s abduction, Scully got a new partner, Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), who was a great character hampered by the shoes that he had to fill. In “The Gift,” written by Frank Spotnitz and based on soul-eater folklore, it was revealed that Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was dying of a brain disease after exposure to an alien artifact.

14. “Chinga” (season 5, episode 10)

Jenny-Lynn Hutcheson as Polly Turner in The X-Files
(Fox)

In this episode, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) takes a vacation to Maine, where she encounters a bizarre case where the victims appear to have inflicted wounds upon themselves. In addition to the episode’s location, there are several other references to Stephen King’s work throughout the episode; however, my favorite is how the local detective uses the phrase, “Ayuh,” an affirmative used in many novels by the noted horror author. 

13. “Pilot” (season 1, episode 1)

A person holding another person's seemingly lifeless body in the woods.
(Fox)

In this episode, Mulder drags Scully to her first assignment, an investigation surrounding the unexplained disappearance of Oregon teenagers, who reappear hours later with two strange marks on their bodies and no memory of the abduction.

12. “Kaddish” (season 4, episode 15)

A man with coiled tendrils down either side of his face sits in the shadows
(Fox)

With the rising tide of antisemitism in the United States, “Kaddish” feels as relevant today as when it first aired in 1997. The episode centers around the murder of Isaac Luria (Harrison Coe), a Jewish man named after the 16th-century rabbi considered the father of Lurianic Kabbalah.

11. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (season 11, episode 7)

David Duchovny as Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Agent Dana Scully The X-Files
(Fox)

The title, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” is a Base64 code string that decodes to “Followers.” Likewise, “VGhlIFRydXRoIGlzIE91dCBUaGVyZQ==,” the episode’s tagline, decodes to “The Truth Is Out There.” 

The episode deals with AI and its limitations. “In 2016, on the 23rd of March, an artificial intelligence chatterbot was released by a major American software corporation via the social media platform Twitter,” begins the prologue, clearly describing Microsoft’s Tay, “an experiment to better understand how humans converse and relate on social media.”

10. “Dreamland I/II” (season 6, episodes 4 and 5)

David Duchovny and Michael McKean in "The X-Files"
(Fox)

In “Dreamland I,” while heading to Groom Lake, a.k.a. Area 51, Mulder and Scully are stopped by a team of soldiers led by Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean). While trying to sort things out, an unidentified craft flying overhead causes the minds of Mulder and Fletcher to be switched into each other’s bodies, treating viewers to hilarious moments of each man trying to adapt to the other’s life. Interestingly, the episode’s famous mirror dance took Duchovny and McKean 12 takes to nail down.

9. “Triangle” (season 6, episode 3)

Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and William B. Davis in "The X-Files"
(Fox)

Written and directed by Carter, “Triangle” finally took The X-Files to the Bermuda Triangle. The episode opens with Mulder floating unconscious in the ocean; not long after, he is picked up by a passenger ship, Queen Anne, which disappeared in Bermuda Triangle in 1939. With Mulder’s disappearance, the Lone Gunmen and Scully must get assistance from the FBI to find him, an extremely difficult task. 

8. “Small Potatoes” (season 4, episode 20)

David Duchovny as Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files
(Fox)

Written by Vince Gilligan to subvert his reputation for only writing dark stories and lighten up the rather bleak fourth season, introducing a story arc where Scully develops cancer, “Small Potatoes” was a personal favorite of both Anderson and Duchovny, who spent most of the shoot in hysterics.

7. “Syzygy” (season 3, episode 13)

Wendy Benson-Landes and Lisa Robin Kelly in "The X Files"
(Fox)

Ryan Reynolds is in this episode. Yes, the Ryan Reynolds is in “Syzygy.” Also in the episode is Lisa Robin Kelly, known for playing Laurie Forman in That ’70s Show (1998). Need I say more? Mulder and Scully head to the town of Comity to investigate what is causing teen girls to commit brutal murders, thinking the cause could be a Satanic cult. Throughout the investigation, the FBI agents bicker over everything—from Mulder always “ditching” Scully to Scully having small feet—due to a planetary misalignment, a.k.a. a syzygy.

6. “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” (season 10, episode 3)

David Duchovny in The X-Files episode "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"
(Fox)

A funny, clever, meta deconstruction of the show itself, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” played with tropes regularly explored in the fan-favorite monster-of-the-week episodes. Penned by Morgan, this episode reminded fans what The X-Files could be in an otherwise mostly unremarkable tenth season. From Mulder trying to figure out how to take a photo and/or video of the monster for proof of his existence (instead, he gets a shot of himself screaming hysterically), Rhys Darby’s casting as the were-lizard (Kumail Nanjiani also make a hilarious appearance in the episode), to when, after an encounter with a suspect turns violent, Scully tells Mulder, “Don’t forget, I’m immortal,” this episode is top tier The X-Files

5. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (season 6, episode 6)

Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin guest starring in "The X Files"
(Fox)

Written and directed by Carter, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” a fan-favorite bottle episode, featured the smallest cast of any The X-Files episode. The only actors on set were Duchovny, Anderson, and the two guest stars: Edward Asner, who played Maurice, and Lily Tomlin, who played his wife Lyda. In the episode, Mulder and Scully stake out a reputed Maryland haunted house on Christmas Eve, where, in 1917, a couple made good on a deadly lovers’ pact. Haunting the house each holiday season, the two lovelorn specters living inside the house are determined to prove how lonely the holidays can be.

4. “Home” (season 4, episode 2)

Mulder and Scully in "The X Files"
(Fox)

Written by Morgan and James Wong, “Home” was the only The X-Files episode with a TV-MA rating when broadcast and the only episode never to be aired as a rerun. The episode was inspired by true events, including a story from Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography about an encounter with a family in rural Wales. In the episode, when a dead baby with numerous birth defects is found near the isolated town of Home, Pennsylvania, Mulder and Scully suspect a group of brothers with similar birth defects. Initially, the FBI agents suspect the Peacock brothers of rape, but the investigation uncovers a long history of incest involving their mother.

3. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (season 5, episode 5)

Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Chris Owens in "The X-Files"
(Fox)

Writer and director Carter’s cleverness shines in this episode, with the title, “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” referring to the episode’s postmodern deconstruction of the original Shelley text. Carter decided to shoot the episode in black and white to pay homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein. This episode was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, ultimately winning an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series. 

2. “Bad Blood” (season 5, episode 12)

Luke Wilson as Sheriff Hartwell in The X-Files episode "Bad Blood"
(Fox)

Written by VGilligan and featuring guest appearances from Luke Wilson (as Sheriff Hartwell) and Patrick Renna (as vampire Ronnie Strickland), “Bad Blood” was inspired by an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Rob and Laura Petrie tell differing accounts of a fight that they had. Of course, in the episode, Mulder and Scully discover that they have differing accounts of a case when they must report to Assistant Director Walter Skinner (played by Mitch Pileggi) after Mulder stakes a man he believed to be a vampire and his family sues the FBI for $446 million in damages.

1. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (season 3, episode 20)

Scully reading From Outer Space in "The X-Files"
(Fox)

In “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” Mulder and Scully investigate a cover-up of a UFO abduction, leading to an encounter with an offbeat novelist, during which Scully must recount the events for his non-fiction science fiction tale. The episode has it all: Morgan, a big wrestling fan at the time, wrote the Men in Black role specifically for Jesse Ventura (whose MIB partner is Alex Trebek); a reference to the legendary UFO researcher Jacques Vallee, who is the basis for Lacombe in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); and an angry detective whose curse words are replaced by “bleep” and “blankety-blank.”

(featured image: Fox)


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Author
Rebecca Oliver Kaplan
Rebecca Oliver Kaplan (she/he) is a comics critic and entertainment writer, who's dipping her toes into new types of reporting at The Mary Sue and is stoked. In 2023, he was part of the PanelxPanel comics criticism team honored with an Eisner Award. You can find some more of his writing at Prism Comics, StarTrek.com, Comics Beat, Geek Girl Authority, and in Double Challenge: Being LGBTQ and a Minority, which she co-authored with her wife, Avery Kaplan. Rebecca and her wife live in the California mountains with a herd of cats.