Trying to sift through all 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone and pick just the five best episodes is rather daunting. Plus, it opens one up to mass criticism because TZ fans are passionate about their favorite episodes. But I’m ready to take the heat. Here are my picks for TZ’s five best episodes (and some honorable mentions):
1. It’s a Good Life – The residents of a small town live in fear of a young boy (Billy Mumy) with limitless powers who controls their day-to-day existence. Disagree with Anthony and you’re liable to find yourself in “the cornfield” (a place you don’t want to be!). Disturbing and even downbeat at its conclusion, It’s a Good Life is the most chilling TZ episode–and, in my opinion, the best one. In Twilight Zone: The Movie, Joe Dante ruins the story with a happy ending.
2. The Howling Man – While touring a post-World War I Europe, a young man named David seeks shelter from rural monks during a storm. At first, the monks refuse admittance but they relent when David passes out. Later that night, David hears a strange howling and finds an imprisoned man who claims the monks are holding him against his will. This atmospheric, eerie tale written by Charles Beaumont is a rare TZ excursion into straight horror. It works extremely well, right down to the hand on the door knob in the epilogue.
3. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – A man recently recovered from a nervous breakdown looks out the window of his airplane seat and sees a gremlin trying to sabotage the wing. No one believes him, of course. William Shatner‘s tendency to overact works to his advantage in this clever tale of a man who must convince himself of his own sanity and then risk his future in order save his fellow passengers. This one was also adapted for Twilight Zone: The Movie with John Lithgow shining in the Shatner role.
4. To Serve Man – A witty story that builds up to the best punchline of any TZ episode. To say anymore would spoil it for viewers who haven’t seen it.
5. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? – Two troopers tracks what may be an alien to a snowbound diner inhabited a by a soda jerk, a bus driver, and his passengers. The catch is that six passengers got off the bus, but now there are seven. Which one is an alien? A great example of one of the lighthearted episodes, complete with a neat twist, this one always draws me in if I happen on it during one of those TZ marathons.
Honorable mentions: Five Characters in Search of an Exit (the soldier, the ballerina, etc.); The Invaders (Agnes Moorehead protects her home); Time Enough to Last (Burgess Meredith and his spectacles); Night of the Meek (Art Carney plays Santa Claus); The Eye of the Beholder (a young woman undergoes plastic surgery); In His Image (the best of the hour-long episodes).
What’s your favorite Twilight Zone episode? Let us know in the comments!