In that first episode — which, as we’ve already observed, is peak 1990s — medical doctor Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) meets FBI outcast Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and joins his “X-Files” investigations, seeking to explain the unexplained.
In honor of The X-Files’ three-decade anniversary falling on September 10, here are the top 10 episodes of the series, according to IMDb voters.
10. Season 4, Episode 20: “Small Potatoes”
A shape-shifting man — played by X-Files writer Darin Morgan — comes under suspicion when multiple residents of a small West Virginia town give birth to babies with tails. “This was an absolute hoot, very funny from start to finish,” an IMDb user writes.
9. Season 3, Episode 20: “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’”
With the tale of an alleged UFO encounter, Scully gives famous author Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly) plenty of fodder for his latest novel, while Mulder crosses paths with men in black played by Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura. On IMDb, a fan hails this episode’s “complex, detailed, and beautifully-written script.”
8. Season 1, Episode 24: “The Erlenmeyer Flask”
In the Season 1 finale, a tip from Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) sends Mulder investigating experiments in which humans were subjected to alien viruses. “The Erlenmeyer Flask keeps you jumping up until the end when the ultimate sacrifice is made to save Mulder,” a fan writes in a 10-star review. “This episode is a must-see for all.”
7. Season 5, Episode 2: “Redux II”
After Scully collapses in the Season 5 premiere, Mulder finds an unlikely ally in his search for a cure for her ailment in “Redux II,” even as he starts questioning his belief in extraterrestrial life. “This was one of the best episodes of the show I have seen,” says one X-Files buff. “It’s a quite captivating watch — dramatic, enthralling, [with] huge punches.”
6. Season 3, Episode 2: “Paper Clip”
Mulder scrambles to uncover his father’s involvement in a top secret project — one that led to his sister’s abduction — in this conclusion to a three-episode arc. “This was a terrific ending to what has been a terrific trilogy story,” a viewer declares. “Intensely intriguing, fast-paced, it raises a hell of a lot of questions.”
5. Season 4, Episode 7: “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”
The hacker-watchdog trio known as the Lone Gunmen offers one possible life story for the mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), placing him at John F. Kennedy’s assassination and a UFO’s crash-landing… and revealing him to be a rejected novelist. “One can only hope future TV shows produced from this point will show as much respect and devotion to its characters, and their histories, as this one has,” an IMDb user says.
4. Season 6, Episode 4: “Dreamland”
At Area 51, Mulder and one of the men in black somehow swap bodies, unbeknownst to Scully. “The switching of personalities is hilarious, especially since the two characters involved in the switch are utterly different in temperament and don’t even like each other,” one IMDb user raves, praising the “wonderful” Michael McKean’s performance as the other man involved in the switcheroo.
3. Season 2, Episode 25: “Anasazi”
After receiving a computer tape with classified documents about extraterrestrial life in this Season 2 finale, Mulder and Scully look to Navajo elder Albert Hosteen (Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman) for answers, but Mulder gets caught in a deadly trap. “I salute this as one of the best cliffhanger episodes of all time,” a fan writes. “For me, it was the best season finale of the whole series.”
2. Season 3, Episode 4: “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”
A man with the ability to foretell a person’s death helps Mulder and Scully track down a killer targeting other psychics — and the fellow has a surprising prophecy about Scully. “Peter Boyle is absolutely sensational as Clyde Bruckman,” an IMDb voter contends. “It really is a master class in sincere, down-to-earth, honest acting. He adds so much to this already brilliant episode.”
1. Season 5, Episode 12: “Bad Blood”
In a storyline inspired by an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mulder and Scully offer hilariously different takes on the events that led Mulder to stake a teen he believed to be a vampire. “The characters, set up by five years of behaviorisms and attributes, are hilariously lampooned in this episode,” an IMDb user writes. “Luke Wilson is present for a talented supporting cast, but it’s the show’s leads that take the proverbial cake.”