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50 Essential Twilight Zone Episodes Ranked

It's a binge-watch guide as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, sorta.

Joal Ryan
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These Are the Twilight Zone Classic Episodes You NEED to See

Looking for a new show to binge-watch? Look no further -- and enter The Twilight Zone.

This is our viewing guide to the 50 must-see tales from the classic original series -- the chilling, sad, suspenseful and occasionally apocalyptic episodes that define Rod Serling's 1959-1964 primetime masterwork.

PHOTOS: The 50 must-see classic Twilight Zone episodes

Our editors' picks feature episodes starring William Shatner, Robert Redford, Burgess Meredith and more, and include installments that have been hailed by our sister sites CNET, CBS News and GameSpot, as well as those singled out by Jordan Peele, executive producer of CBS All Access' Twilight Zone reboot.

Time to get in the Zone -- and remember you can catch all 156 classic Twilight Zone episodes right now on CBS All Access.

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(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)

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50. ​"Steel" (Season 5, Episode 2)

When a boxing robot breaks down in the "near-future" of 1974, the robot's manager (played by Lee Marvin) assumes its appearance, and climbs into the ring himself. Fun fact: The Hugh Jackman film, Real Steel, is based on the Richard Matheson short story that Matheson himself based this teleplay on.

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49. ​"On Thursday We Leave for Home" (Season 4, Episode 16)

Another peek into the future! This time we get to see what life will be like for space colonists in the far-off year of...2021!

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​48. "The Bewitchin' Pool" (Season 5, Episode 36)

In the last-ever TZ from the original series' run, a brother and sister escape their parents' crumbling marriage via a hole in their swimming pool that takes them to a Neverland where children play all day, and a kindly aunt feeds them cake.

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47. ​"A Passage for Trumpet" (Season 1, Episode 32)

After throwing himself in front of a truck, a despondent jazz musician (played by Jack Klugman) wanders in limbo before learning, well, it's a wonderful life after all.

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46. ​"From Agnes--With Love" (Season 5, Episode 20)

Superman's Richard Donner directs this tale of a computer named Agnes that becomes jealous of its nerdy scientist's lady friend. Though it's a bit sexist -- ehem, the 1960s -- it's a fun watch.

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45.​"The Masks" (Season 5, Episode 25)

The protagonist--a rich, elderly, dying man--is an annoying crank, but the twist is cool. As a side note, of the 156 TZ episodes, this is the only one directed by a woman: Ida Lupino the trailblazing filmmaker and actress.

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44. ​"A Penny For Your Thoughts" (Season 2, Episode 16)

This is one of those TZs where you go, "I wish I could do that!" In the episode, a banker (Bewitched's Dick York) gains the power to read minds--and nothing terrible happens to him!

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43.​"The Encounter" (Season 5, Episode 31)

A young Japanese-American man (played by George Takei) and a white World War II vet get into a heated discussion in a hot attic. After its initial 1964 airing, the episode, which trades in stereotypes (i.e., Takei's character is a gardener; his father helped with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, etc.), went unseen for more than 40 years. As a history piece, it's worth a look now.

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42.​"Kick the Can" (Season 3, Episode 21)

This favorite--about a childhood game that can transform you into your younger self, if only you're willing to play it--is one of three TZ episodes remade in 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie.

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41. ​"Dead Man's Shoes" (Season 3, Episode 18)

A slain mobster's loafers are stolen by a homeless man who, in turn, becomes possessed by the dead man's spirit.

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40. ​"Two" (Season 3, Episode 1)

In a post-apocalyptic world, two soldiers from opposite camps (played by Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery) put down their defenses and find love.

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​39. "A Kind of a Stopwatch" (Season 5, Episode 4)

A doofus stops time forever when he breaks his magic stopwatch. The episode starts silly, ends with a jolt--and is one of Twilight Zone rebooter Jordan Peele's favorites.

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38. ​"Cavender Is Coming" (Season 3, Episode 36)

Carol Burnett?! Carol Burnett. In this change-of-pace curiosity piece, the future TV legend plays a totally content young woman who doesn't need a guardian angel, but gets one anyway.

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37. ​"Eye of the Beholder" (Season 2, Episode 6)

What is beauty? This Rod Serling-penned story is all about subjectivity. Yep: It's the pig face episode.

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36.​ "Elegy" (Season 1, Episode 20)

Three astronauts land on an asteroid-slash-memorial park, and get embalmed by the kindly caretaker. The Twilight Zone team cannot stress this lesson enough: Don't become an astronaut!

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35.​ "The Dummy" (Season 3, Episode 33)

Two words: Evil. Dummy. (And if you don't like this evil-dummy story, then try the other one: Season 5's "Caesar and Me.")

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34. ​"I Sing the Body Electric" (Season 3, Episode 35)

This almost-sweet episode, about a loving robot grandma, is the one and only Twilight Zone story penned by the great Ray Bradbury.

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33. ​"The Midnight Sun" (Season 3, Episode 10)

It's very, very hot in New York--and climate change is not to blame.

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32.​ "A Quality of Mercy" (Season 3, Episode 15)

During World War II, a kill-'em-all U.S. Army lieutenant finds himself viewing the conflict from the Japanese side. Though the production suffers from having asked actor Dean Stockwell to affect a broken-English accent and wear makeup to "look" Japanese, it's a solid TZ parable.

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31.​ "In Praise of Pip" (Season 5, Episode 1)

The Vietnam War comes to the Twilight Zone in this poignant story of a conman (played by Jack Klugman) who trades his life for that of his wounded soldier son (played as a boy by Billy Mumy).

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30. ​"The Lonely" (Season 1, Episode 7)

On an asteroid, a convict in solitary confinement (played by Jack Warden) falls in love with an AI unit. So, basically, yes, a totally modern romance.

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29. ​"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" (Season 3, Episode 14)

In classic Twilight Zone fashion, a bagpiper, a ballerina, a clown, a hobo and an army major have no idea why they're trapped in a cylindrical "pit of darkness."

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28. ​"Nick Of Time" (Season 2, Episode 7)

The first of two William Shatner-led episodes on our list, this relatable one finds Star Trek's future Captain Kirk playing a man who, in highly illogical fashion, falls prey to superstition.

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27. ​"Where Is Everybody?" (Season 1, Episode 1)

A man (played by Earl Holliman) has no one to eat pudding with but himself when he wakes up in a deserted town in this Rod Serling-penned inaugural episode that establishes the franchise's twist-ending tradition.

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26. ​"Young Man's Fancy" (Season 3, Episode 34)

You ever hear the one about the possessive mother-in-law? How about the one about the dead mother-in-law whose haunted house possessed her son, and sucked him back to his childhood?

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25. ​"Third from the Sun" (Season 1, Episode 14)

The joke's on all of us in this Richard Matheson story about scientists who build a spaceship in order to escape nuclear annihilation, and find peace on a planet called (wait for it) Earth.

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24.​ "The Obsolete Man" (Season 2, Episode 29)

In a dystopian future (that feels all-too current), a librarian (played by Burgess Meredith) is sentenced to death for liking... books.

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23. ​"Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" (Season 4, Episode 14)

The old-age makeup is terrible, and the wardrobe for the devil (played by Julie Newmar) is too on-the-nose (unless those horns are Catwoman ears), but the story about a ruthless tycoon who revisits his younger days is a welcome departure: For once in the Twilight Zone, going home again is a really bad idea.

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22. ​"Nothing in the Dark" (Season 3, Episode 16)

The 25-year-old Robert Redford plays the incredibly handsome face of death in this tale that's eerie, and, ultimately, strangely comforting.

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21. ​"Person or Persons Unknown" (Season 3, Episode 27)

A man wakes up hungover--and completely anonymous to the world around him. The best part: Just when you think the Twilight Zone is going to stoop to the "it was all a bad dream" ending, the series comes up with one more solid twist.

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20. ​"The After Hours" (Season 1, Episode 34)

In the Twilight Zone, dead people are slow to realize they're dead. The department-store mannequins, well, they're not too quick on the uptake, either.

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19. ​"The Shelter" (Season 3, Episode 3)

Suburbanites lose their collective minds when they think a nuclear war is imminent.

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18. ​"Living Doll" (Season 5, Episode 6)

Talky Tina has it out for a girl's new stepdad (played by Telly Savalas)--and your suspicions about talking dolls are forever confirmed.

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17. ​"The Odyssey of Flight 33" (Season 2, Episode 18)

Holy Mesozoic Era! A passenger jet bound for New York gets lost...in time!

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16. ​"Nightmare as a Child" (Season 1, Episode 29)

In a crackerjack suspense story of repressed memory, a mysterious little girl helps a schoolteacher identify her late mother's long-ago murderer.

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15. ​"A Stop at Willoughby" (Season 1, Episode 30)

Every time he falls asleep on a train, a stressed-out ad exec (played by James Daly, father of future TV stars Timothy Daly and Tyne Daly) retreats to an idyllic old-timey town. It's a familiar Twilight Zone tale, but also a powerful one.

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14. ​"It's a Good Life" (Season 3, Episode 8)

In one of the Twilight Zone's most famous episodes, a little boy (played by Billy Mumy of the original Lost in Space) demands praise from his family and neighbors, and if he doesn't get it, well, let's just say cornfields are involved.

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13. "Mirror Image" (Season 1, Episode 21)

Evil twin, schmevil twin. In this "terrifying, beautiful" episode that Jordan Peele says inspired his movie, Us, it's a pushy doppelgΓ€nger who's causing trouble.

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12. ​"Little Girl Lost" (Season 3, Episode 26)

Long before Stranger Things, two parents and their friend track the cries of the couple's missing daughter to the girl's bedroom wall--where the child is trapped in another dimension.

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11. ​"Number 12 Looks Just Like You" (Season 5, Episode 17)

Despite being set in a "future" where 1960s leotards are all the rage, this story about mandatory plastic surgery--and monolithic views of beauty--feels very present.

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10. ​"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (Season 5, Episode 3)

William Shatner's back in the Zone, and he's freaked out: There's a monster on the wing!

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9. ​"Twenty-Two" (Season 2, Episode 17)

This bare-bones, shot-on-video episode looks like hell, but its tale of a hospitalized dancer who dreams about the morgue is perfect.

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8. ​"The Invaders" (Season 2, Episode 15)

In this virtually dialogue-free tale starring Bewitched's Agnes Moorehead (written by I Am Legend's Richard Matheson), we learn that perspective is everything. Also, reminder: Being an astronaut is bad.

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7. ​"The Hitch-Hiker" (Season 1, Episode 16)

A hitchhiker seemingly stalks a young woman on a cross-country road trip. The key word is: seemingly.

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6. ​"Walking Distance" (Season 1, Episode 5)

Writer-director J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode IX) has called this bittersweet Rod Serling tale about a man who revisits his childhood, "maybe the show's best episode."

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5. ​"Death's-Head Revisited" (Season 3, Episode 9)

In a story of true evil, a former Nazi SS captain returns to Dachau to gloat. The concentration camp's ghosts, however, have other plans for him.

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4. ​"The Big Tall Wish" (Season 1, Episode 27)

In a heartbreaking story, a boxer rejects the idea that a boy's wish won him a bout--and, in the process, crushes the child's belief in magic.

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​3. "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (Season 1, Episode 22)

You know that angry, crazy panic you feel when the wifi goes out? Rod Serling totally anticipates it in his 1960 teleplay for this TZ classic.

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2. ​"To Serve Man" (Season 3, Episode 24)

The James Bond films' Richard Kiel stars as a stately E.T. who invites Earthlings to get into his van, sorry, spaceship. Warning: You'll never get the episode's iconic tag line out of your head: "It's a cookbook!"

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1. ​"Time Enough at Last" (Season 1, Episode 8)

In the best and cruelest Twilight Zone of them all, a bookworm (played by Burgess Meredith) survives a nuclear holocaust (yay!), arranges his reading list (yay!), and then breaks his only pair of eyeglasses (oh, come on!).

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