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The 13 Worst 'X-Files' Episodes, Ranked By How Unbelievably Bad They Were

June 15, 2020 321 votes 56 voters 1.4k views13 items

With 11 seasons, two movies, and more than 200 episodes under its belt, it’s no surprise The X-Files has churned out a few clunkers over the years. For a show often praised for its sophisticated storytelling and heavy themes, there was the occasional misfire that just didn't hit the high mark set by the rest of the series.

While there were plenty of story arcs, some of the series' biggest highs (and lows) spawned from the show's ongoing "monster of the week" episodes, which were essentially one-offs that centered on anything as ridiculous as Amish aliens to stories that were so dark they were actually banned for years

So what is it that makes the worst X-Files episodes so forgettable? For some, it's the simple fact that they really haven't aged all that well in the last couple of decades since they've aired. For others, it's due to their outlandish concepts, hokey themes, terrible set design, or a combination of all three. There's no denying The X-Files was a show that was never afraid to test the boundaries and try out new themes, and it’s that sort of unpredictability that arguably made it popular in the first place. After all, the show's forerunners were all about hits and misses, which is partially why these episodes stick out so much. 

  • Photo: Fox

    Synopsis: Several individuals from an archeological team from Ecuador go missing after excavating an ancient burial site that was allegedly protected by the spirit of a jaguar. The spirit, angry at being disturbed, unleashes a wave of feral cats that wreak havoc around the nearby museum.

    Why it falls short: This episode lacks any kind of coherency. It's basically one tangent after the next, which makes it incredibly hard to build up any kind of tension or suspense. The tone is undermined even more due to a silly monster (in this case a pack of rabid cats). It could have been played for a comedy, but since everything is played straight, it just comes across as weird and disconcerting. Not surprisingly, this was one of the only episodes both the cast and crew strongly disliked. In fact, it went through so many rewrites that it's no surprise the whole thing just kind of feels pushed together haphazardly.

    • Original Airing: March 8, 1996
    • Season: 3
    • Episode Number: 18
    • Series: The X-Files
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    Synopsis: Mulder and Scully track down two doppelgangers who don't actually know each other but cause everyone around them to become increasingly violent every time they come into contact. Mulder and Scully are called in to solve the mystery of the connection between the women and the violence. They eventually discover that the two women are, in fact, related.

    Why it falls short: Consistently ranked among the top 10 worst X-Files episodes of all time, the series was nearing the end of its initial run when this clunker came out, and you get the sense they were running out of ideas. The premise is silly and uninteresting for an hour-long episode. Everything just feels off from the acting to the music. The episode never takes itself seriously, which would've been fine had it not been an X-Files episode. 

    • Original Airing: May 7, 2000
    • Season: 7
    • Episode Number: 20
    • Series: The X-Files
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    Synopsis: After a space shuttle mission becomes mysteriously sabotaged, the team's commander, Lt. Col. Marcus Aurelius Belt, starts having strange visions and flashbacks. As Mulder and Scully investigate, they realize Belt had a hand in another failed mission to Mars. As they uncover more evidence, Mulder begins to believe it was due to an alien spirit that's not inhabiting the body of an astronaut. 

    Why it falls short: The X-Files is normally great at keeping the audience guessing as to what's really going on. But in "Space," you know what's happening even before Mulder and Scully. The protagonists don't really accomplish all that much, and the use of stock footage in the episode makes it feel lazy. Overall, it's a throwaway episode that's neither original nor memorable.

    • Original Airing: November 12, 1993
    • Season: 1
    • Episode Number: 9
    • Series: The X-Files
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  • 4


    Photo: Fox

    Synopsis: Scully is still missing, so Mulder begins an investigation into vampires in Los Angeles. Throughout his journey, he becomes involved with a female vampire who wants to escape her lifestyle. 

    Why it falls short: Scully's completely gone from this episode, which makes it suffer significantly. Additionally, it tries to go for an erotic thriller vibe and just falls short. "3" is a good example of one reason the show worked so well was due to the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. With half of that missing, the show feels, well, half empty. 

    • Original Airing: November 4, 1994
    • Season: 2
    • Episode Number: 7
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