The Twilight Zone is a series known for its twist endings and it's safe to say that many of the show’s most well-known episodes are at least partially recalled due to a twist in the tale. Within the show’s output are several truly memorable and effective twist endings. We’ve narrowed these down to 20 and ranked them in order of effectiveness. We will unveil them in groups of 5 over the next four days. Let us know your favorite twist ending on the series. Please note that we have not considered episode 142, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," in this list as it was not an original production of the series.
Here's a look at our Top 5 twist endings from The Twilight Zone. Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite twist endings from the series? Let us know in the comments.
5. “Time Enough at Last,” season one, episode 8
Written by Rod Serling, story by Lyn Venable
The story: Henry Bemis, a bookworm who never has time to read, is granted an eternity to read once the rest of humanity is wiped out by atomic bombs.
The twist: He breaks his glasses and is therefore unable to read.
Note: A enduring fan favorite, “Time Enough at Last” is also one of the cruelest episodes of the entire series, and one of the few times an innocent person is so harshly punished for the sake of irony. It is the first episode based on the work of a writer other than Rod Serling, as Serling chose to adapt the story from Lyn Venable, which originally appeared in the January, 1953 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction.
4. “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” season three, episode 79
Written by Rod Serling, based on an unpublished story by Marvin Petal
The story: An Army Major, a ballet dancer, a clown, a bagpiper, and a hobo find themselves trapped within an empty cylindrical room.
The twist: They are toys, trapped in a Christmas donation can.
Note: An engaging mix of existentialism and suspense, the episode is based on an unpublished story, “The Depository,” by journalist Marvin Petal. Exceptional character design and powerful performances from William Windom as the Army Major and Murray Matheson as the clown highlight the events leading to one of the more memorable twist endings of the series.
3. “Eye of the Beholder,” season two, episode 42
Written by Rod Serling
The story: A woman attempts to alter her appearance in order to fit into a society which demands conformity.
The twist: The woman is beautiful and exists in a society populated by grotesque people.
Note: One of the most memorable episodes of the series due in large part to its shocking climax, Rod Serling’s statement on the dangers of conformity features unforgettable makeup by William Tuttle, innovative production design, and the visual magic of director Douglas Heyes and photographer George T. Clemens, who were tasked with keeping the faces of every player obscured or hidden in shadow. It is easy to underestimate the innovative artistry of the episode, as it appeared at a time when few television series were taking such creative risks. A unqualified triumph all around for Rod Serling’s series.
2. “The Invaders,” season two, episode 51
Written by Richard Matheson
The story: A poor woman in an isolated farmhouse is terrorized by miniature invaders.
The twist: The small invaders are from Earth and the woman is of a giant alien race.
Note: “The Invaders” features Richard Matheson’s most shocking twist ending, and Matheson was a master of twist endings. The episode once again displays the mastery of director Douglas Heyes and also boasts an astonishing performance by veteran actress Agnes Moorehead, as well as an exceptional score by Jerry Goldsmith which would be reused in several subsequent episodes. The episode is almost entirely silent and features a story motif, that of an isolated individual terrorized by a small invader, which would reappear in other works from Matheson, most memorably in the third and final segment of the 1975 horror anthology film, Trilogy of Terror. The segment, “Amelia,” features Karen Black as a woman terrorized by a killer Zuni fetish doll.
1. “To Serve Man,” season three, episode 89
Written by Rod Serling, story by Damon Knight
The story: Kanamits, a superior alien race, arrive on Earth promising to bring peace and prosperity to all human beings.
The twist: The Kanamits are bringing people to their home planet in order to eat them.
Note: The episode features the most ghoulish, horrifying, and humorous twist ending of the series, and is a shocker which has likely been parodied more than another other episode of the series. The devastating climactic line, “It’s a cookbook!” is known even to those who have never seen the episode. The story is the most well-known work of science fiction author, critic, and editor Damon Knight, due in no small part to its memorable adaptation on The Twilight Zone. The story was originally published in the November, 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction and won a Retro Hugo Award in 2001 for the best science fiction story published in 1950. For the November 4-10, 2013 issue of TV Guide Magazine, Matt Roush, in the article "Eyes on Surprise! The 60 Most Startling Twists of All Time," selected "To Serve Man" as the greatest television twist ending of all time.
Look for our full review of “To Serve Man” later today.