The Twilight Zone's 10 Best Twist Endings

Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images
Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images

Television plays host to a number of holiday traditions. In addition to repeated airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, the end of the year is also a time for people to revisit The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling’s seminal series that used fantasy elements as metaphors for social issues.

The practice of The Twilight Zone marathon began in the 1980s, when affiliates like WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles aired the series around-the-clock on New Year’s Eve. In some ways, The Twilight Zone was the original binge-watch. That’s due in part to viewers looking forward to revisiting the show’s trademark: Like short story author O. Henry, Serling and his writers often utilized a plot twist in the climax of their scripts, a conceit that helped make The Twilight Zone an enduring classic.

In anticipation of this year’s New Year’s marathon on SYFY that begins December 31 and runs through January 2, here’s where to look out for 10 of the best shock endings in the show’s history. (The list is in no particular order. You can also find episodes on Netflix. And don’t worry: You’re entering a spoiler-free zone.)

1. “To Serve Man” // Season 3, Episode 24

The imposing Richard Kiel of James Bond villain fame is part of a telepathic alien race known as the Kanamits who have come to Earth with seemingly benevolent intentions. They have answers for war, famine, and other plagues afflicting humankind. To help substantiate their claims, the government enlists two cryptographers to decipher the written text they’ve left behind. The disturbing truth is discovered when it’s already too late.

Opening Sequence: Cryptographer Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) reclines in his alien ship quarters, where it’s apparently permissible to smoke.

2. “The Little People” // Season 3, Episode 28

Commander William Fletcher (Claude Akins) and Navigator Peter Craig (Joe Maross) are two astronauts forced into an emergency landing on a desolate planet. As the dutiful Fletcher tends to ship repairs, Craig goes exploring and finds a race of microscopic inhabitants. Rather than resume their mission, Craig wants to stay behind to rule as the beings' deity. Inviting worship of a false idol doesn’t end well for him.

Opening Sequence: Fletcher descends a ladder on the stranded rocket ship and informs a lackadaisical Craig the vessel can be repaired in a day or two. Unfortunately, that’s time enough for Craig to get delusions of grandeur.

3. “The Masks” // Season 5, Episode 25

Mardi Gras comes to The Twilight Zone in this tale about a wealthy, terminally ill man named Jason Foster (Robert Keith) who invites his belligerent, greedy family to help settle his affairs before he expires. Foster insists all of them—self-absorbed daughter Emily, her cash-obsessed husband Wilfred, and misbehaving offspring Wilfred Junior and Paula—don masks in honor of the occasion or risk losing their inheritance. But Foster isn’t in a celebratory mood.

Opening Sequence: Two of Foster’s waitstaff arrange flowers for the patriarch’s expected guests while Foster is examined by his physician in his bedroom. With little time left, he's adamant that he hang on long enough to impart one final piece of fatherly wisdom.

4. “The Silence” // Season 2, Episode 25

Can money buy silence? That’s what Colonel Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) proposes to Jamie Tennyson (Liam Sullivan), a fast-talking chatterbox who gnaws on Taylor’s nerves at their social club. Taylor wagers that Tennyson can’t remain completely silent in a glass-walled room inside the club for one entire year. If he can, Taylor will pay him $500,000. The matter becomes one of resolve, as Taylor attempts to antagonize Tennyson into speaking by any means necessary.

Opening Sequence: Tennyson rambles on about his investment strategies as Taylor grows increasingly agitated. After consulting with his lawyer, Taylor tells the waiter to pass along a note explaining his unconventional gamble.

5. “Eye of the Beholder” // Season 2, Episode 6

In a society that values conformity, Janet Tyler (Maxine Stuart) has undergone several procedures to improve her cosmetic beauty. The latest—and last—will determine whether she will be deemed acceptable by the high standards set by the state-run hospital. Tyler herself has no idea of the outcome, as the bandages have yet to come off.

Opening Sequence: Tyler rests in her hospital bed, face obscured by gauze, as a nurse tries to soothe her concerns over her hideous appearance.

6. “Time Enough at Last” // Season 1, Episode 8

Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) is a bookworm working at a bank who can’t keep his nose out of a good yarn. His love of the written word antagonizes both his boss and his wife Helen (Jacqueline deWit), who each grow tired of his diverted attention. Soon, Bemis finds himself in a world with all the reading material he likes—he’s seemingly the only survivor of a nuclear explosion.

Opening Sequence: Bemis assists (actually, short-changes) a bank customer while keeping a copy of David Copperfield in his lap.

7. “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” // Season 1, Episode 15

Has any space traveler ever met with a welcome fate in The Twilight Zone? After crashing on an asteroid, the four surviving members of an eight-man crew begin to wander the dry landscape in search of water and other life. What they find instead is the kind of cruel fate that would make anyone think twice about suiting up for space exploration.

Opening Sequence: Mission control prepares the Arrow 1 spaceship for lift-off as Serling explains it’s the first manned aircraft into space. (If Serling is narrating your day, it might be time to return to bed.)

8. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” // Season 2, Episode 28

A roadside diner is the site of a chamber mystery, though the objective isn’t to find a murderer—it’s to discover who among the patrons might be an alien whose ship has crash-landed in a nearby pond. As two police officers investigate, each customer has both reasons and excuses for being the uninvited extra-terrestrial.

Opening Sequence: As snow falls, state troopers investigate reports of an unidentified flying object that’s cut off some of the tree tops. Footprints lead away from the pond and toward the diner.

9. “The Invaders” // Season Two, Episode 15

A woman (Agnes Moorehead) living in a dilapidated cabin is terrorized by a tiny race of alien beings that have landed their spacecraft on her roof. She uses everything at her disposal to ward off their high-tech assault, including fire, before the viewer understands their true intentions.

Opening Sequence: Serling introduces a farmhouse that’s “handmade, crude,” and “untouched by progress.” Its lone occupant is a woman who has been alone for years until a crash from above changes everything.

10. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” // Season 5, Episode 22

This adaptation of the Ambrose Bierce short story of the same name was originally produced as a French short film in 1962 and screened as part of The Twilight Zone in 1964, a path that earned it trivia status as the only Zone episode—and possibly the only episode of television—to have won an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. In the Civil War-torn South, resistance fighter Peyton Farquhar (Roger Jacquet) is about to be hanged by Union soldiers. He escapes, determined to be reunited with his wife no matter the obstacle.

Opening Sequence: Serling introduces the episode by pointing out it’s the first time the series has presented a film shot by others.

11 Gifts for the Sci-Fi Fanatic in Your Life

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Science fiction has found its way into countless books, movies, TV shows, and video games over the years, making it tough to figure out which products are actually worth your time when shopping for a fan of the genre. We’re taking the thought out of it with these 11 recommendations for the sci-fi fan in your life.

1. Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series; $22

Abrams/Amazon

Topps trading cards were the essential collectible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—so it was only right that Star Trek would have its own set for fans to obsess over (though it actually debuted seven years after the original series was canceled). In this chunky coffee-table book from Abrams, high-quality scans of the fronts and backs of all 88 standard cards are featured alongside insights and essays from Trek experts Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Star Trek Socks; $25

Bio World/Amazon

Though you might not want your loved one to walk around the house in a Starfleet uniform, you should definitely get them these Next Generation socks to make their feet feel a bit more official. And whether they relate to the command, engineering, or science division of the Enterprise, there’s a pair here for them.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga; $28

Ace/Amazon

With a new take on the Dune movie franchise hitting theaters soon, there’s no better time to make sure the sci-fi buff in your life has the first three installments—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—in author Frank Herbert’s landmark book series.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Sci-Fi Book Cover Postcards; $21

Penguin Books/Amazon

One of the most striking aspects of the sci-fi genre is the imaginative, if not downright weird, book covers that come along with it. This collection of postcards features reproductions of 100 covers from publisher Penguin’s past, featuring work from H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. This set is ideal for any avid collector, especially ones that want to turn the postcards into unique crafts and decorations for the home.

Buy it: Amazon

5. and 6. The Making of Alien and The Making of Aliens; $31-$42

Titan Books/Amazon

If you ever want a comprehensive behind-the-scenes book about your favorite movie, look for the name J.W. Rinzler. He’s best known for his in-depth accounts of the original Star Wars trilogy, but he’s also dabbled in other franchises, like the first two movies in the Alien series. Packed with rare photos, unused concepts, original script drafts details, and more, these books contain all the anecdotes and details a fanatic could ever want.

Buy it: Alien (Amazon), Aliens (Amazon)

7. The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women; $20

The Library of America/Amazon

Some of sci-fi’s best women writers get the spotlight in this expansive anthology collection from the Library of America. The stories themselves range from the campier pulps of the '20 and '30s through the more thoughtful and serious evolution of the genre in the ‘60s. This is a crash course in sci-fi history, told through the lens of an often-unappreciated group of authors, including James Tiptree, Jr. (real name Alice Bradley Sheldon) and Leigh Brackett, who was responsible for the first draft of 1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Classic Sci-Fi Magazine 1000-Piece Puzzle; $22

Brook & Wyman/Amazon

Though sci-fi is usually exclusive to novels and blockbuster movies today, it really got its start thanks to the plethora of genre magazines on stands during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And now, you can put together those striking—and impeccably surreal—covers to Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, and more in this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Cyberpunk 2077; $60

CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 has arguably been the most anticipated piece of sci-fi media over the last five years. CD Projekt Red already created one of this generation’s best games with The Witcher 3, and now the studio is throwing players into a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk world, where every choice you make will shape the world around you in different ways. Plus, you’ve got an arsenal of weapons and augmentations at your disposal. This one hits shelves on December 10.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films; $113

Criterion/Amazon

Godzilla’s unique charms resides in the way the franchise seamlessly alternates between thought-provoking and schlocky. And in this handsome, 15-movie Blu-ray set from Criterion, fans can revisit the series’s most influential installments, from 1954's groundbreaking original all the way through the campier later days of Megalon and Mechagodzilla. The set also contains both the U.S. and Japanese versions of 1963’s cringe classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. In typical Criterion fashion, the whole package is accompanied by hours of extras and a gorgeous hardcover book filled with original artwork.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Moebius Library: The World of Edena; $34

Dark Horse Comics/Amazon

One of sci-fi comics’ most important artists, Moebius helped define a visual style that would influence George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and pretty much every other major force in the genre for decades to come. In this collection, Moebius’s The World of Edna stories are reprinted in beautiful hardcover format, complete with lush colors that perfectly complement the strange worlds to which he transports readers.

Buy it: Amazon

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12 Spirited Facts About How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Each year, millions of Americans welcome the holiday season by tuning into their favorite TV specials. For most people, this includes at least one viewing of the 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Adapted from Dr. Seuss’s equally famous children’s book by legendary animator Chuck Jones, How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired more than 50 years ago, on December 18, 1966. Here are 12 facts about the TV special that will surely make your heart grow three sizes this holiday season.

1. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel And Chuck Jones previously worked together on Army training videos.

During World War II, Geisel joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as commander of the Animation Department for the First Motion Picture Unit, a unit tasked with creating various training and pro-war propaganda films. It was here that Geisel soon found himself working closely with Chuck Jones on an instructional cartoon called Private Snafu. Originally classified as for-military-personnel-only, Private Snafu featured a bumbling protagonist who helped illustrate the dos and don’ts of Army safety and security protocols.

2. It was because of their previous working relationship that Ted Geisel agreed to hand over the rights to The Grinch to Chuck Jones.

After several unpleasant encounters in relation to his previous film work—including the removal of his name from credits and instances of pirated redistribution—Geisel became notoriously “anti-Hollywood.” Because of this, he was reluctant to sell the rights to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. However, when Jones personally approached him about making an adaptation, Geisel relented, knowing he could trust Jones and his vision.

3. Even with Ted Geisel’s approval, the special almost didn’t happen.

By Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Whereas today’s studios and production companies provide funding for projects of interest, television specials of the past, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, had to rely on company sponsorship in order to get made. While A Charlie Brown Christmas found its financier in the form of Coca-Cola, How the Grinch Stole Christmas struggled to find a benefactor. With storyboards in hand, Jones pitched the story to more than two dozen potential sponsors—breakfast foods, candy companies, and the like—all without any luck. Down to the wire, Jones finally found his sponsor in an unlikely source: the Foundation for Commercial Banks. “I thought that was very odd, because one of the great lines in there is that the Grinch says, ‘Perhaps Christmas doesn’t come from a store,’” Jones said of the surprise endorsement. “I never thought of a banker endorsing that kind of a line. But they overlooked it, so we went ahead and made the picture.”

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas had a massive budget.

Coming in at over $300,000, or $2.2 million in today’s dollars, the special’s budget was unheard of at the time for a 26-minute cartoon adaptation. For comparison’s sake, A Charlie Brown Christmas’s budget was reported as $96,000, or roughly $722,000 today (and this was after production had gone $20,000 over the original budget).

5. Ted Geisel wrote the song lyrics for the special.

No one had a way with words quite like Dr. Seuss, so Jones felt that Geisel should provide the lyrics to the songs featured in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

6. Fans requested translations of the “Fahoo Foraze” song.

True to his persona’s tongue-twisting trickery, Geisel mimicked sounds of classical Latin in his nonsensical lyrics. After the special aired, viewers wrote to the network requesting translations of the song as they were convinced that the lyrics were, in fact, real Latin phrases.

7. Thurl Ravenscroft didn’t receive credit for his singing of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The famous voice actor and singer, best known for providing the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, wasn’t recognized for his work in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because of this, most viewers wrongly assumed that the narrator of the special, Boris Karloff, also sang the piece in question. Upset by this oversight, Geisel personally apologized to Ravenscroft and vowed to make amends. Geisel went on to pen a letter, urging all the major columnists that he knew to help him rectify the mistake by issuing a notice of correction in their publications.

8. Chuck Jones had to find ways to fill out the 26-minute time slot.

Because reading the book out loud only takes about 12 minutes, Jones was faced with the challenge of extending the story. For this, he turned to Max the dog. “That whole center section where Max is tied up to the sleigh, and goes down through the mountainside, and has all those problems getting down there, was good comic business as it turns out,” Jones explained in TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas special, which is a special feature on the movie’s DVD. “But it was all added; it was not part of the book.” Jones would go on to name Max as his favorite character from the special, as he felt that he directly represented the audience.

9. The Grinch’s green coloring was inspired by a rental car.

Warner Home Video

In the original book, the Grinch is illustrated as black and white, with hints of pink and red. Rumor has it that Jones was inspired to give the Grinch his iconic coloring after he rented a car that was painted an ugly shade of green.

10. Ted Geisel thought the Grinch looked like Chuck Jones.

When Geisel first saw Jones’s drawings of the Grinch, he exclaimed, “That doesn’t look like the Grinch, that looks like you!” Jones’s response, according to TNT’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special: “Well, it happens.”

11. At one point, the special received a “censored” edit.

Over the years, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been edited in order to shorten its running time (in order to allow for more commercials). However, one edit—which ran for several years—censored the line “You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch” from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Additionally, the shot in which the Grinch smiles creepily just before approaching the bed filled with young Whos was deemed inappropriate for certain networks and was removed.

12. The special’s success led to both a prequel and a crossover special.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Given the popularity of the Christmas special, two more Grinch tales were produced: Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat. Airing on October 29, 1977, Halloween is Grinch Night tells the story of the Grinch making his way down to Whoville to scare all the Whos on Halloween. In The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat, which aired on May 20, 1982, the Grinch finds himself wanting to renew his mean spirit by picking on the Cat in the Hat. Unlike the original, neither special was deemed a classic. But this is not to say they weren’t well-received; in fact, both went on to win Emmy Awards.