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.

10 Forgotten Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
Rankin/Bass Productions

If you're prone to picturing your favorite Christmas characters as stop-motion puppets, you can thank Rankin/Bass. The production company founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass found success in transforming holiday songs and myths into fully-developed television specials in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Their most popular specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, are still staples of holiday programming decades after they first aired.

But not every holiday film that played under the Rankin/Bass banner was an instant success. After adapting the most beloved Christmas stories, the company broadened its definition of holiday material, with varying degrees of success. Some films were forgettable, and others were so strange and unsettling that young viewers forced themselves to forget. Here are some Rankin/Bass specials that may be missing from holiday television marathons this year.

1. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)

Scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year.
Rankin/Bass Productions

After the stressful events of his 1964 Christmas special, Rudolph deserved a vacation. In Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976), the red-nosed reindeer barely has a day to rest before being sent on his next adventure. When Santa Claus and his reindeer return home to the North Pole after delivering presents on Christmas, they learn that Happy the Baby New Year is missing. It’s up to Rudolph to bring him home before midnight on New Year’s Eve or else the calendar will be stuck at December 31. And because it wouldn’t be a Rankin/Bass cartoon without a terrifying villain, a vulture named Eon the Terrible is racing to catch Happy first so he can live forever. Thankfully, Rudolph has a caveman, a Medieval knight, and Benjamin Franklin on his side.

2. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976)

Scene from The Little Drummer Boy, Book II.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The Little Drummer Boy from 1968 ends with the birth of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. the events of Christmas. This meant that Rankin/Bass’s most overtly religious Christmas special wasn’t an obvious choice for a follow-up, but the studio still released one in 1976. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II is inspired by "Silver Bells"—a song whose lyrics have nothing to do with the first Christmas at Bethlehem. In the sequel, the drummer boy Aaron and the wise man Melchior join forces to protect silver bells made for baby Jesus from the Roman soldiers plotting to steal them.

3. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

Scene from Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
Rankin/Bass Productions

By the late 1970s, it was apparent that Rankin/Bass was running out of Christmas myths to expand into television specials. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, their 1977 stop motion film, tells the story of an outcast donkey who experiences a series of traumatic events during the Roman Empire. After being bullied by other animals, left for dead by his owner, and suffering the loss of his mother, Nestor becomes a hero by carrying a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, where she gives birth to Jesus. Needless to say, Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey didn’t have the same cultural impact as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

4. The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975)

Scene from The First Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

It may have a happy ending, but The First Christmas (1975) is the bleakest movie on this list. An orphaned shepherd named Lucas is taken in by a group of nuns after he’s blinded by lightning. When snow falls during the abbey’s Christmas pageant, Lucas miraculously regains his eyesight and sees snow for the first time. The story swaps Rankin/Bass's signature humor and fantasy for heavy-handed sentimentality, which may be why it didn’t land as well with kids as the company’s other holiday specials. One highlight is a voice performance by Angela Lansbury as the narrator.

5. Jack Frost (1979)

Scene from Jack Frost.
Rankin/Bass Productions

So this film from 1979 is technically a Groundhog Day special, but its connection to winter means it’s usually lumped in with the rest of Rankin/Bass’s Christmas programming. A groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett) narrates the story of Jack Frost. After Jack Frost falls in love with a woman on Earth, Father Winter agrees to make him human, with the catch that Jack will turn back into a sprite if he fails to obtain a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife by the first sign of spring. The special is notable for its weird characters, including a villain with a clockwork horse and henchmen. And—spoiler alert!—because Jack doesn’t get the girl at the end, it’s one of the few Rankin/Bass films that doesn’t have a happy ending.

6. Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)

Scene from Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1979, Rankin/Bass gave two of its most iconic Christmas characters—Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—their own movie. The studio was so confident in the product that Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July even had a brief theatrical release overseas. But the film has failed to take the place of the original specials in the public consciousness—maybe because seeing snow snakes terrorize Rudolph and watching an evil wizard transform into a tree were too much for younger viewers to handle.

7. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Scene from Pinocchio's Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The story of Pinocchio may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, but that didn’t stop Rankin/Bass from turning the classic Italian fairytale into a holiday special. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980) features many of the same themes and characters as The Adventures of Pinocchio—only this version of the tale centers around the puppet’s first Christmas. Santa Claus even makes a cameo appearance.

8. The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)

Scene from The Stingiest Man in Town.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of the most widely adapted stories of all time, so of course it shows up in Rankin/Bass’s filmography. An insect named B.A.H. Humbug narrates this musical retelling from 1978, with Walter Matthau starring as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The Stingiest Man in Town joins Frosty the Snowman as one of the few Rankin/Bass Christmas productions made with traditional 2D animation instead of stop-motion.

9. The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (1981)

Scene from The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Rankin/Bass’s streak of mashing up Christmas with other holidays reached peak weirdness in 1981. That’s when the studio released The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold—a story that follows a young Irish sailor who helps a clan of leprechauns protect their gold from an evil banshee named Old Mag the Hag. By trying to create a special that could air around Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, the filmmakers ended up with something that made little sense at any time of year.

10. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

Scene from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1970, Rankin/Bass explored how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus with Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Fifteen years later, the studio produced a film that provided an alternate origin story for the character, based on L. Frank Baum's 1902 children's book of the same name. This second special wasn’t as well-received as the first. It starts with an antler-sporting sorcerer called the Great Ak finding an abandoned baby in the forest. The child is taken in and raised by wood nymphs, eventually growing up to become a jolly man who delivers toys to children—all while fighting monsters called Awgwas on the side. It ends with a council of mythical beings granting Santa Claus immortality. What was arguably Rankin/Bass’s most unusual Christmas special was also the last to use stop-motion animation.

2020 Golden Globes: The Full List of Nominees

Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios

Awards season is officially upon us and we're all rushing out to the movie theater—or, more frequently, our own couches—to load up on some of the year's biggest movie and television titles.

Now that the 2020 Golden Globe nominations have been announced, it's clear that Netflix's investment in original content like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which scored the most nominations with six, was a wise decision.

On the television side, streaming emerged victorious as well; The Crown landed a total of four nominations while Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Amazon hit Fleabag earned three, including one for "Hot Priest" Andrew Scott, who was a notable Emmy snub. Amazingly, Game of Thrones was nominated for just a single award: a Best Actor in a Drama Series nomination for Kit Harington.

Below is the full list of nominees for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 5, 2020.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

1917
The Irishman
Joker
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Rocketman
Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language

The Farewell
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Parasite
Les Misérables

Best Director, Motion Picture

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Phillips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Best Screenplay—Motion Picture

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker
Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Thomas Newman, 1917
Daniel Pemberton, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Original Song—Motion Picture

Beautiful Ghosts, Cats
I'm Gonna Love Me Again, Rocketman
Into the Unknown, Frozen II
Spirit, The Lion King
Stand Up, Harriet

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Annette Bening, The Report
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Animated

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Lion King

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Christopher Abbott, Catch-22
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Spy
Russell Crowe, The Loudest Voice
Jared Harris, Chernobyl
Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Kaitlyn Dever, Unbelievable
Joey King, The Act
Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great
Merritt Wever, Unbelievable
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Catch-22, Hulu
Chernobyl, HBO
Fosse/Verdon, FX
The Loudest Voice, Showtime
Unbelievable, Netflix

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Patricia Arquette, The Act
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Toni Collette, Unbelievable
Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
Emily Watson, Chernobyl

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama

Brian Cox, Succession
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
Billy Porter, Pose

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Andrew Scott, Fleabag
Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl
Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Television Series—Drama

Big Little Lies, HBO
The Crown, Netflix
Killing Eve, AMC
The Morning Show, Apple TV+
Succession, HBO

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama

Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show

Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy

Barry, HBO
Fleabag, Amazon
The Kominsky Method, Netflix
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon
The Politician, Netflix

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