The Simpsons first Treehouse of Horror aired in 1990 during the show’s second season, and every Halloween since Fox has scared up a new one. This October’s installment means there has now been 28 of them, totaling over 10 hours of television… and I just watched them all. Every second, every intro, every vignette, every Kang and Kodos appearance, every murder, parody, and gag—I watched all of it. And as part of our Nerdoween celebration, I’m ranking every single episode.
28. Treehouse of Horror XXII (Season 23)
Original Air Date: October 30, 2011
Vignettes: “The Diving Bell and Butterball,” “Dial D for Diddly,” “In the Na’Vi”
There are few, if any, laughs in all of “XXII.” This is easily the worst of the 28, and for sure the only one that actually mad me angry, thanks to an intro and opening segment that are in poor taste: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the memoir (later adapted into a movie) of Julian Schnabel, who had a stroke and suffered thereafter from locked-in syndrome. So why did anyone think this was good fodder for a parody? It makes the opening intro here, a brief 127 Hours gag, seem like it might be a touching tribute to that poor guy, but it’s not.
The episode also contains a moderately entertaining Dexter spoof where Homer convinces Ned to kill for him, and an Avatar parody that is even less funny James Cameron’s movie. (Instead of unobtainium, humans are seeking the less ridiculous “hilarium.”)
27. Treehouse of Horror XVIII (Season 19)
Original Air Date: November 4, 2007
Vignettes: “E.T., Go Home,” “Mr. & Mrs. Simpson,” “Heck House”
An intro featuring Marge killing pop-up ads for other shows is the only amusing part of a boring and confusing episode. We start off with an E.T. spoof that doesn’t have much going on, let alone being an odd choice for a Halloween special. That said, the second segment, parodying Mr. & Mrs. Smith (the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie one, not the Alfred Hitchcock one), is the most inexplicable pop culture reference in any of the 28 episodes. What is this doing here? Was this a horror parody for an audience of one? Did they make this just for Jennifer Aniston?
Admittedly, the last segment does start off well, with Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, and Nelson running amok through Springfield “tricking” people with awful, mean “pranks,” but it falls apart when it becomes a lame kinda-sorta-Se7en parody. Like a lot of this episode, it makes no sense and is mostly stupid, and not the good kind of stupid.
26. Treehouse of Horror XXIV (Season 25)
Original Air Date: October 6, 2013
Vignettes: “Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh,””Dead and Shoulders,” “Freaks No Geeks”
The Dr. Seuss parody has some clever writing, but it doesn’t work because–again–this is supposed to be a Halloween episode, and this particular vignette is too weird to be enjoyable. A mediocre middle story, based on The Thing with Two Heads, is a lazy, unoriginal retread of a much earlier (and better) segment in which Mr. Burns’ head was attached to Homer’s body. Finally, a lackluster parody of HBO’s Freaks, a show no one watched in the first place.
However, the episode does have one standout: an amazing opening intro. This horror movie montage swoops through the entire city with numerous callbacks to past Treehouse installments. (Too bad that didn’t last the whole episode.)
25. Treehouse of Horror XII (Season 13)
Original Air Date: November 6, 2001
Vignettes: “Hex and the City,” “House of Whacks,” “Wiz Kids”
What with parodies of Thinner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Harry Potter, “XII” should have been a great installment. Instead it’s a mostly forgettable entry, where nothing interesting is done with the source material. How do you do a Thinner parody that doesn’t center on Homer and eating? (Instead, everyone close to Homer becomes cursed.) Even the Harry Potter parody, which seems like it could have been an all-timer, feels like it was written by people who had never read the books and instead had been told about them “purple monkey dishwasher”-style.
24. Treehouse of Horror XIII (Season 14)
Original Air Date: November 3, 2002
Vignettes: “Send in the Clones,” “The Fight to Crap and Scare Harms,” “The Island of Dr. Hibbert”
The highlight of “XIII” is Homer milking half-cow/half-man Ned Flanders during an admittedly all-around-decent Island of Dr. Moreau parody, but I can’t think of even one other thing from this episode I really enjoyed. An opening seance with Ned, a spoof of Multiplicity, and a half-Terminator parody/half-gun control commentary round out the rest of this easily forgettable episode.
23. Treehouse of Horror XXIII (Season 24)
Original Air Date: October 7, 2012
Vignettes: “The Greatest Story Ever Holed,” “UNnormal Activity,” “Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure”
There were only a couple of segments I had seen and forgotten about entirely when I began working on this ranking, and “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” is one of them. The Paranormal Activity parody to follow is a bit better, with a great dark ending that forces Homer to go to bed with two demons in order to save Maggie. Unfortunately, the episode’s Back to the Future spoof falls flat, feeling like a missed opportunity… or, really, kind of like Back to the Future III.
22. Treehouse of Horror IX (Season 10)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1998
Vignettes: “Hell Toupée,” “The Terror of Tiny Toon,” Starship Poopers”
It’s not a great look when your parody of a movie isn’t as funny as the movie itself. Case in point: This episode’s Shocker spoof, in which a hair transplant from Snake Jailbird turns Homer into a killer. The second segment, where Bart and Lisa get sucked into the television like in the criminally underrated film Stay Tuned, feels like the staff forgot to write three minutes of the segment. The highlight is the finale, where it turns out Maggie’s real father is the alien Kang and the Simpsons end up on the Jerry Springer Show. (It’s a good deal funnier than it sounds.)
21. Treehouse of Horror XVI (Season 17)
Original Air Date: November 6, 2005
Vignettes: “B.I. Bartificial Intelligence,” “Survival of the Fattest,” “I’ve Grown a Costume to Your Face”
The episode starts off slow, with a so-so Kang and Kodos/World Series game intro, and a mediocre A.I. parody. However, the second story is a decent (if not up to its own potential) spoof of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” But then we come to the final vignette—a Halloweentown II parody where a witch transforms everyone in Springfield into their Halloween costumes—which is truly great. (“Apu-D2” made me laugh out loud.)
20. Treehouse of Horror XIX (Season 20)
Original Air Date:November 2, 2008
Vignettes: “Untitled Robot Parody,” How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising,” “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse”
A lame intro, a bad and inexplicable Transformers parody (they have done an absurd number of non-horror, non-Halloween spoofs), and a boring Mad Men-meets-Dexter story where Homer kills celebrities all hold this episode back. But it also has one of the absolute single best segments in Treehouse of Horror history. “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse” is a spot-on, touching, and hilarious tribute to the Peanuts holiday classic. The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s The Simpsons at its best, where it pulls off a perfect tribute while also being true to itself (lots of violence, cynicism, jokes, and more violence). You have to sit through a lot of crap to get to it, but it’s worth it just for this one segment.
19. Treehouse of Horror X (Season 11)
Original Air Date: October 31, 1999
Vignettes: “I Know What You Diddily-Iddly-Did,” “Desperately Xeeking Xena,” “Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die”
The standout of “X” is its final segment, a Y2K story that is funny from start to finish. (You younglings will never understand how big a deal Y2k was.) However, the episode is also addled with a hit-or-miss I Know What You Did Last Summer parody and a catchall superhero/Marvel spoof that isn’t anywhere as funny as a normal Comic Book Guy segment during a non-Treehouse episode.
18. Treehouse of Horror XIV (Season 15)
Original Air Date: November 2, 2003
Vignettes: “Reaper Madness,” “Frinkenstein,” “Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off”
Following a really violent intro in which the family murders each other over candy, “Reaper Madness” is a Simpsons parody of a Family Guy episode. That’s cartoon inception, and it works despite itself. (Rule of thumb: Homer being awful and killing lots of people in these episodes is always a good move.) The episode’s Frankenstein segment feels like it lasts 40 minutes, but its final story, a parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode “A Kind of Stopwatch” in which Bart and Milhouse accidentally freeze the world for decades, is sneaky excellent.
17. Treehouse of Horror XXVI (Season 27)
Original Air Date: October 25, 2015
Vignettes: “Wanted: Dead, Then Alive,” “Homerzilla,” “Telepaths of Glory”
Truth be told, “XXVI” has one of the best openings in Treehouse history, drawn by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. Much of the rest of the episode doesn’t live up to this stellar intro, starting with a strangely boring Re-Animator parody, where Sideshow Bob (who inexplicably wasn’t used in a Treehouse episode for the first 25 years) keeps bringing back Bart to kill him again and again. The self-explanatory “Homerzilla” isn’t bad (and ends up being clever commentary on Hollywood), but feels trite since they did a King Kong parody in the great third Treehouse. The best story is the final one, in which Lisa and a crazed Milhouse get superpowers a la Chronicle.
16. Treehouse of Horror XVII (Season 18)
Original Air Date: November 5, 2006
Vignettes: “Married to the Blob,” “You Gotta Know When to Golem,” “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid”
Yup, another one where Homer is a giant monster. That said, this one is a lot more twisted, as it ends with Homer helping out Springfield by eating the homeless. The episode’s The Golem riff is fun (Richard Lewis makes everything better), but its spoof of the chaos Orson Welles’ infamous radio performance of War of the Worlds caused isn’t as much fun in practice as it is in theory. What is really annoying, however, is the episode’s refusal to employ the Tales From the Crypt Mr. Burns in its intro throughout to keep introducing its segments. That seemed like it should have been a no-brainer.
15. Treehouse of Horror XXV (Season 26)
Original Air Date: October 19, 2014
Vignettes: “School is Hell,” “A Clockwork Yellow,” “The Others”
“XXV”‘s Moe-led A Clockwork Orange parody is more clever than funny, like many forgettable Treehouse segments are, but Bart attending school in Hell is much better, with lots of great gags (including a tremendous joke about the New York Yankees). And the final segment, where the family is haunted by the ghosts of the Tracy Ullman Show-era Simpsons is a fun enough idea to make up for it not being incredibly funny.
14. Treehouse of Horror XV (Season 16)
Original Air Date: November 7, 2004
Vignettes: “The Ned Zone,” “Four Beheadings and a Funeral,” “In the Belly of the Boss”
The Dead Zone is a perfect Treehouse parody idea, but there are some weird pacing issues with “XV”‘s take on it in “The Ned Zone.” That rushed feeling also plagues the other two segments, a Jack the Ripper/From Hell parody and a take on Fantastic Voyage. The writers couldn’t seem to figure out how to make the most of these concepts, but they were good enough ideas that it’s still a decent episode. That said, Homer sharing a body with Mr. Burns at the end is yet another example of the show feeling like it was copying better, older Treehouse segments. (Huge bonus points for the Kang and Kodos/Perfect Strangers intro though.)
13. Treehouse of Horror XX (Season 21)
Original Air Date: October 18, 2009
Vignettes: “Dial “M” for Murder or Press “#” to Return to Main Menu,” “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind,” “There’s No Business Like Moe Business”
“XX” kicks off with a great intro, in which classic monsters show up at the Simpsons’ Halloween party, but its opening segment, a Dial M for Murder parody, is disappointing. It bounces back with a fantastic 28 Days Later spoof, in which everyone turns into zombies after eating tainted Krusty Burgers. The last story—which, for some ridiculous reason, isn’t called “Sweeney Moe: The Demon Bartender of Springfield”—is presented as an actual play. This makes it less gory, since Homer isn’t really impaled and bleeding into the bar’s beer, but it still makes for a nice change of pace and a good segment overall.
12. Treehouse of Horror XXI (Season 22)
Original Air Date: November 7, 2010
Vignettes: “War and Pieces,” “Master and Cadaver,” “Tweenlight”
“XXI” doesn’t start off too strong, given a pumpkin carving intro-turned-The Office parody that makes no sense and a Jumanji spoof that misses the mark. But its second segment (based on the psychological thriller Dead Calm) where Homer and Marge rescue a suspicious man at sea is great. And while I bet the Twilight parody gets mixed reviews, Homer asking a million questions to an exasperated vampire is one of the funniest Treehouse moments.
11. Treehouse of Horror XXVII (Season 28)
Original Air Date: October 16, 2016
Vignettes: “Dry Hard,” “BFF R.I.P.,” “Moefinger”
Another great Treehouse intro sees Sideshow Bob, the angry leprechaun, Kang, and the ghost of Frank Grimes attacking the Simpsons while they buy a Christmas tree on Halloween. That’s followed by an excellent Hunger Games-turned-Fury Road parody, a decent story in which Lisa’s imaginary friend starts killing all of her other friends, and a Kingsman/James Bond parody that doesn’t make any sense for a Halloween show but is pretty good otherwise.
10. Treehouse of Horror I (Season 2)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1990
Vignettes: “Bad Dream House,” “Hungry are the Damned,” “The Raven”
Look, I get it. As the first ever Treehouse of Horror, this is a really important entry that holds a special place in the hearts of fans. But when compared to the rest of the Treehouse episodes, it’s merely good, not great. Case in point: the opening Amityville Horror parody and their take on the Twilight Zone‘s iconic “To Serve Man.” That said, “The Raven” easily stands out as the best of the bunch, and will always be one of the best individual segments. (Also, I will always love Marge’s start-of-show warnings. They are still perfect intros.)
9. Treehouse of Horror III (Season 4)
Original Air Date: October 29, 1992
Vignettes: “Clown Without Pity,” “King Homer,” “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies”
Homer takes over Marge’s warnings in the third ever Treehouse episode, delivering a pretty great joke at the expense of a certain, often humorless group. This leads into a parody of the Twilight Zone‘s “Living Doll,” the original oversized Homer story based on King Kong, and one of the single best segments ever: a Night of the Living Dead spoof. That vignette alone has more laughs than many entire Treehouse episodes.
8. Treehouse of Horror XXVIII (Season 29)
Original Air Date: October 22, 2017
Vignettes: “The Exor-Sis,” “Coralisa,” “Mmm…Homer”
This year’s Treehouse was an instant classic. (This isn’t recency bias; I had never seen some of these before, so they were just as new to me.) I can’t believe it took this long to get an Exorcist parody, but it was worth the wait. “Coralisa,” a spoof of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (with the author himself voicing Snowball II), was fun and one of the best visual feats in Treehouse history. The final segment, where Homer starts eating himself, is without question the darkest, most disturbing Treehouse story ever. It was genuinely uncomfortable to watch, and that made it amazing.
7. Treehouse of Horror VIII (Season 9)
Original Air Date: October 26, 1997
Vignettes: “The HΩmega Man,” “Fly vs. Fly,” “Easy-Bake Coven”
“The HΩmega Man,” a Last Man on Earth parody, is a top 10 Treehouse segment. It’s perfectly paced, and still just as funny as it was 20 years ago. The other two segments, takes on Jeff Goldblum’s The Fly and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, also stand as very good installments. It’s a testament to the rest of the list that this episode didn’t end up higher.
6. Treehouse of Horror XI (Season 12)
Original Air Date: November 1, 2000
Vignettes: “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad,”Scary Tales Can Come True,” “Night of the Dolphin”
“XI”‘s placement is probably the biggest surprise on this list, because on paper, this doesn’t sound like a great set of stories to spoof. But after a superb Munsters-style intro, all three segments, including a Brothers Grimm fairy tale parody, are a lot of fun. There’s just not a dud in the bunch, and if this had aired during the show’s first eight years people would remember it as a classic.
5. Treehouse of Horror II (Season 3)
Original Air Date: October 31, 1991
Vignettes: “The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Bart Zone,” “The Thing With Two Heads”
Treehouse tradition kicked off with through-lines for each episode’s separate stories, and this absolute classic was presented as a series of nightmares the family had after eating too much candy (following an even better Marge intro). They’re all fantastic. The first, based on the short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” has some great meta-comedy and features Homer at his best. The parody of the Twilight Zone‘s “It’s a Good Life” is still excellent, and the show’s OG Frankenstein/The Thing with Two Heads segment, a finale that ends with a big twist, makes for a nearly flawless episode. There’s a reason the first eight seasons were the best television show ever.
4. Treehouse of Horror VII (Season 8)
Original Air Date: October 27, 1996
Vignettes: “The Thing and I,” “The Genesis Tub,” “Citizen Kang”
“VII” contains two iconic, all-time segments: Its Twilight Zone parody “The Genesis Tub,” where Lisa accidentally creates a mini-society, and “Citizen Kang,” which features arguably the most quoted, smartest line in Treehouse history—Homer’s “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.” But this just misses out on the top tier for two reasons: no intro and the first story (about Bart’s “evil” twin) isn’t anything special.
3. Treehouse of Horror VI (Season 7)
Original Air Date: October 29, 1995
Vignettes: “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores,” “Nightmare on Evergreen Terace,” “Homer3”
The only problem with this otherwise perfect installment is that it lacks an intro. All three segments are genuinely incredible and hilarious, starting with “Attack of the 50-Foo Eyesores,” which sees Springfield’s giant advertisements coming to life and attacking the town (a problem that is ultimately solved by a jingle that’s been stuck in my head for over 20 years). That’s followed by A Nightmare on Elm Street parody that gave us “stupid Smarch weather,” and it ends with Homer stuck in a terrifying three-dimensional plane that sends him to our planet. There’s no over-hyping this one.
2. Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5)
Original Air Date: October 28, 1993
Vignettes: “The Devil and Homer Simpson,” “Terror at 5½ Feet,” “Bart Simpson’s Dracula”
If you think this should be number one, I can’t much argue with that; it isn’t just one of the best Treehouse of Horrors in show history, it’s one of its best episodes of the show ever. “The Devil and Homer Simpson” is so good I’d have to invent a new word to accurately describe it. The parody of Twilight Zone‘s “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” couldn’t be improved, and there are more laughs in the Dracula spoof than some shows have in an entire season. (Please put “Mmm… forbidden donut” on my tombstone.)
1. Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6)
Original Air Date: October 30, 1994
Vignettes: “The Shinning,” “Time and Punishment,” “Nightmare Cafeteria”
At last, we come to the big winner. “Nightmare Cafeteria” and its false ending-turned-musical number would be a great segment to any Treehouse of Horror, and yet it’s a distant third in this episode to the first two stories, which are two of the best things The Simpsons has ever done, period. “Time and Punishment,” a take on Ray Bradbury’s time-travel-destroying “A Sound of Thunder,” is one of the funniest segments in TV history, and somehow even that is outdone by the best Treehouse parody ever: the hilarious, spot-on “The Shinning.” I will always laugh at Willy getting an axe in the back in all three. If I could only watch one Treehouse of Horror ever again, this would be it, and that’s why it gets the top spot.
But what did I get wrong? Which installments deserved a better spot on the list? Which episodes are too high? Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with us in the comments below.