It’s hard to imagine Halloween without the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode of The Simpsons. There’s been one every year since 1990 (to put that into context: Taylor Swift, who as you might have heard was born in December 1989, has never experienced a Halloween without a “Treehouse”). This year’s installment, which includes riffs on The Exorcist and Coraline (it airs Sunday, October 22), is the show’s 28th overall. To honor the occasion, we ranked the first 27 “Treehouse of Horror” episodes from worst to best.
27. “Treehouse of Horror XXII” — October 30, 2011
From top to bottom, is this the lousiest “Treehouse of Horror”? Maybe not (“Dial D for Diddily” is fine), but it does have the worst “Treehouse” segment. That would be “The Diving Bell and Butterball,” a belated parody of Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in which a paralyzed Homer communicates through farting. We’re a long way from “Clown Without Pity.”
26. “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” — October 7, 2012
“Treehouse of Horror XXIII” also scrapes the bottom because of an unfortunate segment. The Paranormal Activity movies are easy, potentially fruitful targets for mockery — but “Un-normal Activity” ends with Homer having a threesome with two demons. Oh yeah, and the sex is so rough that one of the demons uses his safe word, “cinnamon.” Even if the other two segments, “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” and “Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure,” were all-timers (they’re not), there’s no coming back from… that.
25. “Treehouse of Horror XVI” — November 6, 2005
With the obvious duds out of the way, the ranking can begin in earnest. “Treehouse of Horror XVI” contains tame parodies of A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Most Dangerous Game, both of which feel like they came from the Simpsons‘ writers throwing darts at a board covered with movies they hadn’t mocked yet, and a relatively amusing segment about Springfielders turning into their Halloween costumes. It’s not bad, but it could have been funnier.
24. “Treehouse of Horror XXVI” — October 25, 2015
He did it, he finally did it: Sideshow Bob killed Bart Simpson. But without Die Bart Die in his life, Krusty’s former sidekick (not Sideshow Raheem) has nothing to live for. So, he resurrects his arch-nemesis, so he can murder him again and again and again. It’s not a bad premise — it’s not like Sideshow Bob can kill Bart in a canonical episode — but the repeated deaths grow tiresome. That’s true of the rest of the episode, too. “Homerzilla” is no “King Homer,” and “Telepaths of Glory” is an unfortunately uninspired parody of Chronicle.
23. “Treehouse of Horror XVIII” — November 4, 2007
The most anonymous “Treehouse of Horror” of them all. It’s not terrible, it’s just… there. The E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial parody, “E.T., Go Home,” goes through the motions of Steven Spielberg’s kid-friendly classic; “Mr. & Mrs. Simpson” is the Mr. & Mrs. Smith spoof that no one asked for; and “Heck House” doesn’t deliver on the potential of the church being turned into a sinful haunted house (although it’s always fun to see Devil Flanders).
22. “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” — October 16, 2016
The Simpsons went all-out for its 600th episode (“In Hell,” Frank Grimes’ ghost notes, “they make you watch all of them in a row”). “Dry Hard” spoofs Mad Max: Fury Road (Mr. Burns as Immortan Joe is inspired casting) and the Hunger Games movies, while “MoeFinger” is a parody of Kingsman: The Secret Service, while the segment itself is named after Goldfinger. (The middle segment sees Lisa’s imaginary friend Rachel killing anyone close to her.) There’s some good stuff in there — I’m fond of the rundown of Fox shows that have been canceled since The Simpsons premiered, including Allen Gregory and Woops! — but it’s too busy to come together as well as it could have.
21. “Treehouse of Horror XVII” — November 5, 2006
An anecdote: I saw “Treehouse of Horror XVII” in a public screening where Matt Groening was in attendance. During the trifling “Married to the Blob,” there was an uneasy feeling in the air, like people were nervously chuckling because they felt had to because the creator of the darn show was there. It got even more awkward in the Richard Lewis- and Fran Drescher-guest starring “You Gotta Know When to Golem.” Thankfully, things picked up with “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid,” which turns back the clock to the 1930s for Orson Welles’ infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. It was the only time the laughs came naturally (although the segment itself is shockingly bleak). It’s also, by far, the best part of the episode.
20. “Treehouse of Horror XXI” — November 7, 2010
The best joke in “Treehouse of Horror XXI” isn’t Milhouse being lethally bad at Hangman in “War and Pieces,” or Maggie’s twisted imagination in “Master and Cadaver” — it’s Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe as Edward Cullen. The Twilight riff “Tweenlight” smartly casts Lisa as Bella, but there are too many obvious jokes (Homer turns into an obese bat) for the segment to, um, fly.
19. “Treehouse of Horror XXV” — October 19, 2014
“Treehouse of Horror XXV” is best remembered for the final segment, “The Others,” where the current Simpsons encounter The Tracey Ullman Show-era Simpsons. There’s a lot of talk of frosty chocolate milkshakes. That’s a strong place to start; unfortunately, the warm, fuzzy nostalgia is blown to smithereens by now-Marge killing herself because now-Homer is more attracted to then-Marge. The other two segments, “School Is Hell” and “A Clockwork Yellow,” might not be as eventful, but they’re better, especially the spoof of A Clockwork Orange with Moe as Alex DeLarge. That checks out.
18. “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” — October 6, 2013
This is a largely ho-hum affair — there are decent but unspectacular lampoons of Dr. Seuss, The Thing with Two Heads, and Freaks — with one major exception. The opening couch gag was conceived by fantastical maestro Guillermo del Toro, who fills the sequence with dozens of movie references, including nods to his own Blade II, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s worth watching this episode for the intro alone.
17. “Treehouse of Horror XX” — October 18, 2009
The Simpsons loves dipping into the zombie well, and they did it again in “Treehouse of Horror XX” with “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind.” The undead take over Springfield after a virus spreads through Krusty Burgers. It’s one of the weaker zombie segments, but the bad taste is quickly washed out with “There’s No Business Like Moe Business,” a parody of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street where Moe’s beer becomes sweetened with Homer’s blood. It turns into a full-blown musical, and yet the thing I remember most about this episode is Bart repeatedly saying “criss cross” in “Dial ‘M’ for Murder or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu.” It’s… CRISS CROSS.
16. “Treehouse of Horror XV” — November 7, 2004
Years before Mark Linn-Baker, playing Mark Linn-Baker, appeared on The Leftovers, The Simpsons co-opted the Perfect Strangers theme song. “Treehouse of Horror XV” begins with the TGIF-ready, Kang and Kodos-starring sitcom, Keepin’ It Kodos, in which the aliens adopt Bart after they feed his family to their boss. Cue the waterworks and “standing tall, on the wings of my dream.” The rest of the episode has its moments — Ned sees the deaths of people he touches in “The Ned Zone” (although Futurama‘s “Parasites Lost” is a superior Fantastic Voyage parody than “In the Belly of the Boss”) — but nothing can top that opening, and nothing’s going to stop Kang and Kodos now.
15. “Treehouse of Horror XIX” — November 2, 2008
I re-watched every “Treehouse of Horror” before writing this piece, and this episode was the biggest surprise. It’s much better than I remember. The Transformers parody “Untitled Robot Parody” is actually funny (“We’re missing Sex Toy Bot… Where have you been?” “Where haven’t I been?”), not unintentionally hilarious like the actual movies; and Homer is hired to kill celebrities (although, ironically, not Jon Hamm) so advertisers can use their likenesses for free in “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising.” But the real showcase is “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse,” an exemplary spoof of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The Grand Pumpkin is right: it’s horrifying what humans do to pumpkins. It could be worse, though: at least he’s not a turkey.
14. “Treehouse of Horror XIII” — November 3, 2002
What’s funnier than one Homer? Dozens of Homers, all of whom share his fondness for beer, fatty foods (including humans), and innocent mischief. “Send in the Clones” is one of the more visually impressive “Treehouse” episodes, with a cascade of Homers falling into Springfield Gorge the comedic highlight. The other two segments don’t sustain the momentum — although “The Island of Dr. Hibbert,” where the titular doctor turns into Springfield’s finest into animals, is much better than the gun-heavy “The Island of Dr. Hibbert” — but all in all, “Treehouse of Horror XIII” is a solid episode.
13. “Treehouse of Horror XIV” — November 2, 2003
In a rare case of Simpsons Didn’t Do It, “Reaper Madness” covers the same territory — Homer becomes the Grim Reaper — as the “Death Is a Bitch” episode of Family Guy. Still, it’s a funny premise, and Homer makes the most of his time as Death by killing Patty instead of Marge. Despite a winking cameo from Jerry Lee Lewis, “Frinkenstein” pales in comparison to season three’s “If I Only Had a Brain.” Much better, however, is the third segment, “Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off,” where Bart and Milhouse freeze time using a pocket watch. They don’t go crazy Broadway style, but they do give The Pope a wedgie, which is basically the same thing.
12. “Treehouse of Horror IX” — October 25, 1998
Despite being the lowest ranked of the 1990s episodes, “Treehouse of Horror IX” still has some classic bits, particularly in the segment where Bart and Lisa get trapped in an Itchy and Scratchy short. The already-heightened violence of the Halloween specials is kicked up a notch — piranhas eat Bart’s flesh, Bart and Lisa fall into a pot of soup, etc. — but it works, because it’s within the parameters of a cartoon-within-a-cartoon. Extreme gore is fine, as long as it has a purpose. And that purpose is Itchy and Scratchy running over Poochie.
11. “Treehouse of Horror XII” — November 6, 2001
Maybe it’s because I was watching a lot of Fox around this time, or because the joke is that good, but I will never forget the promo for “Treehouse of Horror XII.” It aired seemingly every ad break. It was the scene where Homer drops a box of Lucky Charms into a pit to catch a leprechaun to reverse a gypsy’s curse (it makes sense in context), only for the hole to be filled with an imp, hobgoblin (not a goblin), and Katie Couric. The rest of this “Treehouse” is amusing — Pierce Brosnan as the voice of the house that tries to seduce Marge and kill Homer, and the Harry Potter parody with the puking frog — but that silly Lucky Charms joke is what I remember the most.
10. “Treehouse of Horror X” — October 31, 1999
“Treehouse of Horror X” gave us Tom Arnold getting blasted into the sun, so it definitely belongs in the top-10. There’s also a very funny spoof of I Know What You Did Last Summer, where Homer forgets to put the fog lights in and kills Ned, and “Desperately Xeeking Xena,” in which Comic Book Guy’s sarcastic sadness is transformed into the villainous Collector. Is it the Best. Treehouse. Ever.? Nope, but CBG should still be proud of his iconic death pose.
9. “Treehouse of Horror XI” – November 1, 2000
This was the first “Treehouse” to air in November, but it was worth the post-Halloween wait. Especially the third segment, “Night of the Dolphin,” where Lisa releases a captured dolphin back into the ocean. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before Snorky and his fellow “clowns of the sea” go to war against the humans, and win. “Hey, you got to hand it to those dolphins,” Homer commiserates. “They just wanted it more.” The rest of the episode, including the Ghost Dad parody “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad” and the Grimm’s Fairy Tales homage “Scary Tales Can Come True,” isn’t too shabby, either.
8. “Treehouse of Horror II” – October 31, 1991
This might seem low for a season three episode, but “Treehouse of Horror II” is more consistently clever than laugh-out-loud funny. “The Monkey’s Paw” and “The Bart Zone” were the first of many Twilight Zone parodies (the former is technically a riff on The New Twilight Zone, but whatever), with memorable bits on the downfall of humanity (it involves a big board with a big nail) and father-son bonding, while the premise of the third segment, “If I Only Had a Brain,” was so good, it was used again in “Treehouse of Horror XXIV.” You can only go down the “two heads, one body” path so many times, though…
7. “Treehouse of Horror VIII” – October 26, 1997
The last truly great “Treehouse” episode, “VIII” begins with the French dropping a nuclear bomb on Springfield, leaving only Homer (and not Little Bart, Little Lisa, Little Marge, and… the rest) alive. From there, Homer makes the best thirty-five cent purchase in his life in “Fly vs. Fly,” and “Easy-Bake Coven” is a rare “Treehouse” showcase for Marge, who, as a witch, inadvertently helps invent Halloween by eating gingerbread men instead of actual humans. You may have wasted your life, to quote Comic Book Guy, but you won’t have wasted your time watching this episode.
6. “Treehouse of Horror” – October 25, 1990
Much like season two of The Simpsons overall, the original “Treehouse of Horror” is underrated. It might not be as daring as future installments, but it has a sentient house killing itself rather than live with the Simpsons, Lisa ruining the family’s chance at paradise, and James Earl Jones reciting the classic Edgar Allan Poe poem, “The Raven.” What more could you want?
5. “Treehouse of Horror VI” – October 29, 1995
The most famous segment, “Homer3” (a.k.a. the one with three dimensional computer animation and erotic cakes), is the weakest of the three, but only because “Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores” and “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” are so good. The former has Wiggum shooting the captain of the high school basketball team and Paul Anka imploring Springfield to “just don’t look” at the billboard monsters destroying their town, while the latter is a genuinely disturbing parody of A Nightmare on Elm Street. And to think, it all started on the thirteenth hour, of the thirteenth day, of the thirteenth month.
4. “Treehouse of Horror III” – October 29, 1992
“Treehouse of Horror III” contains a talking Krusty doll set to evil.
It also has Ape and Candy Apple islands.
And Zombie Flanders.
It also comes with a free Frogurt.
That’s… still good. Can I go and watch now?
3. “Treehouse of Horror VII” – October 27, 1996
“Citizen Kang” shouldn’t have aged as well as it has. It’s about Bill Clinton and Bob Dole running for president, after all. But between “It makes no difference which one of us you vote for. Either way, your planet is doomed. DOOMED!” and “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others,” this “Treehouse” contains some of the most trenchant satire in the history of The Simpsons. On top of Clinton “twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom,” there’s also Bart’s conjoined twin brother Hugo, who feasts on fish heads in the attic, and Lisa creating, then getting stuck in, her own universe. The only thing better than the science fair pay dirt that is mold? This episode.
2. “Treehouse of Horror IV” — October 28, 1993
Like many “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, the best segment is the first one: “The Devil and Homer Simpson.” But that’s not a knock on “Terror at 5½ Feet” or “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” — those are A’s where “Devil” is an A+. This episode introduces Devil Flanders, the Jury of the Damned (including Lizzie Borden, John Wilkes Booth, and the starting line of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers), Homer eating all the donuts in the world, one of the first Hans Moleman deaths (“There’s a gremlin on the side of the bus!”), and Marge as the head vampire. She does have a life outside the house, y’know.
1. “Treehouse of Horror V” — October 30, 1994
This isn’t just a great “Treehouse of Horror” — it’s a great episode of The Simpsons, period. “The Shinning” is an uproarious homage to The Shining, “Time and Punishment” is better than most time travel movies (“If you ever travel back in time, don’t step on anything. Because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can’t imagine”), and “Nightmare Cafeteria” is a gory, cannibalistic conclusion to a classic episode. It’s even more entertaining than the 1947 classic Glenn Ford movie, 200 Miles to Oregon.