Although The Twilight Zone is celebrated for the talented group of writers who created such memorable stories for the series, the show excelled in every aspect of production, from direction and Emmy Award-winning cinematography, to unforgettable music, set design, and makeup. The series was also a showcase for some of the finest acting presented on television at the time. This list was created to celebrate what we think are the 20 finest performances from the series. Choosing only 20 performances from 156 episodes was extremely difficult. There were many standout performances which missed the list, especially from ensemble casts, such as in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “The Shelter,” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” as well as excellent turns from child actors in episodes such as “The Big Tall Wish,” “It’s a Good Life,” and “Mute.” If I’ve missed your favorite performance I apologize. Let me know in the comments which are your favorite performances from the series.
Grateful acknowledgement to The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) for the use of images.
Continuing our countdown:
#10 – Fritz Weaver, “The Obsolete Man” (Season 2)
The first of two performances from this powerful episode to make the list, Weaver’s turn as the manic but ultimately cowardly mouth of a dictatorial society stands as one of the supreme villainous turns on the series. Weaver earlier played a far different, though no less affecting, character in the first season episode, “Third from the Sun.” Read our review of “The Obsolete Man” here.
#9 – Jack Klugman, “In Praise of Pip” (Season 5)
Klugman is one of the signature performers on the series, featured in a lead role in four episodes, including “A Passage for Trumpet,” “A Game of Pool,” and “Death Ship.” It is for his fourth and final appearance on the series that Klugman finds his way onto this this. He presents a devastating portrait of the cruelness of blind circumstance, not least of which concern the effect of war, and of the special relationship between a father and a son. He has never been more convincing or compelling as he is here.
#8 – Gig Young, “Walking Distance” (Season 1)
Rod Serling’s melancholy meditation on childhood and aging is given all of its power by Young’s exceptional performance as an ad executive whose fast life is quickly passing him by. Everything about the episode works to garner the sympathy of the audience and Young’s interactions with Frank Overton, who plays his father, are some of the most powerful and compelling scenes in the entire series. Read our full episode review here.
#7 – Cliff Robertson, “The Dummy” (Season 3)
In perhaps the most frightening episode of the series, Cliff Robertson portrays a tortured ventriloquist who is tormented by his living dummy. Though the story was far from original, Robertson imbues the character of the tormented performer with a pathos that is palpable. The audience shares in his terror and desperation in a way almost unique to the series. Robertson also provided the voice of the ventriloquist dummy and virtually played the episode against himself. Robertson earlier appeared in the second season episode, “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” in another excellent performance.
#6 – James Whitmore, “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (Season 4)
Though I’m not a great fan of this episode, I find Whitmore’s performance as the desperate leader of a rag-tag band of planetary colonists to be one of the more tragic and humanizing performances from the series. Whitmore greatly saves the episode from its padded story through a sad and ultimately heartbreaking turn which elicits great pity from the audience.
Check back tomorrow for our Top 5 performances from the series.