Before we get started with this list of the best Simpsons episodes, know this: yes, these are all episodes from the 'classic' seasons of 2-8 (though we'd say 1-10 counts as the classic era, at a push). And yes, there are far more great episodes of The Simpsons than we can fit on this list – in fact, you could rearrange these 30 picks in almost any order and that would still make sense to a lot of people. We constantly switched this order around in the run-up to publication, because ranking them is so damn hard.
Our aim with this piece was to offer an overview of everything brilliant about The Simpsons, mixing in outright hilarious episodes with sweeter ones, and contrasting episodes that focus on the family with those that spotlight Springfield's wider, weirder population. If you're not in the mood to watch every season again right now, these 30 choices should tick all your boxes.
If you want to check out a few episodes that come later in The Simpsons' life, we can help with that too – have a look at our list of The Simpsons' post-golden age greatest hits. As a reminder, you can stream 32 seasons of the show on Disney Plus, including all the episodes below. Let's get started – these are The Simpsons best episodes, according to us.
30. The Boy Who Knew Too Much (season 5, episode 20)
Bart skips school for the day, only for Principal Skinner to become suspicious and track him down across town – unsuccessfully, thanks to a timely escape. Bart ends up at Mayor Quimby's compound, where a French waiter is seemingly attacked and Quimby's cousin is implicated as the assailant. Even though Bart saw what really happened and knows he should testify in court, he understands confessing will get him in trouble with Skinner. Homer, meanwhile, is on jury duty for the case, and begins ransacking his hotel for free items.
This excellent episode is big on laughs, which is why we've picked it. The highlight is arguably the Westworld parody, where Skinner walks into a river, only to emerge robotically on the other side. Chowdah!
29. Lisa vs Malibu Stacy (season 5, episode 14)
When Lisa's favorite doll, Malibu Stacy, gets a talking version, she's dissatisfied to learn that the voice clips are limited to phrases like "don't ask me, I'm just a girl!" She tracks down the real Stacy, the doll's creator, a now-alcoholic recluse called Stacy Lovell (played by Kathleen Turner).
Together, they make a (doomed) doll called Lisa Lionheart that encompasses more wholesome values, but Malibu Stacy still wins out, thanks to a new hat. When Lisa episodes land, they really work – and this plot is excellently realized, even if it ends in failure for her. This episode also has the bonus of Smithers' computer booting up to a topless Mr Burns saying, "Hello Smithers, you're quite good at turning me on!"
28. The Summer of 4 Ft. 2 (season 7, episode 25)
So many Simpsons episodes show Lisa having the shittiest time, perpetually misunderstood by those around her and unfulfilled by education. This episode lets her find a group of cool friends while on summer vacation – something that Bart just can't let her have, as he becomes the less popular one. This is very well-observed in terms of how kids behave in real life.
But this one has many other delights, including lots of hilarious jokes at Milhouse's expense. 'The dud' moment while he's playing the Mystery Date board game with Homer is a legendary joke, one canonized in meme form many times over.
This episode still manages to get Lisa a sweet ending, and it's weirdly good at capturing the very specific nice feeling of going on vacation after a year at school.
27. Sweet Seymour Skinner's Basdasssss Song (season 5, episode 19)
The 100th episode of The Simpsons focused on one of the show's best supporting characters, Principal Seymour Skinner (or Armin Tamzarian, but we don't need to get into all that). After Bart brings Santa's Little Helper to school and the dog wreaks chaos – resulting in a near-naked Groundskeeper Willie landing on Superintendent Chalmers – Skinner is fired and replaced by Ned Flanders.
Bart and an unemployed Skinner form a sweet friendship as his former nemesis deals with a more pitiful, tedious existence. He eventually returns to the army, until Bart manages to get Flanders fired.
This episode, written by future showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (Oakley would write the legendary Steamed Hams skit featuring Skinner), deepens the Skinner character and shows the dimensions to his relationship with Bart. It also features the all-time great joke that Skinner is writing a novel about dinosaurs in a futuristic amusement park: it's called Billy and the Cloneasaurus, much to Apu's chagrin.
26. Rosebud (season 5, episode 4)
The Simpsons has never been shy about parodying Citizen Kane, but this episode takes it to the next level. Mr Burns' lost childhood bear Bobo – a symbol of his lost youth and innocence – ends up in the hands of Maggie Simpson decades later (after a spell in Adolf Hitler's possession). Homer tries to negotiate money and some Hawaiian islands out of Mr Burns in exchange for the bear, but Maggie's benevolence ultimately wins out and the family gets nothing.
One of Rosebud's many highlights is The Ramones' birthday message to the cranky billionaire: "go to hell, you old bastard."
25. Lisa's Substitute (season 2, episode 19)
After Miss Hoover takes some time off to recover from Lyme disease, Lisa becomes enchanted by her substitute, Mr Bergstrom (played by Dustin Hoffman under a pseudonym). When Bergstrom suddenly leaves, Lisa is devastated, and it spotlights what a mismatch of a father figure Homer really is for her. Reconciling that is a key development for the character.
This episode crystallizes Lisa is as the intellectual member of the family, and Bergstrom leaving is an all-time tearjerker moment of the series.
24. Homer's Phobia (season 8, episode 15)
Homer is shocked to learn that the family's new friend, John (played by cult director John Waters), is gay – and he's determined to stop Bart from ending up the same way. This episode still works today because you're never in any doubt that Homer's prejudice and unfounded paranoia is the joke.
The various boneheaded attempts he makes to keep Bart 'straight' leads to one of The Simpsons' most memorable gags: the steel mill that turns out to be entirely populated by gay men, which transforms into a nightclub called The Anvil before Homer's very eyes. "We work hard, we play hard!" One of the best jokes in TV history.
This episode was originally blocked by a Fox censor, until a change in management allowed sense to prevail. It's definitely a product of its time in how the subject is tackled, but mostly holds up on a rewatch.
23. Lisa on Ice (season 6, episode 8)
This episode makes our list because it's perhaps the greatest in the series' history for exploring Bart and Lisa's sibling relationship: the alternating jealousy and affection for each other, here explored as they both become hockey stars on opposing teams.
Homer is a total jerk in this one, encouraging his children to compete for their parents' love, which is absolutely a damning take on overzealous spots parents. The moment at the end, as Lisa and Bart choose to abandon the game during a penalty in the face of a fiery crowd, is extremely sweet.
22. A Milhouse Divided (season 8, episode 6)
Has divorce ever been funnier than how it's portrayed in this episode? Kirk Van Houten fails to draw the word dignity, sleeps in a racing car, and asks if he can borrow a feeling as Milhouse's family breaks apart.
It cleverly explores the ways people can take a steady partner for granted – tying it back to Homer's own cruddy treatment of Marge, and how he fears divorce is on the cards after he finds frozen hot dogs in the sink for dinner.
Still, you're really here to laugh at Kirk, then pray to god you never become him.
21. Radioactive Man (season 7, episode 2)
"My eyes, the goggles do nothing!" The Simpsons' various in-universe fictional characters add color to its world, and here the show uses Radioactive Man to riff humorously on the '60s Batman series. Milhouse beats Bart to the coveted Robin-style role of Fallout Boy, but freaks out about the role before production is finished.
This episode has no great emotional stakes, it's just a smart look at Hollywood and an excuse for a bunch of fun nerdy gags. Plus, you get to a flashback to the time Moe murdered a child actor. Up and at them!
20. Homer at the Bat (season 3, episode 17)
Mr Burns assembles a team of ringers to win a softball match against the rival Shelbyville power plant's crew. Even if you didn't know who all the different baseball players were who guest-starred in this episode, it was irrelevant: this is one of the funniest episodes of the show.
To people outside the US, Darryl Strawberry is just the guy who's a better batter than Homer – and who shed a tear after the Simpsons kids jeered at him.
19. Lemon of Troy (season 6, episode 24)
After the kids of rival town Shelbyville steal Springfield's fabled lemon tree, Bart and friends head over to try and take it back. This episode is perfect at spotlighting the pointlessness of local rivalries, revealing that Springfield and Shelbyville only became separate towns because the residents of the latter wanted to marry their (allegedly attractive) cousins. An extremely funny episode, rife with good Milhouse moments, which always goes down well with us.
If you have to measure the greatness of an episode of The Simpsons by meme potential, then Lemon of Troy is up there – as anyone familiar with the 'lemon face' expression from this episode will be familiar with.
18. The Way We Was (season 2, episode 12)
This sweet episode traces the origins of Marge and Homer's relationship in flashback form. After Homer lies about being a French student to get close to Marge, she decides to go to prom with the smart but gross Artie Ziff (played by Jon Lovitz) – before realizing Homer was the one for her (poor Marge).
This is an example of how delicately The Simpsons' writers and animators handled the characters' histories back in the show's early days.
17. Homer the Smithers (season 7, episode 17)
Smithers needs a vacation, so he puts the most incompetent person possible in charge of looking after Mr Burns in his absence: Homer Simpson. Unfortunately, this leads to Burns becoming self-reliant, after Homer punches the old man in the face out of frustration.
When Smithers returns, he loses his job, and Homer hatches a hare-brained scheme to get him re-employed. This episode features a ton of funny moments: Mr Burns' somehow still-alive mother, Burns demanding that Homer make him a dodo egg for breakfast and a drunk Lennie giving the old man a terrifying thumbs up.
16. Homer and Apu (season 5, episode 13)
Apu has become a tough character to discuss in the modern age: the show was fairly subjected to criticism for his depiction, with actor Hank Azaria deciding to no longer play him.
The character remains an important part of the show's journey, however, despite that significant baggage – and this episode, where Apu faces an existential crisis after getting fired by the Kwik E Mart, is probably the highlight of his relationship with the Simpsons family over the years. Apu travels across the world to try and get his job back, an opportunity that Homer ultimately manages to sabotage.
Luckily, Apu secures employment once more by saving the life of actor James Woods, his replacement at the store.
15. The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show (season 8, episode 14)
The Simpsons writers cleverly examine the show and its fans in this episode, which adds a dog called Poochie to the classic cartoon-with-a-cartoon Itchy and Scratchy. As a creation, Poochie is cynically engineered to appeal to the widest audience possible, and is therefore rejected completely by the viewers – Homer gets the short-lived job of voicing the character.
This episode makes the point that fans weren't happy with the old Itchy & Scratchy series when it got stale, but didn't want to see any changes to it either. It was ahead of the curve when it came to commenting on our relationship with TV shows, which makes even more sense in an age of YouTube explainers and episodic recaps.
14. Mr Plow (season 4, episode 9)
Homer buys a snow plow and carves out a neat little business clearing out people's driveways – that is, until Barney comes along and steals his idea, shoots out Homer's tires and calls him an alcoholic in his TV commercial.
This episode is probably the single greatest Barney showcase in the entire series, aside from maybe his short film in 'A Star is Burns'. "Come back, diaper!" is a top five Barney moment, but it's arguably the Mr Plow song that embeds this one in the memory.
13. Last Exit To Springfield (season 4, episode 17)
This was apparently considered the best episode of The Simpsons (dental plan!) for a long time (Lisa needs braces), and it's definitely a highlight. Homer becomes the head of the power plant workers' union, after its previous leader is murdered and buried under a football pitch.
He fights to save the workers' dental plan so Lisa can get a humane pair of braces, going up against Mr Burns, who mistakenly thinks his union opponent is a tactical mastermind. Lisa's legally distinct Yellow Submarine hallucination is a highlight.
Now do 'Classical Gas'!
12. Treehouse of Horror V (season 6, episode 6)
We only wanted to select a single Halloween episode for this list to represent the mostly-great breadth of themed specials that have rolled out over the years. This episode contains The Shining parody known as The Shinning, the segment where Homer travels through time using a toaster and the one where the teachers are eating the kids in the school cafeteria. That's a strong trilogy.
It was tough to pick this one over the following year's, which would take Homer into the third dimension, but an immortal Kirk Van Houten line clinched it: "I don't like the idea of Milhouse having two spaghetti meals in one day."
11. Kamp Krusty (season 4, episode 1)
Bart, Lisa and the children of Springfield head to a Krusty the Klown-branded camp, only to find it's more of a prison than a utopia – with their days filled with life-threatening activities, overseen by the bullies and the ruthless Mr Black. Bart eventually overthrows the management, installing himself as leader.
Krusty, meanwhile, spends the summer in London until he finally sees the nightmare resort bearing his name – at which point he confesses that a dump truck full of money was driven to his house in exchange for creating the camp. This is a great, fun episode that was originally intended to form the plot of a movie. It doesn't have enough meat on the bones for that, but it just about fills one brilliant 20-minute episode.
10. Mother Simpson (season 7, episode 8)
The heartfelt episodes of The Simpsons have a special place, because when they land, they really hit the spot – and this one, featuring the first proper appearance of Homer's mother, played by Glenn Close, is also rife with great jokes.
Homer faking his own death is itself hysterically funny, particularly the accompanying headline on the Springfield Shopper: 'Local man loses pants, life'. Mrs Simpson's all-too-quick departure stays in the memory as one of the saddest moments of the series, even if the show's creators made the fraught decision to bring her back later on.
9. Marge vs the Monorail (season 4, episode 12)
Marge vs the Monorail has everything: a great musical number, a massive story as Springfield gets a totally unnecessary transportation system operated by Homer, a huckster played by Phil Hartman and a preposterous resolution.
It even has a Leonard Nimoy cameo, and so many immortal lines – Homer gets two alone. "I call the big one Bitey" will swim around your head for days after watching, just as it did for Marge. "Donuts: is there anything they can't do?" also springs to mind.
8. Cape Feare (season 5, episode 2)
There's no real contest for the best Sideshow Bob episode – though the episode with Cecil, Brother From Another Series, comes close – it has to be the one with the rake joke.
Cape Feare is arguably more well-known now than the Martin Scorsese movie remake it was parodying at the time, with the Simpsons entering the witness protection program and moving to Terror Lake to protect Bart from Bob's revenge. This episode is packed with terrific jokes, from Bob's 'Die Bart Die' tattoo to Homer's total failure to comprehend that his new surname is Thompson. All the Bob episodes from this era are terrific, but this was their peak.
7. Flaming Moe's (season 3, episode 10)
Season 3 is where The Simpsons really hits its stride, as the writers lean further into the strength of the show's supporting characters. This episode spotlights bartender Moe Szyslak, who profiteers off an idea for a drink he stole off of Homer Simpson – the fabled 'Flaming Homer', reappropriated as the 'Flaming Moe', which makes his business takes off.
From a daft Aerosmith guest appearance to a perfect Cheers parody, this is one of the series' first all-time classic episodes.
6. Homer's Enemy (season 8, episode 23)
For some, the death of Frank Grimes marks the point of no return for Homer Simpson as a callous and cruel character. To everyone else, this episode about an unlucky everyman driven over the edge by Homer Simpson's perfect life is the show at its smartest and funniest. Grimes' awful life – a childhood of delivering presents to more privileged children, getting blown up in a silo explosion, almost having his diploma stolen by a bird – sets him up as the ultimate doomed figure to enter Homer's orbit.
He suffers the ultimate humiliation in death: his coffin being lowered into the ground as Springfield laughs at Homer falling asleep during his funeral. A masterpiece.
5. Homer the Great (season 6, episode 12)
Homer joins and then ruins the ancient Springfield illuminati group known as the Stonecutters in this memorable episode. From the "we do!" musical number to the 'No Homers' club gag (they're allowed one), this is a brilliantly conceived episode – and evidence that it doesn't matter how wacky an idea is for a Simpsons storyline, as long as it's executed well.
Plus, the sight of a naked Homer Simpson dragging the stone of triumph is an all-timer visual joke. Now let's all get drunk and play ping pong!
4. Who Shot Mr Burns? (season 6, episode 25/season 7, episode 1)
Part one is the stronger episode, seeding the mystery of who shot Springfield's most hated billionaire after he blocked out the sun, crippled Bart's dog and forgot Homer's name in genuinely dramatic fashion. But the whole two-parter is a treat. Wrapping the whole town into the mystery led to a whole summer of viewers trying to work out who did it – then they found out it was the baby (*cough*).
While the resolution to the mystery isn't particularly mind-blowing – episode writers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein originally wanted Barney to be the culprit, but it ended up being decreed that it had to be a member of the Simpsons family – the episode is a fantastic, fun ride with an all-time great reference to Twin Peaks in part two.
3. 22 Short Films About Springfield (season 7, episode 21)
A high-concept anthology inspired by Pulp Fiction, this episode is now best known as the origin of the 'Steamed Hams' meme. Even before that was a thing, though, the segment between Seymour Skinner and Chalmers was masterful – a hilariously detailed encounter between a failing suck-up and his constantly incredulous boss. That Skinner sacrifices his own mother to a house fire to placate Chalmers remains a brilliant gag.
But this whole episode, which divided up scripting duties between the very talented Simpsons writing room, is full of highlights. Cletus' theme song rhyming 'folk'll' with 'yokel'; Moe locking himself behind bulletproof glass while Snake robs him; Nelson laughing at a tall man in a small car. It's all wonderfully inventive, and it's amazing The Simpsons hasn't tried this format again in the intervening years, given that a few classic episodes like Kamp Krusty have been revisited in the modern era.
2. You Only Move Twice (season 8, episode 2)
The Simpsons leave Springfield, after Homer is offered a job by Globex Corporation – just for being the power plant's second-longest serving employee (after Waylon Smithers). The family moves to Pike Creek, which is seemingly idyllic. Unfortunately, Lisa realizes she's allergic to the wildlife, Bart is put in 'remedial' class with troublesome children ("I like to burn things!") and Marge starts drinking a small glass of red wine a day because she has no housework to do.
The problem is, Homer is happy for once, working for new boss Hank Scorpio (Albert Brooks) – without knowing he's on the payroll of a James Bond villain come to life. This is almost a movie-sized Simpsons plot, rife with brilliant jokes and putting the emotional focus on every member of the family at once.
1. Itchy & Scratchy Land (season 6, episode 4)
Picking a single episode as The Simpsons' best is truly difficult – so we've opted for a big, funny storyline featuring every member of the family for our number one. Itchy & Scratchy Land is functionally a parody of Westworld, as the robots working at the park come to life, as well as a riff on Disneyland. But it's the cloud of terrible Simpsons holidays past hanging over the family's trip that makes this episode so funny, as Marge faces the doomed reality that Homer and Bart will find a way to ruin this vacation like they always do.
"Mom, dad! Bart's dead!" followed by "That's right! Dead serious about going to Itchy & Scratchy Land!" is a top-tier joke in this episode. But the winning gag in Itchy & Scratchy Land is the 'Bort' license plate in the park's gift shop – a masterful creation that's inspired the best Simpsons meme group on the internet, which is the last non-cursed thing on Facebook.
There's no single Simpsons episode that has absolutely everything: this isn't a heartfelt episode, and it doesn't really feature the rest of Springfield, which are key ingredients in so many episodes on this list. But it's so brilliantly funny and inventive, tied to a story idea that's a perfect vehicle for The Simpsons' type of satire. There is no day where we're not in the mood to rewatch Itchy & Scratchy Land.