The 20 Best Episodes of All Time


Police procedural shows are among the most popular TV productions in recent years. Although not all of these shows manage to attract the audience, there have been a few that became highly acclaimed and earned their place among the most popular series ever. Criminal Minds is, undeniably, one of these productions. Over the course of its many seasons, it has grown into one of the most popular shows among traditional television viewers and streaming audiences alike. This CBS series created by Jeff Davis premiered in 2005, introducing the criminal profilers of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), who spend their days dealing with the country’s most dangerous criminals while also trying to cope with their own personal lives.


Mandy Patinkin, Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Lola Glaudini, Matthew Gray Gubler, A. J. Cook and Kirsten Vangsness formed the original cast of Criminal Minds, which throughout the years underwent a few departures and new additions. Criminal Minds was among CBS’ most watched shows, and managed to hook the audience for 15 seasons, concluding its run on the air in 2020. However, that was not the end for this beloved show, as it was revived by Paramount+ in 2022 with a new it titled Criminal Minds: Evolution. Of course, following its success on streaming, Criminal Minds: Evolution has been renewed for more episodes.

Throughout 300+ episodes, the BAU profilers took on some of the most dangerous criminals on TV, dealing with cases that were both intriguing and dangerous enough to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Here are some of the show’s best episodes.

Updated December 9, 2023: This list has been updated with even more info about the best episodes of Criminal Minds.


20 Natural Born Killer (Season 1, Episode 8)

CBS

The first season of Criminal Minds features some of the most gripping episodes in the entire show, which is why fans stuck around in the first place. In “Natural Born Killer,” the eighth episode of the series, the BAU are tasked with working alongside the Organized Crime Unit to solve a case that appears to be a mob hit. However, the BAU profilers are led to believe that a serial killer is behind the crime, a belief that escalates after one of the agents assigned to the case goes missing.

What Makes It Great

This episode was directed by Peter Ellis, whose directorial credits include the likes of Supernatural and Highlander: The Series. Debra J. Fisher and Erica Messer additionally co-wrote this episode, with the duo later working on multiple episodes together throughout Criminal Minds‘ first few seasons.

19 L.D.S.K. (Season 1, Episode 6)

Marcus Giamatti as Timothy Omundson in Criminal Minds
CBS

L.D.S.K.” is another great episode from Criminal Minds‘s first season, and also one that further explores the relationships between the main characters. In this episode, the profilers head to Des Plaines, Illinois, to investigate the case of a sniper who has killed one citizen and wounded many others, in an effort to prevent an upcoming attack. After failing his firearms qualification exam, Spencer Reid is forced to report for this new task without his weapon, something that lands him in big trouble.

What Makes It Great

This episode in particular is a strong standout from the first season, especially in the editing department. The sequence that featured the sniper’s shots intercut with Reid’s shooting at the range is a notable highlight, and the tension is more than palpable as Reid is forced to tackle this threat without a reliable sidearm.

18 Seven Seconds (Season 3, Episode 5)

Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan and Matthew Gray Gubler as Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds
CBS

Seven Seconds” is one of the most harrowing episodes of season 3. After a little girl goes missing in a shopping mall in Woodbridge, Virginia, the BAU concludes that the abduction may be an attack by a serial killer they are hunting. Aware that the criminal’s first victim was killed shortly after her abduction, the profilers must work quickly if they intend to find this girl alive.

What Makes It Great

“Seven Seconds” would be one of the rare instances early in Criminal Minds‘ run where audience expectations were deliberately toyed with. There was a genuine sense of urgency that made the surrounding episode feel all the more dramatic as a result. If you have a keen eye, you’ll even recognize that the pair of Jacobs brothers featured in this episode were played by real-life twins Salvator Xuereb and Emmanuel Xuereb.

17 Memoriam (Season 4, Episode 7)

A. J. Cook as Jennifer and Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid in Criminal Minds
CBS

Criminal Minds fans love those episodes that delve deeper into the BAU members’ pasts and their relationships with one another. “Memoriam”, a highlight from season 4, is one of those episodes, as it not only delves into Spencer Reid’s family past through his investigation of a murder, but also treats the audience to one of the most tender moments on the show when JJ asks him to be her newborn son’s godfather.

What Makes It Great

Aside from being another fantastic episode centered around Spencer Reid, it’s a paramount episode for Spencer’s development as a character. Shows like Criminal Minds live or die based on the strength of their characters. “Memoriam” recognizes this, not only delivering the same kind of quality storytelling that you’d expect from Criminal Minds, but with additional care taken in giving Spencer some additional complexity.

16 The Lesson (Season 8, Episode 10)

The Lesson, Criminal Minds
CBS

The Lesson” is one of the many episodes of Criminal Minds directed by Matthew Gray Gubler, the actor who plays Dr. Spencer Reid. Of course, aside from acting out some of Reid’s best moments, Matthew Gray Gubler is a terrific director as well. In the episode, the BAU is dealing with a string of murders that could be part of a religious ritual. However, as they delve deeper into the case, they uncover a story that is far creepier than anything they had imagined.

What Makes It Great

In “The Lesson,” the killer is played by Brad Dourif, an actor best known for voicing Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise and for his role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His performance as the monstrous Adam Rain gives this episode some much-needed creepiness to make its plot really pop.

15 Zugzwang (Season 8, Episode 12)

Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid in Criminal Minds
CBS

In the season 8 of Criminal Minds, the audience meets Maeve (Beth Riesgraf), a bright young woman with whom Reid has a relationship, even though he has never met her in person. One of the main reasons why these young people have never met has to do with the fact that she claims that she is being followed by a stalker. In “Zugzwang,” a horrifying hypothetical finally comes true, as she’s kidnapped by her stalker. Reid sets out to investigate her disappearance in order to find her before it’s too late. Thankfully, he’ll be able to rely on the BAU for some assistance.

What Makes It Great

The director of this episode, Jesse Warn, is notable for his work on a plethora of television shows. Spartacus, The Originals, Arrow, and The Vampire Diaries are just a handful of shows he’s directed episodes for. Beth Riesgraf also does a stellar job in portraying Maeve, having previously climbed to fame with her performance as Parker in Leverage.

14 Somebody’s Watching (Season 1, Episode 18)

Amber Heard as Lila Archer and Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid in Criminal Minds
CBS

In “Somebody’s Watching,” Jason Gideon and Spencer Reid travel to Los Angeles to conduct a professional seminar, and end up staying longer than expected to investigate a string of murders that seem to be connected, in some strange way, to up-and-coming actress Lila Archer. The case grows increasingly difficult after this young woman develops a love interest for Reid, something that greatly harms the investigation and puts both of them at risk.

What Makes It Great

Lila was played by Amber Heard, known for her portrayal of Mera in the DC productions Justice League and Aquaman. This episode is also notable for being the single episode of Criminal Minds directed by Paul Shapiro, whose television credits include other terrific shows like 24 and The X-Files.

13 The Replicator (Season 8, Episode 24)

Mark Hamill as John Curtis in Criminal Minds
CBS

Typically, the criminals that the BAU deals with only appear in one or two episodes, until they are caught and brought to justice. However, sporadically, the BAU has to deal with criminals who are far tougher to catch, and who also threaten their private lives. Among them is John Curtis, aka The Replicator, the main antagonist of season 8.

The similarly-titled episode “The Replicator” concludes the two-part finale of season 8, with the eponymous villain attempting to take on the BAU by targeting Erin Strauss. Under direct attack, the team enter a dangerous cat-and-mouse chase in one of the most intense episodes of the show’s run.

What Makes It Great

John Curtis was flawlessly played by Mark Hamill, who is mainly known portraying Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and The Joker in a plethora of DC projects. Though Hamill’s portrayal of the character was restricted to just a handful of episodes, his presence in Criminal Minds is certainly welcomed, even drawing comparisons to Tim Curry’s guest performance in “Our Darkest Hour.”

12 Mosley Lane (Season 5, Episode 16)

Beth Grant as Anita Roycewood in Criminal Minds
CBS

Mosley Lane” isn’t afraid to dive into some darker storytelling. After an eight-year-old girl vanishes without a trace in Ashburn, Virginia, Sarah Hillridge approaches the FBI to state that the case may be related to the disappearance of her own son, which took place eight years earlier. Thus, the BAU sets out on the daunting task of finding this child alive, attempting to track down the rest of this criminal’s victims while doing so.

What Makes It Great

“Mosley Lane” was the first episode directed by Matthew Gray Gubler, and also the first time in the series in which a cast member served as director. It additionally features guest appearances by Ann Cusack, Evan Peters, and Beth Grant. The darker nature of this episode would serve as an introduction to Gubler’s directorial style, with his later episodes in the series being similarly grim and graphic in tone.

Related

Criminal Minds: The Best Characters in the Show, Ranked

This show gave the audience a larger view into the daily dealings of a precinct, showing the diverse types of detectives involved in solving cases.

11 A Beautiful Disaster (Season 11, Episode 18)

Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna and A. J. Cook in Criminal Minds
CBS

A Beautiful Disaster” is another episode directed by Matthew Gray Gubler, this time from a script by Erica Messer and Kirsten Vangsness, who plays Penelope Garcia. This time, the BAU faces a killer who seeks revenge on them, and to do so, he attacks Savannah, Derek Morgan’s wife. This episode marked Morgan’s farewell from the show, since after the case, he decided to retire in order to protect his family and spend more time with his newborn baby.

What Makes It Great

This episode was a terrific send-off for Shemar Moore, who had been attached to the series since it originally debuted in 2005. Though it was difficult to say goodbye, the final case he participated in is as intense as ever, giving him a climactic story with a bittersweet, if not satisfying, conclusion. Funnily enough, Shemar Moore is officially a father himself as of early 2023.

10 Derailed (Season 1, Episode 9)

Lola Glaudini as Elle Greenaway in Criminal Minds
CBS

Derailed” is, hands down, the most stressful episode of the show’s first season. It features Teddy Bryar, a man who used to be one of the world’s top physicists, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago. In the midst of a train ride, Teddy suddenly suffers an episode that leads him to kill one of the guards and keep all the passengers hostage. The BAU is drawn into the case after discovering that Elle, one of the team’s profilers, is among the people being held hostage on the train, and her future depends on how quickly they can work to disarm the attacker.

What Makes It Great

Often times, episodes that take place in a single location require a level of creativity and quality writing you won’t find elsewhere. Thankfully, “Derailed” delivers with some quality character development, tense stakes, and a script provided by Jeff Davis, the original creator of Criminal Minds to begin with.

9 Revelations (Season 2, Episode 15)

Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid in Criminal Minds
CBS

The second season of Criminal Minds cast popular actor James Van Der Beek to portray Tobias Hankel, one of the most notorious criminals in the entire show. Hankel is a serial killer with multiple personality disorder who kidnaps Spencer Reid in the episode “The Big Game.” In “Revelations,” the BAU goes to great lengths to rescue the agent from the torture he is being subjected to, and Reid does the same as he struggles with the memories of his past triggered by the drugs provided by the killer.

What Makes It Great

James Van Der Beek is an incredible guest villain, having previously showcased his acting chops in Dawson’s Creek. This episode would also be important for developing Reid’s backstory further, as we get a chance to see his troubled childhood through his numerous flashbacks.

8 The Uncanny Valley (Season 5, Episode 12)

Anna Moore as Mary Newsome in Criminal Minds
CBS

Season 5 of Criminal Minds features some of the most intense episodes of the entire series, and “The Uncanny Valley” ranks high among them. In it, the BAU stumbles upon one of the most perplexing cases in the team’s history: the case of a criminal who kidnaps and drugs women to turn them into a personal collection of dolls. Once again, the professionals must work relentlessly to track down the killer, particularly since the last abducted victim is diabetic and needs access to her medication.

What Makes It Great

This episode features a fantastic verbal assault by Reid followed by one of his most compassionate speeches to date, showcasing Gubler’s ability to shift emotions at the drop of a hat. It also features a particularly eerie villain for the series, with his incapacitating methods eliciting some genuinely perturbing reactions.

Related

Criminal Minds: The Most Messed Up Episodes

Criminal Minds ​​​​​​​has a slew of episodes that range from creepy to absolutely frightening. 

7 Heathridge Manor (Season 7, Episode 19)

Kyle Gallner as James Heathridge in Criminal Minds
CBS

Matthew Gray Gubler helms this gripping episode featuring horror legend Robert Englund as Detective Gassner. In “Heathridge Manor,” the FBI team travels to Medford, Oregon to investigate the puzzling murder of a teacher whose body appears in an abandoned psychiatric institute far from her home and under very strange circumstances. After a second victim is found, Dr. Reid starts to believe that the murders are related to the work of William Shakespeare and may be motivated by satanic beliefs.

What Makes It Great

What can be said about Robert Englund that hasn’t been said before? His experience in the horror genre makes him a perfect guest for this unsettling episode, taking more after horror films than what you’d typically expect from a crime series. It even features one of the most unsettling endings the series has seen yet, teasing the potential involvement of supernatural elements.

6 Penelope (Season 3, Episode 9)

Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds
CBS

Tech expert Penelope Garcia is among the fans’ favorite characters, which is why the eighth and ninth episodes of season 3 had audiences on edge. In “Lucky,” Penelope meets a handsome man with whom she subsequently goes on a date. Little does she know that this man is Jason Clark Battle, a serial killer who is currently being targeted by the BAU. Convinced that Garcia has figured out his real identity, the man shoots her and flees, leaving the woman in critical condition. In “Penelope,” the FBI team continues to search for their colleague’s shooter, who seems to be closer than they think, as she deals with a painful recovery and the fears caused by the attack.

What Makes It Great

Putting a fan-favorite character on the verge of death will always turn heads, doubly so when you consider just how prominent Garcia was in the series. Chris Mundy wrote this episode, serving as an executive producer for the series, in addition to writing other terrific episodes like “100” and “Sex, Birth, Death.”

5 Sex, Birth, Death (Season 2, Episode 11)

Anton Yelchin as Nathan Harris in Criminal Minds
CBS

Sex, Birth, Death” is the 11th episode of the show’s second season, and features a performance by Anton Yelchin, best known for playing Pavel Chekov on Star Trek. In this episode, Yelchin plays Nathan Harris, a student at Morton School who contacts Dr. Reid to address his sexual impulses. Some time afterward, he becomes the prime suspect of an investigation after several sex workers are found dead in Washington.

What Makes It Great

Anton Yelchin excelled when it comes to dark stories, doubly so when he performed in Green Room nearly a decade after this episode premiered. This terrific episode additionally features one of the most haunting endings found throughout the series, and one of the most harrowing case conclusions for Spencer Reid at that. Gwyneth Horder-Payton, having previously worked on FX’s The Shield, directed this episode in addition to “Identity” and “Pleasure Is My Business” later in the series.

4 Mr. Scratch (Season 10, Episode 21)

Bodhi Elfman as Peter Lewis in Criminal Minds
CBS

Gray Gubler’s season 10 episode “Mr. Scratch” features Peter Lewis, one of Criminal Minds‘ most ruthless criminals and, eventually, Agent Aaron Hotchner’s nemesis. In this episode, the BAU takes on an intriguing case after three individuals who don’t know one another commit very similar crimes against loved ones, claiming to be attacked by a “shadow monster.” Given the coincidences, the profilers start to suspect that the alleged killers were subjected to some sort of mind control by someone far more dangerous than themselves.

What Makes It Great

Peter Lewis is brought to life by the terrific Bodhi Elfman, and the episode as a whole was directed by Matthew Gray Gubler. Gubler’s episodes are famously some of the most intense of the bunch, having previously directed “Mosley Lane” and “The Lesson,” with “Mr. Scratch” featuring one of the most devious villains the series has seen yet.

3 100 (Season 5, Episode 9)

Thomas Gibson as Hotcher in Criminal Minds
CBS

100” is the ninth episode of Criminal Minds‘ fifth season. In it, George Foyet, better known as “The Reaper,” confronts Aaron Hotchner once again, but this time, he murders his ex-wife with his child in the house. Enraged and overwhelmed by his recent loss, Hotch handles this criminal on his own. The BAU attempts to intercept Hotch before more blood is shed. C. Thomas Howell reprises his role as The Reaper here, with additional performances by Meredith Monroe, D.B. Sweeney, and Nicholas Brendon.

What Makes It Great

At the time of its premiere, “100” marked the 100th episode of the overall series, hence its title. The confrontation between Hotch and The Reaper is easily one of the most intense moments of the series, and as a result, it directly addresses a common question associated with the BAU’s line of work: when you spend so much time hunting down monsters, what’s stopping you from becoming a monster yourself?

2 The Fisher King (Season 2, Episode 1)

Charles Haid as Randall Garner in Criminal Minds
CBS

The Fisher King” is a two-part episode that wrapped up Criminal Minds‘ first season and kicked the second one into high gear. In it, the BAU profilers confront Randall Garner, a criminal who lost his mind due to a fire that claimed the lives of most of his family and left him severely injured. Claiming to be The Fisher King, this man kidnaps his own daughter and harasses all members of the FBI team, subjecting them to an unnerving fantasy game in which they are severely punished if they disobey his rules.

What Makes It Great

Even if this two-part episode relied on a dramatic cliffhanger, its effectiveness cannot be denied. Charles Haid’s performance as our titular villain is something to behold, and the incorporation of Jane Lynch as Spencer Reid’s mother would set the stage for Reid’s character development throughout the rest of the series.

1 Entropy (Season 11, Episode 11)

Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid and Aubrey Plaza as Cat Adams in Criminal Minds
CBS

The 11th episode of Criminal Minds season 11, “Entropy,” introduces Cat Adams, one of the smartest and deadliest criminals in the entire series. This character, played by Aubrey Plaza, belongs to a network of hitmen that the BAU is investigating. In an attempt to dismantle the group, the profilers organize an undercover operation for Reid to meet Cat on a date in order to catch her, not knowing that she had an agenda of her own.

What Makes It Great

Most would agree that “Entropy” is arguably the single greatest episode in the entirety of Criminal Minds. It currently holds one the highest overall ratings of all episodes on IMDB, Aubrey Plaza’s performance as Cat Adams is enthralling, and the chemistry she shares with Matthew Gray Gubler makes their frequent interactions all the more believable. It’s an episode whose incredibly positive reception makes it one of the best the series has ever produced. Given that over 300 episodes exist, that’s certainly a huge accomplishment.



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