This story contains spoilers for Netflix's Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is back! Well, almost. Netflix recently announced that viewers will be able to lose themselves in the next entry of the horrific sci-fi anthology from June this year. Charlie Brooker's nightmarish takes on tech have been haunting viewers since the series first debuted over a decade ago, and with the new season on the horizon, we've curated a list of the five best-ever episodes for your enjoyment!
Best Black Mirror Episodes
10. Bandersnatch – Interactive Special, 2018
This groundbreaking choose your own adventure special from Netflix and Charlie Brooker is well worth watching even outside of its potentially-gimmicky presentation. As a young computer programmer attempts to craft a choose your own adventure game, we control his actions. And as he potentially becomes aware of us doing so, things get extremely strange. This period piece was inspired by the gaming boom of the '80s, the real life crimes of author William S. Burroughs, and the crunch that still sees many programmers burn out. An unusual entry in the Black Mirror pantheon, "Bandersnatch" is a bunch of fun to interact with and you can rewatch it and play it multiple times with a ton of different outcomes.
9. White Christmas – Holiday Special, 2014
This holiday special established a rare anthology precedent for Black Mirror that would deliver one of its most chilling stories yet. Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall star as two men who have been living in a solitary cabin together for years, though they've barely spoken. Over a cold Christmas night they share their stories of how they came to be there. In classic Black Mirror fashion all is not what it seems and as their stories — each featuring very prescient AI and Social Media focused stories seeing as this hit in 2014 — come together in a shocking twist you'll be left reeling. Hamm and Spall make these two men deeply human even as you learn the depths of what they've done, and the episode's statements on tech feel more relevant now than ever.
8. Black Museum – Season 4, Episode 6
While this is one of the most divisive episodes of Black Mirror, we also think it's one of the most effective and powerful. A young woman Nish (Letitia Wright) visits a strange roadside attraction where the proprietor Rolo (Douglas Hodge) shows her his odd exhibits: an electric hairnet, a toy monkey, and a hologram. As Rolo shows Nish around he tells the nightmarish stories behind each one and how he is connected to them. This is one of the series' most horrifying entries and it has a lot of fun playing with our expectations using the anthology framework to build up to an explosive and satisfying final reveal. Plus if you're a super passionate Black Mirror fan it's filled with Easter eggs and references to past episodes from the cult sci-fi series.
7. Nosedive – Season 3, Episode 1
Bryce Dallas Howard delivers a career best performance in this searing satire of the way that social media controls our lives. Howard stars as Lacie Pound, a young woman who lives to move up the social ladder via her social media rating. In Lacie's world everyone is constantly rated and can rate others thanks to high-tech chips that showcase each person's ratings. A higher rating can make it easier to get a job or rent an apartment, and a lower one can make those things nearly impossible. After a series of events leaves Lacie with a devastatingly low rating her life begins to spiral before she realizes there may be a certain kind of freedom in not caring what those around her think of her behavior or status.
6. Be Right Back – Season 2, Episode 1
This heartbreaking parable centers around grief, loss, the — quite scary — possibility that Artificial Intelligence could help us deal with the death of a loved one. Starring Captain Carter herself, Haley Atwell alongside Star Wars villian Domhnall Gleeson, this one will have you crying before the credits roll as Martha (Atwell) mourns the death of her boyfriend Ash (Gleeson) but discovers there's new technology that'll allow her to spend more time with him. As Marsha soon realizes though, uploading someone's digital footprint to an android does not a loved one make, and instead she begins to resent the thing she has created. With the rise of AI in our real world and the everpresent specter of social media this is more relevant than ever.
5. "Fifteen Million Merits" – Season 1, Episode 2
This was actually the first episode of Black Mirror that was ever written, but ended up airing second after the groundbreaking and still notorious "The National Anthem" which saw the British Prime Minister — spoiler alert — having sex with a pig. Starring the brilliant and now globally famous Daniel Kaluuya, this story centers around a dystopian world where the only way to move up in society is to earn credits by riding on exercise bikes. We're introduced to Bing (Kaluuya) and Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) who become friends when the former encourages the latter to pursue her dreams of being a singer by entering a world famous reality TV show. Taking on the rise of reality TV, the prevalence of technology, and a society where fame is valued over everything, this episode was so far ahead of its time that it almost feels dated watching it now. But its themes, impact, and satire about our obsession with celebrity still hit to this day, and it established much of the ambitious, prescient sci-fi storytelling that the show became known for.
4. "The Entire History of You" – Season 1, Episode 3
Another all-timer from the series' original season is this heartbreaking relationship drama that once again feels more relevant than ever in 2023. Toby Kebbell and future Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker star as a couple whose life unravels when one of them begins to suspect the other is having an affair. That all sounds pretty non-Black Mirror-ish and routine, but there is of course a twist: in this version of our world everyone has a memory implant in their head that records their every moment. Kebbell gives a startlingly great performance as Liam who begins to become obsessed with going back through his memory banks to prove that Abi (Whittaker) is cheating. While the episode came out in 2011 before our societal compulsion towards Instagram and Facebook etc. had truly begun, this episode absolutely captures the way that we would all become used to capturing and sharing our lives every single day. And it shows how those very public memories can quickly become toxic or used against us when things begin to go wrong.
3. "Shut Up and Dance" – Season 3, Episode 3
To this day still one of the most shocking episodes of TV ever made thanks to an absolutely brutal final twist, "Shut Up and Dance" takes trolling to the next level and subverts our expectations of who these stories center on and where our loyalties lie. We follow Kenny (Alex Lawther), a young boy who is threatened by an unknown internet troll into increasingly violent and strange acts. Using Kenny's shame around the fact that he watched porn, the troll pits him against other people who have been caught doing “unsavory” things on the web. Lawther is brilliant as the whimpering and empathetic lead, but the show eventually reveals he's far from innocent and, just like in the also very good "White Bear," Black Mirror has had us rooting for someone who might actually be the villain after all. Hard to watch in the way that the best of Black Mirror always is, this episode has been hugely influential on the way that stories about the internet, secrets, and shame have been told, most recently on Luther: Fallen Sun.
2. USS Calister – Season 4, Episode 1
Though on the surface the premiere of the fourth season seems like it's going to be a simple Star Trek riff, we soon learn that there's something far darker lurking under the surface. Captain Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) and his hardworking crew, spend their days on the futuristic starship USS. Calister, battling their alien foe Valdack (Billy Magnussen). Just like Captain Kirk before him, Daly is introduced as a romantic hero and dashing space-hunk who's beloved by his subordinates and lusted after by his female colleagues. The reality is far darker, as Daly is actually a programmer at a games company who uses the DNA of his real life colleagues to create digital clones of them in Infinity, the game he helped create so he can control them. Plemons brings a terrifying energy to Daly, but the real star here is Cristin Milioti as new hire and soon to be new virtual prisoner, Nanette Cole. She's the sci-fi final girl that we need and this episode also features a wicked turn from future Black Panther star Michaela Coel.
1. San Junipero – Season 3, Episode 4
From one of the grimmest episodes of Black Mirror we go to one of the loveliest, in fact maybe the only entry that could be described in that way at all. "San Junipero" is the exceedingly rare happy future story about tech, as it imagines a future where queer people are safe to be themselves forever, even in the twilight years of their lives. It all begins when two young women Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meet and hook up while visiting a bar in the titular town during the 1980s. They soon fall for each other, but all is not what it seems. Viewers soon learn that San Junipero is a virtual reality plane of existence that allows people to upload their consciousness and continue to live on after death while elderly people can visit in order to decide whether they want to go there when they pass. Yorkie and Kelly's relationship in San Junipero changes both of their lives in the real world in this heartfelt and heart-wrenching romance that decides to make its gays immortal rather than burying them in tragedy.
Would you rank your favorite Black Mirror episodes differently? Let us know in the comments!
Note: This story originally ran on April 26, 2023. It was updated on May 31, 2023.
Rosie Knight is a contributing freelancer for IGN covering everything from anime to comic books to kaiju to kids movies to horror flicks. She has over half a decade of experience in entertainment journalism with bylines at Nerdist, Den of Geek, Polygon, and more.