This week, Vimeo made 80 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 newly available for rental or purchase. On the show—which found a home, variously, at Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel during the ’90s—Joel, Mike, Crow, and Tom watched terrible movies and made jokes about them, so that the bad movies became not only bearable but belly-shakingly hilarious. With their sly pop culture references, outright mockery, and general good humor, the MST3K crew were the best movie-watching buddies you never had.
Because of rights issues, making the show available on DVD and streaming has sometimes been tricky. Some episodes are available on Netflix, and some on Amazon, and now you can buy these 80 episodes for $9.99 each, or $300 for all 80. If you’re a MSTie on a budget, you can rent an episode for $2.99.
Diehards surely have their own favorites already picked out, but what if you’re new to the show? Which of these 80 episodes are most worth your money and your time? Below, I’ve selected the 10 that you should start with.
Secret Agent Super Dragon
With a name like Secret Agent Super Dragon, viewers aren’t wrong to expect a dashing hero somewhere between James Bond and Bruce Lee. But a Sean Connery knockoff who investigates hallucinogenic chewing gum in Holland is a decent substitute, right? This episode of MST3K is not particularly a fan favorite, but it should be, as it features some of the show’s best riffing on genre conventions (like the spy movie’s requisite theme song).
I Accuse My Parents
MST3K segments devoted to short films are no less clever than their feature-length critiques. A bonus segment on “truck farming” starts off this episode in which, as the crew notes, virtually no trucks appear. The subsequent feature is a moralistic family melodrama, and the crew enlivens this otherwise bland material with a musical number and by digging into the ridiculously gullible protagonist’s web of lies.
This landmark episode passed the torch from deadpan show creator Joel to the chummier Mike Nelson (setting off the great Joel versus Mike wars). No matter whose hosting style you prefer, Mitchell is the perfect farewell to Joel, whose quips on the bumbling Texas lawman at the movie’s center (“Mitchell! Even his name says, ‘Is that a beer?’”) are some of the funniest of the series.
Every Christmas I watch this episode, which pits a beyond-creepy Santa Claus with surveillance equipment even the NSA would envy against the devil. The result? One of the most disturbing musical numbers you’ll ever see on film. (“You know, if seasonal holiday depression has a soundtrack, this is it!”)
Who needs another installment from the Marvel universe when you have the Pumaman? The MST3K crew never really get past the film’s weak premise—and that’s fine by me: “You know, I hate to be picky, but pumas aren’t really known for flying.” According to the movie, this one isn’t either.
A go-to for me when introducing friends to the series, Werewolf has all the bad movie basics: an unconvincing monster, rambling storyline, and victims who seemingly wait for death. And yet it’s the credits for this episode—which feature Mike, Tom, and Crow adapting popular tunes to quasi-mystical closing music—that fans generally single out as the highlight of this perfect installment for beginners.
At their best, the MST3K crew were quick-witted as any film critic, and this title stands out because it pulls no punches in that respect. (Regarding the choppy editing style, Crow jabs, “Just because you can edit, doesn’t mean you should.”) Plus: underwater fight scenes and softcore porn music.
Featuring one of the most bizarre storylines in any movie from the show’s catalogue, Future War combines laser-equipped dinosaurs and a drug dealer turned nun and asks you to just go with it. Which Mike and the crew do—but not before a few hundred digs at a bewildering kickboxing sequence between our hero and the dinosaur puppets who pursue him in an alley filled with empty cardboard boxes.
Leonard Maltin gave this ’70s sci-fi flick 2½ stars, and the crew never let you forget it. (“I wonder what the flaw was that kept Leonard Maltin from giving this film the full three stars,” Mike quips.) Allegedly about a bullied teen who finds a ray-gun in the desert and enacts his revenge, MST3K points out that the kid could’ve benefited from some shirt-buttoning lessons.
Only a B movie can take what should have been a cut-and-dry E.T. knock-off and make the sympathetic alien, Trumpy, weirdly terrifying. (When the child protagonist shouts, “Trumpy, you can do magic!” Crow counters, “It’s called evil, kid.”) This episode has some of the most charming moments the series has to offer: When, faced with a movie that’s just that bad, all they can do is laugh.