‘The X-Files’: What Episode Was the Most-Watched of the Entire Series?

The X-Files, the sci-fi TV show starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, was one of FOX Network’s most popular series of the 90s. But which episode, out of all of the seasons of The X-Files, had the highest viewership?

‘The X-Files’ episode from season 4 that had the most viewers of the whole series

The X-Files
Agent Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) on The X-Files episode “Leonard Betts” which originally aired on Sunday, Jan. 26, 1997 | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

“Leonard Betts,” The X-Files Season 4 Episode 12, achieved the highest-ever audience for the TV show. The X-Files was no doubt hitting its stride in terms of popularity at the time. However, per the AV Club, it also helped immensely that “Leonard Betts” aired directly “after the Super Bowl … exposing the show to its widest possible audience.”

“Leonard Betts” is a classic “monster-of-the-week” episode, introducing a paranormal character whose mystery Agents Scully and Mulder solve, but who doesn’t return in another season. The title character Betts is an immortal man, evolved past the rest of the human race, who survives off of others’ cancer.

With such a bold, strange subject matter, “it’s easy to wonder just what so many of those viewers thought of the episode as they watched it,” the AV Club reported. “But most of them must have liked something they saw.”

Why? Because The X-Files viewership continued to increase. The AV Club again:

The show’s ratings, while never this high again, would reach another level in the months to come, creating one of the few cases where a network used the Super Bowl to turn a big hit into a mega-hit.

Why was the episode ‘Leonard Betts’ so successful for the series?

According to The X-Files Files podcast, hosted by actor/writer/comedian Kumail Nanjiani, the show was originally going to air a different episode after The Super Bowl. They wanted to air “Never Again,” the X-Files episode about the man with the tattoo who can talk. (Yes, every one-line description of an X-Files episode sounds bonkers).

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They ended up switching the order of the season 4 episodes and choosing the cancer-man episode to air after the Super Bowl. And it sounds like FOX made the correct choice in selecting “Leonard Betts.”

“‘Leonard Betts’ is an eminently accessible episode of The X-Files, but it’s also completely recognizable as an episode of The X-Files,” the AV Club reported. “This is the show saying, in its best shot at a huge audience, ‘This is what we do, folks. You either get on board, or you don’t.'”

It’s also a rare “monster-of-the-week” episode that pulls in the bigger mythology of the show. As The AV Club wrote:

‘Leonard Betts’ is mostly well-remembered by fans for that final moment, when the show pulls together a whole bunch of strands it’s been developing for a while and lets us know that Mulder and Scully are never going to be out of the woods, that the woods are constantly closing in around them. … This has always been a show where the monsters of the week and the mythology rarely, if ever, intertwine.

Out of all of the seasons on FOX, what are the other top-watched episodes of ‘The X-Files’?

The X-Files cast
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in The X-Files | Fox/Liaison

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According to IMDb, the next two most-watched episodes were the first two of The X-Files season 5, “Redux” and “Redux II.” The fourth episode on the list was also from season 5, the episode titled “Detour.”

The fifth highest-rated episode at the time The X-Files aired was season 4’s “El Mundo Gira,” which was about the legend of El Chupacabra. “El Mundo Gira” was the 11th of the season — the one that aired the week before “Leonard Betts.”