The 22 Best 'Criminal Minds' Episodes, Ranked

For when you're in the mood for a mystery

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Criminal Minds is not a show for the faint of heart. You've got to be mentally and emotionally prepared to tackle on an episode, and depending the content of said episode, you may be a little spooked before going to bed in the evening. Since it's premiere in 2005, Criminal Minds has been one of the most popular crime shows of the 21st century spanning 16 seasons as of this writing, and over 300 episodes. A ratings hit during its duration on CBS, the show follows a group of criminal profilers working for the FBI to investigate crimes. While some initially tried to draw comparisons to Law & Order, in particular Law & Order SVU, it quickly became clear that Criminal Minds was not your "average crime show," with the topics and visual elements of some of the best Criminal Minds episodes being downright disturbing at times.

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Considering most shows (especially in today's climate) are fortunate if they can see five seasons, the original Criminal Minds was able to last a total of 15 seasons due to its high ratings and popularity. Through those seasons we saw a variety of cast lineups that included the departure of first team leader Mandy Patinkin at the beginning of the third season, and has included a number of other actors like Lola Glaudini, Shemar Moore, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Aisha Tyler.

Upon the ending of that fifteenth season on CBS, the re-runs continued to receive success on streaming platforms, and a decision was made to bring the series back for a sixteenth season on Paramount+ in the form of Criminal Minds: Evolution in November 2022. In January 2023, Evolution received an order for another season, and there's apparently going to be true-crime docuseries entitled The Real Criminal Minds that will also air on Paramount+ in the near future.

With a new season and new show in the works, we've put together a ranked list of 22 best Criminal Minds episodes that are a must-watch (and re-watch).

22. "Seven Seconds"

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(Season 3, Episode 5)

It's a race against time in the episode "Seven Seconds" as a little girl is abducted in a local mall in Woolbridge, Virginia. The young girl is believed to have been taken by a serial killer on the loose, and is thought to be his second victim. With the first victim dying within an hour of abduction, the BAU quickly locks down the mall, and the investigation begins to center around members of the child's family. This episode was one of the first to take place after the departure of Mandy Patinkin.

21. “The Replicator”

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(Season 8, Episode 24)

There were so many different shifts and shake ups during that 15 year run at CBS that it might get confusing, so we're going to try to keep it mostly about the details of the episode (without spoiling too much of course). For those new to Criminal Minds, The Replicator was a former FBI agent turned serial killer/stalker/psychopath that haunted the BAU through Season 8. His identity, however, wasn't revealed until the season finale, when he kills a member of the BAU. We'll leave it here.

20. “A Beautiful Disaster”

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(Season 11, Episode 18)

Season 11's "A Beautiful Disaster" was all about closing a chapter when Agent Morgan decides it's time to walk away from the BAU after a threat is made to his family, and his pregnant wife is shot in a parking lot, which leaves her in critical condition fighting for both her and her child's life. Slight spoiler—Agent Morgan's wife and the baby pull through thankfully, but the event reaffirms his decision to leave the BAU for safety reasons.

19. “Zugzwang”

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(Season 8, Episode 12)

It's another race for time in Season 8's “Zugzwang," Reid's geneticist girlfriend is kidnapped her longtime stalker, which causes the BAU to come together to find her before time runs out. Reid and the crew make the attempts to negotiate her return, but you'll have to watch the episode to see whether or not they were successful.

18. "The Good Earth"

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(Season 8, Episode 5)

"The Good Earth" was a disturbing episode. There's no other way around it. So this is the deal—four men go missing without a trace in rural Oregon, and its believed to be unconnected. The unsub in this episode is a woman named Emma Kerigan (Anne Dudek), a cannablistic serial killer that starts with her husband. Kerigan has a method to her madness that is extremely disturbing, suffering from delusions that she must murder perfectly healthy men and turn their ashes into fertilizer to cure an illness she's suffering from. Wild.

17. “L.D.S.K.”

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(Season 1, Episode 6)

One of the very first episodes of the series, L.D.S.K. stood for long distance serial killers, and in this episode the BAU traveled to Des Plaines, Illinois in the attempt to catch a sniper before he was able to strike again. BAU's original plan was to recreate the shooting as the sniper was committing his crimes in broad daylight, but Reid and Hotchner end up in life threatening situation that's partially made worse due to Reid failing his firearm qualification. Gotta give props to Hotch for his ability to fool the perp in this episode.

16. “Somebody’s Watching”

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(Season 1, Episode 18)

Later on in Season 1, Reid and his BAU teammates are on a mission to save a rising actress named Lila Archer that is semi-known, but not well enough to be classified as a celebrity. Archer is dealing with a stalker aiming to kill her, and the case is handled by Gideon and Reid who were originally in town to run a seminar. Through the episode it becomes clear that Lila's stalker is specifically targeting those in the movie business, but there's an unexpected twist involved.

15. “The Uncanny Valley”

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(Season 5, Episode 12)

A case that involves a rather disturbing obsession lands in the hand of the BAU, and at the center of it is a woman named Samantha Malcolm who's killing her victims and turning them into her "living dolls." Malcolm essentially poisons her victims through drugs that leaves them in a vegetable state until they die. The storytelling is on another layer in this peculiar episode, but is still one that you'll probably only end up watching once due its bothersome nature.

14. "Conflicted"

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(Season 4, Episode 20)

There was a lot to unpack in Season 4's "Conflicted," which was about the BAU taking on a case that involved the investigation of male college students being targeted, raped, and killed during spring break. The unsub in this episode ends up being another plot twist that tackles on the issue of multiple personality disorder, making this one the show's best episodes due to the surprise ending.

13. "Memoriam"

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(Season 4, Episode 7)

"Memoriam" is all about Dr. Reid, as he stays behind to investigate a murder that took place decades prior that he thinks has a connection to his own childhood. Reid heads down to the local Vegas precinct to obtain the 1984 file on the murder of Riley Jenkins, and through his investigations realizes that he lived close to the Jenkins' family as a kid, and winds up suspecting his estranged father of being the one to have killed her. Reid goes through the motions of having more information dug up on his dad, flat out accusing him to his face, which leads to a bunch of twists, turns, and emotional moments.

12. "Derailed"

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(Season 1, Episode 9)

Back to season 1, "Derailed" is about a mentally ill train passenger suffering from delusions that holds Elle (Lola Glaudini) and the entire train car hostage. If you've ever seen any movie or television show episodes based on hostages then you already have an idea of how it goes—there's a lot of back and forth, moments where it looks like the perp is going to calm down, then moments where the perp flips out again—it's a long and winding road, which is exactly the way to describe this episode.

11. "Mr. Scratch"

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(Season 10, Episode 21)

This go-round, the BAU has to deal with a suspect that's capable of mind control. Going by the name Mr. Scratch, this unsub is a serial killer/stalker that is able to hallucinate people to murdering their family members. While the BAU is able to put him away in Season 10, this isn't the last they have to deal with him as he escapes prison in Season 11, and makes the BAU the source of his targets in Season 12.

10. "Masterpiece"

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(Season 4, Episode 8)

In what turns out to be a checkmate move, the BAU team has to work backwards when a serial killer named Henry Grace turns himself in not because of the guilt he has been feeling, but because he wants to get revenge for the arrest of his brother. Henry tells the BAU that's he kidnapped five people (which we later learn is a woman and her children), and tells the team that somebody will die every two hours if they don't get to them in time. Thankfully this episode ends with a happy ending, but it's a journey to get there.

9. "Charm and Harm"

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(Season 1, Episode 20)

The BAU is dealing with a serial killer that has multiple identities in "Charm and Harm," giving them a rather tough task because he's able to switch it up completely as soon as they get on his tracks. Having killed four victims in two months, the killer is on the hunt for his next victim, and the team has to find a way to catch him before he strikes again.

8. "Minimal Loss"

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(Season 4, Episode 3)

Considered by many to be one of if not the best episode of Season 4, "Minimal Loss" focuses on Prentiss and Reid as they investigate alleged child abuse happening in La Plata County, Colorado. However, when a federal raid happens on the compound they are investigating, both Prentiss and Reid, are taken hostage prompting another investigation on top the current one. They came out swinging in the early episodes of Season 4, giving the later episodes some tough competition to work with.

7. "Natural Born Killer"

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(Season 1, Episode 8)

After lying dormant for two decades a serial killer re-emerges, leading to the BAU getting involved after an undercover cop is taken. The team believes the serial killer is also in the business of doing mob hits, which is confirmed when he contacts the BAU directly. His reason for getting in contact? To tell the BAU that he's going to kill again. Another brilliant Season 1 episode that captures the feel of the early days.

6. "Revelations"

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(Season 2, Episode 15)

Buckle up because there's a lot going in this episode too. "Revelations" is the follow-up to "The Big Game," and Reid has been kidnapped by a serial killer named Tobias Hankel (James Van Der Beek). Reid is being held in a cabin, and the only things the BAU has to work with investigation wise is a house, a computer, and a live feed that the kidnapper is sending to them. Reid has to go through literal hell as Tobias beats and drugs him, but in the end he comes out victorious.

5. "Date Night"

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(Season 15, Episode 6)

Reid has his date-night with Max interrupted when the BAU comes calling due to the kidnapping of a father and a daughter. Now here's where the plot twists (yes more than one) come in. The kidnapper offers to release the father and daughter in exchange for the release of an assassin that the BAU is all too familiar with—Cat Adams, who's on death row. Plot twist number two comes in when Cat requests that her final meal be with...Reid. Huh? Watch this episode if you want to see some excellent dialogue and character dynamics.

4. "Mosley Lane"

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(Season 5, Episode 16)

Next up on thee BAU's target list is a child kidnapper who has been keeping children for almost a decade when a young child named Aimee gets abducted. Her mother Sarah, who's son was also abducted eight years prior, approaches the BAU in belief that the two cases are connected. The BAU team begins to notice similarities between not just between the cases of both Sarah's children, but amongst other abductions that have happened over the years, leading the squad to track down the unsub.

3. “Heathridge Manor”

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(Season 7, Episode 19)

A young Oregon woman is murdered and found in an asylum, to which the BAU later realizes is a part of a series of gothic and ritualistic murders. This is a very dark gruesome episode with the perp being a Satanist involved in some very weird maniacal activities that includes poison, but for some reason this has been a fan favorite despite the turnout being similar to other episodes.

2. "100"

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(Season 5, Episode 9)

It's seeming more and more like we'll be seeing less of shows being able to reach their 100th episode. Nonetheless, Criminal Minds hit that mark in November 2009 with the appropriately titled "100." So it was only right that the BAU have to deal with arguably the worst criminal in the show's history—The Reaper, who's been giving the BAU squad, in particular Hotchner—difficulties on a regular basis. This 100th episode is packed with drama and emotion—one that might be worth a rewatch since its been a while.

1. The Fisher King

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(Season 2 Episode 1)

Season 1 ended with on the cliff hanger that was The Fisher King: Part 1, where the BAU was being tormented by a serial killer, and Season 2 started with The Fisher King: Part 2, which was a continuation of the first part where we got to find out the fate of Elle, along with whether or not the team was able to find out the of the identity serial killer and capture him before he was able to kill again. One of the best Criminal Minds episodes ever (parts 1 and 2).

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