Fifteen years ago – on 22 September, 2004 – Lost was first broadcast in the US.
During its first season, the drama, following survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 after they crash on a mysterious island somewhere in the South Pacific, became one of the most-watched shows in TV history (the season two premiere was watched by a staggering 23.47m viewers), and even went on to pick up the Emmy Award for Best Drama.
What ensued became part of television history. Lost may have dropped millions of viewers over the years, but what it secured was a cult fan-base that hadn't been seen since The X-Files, and has rarely been seen since. Its many mysteries, ensemble of intriguing characters and jaw-dropping twist endings kept its core viewers on the edge of their seats right through to its finale in May 2010.
To celebrate the show's 15th anniversary, we've done the seemingly unthinkable and ranked every single episode.
NB: The finales that were first broadcast on the same evening have been counted as one episode.
113. Homecoming – Season one, episode 15
Even co-creator Damon Lindelof dislikes this episode. It’s the one that does Charlie dirty by somehow making him even more annoying than Ethan, a villain who’s trying to abduct a pregnant woman.
112. Stranger In a Strange Land – Season three, episode nine
Infamously bad. Jack’s tattoos get explained in the show’s most pointless flashbacks. Even the island stuff (Isabel the sheriff) is thrown by the wayside the moment it ends. The whole thing feels like it was written by someone who has never seen a Lost episode.
111. Fire + Water – Season two, episode 12
Charlie at his whiniest. It’s Lost at a low ebb and features several moments that feel supremely out of character (see: Locke attacking Charlie).
110. Special – Season one, episode 14
For an episode that sparks a storyline designed to run through the remainder of the season (the raft launch), “Special” is anything but, and feels disappointingly throwaway.
109. What Kate Does – Season six, episode three
“What Kate Does” fails to convince the viewer the flashsideways scenes are going to be worth their time. The island events feel thinly drawn, but thankfully, it’s the worst the unfairly-maligned final season gets.
108. Recon – Season six, episode eight
By far the weakest Sawyer episode, even if his flashsideways scenes are among some of the final season’s best. It’s everything else that lacks here, even though demented Claire trying to kill Kate as “zombie” Sayid watches on is an offbeat delight.
107. The Other Woman – Season four, episode six
One of Lost’s most formulaic episodes that tries to earn our trust of Daniel and Charlotte even though we could clearly trust them all along. It’s easily the weakest instalment of season four.
106. Further Instructions – Season three, episode three
Despite this episode’s ambition (that airport vision Locke has is a beautiful misfire), it feels like the writers are struggling to find their feet between the season two finale and the brilliant stuff to come later on in season three. Earns points for Desmond wearing Hurley’s oversized tie dye T-shirt.
The big Aaron reveal at the end of this episode wins me over, and I love the clash of leadership tactics between Locke and Kate at the Barracks. It also has Sawyer drinking DHARMA wine from a box. This one's always been quite disliked outing and, in all honesty, I'm not sure why.
69. Raised by Another – Season one, episode 10
Some intriguing flashbacks (Claire’s psychic) and a killer Ethan twist make this one of the early greats that was much-talked about at the time, but admittedly doesn’t pack as much of a punch upon re-watch.
68. Numbers – Season one, episode 18
This should be upper tier Lost, but it’s not. However, it has many memorable moments and is the first time a bunch of characters stray quite far from camp together. The one that made everyone want to go back and see if they could spot the cursed numbers in every single previous episode.
67. House of the Rising Sun – Season one, episode six
Jin used to be such a bad dude! Huge and brilliantly-deployed revelation regarding Sun’s ability to speak English. Camp gets divided between beach and caves. Dependable early episode.
66. ? – Season two, episode 21
A discovery of yet another hatch rocks Locke’s faith in the button. The episode would probably be better if it hadn’t come just after one of the most gut-wrenching endings in Lost history.
65. Solitary – Season one, episode nine
Our introduction to Danielle Rousseau. At the time, it was the most exciting episode of television I’d ever seen. Now, it feels surprisingly restrained. The whispers at the end is fun, as is “the first – and hopefully last – Island Open”.
64. Jughead – Season five, episode three
An oddity of an episode that’s high on Desmond and Richard Alpert – a surefire way of guaranteeing a watchable hour of television. Provides the first hint that the time-hopping will have bad consequences for those stuck on the island.
63. LA X – Season six, episode one and two
Has the tough job of presenting the flashsideways, so season six’s opener falls victim to its own ambition. Having to say goodbye to Juliet all over again is more than this writer can bear, but the survivors’s arrival at the Temple is supremely exciting. The weakest of Lost’s season premieres.
62. White Rabbit – Season one, episode five
Our first foray into Jack’s past with his father, a relationship closer to the heart of the series than we could have ever thought at the time. Some terrific (non-shouty) Jack and Locke stuff, too.
61. The 23rd Psalm – Season two, episode 10
Charlie and Eko have many cool moments and the big smoke monster scene is a gem, but the ending signals a rocky and quite frustrating arc to come for Charlie, which in retrospect, puts a bit of a downer on proceedings.
60. Par Avion – Season three, episode 12
The best of Claire’s episodes. Her flashbacks are interesting and stand out for casually revealing the bombshell that she’s Jack’s half-sister. Meanwhile, the Mikhail scenes are memorable and the indelible ending – Jack playing football with Mr Friendly – is a stone-cold Lost classic.
59. …In Translation – Season one, episode 17
The start of the Jin evolution. Boasts a very rare moment of introducing a big mystery (who burnt the raft?) and answering it within the same episode (it was Walt). Perfect setup for Hurley’s first flashback episode, also, as his walkman dies on him while he’s listening to Damien Rice.
58. A Tale of Two Cities – Season three, episode one
The opening scene is vintage Lost, but the remainder of the episode falls surprisingly flat. It introduces future greatest character Juliet, though, and Matthew Fox is brilliant depicting the imprisoned Jack’s stubbornness right through to the acceptance of his situation.
57. One of Us – Season three, episode 16
A briskly-paced episode that features some crucial Others details courtesy of Juliet’s flashbacks. That ending is a treat.
56. Confirmed Dead – Season four, episode two
Nikki and Paulo aside, Lost always nailed character introductions, and this episode was firm evidence of the fact. Each of the four new arrivals from the freighter – Daniel, Miles, Charlotte and Frank – are brilliantly drawn from the off and Locke’s left-field “What is the monster?” to Ben in the final scene, is a blind-siding crack-up.
55. S.O.S – Season two, episode 19
One of the most charming episodes of Lost that places the long-awaited flashback spotlight on Rose and Bernard. L Scott Caldwell is on Emmy-worthy form. A good one for Jack and Kate-shipping Jaters too as the pair get “caught in a net” before they happen upon traitor-in-waiting, Michael.
54. The Whole Truth – Season two, episode 16
Five words: “You guys got any milk?” One of the show's greatest final scenes.
53. Not In Portland – Season three, episode seven
Juliet takes centre stage in an episode that shows how she came to be one of the Others on the island. The discovery that she’s just as imprisoned as Jack is a brilliant one that hints at the turmoil of an altruistic character who’ll always put others before herself.
52. Ab Aeterno – Season six, episode nine
The mystery surrounding the ageless Richard Alpert’s immortality gets ticked off in suitably epic fashion as we’re treated to a flashback dating back to 1867. Not the cracker some will have you believe, but the perfect episode to show someone who’s in need of a concise explanation as to why the hell everyone’s on the island.
51. D.O.C. – Season three, episode 18
Another underrated episode. It’s the one where we learn whether Sun conceived on or off the island and offers our first true introduction to parachutist Naomi. Her revelation at the end – that the bodies of all the survivors were found at the bottom of the ocean – was the tip of an iceberg that the show would explore for the next few seasons.
50. Three Minutes – Season two, episode 22
Pure finale build-up, but The Others stuff is great and Sun’s proclamation of “boat” as the survivors are gathered around Ana-Lucia and Libby’s graves, always brings chills to the spine.
49. Whatever Happened Happened – Season five, episode 11
Kate has never been more frustrating (leave Roger alone!), but Miles’s explanation of the time travel situation they’re all in is the best explanation of time travel there has ever been.
48. Dave – Season two, episode 18
Barely anything in it has any bearing on the show’s future, but there’s no denying “Dave” is a cultish thrill ride – and that cliffhanger ending with Libby is Lost at its most spine-tingling.
47. Follow the Leader – Season five, episode 15
The one where Jack finally settles on a purpose. That it happens to be detonating a hydrogen bomb, in the hope of rewriting their futures as plane crash survivors, is slightly zany, but it sets up the season five finale rather adeptly.
46. Outlaws – Season one, episode 16
No TV show has used the game of I Never to get across motivations of its characters as successfully as Lost. The right level of mystery (the whispers make their return) and humanity (we learn more about Sawyer’s fractured childhood) builds to a beautifully understated climax as Sawyer inexplicably realises he had a chance encounter with Jack’s father before the crash.
45. The Little Prince – Season five, episode four
A really fun one! This episode resurrects one of the greatest moments in Lost history: the hatch light being switched on. It also has that cool scene that sees the crew shot at by unknown assailants from the outrigger, and features one of my favourite reaction shots in the whole series, as Jin regains consciousness and realises, after meeting a young Rousseau, that he’s in 1988.
44. He’s Our You – Season five, episode 10
After being mistaken for one of the Others back in the 1970s, Sayid – locked up by DHARMA – meets a young Ben and decides to put a bullet in his chest. Lost at its coldest. Features a brilliant cameo from yet another Deadwood cast member: William Sanderson.
43. Do No Harm – Season one, episode 20
This episode marks the first death of a main character, and while Boone may not have been many people’s favourite, it does a good job of making you feel the effect of his loss on the castaways. Sun becoming Jack’s right-hand medic was a terrific way to integrate her as a major player. Also, the birth of Aaron is bittersweet because, y’know, life and death.
42. Orientation – Season two, episode three
“Why do you find it so hard to believe?” “Why do you find it so easy?” Season two was all about the button in the hatch and the ensuing battle between faith and science – believing it needed to be pushed to “save the world” versus the belief that nothing would happen should they let the timer run down to zero. The climactic exchange between Jack and Locke encapsulates this perfectly, the former shaken after realising he’d seen Desmond “in another life” before the crash.
41. Enter-77 – Season three, episode 11
A throwback episode to Lost of old, following the shake-up presented in the first half of season three. Sayid, Kate and Locke – a formidable trio – happen across Mikhail in the jungle and the ensuing episode sees each character trying to battle for the upper hand. Sayid’s flashbacks too are among his greatest with Naveen Andrews showing he was one of the best actors on the show.
40. Because You Left – Season five, episode one
A fantastic opener that sets season five’s time-hopping tone perfectly. It’s an episode that must have seemed impossible to pull off in the writers room, but it’s done so damn entertainingly that it certainly ranks as the most fun season premiere.
39. Dead Is Dead – Season five, episode 12
Getting to spend time in the company of Ben Linus is always a treasure. This episode gives us the first true hint that something’s wrong with the resurrected Locke, and the final CGI-heavy scene – in which Ben is judged by the smoke monster – is admirably acted by Emerson.
38. The Economist – Season four, episode three
Of all the characters that would go on to leave the island, it was Sayid whose story had the bleakest outcome (I don’t think we see him smile from this point onwards). Consequently, the sequence that sees him leave the island on the helicopter, on his way to investigate the crew on the freighter, is a bittersweet one considering his fate.
37. The Long Con – Season two, episode 13
The clue to this episode is in the title. It plays like a tropical island version of Hustle that sees Sawyer trick everyone from Kate and Ana-Lucia to Locke. Sure, it’s completely filler but when a network orders 24 episodes per season, you’re gonna have those – and they manage to make the repercussions of Sawyer’s actions trickle into the following season’s episodes.
36. The Candidate – Season six, episode 14
“The Candidate” really goes there. Killing off three main characters with just a handful of episodes to go is a bold move, and one that effectively gets everyone where they need to be emotionally, in preparation for the final episodes. The scene where Kate, Hurley and Jack break down in tears, mourning the deaths of Sun, Jin and Sayid is Lost at its most painful and human.
35. The Beginning of the End – Season four, episode one
The title sums it up well: this is an oddly understated season premiere that raises the stakes in previously unimaginable ways. Lost is extremely different from this point onwards and the episode marks the last time all the characters are in one place before they split into team Jack and Locke. Quietly devastating, truth be told.
34. Greatest Hits – Season three, episode 21
This episode uses Charlie’s impending death to tug at the heartstrings; each flashback scene shows us the memories he considers to be the greatest in his life. Perhaps the most effective finale set-up episode of them all.
33. The Hunting Party – Season two, episode 11
A terrific episode filled with character moments that just make sense (Michael taking off after Walt; Sawyer wanting revenge for being shot on the raft; Kate following the search party despite Jack instructing her not to). The showdown with Mr Friendly in the jungle continues to establish the Others as a terrifying force, and Sawyer damn well near steals the season with several hilarious quotes (“Oh yeah, there’s my favourite leaf”).
32. Lockdown – Season 2, episode 17
When “Lockdown” flies, it soars. It has mystery (the blast door map), some what-the-f*** moments (the food drop) and a bombshell of an ending, where we finally learn that the man who’s been saying he’s Henry Gale for the past three episodes, is someone else altogether.
31. 316 – Season five, episode six
A mammoth episode exemplifying that Lost, in its penultimate season, had no time to waste. After weeks of seeing the Oceanic Six preparing to return to the island, the episode starts with Jack back in the place he’d been so desperate to get off just one season before – and ends with him coming face-to-face with Jin in his DHARMA overalls. Earns serious marks for that.
30. What They Died For – Season six, episode 15
A hugely emotional penultimate episode that features Jack accepting what he believes to be his fate as protector of the island. Puts everything in place for the last ever episode poignantly, and with just the right amount of nostalgia.
29. LaFleur – Season five, episode seven
The Sawyer and Juliet reveal ranks as one of Lost’s most heartwarming. Seeing them build a life together as members of DHARMA three years after Jack and company left the island is such a monumental twist, but it unfolds within the episode in such an understated way. One of Sawyer’s most crucial episodes – and tissues at the ready for that final reunion scene.
28. The Variable – Season five, episode 14
The writers didn’t hold back for the 100th episode of Lost, delivering what must be the episode that benefits most from rewatch. Don’t care about Daniel Faraday’s backstory? You will when you realise what fate has in store for him – something made even more heartbreaking with each visit.
27. This Place Is Death – Season five, episode five
This is one of my season five favourites and yes, it’s because it’s the first time we see the four-toed statue in its entirety. Also, the Charlotte and Daniel scene, in which she tells him he’s the “scary man” who told her to leave the island when she was a child, is extremely creepy. Fantastically written.
26. Pilot – Part 2 – Season one, episode two
Splits the castaways in such a perfect way that the viewer's able to get a perfect sense of each character and their dynamic within the group. People might still be joking about that polar bear scene 15 years later, but every character's reaction is so on the money – and the revelation that Kate's a fugitive is the show's first shocker.
Lost is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
If you're a longtime fan or simply looking for a new series to start, subscribe to podcast The LOST Boys, which follows the writer of this article's journey watching from the very beginning for the eighth time alongside his friend who has never seen it before.