Criminal Minds is one of the most successful crime-centered shows with a plethora of gore and twisted cases in the fifteen seasons it contains. Fifteen seasons is definitely a lot to go through and if the time is not on your side, you might want to watch just some of them.
So, we have carefully picked the 20 best Criminal Minds episodes you need to see. If you are interested in the show but aren’t sure if you’d like it to make sure to check out the episodes on this list to get a general idea of what the show has to offer.
30. L.D.S.K. (season 1, episode 6)
The team is chasing a sniper in Des Plaines, Illinois, who for some reason only wounds his victims.
Contrary to popular belief among many BAU members, Reid does not know everything. He can not shoot very well, having just failed his last firearms qualification.
His lack of shooting skills is in stark contrast to the man the BAU is pursuing, who the FBI refers to as the L.D.S.K.: Long Distance Serial Killer.
29. Omnivore (season 4, episode 18)
After being inactive for 10 years, Hotch’s first BAU case, an elusive serial killer known as the Reaper, begins murdering again.
The BAU is assigned to work on an old case that was Hotch’s first as the BAU’s lead investigator, that of the Boston Reaper. The case was originally closed ten years ago by Tom Shaunessy, the senior Boston police detective who worked on the case.
When the case was officially closed, the murders stopped. Now, as Shaunessy lies on his deathbed, he reveals to Hotch the reasons for closing the case. After Shaunessy’s death, the murders begin again.
28. To Hell… And Back (season 4, episode 25)
The team heads to Canada to investigate the disappearance of a number of homeless people, drug users, and sex workers and uncovers something terrible. Iraq War veteran Sgt. William Hightower goes to extreme measures to get authorities to investigate the disappearance of several people in Detroit, Michigan, including his sister Lee.
The reason why the Detroit Police Department did not originally investigate is that the missing people are all people who live on the streets, specifically those who call the streets of the Cass Corridor home. Although Hightower’s actions could land him in jail, he gets his wish by assigning the BAU to investigate. The BAU’s investigation leads them to Canada.
27. Run (season 7, episode 24)
The team is still dealing with the recent bank robbery committed by Face Cards.
After an explosion in the bank orchestrated by the Queen of Diamonds, the team discovers after assessing the human victims that the two surviving robbers – the “King” Chris Stratton and the still unidentifiable Queen of Diamonds – managed to escape, which they suspect was the Queen’s plan all along, as her connection to the Stratton brothers and the robberies were just a front for her bigger plans.
They also discover that Will, who was in the bank at the time of the explosion and was shot by Chris before the explosion, is likely still alive and is the only remaining hostage of Chris and the Queen.
26. Elephant’s Memory (season 3, episode 16)
Although he has been drug-free for ten months, Reid recently had food cravings due to stress-related to a current case and attends his first meeting to assist law enforcement officers with substance abuse. He is surprised to see a familiar face at the meeting.
Even after the meeting, his drug cravings affect his behavior again, and it shows at work. Meanwhile, in West Bune, Texas, two people die in a house explosion. One of them is the homeowner, Rod Morris. They suspect the other is his mildly mentally challenged teenage daughter Jordan Morris, who could not be identified due to the condition of the body.
Two more people are killed when the first responders to the explosion, police officers Deputies Savage and Letts, are shot from ambush.
25. Conflicted (season 4, episode 20)
Male college students on spring break are raped and murdered, presumably by a man and a woman working together. The BAU is called in and suspects a timid hotel cleaner and a receptionist. Young male college students – the type the BAU classifies as alpha males – are on spring break in South Padre Island.
They are raped by another man and suffocated in the Hudson Street Hotel. The men are found naked in a fetal position in a place where they are sure to be found quickly in their hotel room. They are also positioned in such a way that house cleaning would have removed all traces before the bodies were found.
The previous victims are not gay, indicating that the physical act was not consensual. When the next victim is found at another hotel, the BAU believes that this is a red herring and that the perpetrator is a guest or likely an employee of the Hudson Street Hotel.
24. Memoriam (season 4, episode 7)
Driven by his nightmares, Reid stays behind in Las Vegas to find his father and discover the truth about the murder of Riley Jenkins.
Due to his nightmares, Reid decides to stay in Las Vegas to get to the bottom of his nightmare and find out if his father, William Reid, who abandoned him and his mother as a child, was the murderer of six-year-old Riley Jenkins when Reid himself was only four years old.
Rossi and Morgan decide to stay and help Reid. Reid learns that his father has been living near Las Vegas all these years. Meanwhile, J.J. goes into labor, three weeks before her due date.
23. The Uncanny Valley (season 5, episode 12)
An unusual personal obsession is at the heart of a BAU kidnapping case. Meanwhile, Hotch struggles to return to work. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, two women have so far been identified as having died at the hands of the same killer.
Both victims were paralyzed by drugs during their two-month abduction and were still conscious but otherwise well cared for. Both were also petite but physically fit and were fashion-conscious in life, although the clothes they were found in did not match what they would have worn in real life, those new clothes that looked rather doll-like.
And both bodies were found in a place that represents a fun childhood, one on a playground swing, the other on an amusement park carousel.
22. A Beautiful Disaster (season 11, episode 18)
When an unknown perpetrator targets the BAU, the team pursues the person responsible for the acts. While Morgan and Savannah are in a hospital parking lot, Savannah is shot from a distance by an unknown sniper, and the prognosis for her and the baby hangs in the balance.
Due to the circumstances, Hotch pulls Morgan off the case, which he does not like. The team is certain the shooting is connected to the Dirty Dozen case and Morgan’s recent kidnapping. This connection becomes even stronger when Garcia sees a Montolo, Chazz, Giuseppe’s father, in the hospital surveillance footage around the time Savannah was shot.
Not only do they need to track down Chazz Montolo, but they also need to find out if there is a long-term plan to stop what he and his accomplices are doing. Meanwhile, Morgan, out for revenge, must decide how much to reveal to the team in order to achieve his own goal.
21. Sex, Birth, Death (season 2, episode 11)
Reid is approached by a youth who has previously seen him at a public appearance. The youth is apparently intelligent, but reticent and a loner. He also seems to know a lot about as-yet-undisclosed murders of prostitutes in Washington, D.C.
With the help of Garcia, they quickly identify him as high school student Nathan Harris, who lives with his doctor mother in a single-parent household. When questioned by the BAU, Nathan, who is into violent novels, admits that he has fantasized about killing prostitutes, but that he is not the killer and that he stumbled across one of the bodies, which in turn aroused him.
Although the BAU does not believe Nathan is the killer, they need to profile the perpetrator in order to catch the killer. Regardless, Nathan wants to find out why he is having these thoughts and therefore needs psychological and possibly psychiatric help.
20. Amplification (season 4 episode 24)
Chad Brown, a terrorist, and the serial murderer is featured in Amplification, a Criminal Minds episode from Season 4. In this episode, the unsub wanted to accomplish one thing: he wanted to demonstrate to the American people how susceptible the country was to a terrorist assault, so he became a domestic terrorist who carried out an anthrax attack.
During the episode, Spencer gets afflicted with anthrax while trying to protect Morgan which leads to him having to race against time while trying to solve the case in quarantine. Fortunately, there was an antidote available.
This episode is a go-to for any fan since the stakes, in this case, are extremely high and is one of the few where there is a possibility of everyone’s favorite profiler not making it out alive.
19. True Genius (season 7 episode 11)
True Genius is a Criminal Minds episode that focuses on Reid. When the BAU suspects the Zodiac Killer may have reappeared years later, they travel to San Francisco.
Of course, this wasn’t the real Zodiac Killer, but a young genius called Caleb who was obsessed with the unsolved killings.
As a prodigy, he was right in Reid’s wheelhouse, and the episode featured him trying hard to regain the confidence he lost when he felt he hadn’t lived up to his own standards in life.
This makes the episode extremely entertaining and tight since there are only a handful of unsubs that managed to go head to head with Reid and such occurrence always makes for a great episode.
18. Zugzwang (season 8 episode 12)
The episode named Zugzwang is a massive Reid episode from Season 8, as a stalker kidnaps his fiancée and it’s up to the BAU team to discover and save her before it’s too late.
The unsub here was a woman named Diane, who was played by Michelle Trachtenberg from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Diane harmed Reid more than nearly anybody else when she murdered herself and Reid’s lover Maeve at the same time, breaking him for the remainder of the season.
This episode came as a surprise to fans since Spencer’s relationship with Maeve made him extremely happy and fans hadn’t seen much of that before.
This is why her death felt just a tiny bit sadder than the other in the series. Another thing that shocked the fans was the fact that this wasn’t originally planned and was only done at the request of Mathew Gray Gubler.
17. Date Night (season 15 episode 6)
One of the finest episodes in Criminal Minds’ last season is Date Night. For her third season, Cat Adams, played by Aubrey Plaza, returns as one of the most memorable unsubs.
She originally appears as a hitwoman whom Reid assisted in the capture. She reappeared after devising a complex scheme to implicate Reid and imprison him.
She is ready for her execution in this episode, but she has one more move: she demands one last date with Reid before she dies, and she gets his girlfriend’s father and sister abducted to make it happen.
This episode could be classified as great only due to the fact that this due made a reappearance, however, the series explored their dynamic even further which left fans wanting more of their favorite unsub.
16. Believer (season 13 episode 22)
Believer is the name of the season finale and 299th episode of Criminal Minds, aired in Season 13. The episode is centered around an already familiar unsub, The Strangler.
This information is discovered thanks to a former profiler, who feels the team missed him and has been watching him since he left the FBI. The Strangler is a serial murderer and cult leader who hunted down Reid and his followers, a spin-off from Benjamin Cyrus’ former cult, which the BAU helped shut down a decade ago.
Reid must choose between assisting a group member who is a double agent and doing what would lead to Garcia’s death. This conflict paled on Ried makes the episode extremely interesting and leaves the viewers at the edge of their seats waiting for his choice.
15. Mosley Lane (season 5 episode 16)
The fact that many of the cases involve children is one facet of crime dramas that might turn people off. Criminal Minds has the advantage of always handling these situations sensitively, as the authors did with Mosley Lane.
When a fresh, very similar case became public knowledge, JJ was contacted by the mother of a missing kid. She thought there was a good chance the woman’s son was still being held captive.
The plot revolved around a group of kidnapped children being nurtured as a family by their abductor. It was a story about hope for the families of those who had gone missing.
Although the topic is extremely sensitive the show handles it with care which is why many fans love the twisted episode.
14. Mr. Scratch (season 10 episode 21)
Unlike other episodes of Criminal Minds, which focus on the psychology of serial killers, this one delves further into the power of suggestion. Three distinct killers were all compelled to conduct the crimes as a result of the actions of someone else.
Mr. Scratch, the Criminal Minds villain, would go on to attack the gang of FBI officers in three more seasons of the show.
This episode established the stage for his escape, as well as the escape of several other serial murderers, in a larger plot arc. This is probably the reason this episode is such a favorite among different fans.
If there is one thing Criminal Minds fans love it’s a complex story stretching over several episodes, or better yet several seasons, and this episode delivers on this in an extremely interesting manner.
13. Entropy (season 11 episode 11)
Spencer Reid is frequently the topic of hostage situations, however, this is likely due to the fact that he is a fan favorite and the character most likely to talk his way out of a predicament.
He had to do more than that in an episode called Entropy, as he had to outwit an assassin.
Fans were led to believe Reid was on a blind date as the program began. In actuality, he was posing as an assassin’s client in order to apprehend her.
Aubrey Plaza, who played the assassin known as Black Widow, was a fantastic guest actress with a mind to match Reid’s. It is completely understandable why Cat Adams ranks so high on fans’ list of favorite unsubs.
She is perhaps the only person the team was after that could match up with Ried’s intellect and judging by the fans’ reactions it was a great move on the part of the creators.
12. The Tall Man (season 14 episode 5)
When an episode is less about the case at hand and more about going into the past of a prominent character, it’s always intriguing. It’s JJ in this example.
The crew examines a small town ghost story after two persons go missing in the woods and a third is located. JJ returns home to her little village, where her older sister died when she was 11, in order to better assist with the investigation.
That portion of JJ’s background was covered earlier in the series, but this episode added further facts, giving viewers a better understanding of her character.
JJ is an extremely interesting character and despite the fact that the show explored her a lot over the course of the fifteen seasons many fans wanted to see more of that and this episode delivers on that request in an extremely captivating manner.
11. Lauren (season 6 episode 18)
This episode was meant to be the start of Emily Prentiss’ demise. The episode, which revealed her profession before joining the BAU, was the type of adrenaline-fueled rush that most crime dramas can only dream about.
When Prentiss disappears, the squad must come together. They learn how little they know about her background as they understand she’s chasing a deadly enemy from her time undercover as a lady named Lauren.
Some members of the squad handle it better than others. Despite the fact that this mission was meant to end with her death, many regarded it as a ruse later in the series., nonetheless, it didn’t take away from the emotional impact.
The fact that we learn so much about Emily makes this episode extremely entertaining, especially since the viewers also don’t know much about her, and her character was not explored a lot in the series.
10. The Replicator (season 8 episode 24)
Mark Hamill, who played John Curtis, better known as The Replicator, was the major villain of the eighth season of Criminal Minds.
Because he was a former FBI special agent with a genius-level IQ who transformed into a serial murderer, he was an intriguing villain.
In season 8, he began to commit copycat crimes based on instances that the BAU had previously solved. This approach intrigued the fans immediately which brings a lot of popularity to it.
There had been few fatalities of the key characters on Criminal Minds, but that changed in the episode called The Replicator when Curtis assassinated BAU Section Chief Erin Strauss as retaliation for being allowed to take the fall for an older case.
This season finale contained a major loss, a fantastic climax, and a fitting end to the season. This darker end which follows a few relatively happy ending which preceded the finale of the season makes the contrast amazing.
9. Minimal Loss (season 4 episode 3)
Minimal Loss was just the third episode of Criminal Minds’ fourth season, but it was crucial, and it even played a key part in the episode called 300, probably the finest episode of the whole series, which picks up the same case almost 10 years later.
This connection with a later episode which shows up several seasons later is one of the reasons why so many fans love it so much.
The 1993 Waco confrontation with David Koresh served as inspiration for the episode. In the episode, Luke Perry plays Benjamin Cyrus, the head of a cult who becomes defensive when the FBI arrives to investigate allegations of child abuse at the complex.
When a gun war breaks out between law police and cult members, Prentiss and Reid are caught within the property, and the ending is twisted when the victims side with the group rather than the agents, which was an extremely interesting take.
8. Mayhem (season 4 episode 1)
The BAU investigates the bombing of an SUV in New York City that was carrying a member of the squad in an episode called Mayhem, the season 4 premiere.
Because fans had to wait until season 4 to find out if someone they cared about died, this explosion in the season 3 finale had a lot to live up to. Unsurprisingly, the show delivered and exceeded everyone’s expectations which is why it is a favorite for a lot of people.
Hotch and NY special agent Kate Joiner were obliged to keep first responders away after they were injured in the blast since the perpetrators targeted first responders in this episode, which was more of a nail-biting drama than a search and rescue.
This sparked a degree of animosity between Hotch and Derek that set the tone for the rest of the season. This new angle made the season one of the most interesting in the entire series.
- RELATED: Best Shows Like Criminal Minds
7. Penelope (season 3 episode 9)
Garcia, perhaps the most adored character on Criminal Minds, struggled for her life after she was the target of the new unsub in an episode dubbed with the same name, Penelope.
It was both sad and terrifying because she was the type of person who finds the good in others, and her joy at going out on a date only to be shot by a serial murderer pained her just as much as the injuries that almost killed her.
Derek and Garcia have a tight brother-sister connection on Criminal Minds, so it was fascinating to watch him fight to restrain his rage while he sought for the unsub.
Another interesting aspect of this episode is the different dynamic between Garcia and Derek. The pair don’t usually fight, but once Derek expresses his concern regarding the way Garcia got asked out their relationship changes completely.
The upcoming arguments surprise most of the fans and Morgan’s reaction initially makes most viewers quite upset since Garcia was so happy, however, once it was released that he was right it comes as a complete shock which makes the episode extremely entertaining.
6. Damaged (season 3 episode 14)
Damaged is a Rossi-centric episode that follows him as he attempts to solve a case that has plagued him for the past two decades. A couple was murdered, leaving their three children without parents, and the crime stayed unresolved for almost 20 years.
Rossi kept checking up on the kids through the years to make sure they had all they needed. The sorrow regarding this tragic case is what actually led Rossi to ultimately return to the BAU.
The crew is called in to look at a similar situation in this episode, and Rossi ultimately receives a lead on his cold case. He then discovers that his years of aid have served as a constant reminder to the children of their parents’ unsolved murder.
In a truly touching moment, Rossi finally captures the killer and lets the kids know so they can finally have closure. This emotional moment is one of the few that actually shows us a more emotional side of Rossi since the viewers are usually only presented with his cold and calculated personality.
Another thing that many fans love about this episode is the heartwarming ending which is a rarity in this series.
5. 300 (season 14 episode 1)
In the 300th Criminal Minds episode, ten years after the BAU stopped with their activities, a cult leader named Benjamin Cyrus and his followers returned for vengeance.
They now followed Benjamin David Merna, a new cult leader who had resurrected the group with one of Cyrus’ wives. He was also known as The Strangler, a serial killer who claimed the lives of 299 people.
The Believers abduct Reid and Garcia in this episode, which is made worse by the fact that the cult has members within the FBI. To make a statement, Reid was supposed to be the 300th victim.
This 300th episode has everything, from references to the previous 299 episodes to a mystery with roots dating back almost ten years. This is why many fans thoroughly enjoyed this episode, which landed it such a high score on different sites.
Another thing that makes the episode as interesting as it is, is the fact that the episode calls back to the case that initially began almost 10 years ago.
4. Revelations (season 2 episode 15)
Spencer Reid, a clever young man who struggles with his own fears and whose own mother is imprisoned for paranoid schizophrenia, is one of the most intriguing characters on Criminal Minds.
When he is caught by split-personality serial murderer Tobias Hankel in season 2, much of his neuroses are examined.
When a live stream showing Hankel torturing the agent airs, the BAU scrambles to find Reid. Reid, on the other hand, has been drugged and is having flashbacks to his upbringing.
He was obliged to murder his captor in this episode, knowing that somewhere amongst the numerous personas was someone who needed aid, and this permanently altered him.
Most fans have this episode at the top of their list. The episode was the first time the viewers got to see the struggles seemingly flawless Dr. Ried faced in his life.
Although the creators of the show initially had some reservations regarding exploring this aspect of Spencer’s personality, it ultimately ended up being a great move that made him a deeper character.
3. The Fisher King (season 2 episode 1)
The Fisher King was a two-part case, including the first season’s season finale and the second season’s season opener. The case revolved around a guy called Randall Garner, who was severely burnt in a fire that killed virtually his entire family.
The emotional distress of the tragedy caused him to wind up in the same mental facility as Reid’s mother Diana. He was released despite his obvious mental instability and set his eyes on Reid and his BAU comrades.
Throughout the first season, he pursues the BAU members before tormenting them. As a cliffhanger, he shoots Elle at the end of the season. Elle survives, and Reid is the one who ultimately locates Garner, who can only stand by and watch as the assailant blows himself up.
The episode remains one of the most memorable episodes of the entire show for multiple reasons, but the one that gets mentioned the most often is the fact that the viewers were left on a cliffhanger until the second season was released.
Many fans also loved that the episode was the first time in the entire show when the steaks were set so high.
2. 100 (season 5 episode 9)
The Reaper is without a doubt the most insane, deadly, and loathed villain in the history of Criminal Minds. C. Thomas Howell’s character had murdered 20 people and was the unsub on Hotch’s first case as a BAU senior.
There were no leads, so The Reaper ceased murdering. 11 years later, the case’s main investigator phoned Hotch to say he was dying and that he thought The Reaper would start murdering again what later turned out to be a correct assumption.
The Reaper made Hotch’s life a horrible nightmare in seasons 4 and 5. This all began in the episode called Omnivore, which set in motion one of the most important and memorable cases in Criminal Minds history.
The crew had to answer for Hotch executing The Reaper after he murdered his ex-wife Haley, which ended in one of the most terrifying moments in the show’s history.
The episode also holds an emotional punch at the end. Most fans would name the moment while Hotch is on the phone with The Reaper while completely aware that his wife is going to die as the most emotional moment of the series.
The fact that Hotch is also trying to save his son brings a little bit of light to this extremely dark episode, but it doesn’t do much to lessen the impact of Hotch’s wife’s death.
1. Masterpiece (season 4 episode 8)
Jason Alexander played one of the most terrifying and nasty villains in the history of Criminal Minds. Henry Grace was a narcissistic serial murderer who thought he was destined to be a master murderer.
Rossi’s capture of his brother William, who was a serial murderer as well, devastated Henry’s life, making Rossi someone he wanted to murder, and the events of this episode, provided him with the opportunity.
He admits to killing seven of the missing women the BAU was looking for, as well as five more, three of whom were children, who would die if they didn’t locate them, one after every two hours the team remains unsuccessful in their mission.
Rossi interrogated Henry and learned, to his horror; this entire BAU team had perished in a trap set by Henry. The surprise was that they were aware of what he was doing and were able to save everyone with no deaths, and Rossi chillingly assures Henry that he would be present when he is executed for the previous killings.
This episode is probably one of the best Criminal Minds episodes ever since it drives home the point that the team is more of a family rather than work colleagues. Rossi’s reaction after learning that the team was trapped only amplifies the point and the emotions shown during the course of the episode are what make it almost everyone’s favorite.
The other aspect that makes this episode so good is the unsub, as it was previously stated. Henry Grace is one of the most memorable unsubs of the series and it says a lot about him considering that the show has fifteen seasons and a plethora of gruesome villains pined against the team.