The X-Files is an American science fiction television series and a part of The X-Files franchise, created by screenwriter Chris Carter. The program originally aired from September 10, 1993 to May 19, 2002. The show was a hit for the Fox network, and its characters and slogans, such as "The Truth Is Out There," "Trust No One," and "I Want to Believe," became popular culture touchstones in the 1990s. Seen as a defining series of its era, The X-Files tapped into public mistrust of governments and large institutions, and embraced conspiracy theories and spirituality as it centered on efforts to uncover the existence of extraterrestrial life. The series spawned a spin-off show, The Lone Gunmen.

In the series, FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are the investigators of X-Files: marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. Mulder is a believer in the existence of aliens and the paranormal while Scully, a skeptic, is assigned to make scientific analyses of Mulder's discoveries which could ultimately be used to debunk Mulder's work and thus return him to FBI mainstream.

Themes and allusions

In parallel to its character development, episodes of The X-Files include a number of mysterious elements that draw from science fiction and/or paranormal phenomena. The creators of the series refer to these elements as composing the "mythology" of the series, and they form the basis of fan speculation. Among the show's mythological elements are the "Monster-of-the-Week" characters, the government conspiracy, the "Syndicate", and the Colonists.

During its earlier seasons, episodes mostly covered miscellaneous murders and monsters of the week, such as Season One's Eugene Tooms in "Squeeze" and "Tooms", and "The Jersey Devil", based on the legendary Jersey Devil of New Jersey. As the series progressed, it delved more deeply into its alien mythology. The first episode of season 8, "Within" explores "loss", "loneliness" and "pain" after the disappearance of Fox Mulder. "Per Manum" includes the basic themes for the series' "dark, foreboding terror", overriding sense of "paranoia" and "the fear of the unknown" among others. Death and resurrection emerged as a major sub-theme during the season starting with "The Gift", in which John Doggett was resurrected and later in "Deadalive" when Mulder was awakened from his deathbed. This sub-theme would continue well into the ninth season. The main story theme prior to this one alluded that humanity is a greater danger to itself, even with all our technology and progress. The main theme has focused most of its years on humanity's resurrection and salvation from itself (the Syndicate) and the threat outside (the Aliens). Some other themes are rebirth, life, and belief as seen in "This Is Not Happening" and "Deadalive".


The X-Files directly inspired numerous other TV series, including Strange World, The Burning Zone, Special Unit 2, Mysterious Ways, Lost, Carnivàle, The Dead Zone, Dark Skies, So Weird, The Visitor, with numerous key aspects being carried on to more standard crime dramas, such as Eleventh Hour and Bones, and having the strongest similarities to Fringe and Supernatural. The X-Files is parodied in The Simpsons episode "The Springfield Files", which was part of The Simpsons eighth season and aired on January 12, 1997, during The X-Files' peak in popularity. In it, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (voiced by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) are sent to Springfield to investigate an alien sighting by Homer Simpson, but end up finding no evidence other than Homer's word and depart. The Cigarette Smoking Man appears in the background when Homer is interviewed, and the show's theme plays whenever the "alien" is on screen, albeit a rather animated version. Nathan Ditum from Total Film ranked Duchovny and Anderson's performances as the fourth best guest appearances in The Simpsons history. In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribbleations, Sisko is interviewed by Federation Department of Temporal Investigations agents Dulmer and Lucsly, anagrams of Mulder and Scully respectively. The pair were later expanded upon in Christopher L. Bennett's book Watching the Clock.

The influence can be seen on other levels: television series such as Alias have developed a complex mythology that may bring to mind the "mythology" of The X-Files. In terms of characterization, the role of Dana Scully was seen as somewhat original, causing a change in "how women [on television] were not just perceived but behaved", and perhaps influencing the portrayal of "strong women" investigators. Russell T Davies said The X-Files had been an inspiration on his current British series Torchwood, describing it as "dark, wild and sexy… The X-Files meets This Life". Other shows have been influenced by the tone and mood of The X-Files. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer drew from the mood and coloring of The X-Files, as well as from its occasional blend of horror and humor. Joss Whedon described his show as a cross between The X-Files and My So-Called Life.

The show's well-known catchphrase "The Truth Is Out There" was among Britain's top 60 best-known slogans and quotes. Welsh music act Catatonia released the 1996 single "Mulder and Scully", which became a huge hit in the UK and one of many impacts The X-Files had on pop culture. In 2004 and 2007, The X-Files was ranked #2 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever and in 2002, was ranked the 37th best television show of all time. In 1997, the episodes "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and "Small Potatoes" were respectively ranked #10 and #72 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2007, Time magazine included it on a list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time." In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it the fourth-best piece of science fiction media, the fourth best TV show in the last 25 years and in 2009, named it the fourth-best piece of science fiction, in their list of the 20 Greatest Sci-Fi TV Shows in history. Empire magazine ranked The X-Files ninth best TV show in history, further claiming that the best episode was "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". According to The Guardian, MediaDNA research discovered that The X-Files was on top of the list of the most innovative TV brands. On July 16, 2008 Carter and Frank Spotnitz donated several props from the series and new film to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Some of the items included the original pilot script and the poster "I Want to Believe" from Mulder's office.

Influences on the show

Chris Carter listed television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Tales from the Darkside and especially Kolchak: The Night Stalker as his major influences for the show. Carter said, "Remembering that show, which I loved, I said to the FOX executives, 'There's nothing scary on network television anymore. Let's do a scary show.'" Actor Darren McGavin, who played Carl Kolchak in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, appeared in two episodes of The X-Files as Agent Arthur Dales.

Carter has mentioned that the relationship between Mulder and Scully (platonic but with sexual tension) was influenced by the chemistry between John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) in the 1960s British spy TV program The Avengers. One journalist documented possible influence from Nigel Kneale's Quatermass series and its various television and film iterations. Kneale was invited to write for The X-Files, but declined the offer. The early 1990s cult hit Twin Peaks is seen as a major influence on the show's dark atmosphere and its often surreal blend of drama and irony. David Duchovny had appeared as a cross-dressing DEA agent in Twin Peaks, and the Mulder character was seen as a parallel to the show's FBI Agent Dale Cooper.

The producers and writers have cited All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rashomon, The Thing, The Boys from Brazil, The Silence of the Lambs, and JFK as influences on the series. A scene at the end of the episode "Redux II", for instance, directly mirrors the famous baptism montage at the end of The Godfather. Chris Carter's use of continuous takes in "Triangle" was modeled on Hitchcock's Rope. Other episodes written by Carter made numerous references to other films, as did those by Darin Morgan.


  • Kessenich, Tom (2002). Examination. New York, US: Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1553698126.
  • Kellner, Douglas (2003). Media Spectacle. New York, US: Routledge. ISBN 0415268281.
  • Lowry, Brian (1995). The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0061053309.
  • Meisler, Andy (2000). The End and the Beginning: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 5. HarperCollins. ISBN 0061075957.
  • Meisler, Andy (1998). I Want to Believe: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 3. Harper Prism.
  • Meisler, Andy (1999), Resist or Serve: The Official Guide to The X-Files, Vol. 4, London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-257133-1, OCLC 42005360
  • Shapiro, Marc (2000). All Things: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 6. Harper Prism. ISBN 0061076112.

Further reading


  • Cavelos, Jeanne. The Science of the X-Files (New York : Berkley Boulevard Books, 1998), 288 pp.
  • Genge, N.E. The Unofficial X-Files (New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1995), 228 pp.
  • Hatfield, James; and Burt, George "Doc". The Unauthorized X-Files (New York: MJF Books, 1996), 309 pp.
  • Kessenich, Tom. "EXaminations: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6-9 of "The X-Files," Featuring the reviews of Unbound 1 (Trafford Publishing, 2006), 224 pp.
  • Kowalski, Dean A. (ed.), The Philosophy of The X-Files (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 275 pp.
  • Lavery, David (ed.), Deny All Knowledge: Reading The X-Files (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 280 pp.
  • Lovece, Frank. The X-Files Declassified (New York, N.Y.: Citadel Press, 1996), 246 pp.
  • Lowry, Brian. Trust No One: The Official Third Season Guide to The X-Files (New York: Harper Prism, 1996), 266 pp.