In 2009, Glee reminded audiences what it was like to be a high school outcast who dreamed of stardom. The New Directions were a glee club in an Ohio suburb, but its members dreamed of living and working in New York and Los Angeles. Over the course of six seasons, the characters evolved from comedic high school stereotypes into bonafide stars.
Though Glee certainly had its ups and downs, fans were overwhelmingly behind the series even when they hated the storylines. The show found a balance between satire and earnest drama in its best episodes. With more than 100 episodes to its name, Glee has an average rating of 6.7 on IMDb. The top episodes, however, all rank much higher.
Updated On June 22, 2022 By Amanda Bruce: Though Glee came to an end in 2015, it continues to maintain its popularity thanks to streaming platforms and social media. The series made the move from streaming giant Netflix to Disney+ as a result of the Disney-FOX merger, allowing the audience to continue to relive their favorite episodes. With a new generation finding fodder for Tik Tok videos from its episodes, and rankings continuing to change on IMDb, the ratings of the long-running series remain in flux years after their debut.
SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
20 The Substitute (S2.E7) – 8.5
This episode features the introduction of fan-favorite Holly Holiday as the substitute teacher who fills in while Will Schuester is out with the flu. Gwyneth Paltrow won an Emmy for the role.
RELATED: 10 Of Glee’s Sue Sylvester Quotes That Are Still Hilarious Today
While Will is out, Holly impresses the club with her rendition of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You,” but her outside-the-box thinking does end up encouraging Mercedes to cause serious damage to Sue Sylvester’s car. It’s a nice change to see the club interact with a new teacher since it’s rare for them to act with other educators than Will. Holly brings a fun dynamic to the show, and it’s no wonder she kept coming back.
19 The Sue Sylvester Shuffle (S2.E11) – 8.5
Sue Sylvester plots to get members of her squad to quit the glee club by making sure one of their big competitions is on the same night as a football playoff game. With the glee club performing the half-time show for the game, the cheerleaders in both groups are forced to choose — and of course, they initially choose the Cheerios. Football team players are forced to join the glee club at the same time as the teachers want the rivalry between the two groups to end.
There’s a lot going on in the episode as football players are barred from playing when they quit the glee club, and some of the glee club members temporarily join the football team to make sure the game can continue. Ultimately, it’s a feel-good episode as Quinn, Santana, and Brittany return to the club and the football players participate in a “Thriller/Heads Will Roll” mashup and still win the game. While the themes in the episode are repetitive for the show, it’s still an incredibly fun ride.
18 Born This Way (S2.E18) – 8.5
“Born This Way” features Rachel contemplating a nose job after Finn accidentally breaks her nose during dance rehearsal. This provokes Santana to point out everyone’s “bad qualities” and has everyone dealing with their own insecurities, even Kurt, who re-enrolls at McKinley after leaving because of Karofsky’s bullying.
While the episode is literally on the nose when it comes to characters dealing with their respective issues, it does provide a lot of growth for characters like Rachel, Quinn, and Lauren. The highlight of the episode, however, has to be Quinn and Rachel performing of “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty”, one of Glee’s best mashups.
17 Wheels (S1.E9) – 8.6
Glee’s tackling deep issues could be hit or miss, but “Wheels” does a great job at highlighting an issue that affects people every day. In the episode, the club discovers that the school isn’t willing to increase the glee club budget to allow them a wheelchair-accessible bus for a competition, leaving Artie having to find another way to get there.
The club decides to attempt to raise the funds themselves through activities like bake sales, and Will makes the questionable decision of having the glee club use wheelchairs to understand how Artie goes about his day, though it does result in the fantastic “Proud Mary” performance. Ultimately, it’s Sue Sylvester who gets the money for new ramps for the school, which will make it easier for Artie to get to the auditorium and his classes. The episode also introduces fan-favorite Cheerio Becky, who becomes Sue’s protégé.
16 Dream On (S1.E19) – 8.5
As the title suggests, this episode is all about dreams. Several members of the glee club are encouraged to realize that not everyone’s dream comes true. While that can be a harsh reality of the entertainment industry, Will wants to continue to foster the dreams of the kids in the class, in keeping with the theme of the series that they should never give up. The person wrecking people’s dreams? None other than Bryan Ryan, a former glee club member himself, played by Neil Patrick Harris.
RELATED: Glee’s Most Streamed Songs Of All Time, According To Spotify
The episode also reveals that rival club coach Shelby, played by Idina Menzel, is actually Rachel’s biological mother, a plot point that would be important for the rest of the season.
15 Never Been Kissed (S2.E6) – 8.6
This is the episode that launched the Karofsky bullying arc for Kurt, making his season 2 a tumultuous one. He frequently found himself the target of Karofsky’s anger. When left without his male glee club members interested in his opinions, Kurt left to “spy” on the Warblers for the afternoon.
That spying session gave the audience a look at what the dynamic would become between Kurt and Blaine, one of Glee’s most perfect couples, but it also gave Kurt the courage to try to talk to Karofsky with Blaine as his backup, though it didn’t go as planned.
14 Goodbye (S3.E22) – 8.6
At the end of season 3, most of the New Directions members were heading off to the adult world. The finale acted as a goodbye for those members.
Nothing happened exactly the way anyone planned. Kurt and Finn didn’t get into the schools they wanted, and Rachel planned to defer her acceptance to help them. Like the audience, Rachel was in for a surprise though when Finn decided to send her to New York instead of marrying her, making sure she got to follow her dreams. Similarly, Santana’s mother gifted her with savings to follow her dream, despite the two not seeing eye to eye.
13 The Power Of Madonna (S1.E15) – 8.7
This was one of the first tribute episodes of the series, with all of the songs being none other than Madonna’s. Sue saw Madonna as the ultimate in female empowerment, and inspired by her, Will wanted to give the New Directions girls a path to empowerment as well.
RELATED: 10 Best Glee Musical Tribute Episodes, Ranked (According To IMDb)
While not everything changes just because the group belts out some Madonna songs, the boys do make a promise to be better to the girls. The group also gets to perform a gospel-backed version of “Like A Prayer,” which remains a standout.
12 Furt (S2.E8) – 8.7
One of the best episodes in Glee season 2 brought the club together for a wedding, but also pulled them apart because of bullying. Kurt’s father and Finn’s mother walked down the aisle, with Kurt and his friends providing the songs, but most of the rest of the episode featured a more serious storyline.
Kurt still found himself the target of Karofsky’s bullying. Though some members of New Directions attempted to defend him, it only resulted in Sam getting beat up, Finn scared to jeopardize his place on the football team, and Kurt finding out that Karofsky would get a verbal warning from the school board. This is the episode in which Kurt decided to transfer to Dalton Academy, temporarily changing New Directions and bringing a fresh dynamic to the show.
11 The Break Up (S4.E4) – 8.7
With an episode title like “The Break Up,” it would be right to expect a major couple calling it quits during the hour. Instead, the episode involves five major couples ending their relationships.
Over the course of the hour, Blaine and Kurt, Rachel and Finn, Brittany and Santana, Kitty and Jake, and Emma and Will all reached roadblocks in their relationships. It’s significant that most of the relationships were long-distance as half of the cast was in New York for storylines. The breakups were like a giant reset for the show, allowing characters to grow on their own for a while. It also gave the audience a great acoustic version of “Teenage Dream.”
10 New Directions (S5.E13) – 8.7
Intended to be watched immediately after “100,” this episode saw Paltrow’s Holly and Kristin Chenoweth’s April do their best to keep the glee club alive, but it didn’t exactly go the way they wanted. Instead, they simply gave all of the club members something to think about as they headed toward graduation.
The episode title worked as a nod to the name of the club, but also to recognize that so many characters were going in literal new directions. Will left McKinley to coach Vocal Adrenaline when the club disbanded while all of the seniors made their college plans. Blaine decided to attend NYADA, and Santana gave up her understudy role on Broadway to travel. It was another big change to wipe the slate clean for the show, but it was dressed up in nostalgia, including another performance of “Don’t Stop Believin.’”
9 On My Way (S3.E14) – 8.8
Season 3’s midseason finale brought a lot of major storylines together. While fans weren’t sold on the cliffhanger ending, they did like nearly everything that came before it.
Karofsky, after being outed and facing torment of his own, attempted to take his own life, prompting teachers and students alike to examine their choices. The group decided to live every day like it was their last, bringing them together for a strong showing to beat the Warblers at Regionals. Finn and Rachel also decided to get married right away, though their parents try to derail them.
8 Original Song (S2.E16) – 8.8
New Directions might not have won their regionals competition in the first season, but in high school, there’s always a chance to get things right the second time around. In this episode, the teens tackled writing original music.
RELATED: 10 Worst Episodes Of Glee According To IMDb
While Sue Sylvester coached one rival and Kurt competed with another, the New Directions had to dig deep to write their truth. Rachel wrote herself a ballad, but the group bonded for a fun bop, “Loser Like Me,” which would probably have become the unofficial anthem for the show if the audience didn’t love “Don’t Stop Believin’” so much.
7 100 (S5.E12) – 8.8
The aptly named “100” was the hundredth episode of the series to air. For the landmark episode, the show went back to what made it so successful.
It reunited nearly all of the original cast members for the “one-hundredth assignment” for New Directions. New and old members sang new versions of songs previously performed on the show. It also brought back fan-favorite guest stars Paltrow and Chenoweth, who wanted to do their part to save the club from being shut down, which led right into the second hour.
6 2009 (S6.E12) – 8.8
The first part of the two-hour series finale was a nostalgia ride for fans. Glee flashed back to before the events of the pilot episode, exploring just why each of the original New Directions members decided to join. It was a love letter to fans who’d been with the show since the beginning.
Fans got to see how Rachel and Mercedes’ competition began, and that Kurt joined the club because his father feared he would take his own life due to loneliness. Surprisingly, Artie and Tina only joined the club because friends dared them to audition. The episode added a lot of interesting backstory to the characters — even if the continuity didn’t always add up.
5 Dreams Come True (S6.E13) – 9.0
When “Dreams Come True” aired, it did so immediately after “2009” as part of a proper send-off for the show. It allowed fans to see just where most of their favorite characters ended up.
RELATED: 5 Glee Relationships Fans Were Behind (& 5 They Rejected)
Following the arts programs being reinstated at McKinley, not only did the new generation of the glee club win nationals, but Will got an offer to be principal of the arts-focused school. That paved the way for a surprising choice for the new glee club teacher — Sam. While Mercedes began her singing career in earnest, Rachel made a splash on Broadway, and several characters united in the future in New York. The hour didn’t have time to get to everyone, but it certainly tried. The only thing missing was one final rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin.'”
4 Sectionals (S1.E13) – 9.0
The midseason finale, and one of Glee’s best season 1 episodes, “Sectionals” found the New Directions triumphing over hardship. They overcame one obstacle after another in the hour.
First, the team had to contend with their competition without Finn, who quit the club after discovering that Puck fathered Quinn’s baby. Then, they arrived at the competition only to find that all of their songs were being performed by the other clubs. The group had to band together to come up with new songs, some members giving up solos for others, in order to compete successfully. Finn saved the day by bringing them an idea for a new cover, and not abandoning his friends after all.
3 Journey To Regionals (S1.E22) – 9.1
As the title of the episode suggests, the glee club made it to their regional competition for the first time. The episode teased a loss by stacking the judge’s panel with Sue Sylvester.
RELATED: Hogwarts Houses Of New Directions Members
“Journey to Regionals” brought the end of the season right back to the very beginning. The show began with the first incarnation of New Directions singing one of Glee’s best covers, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Their regional performances were all covers of Journey songs — and belting out classic Journey is where New Directions was often at their best. In a nice twist, Sue actually voted for New Directions to win, though she was outvoted by the other judges. It’s Sue that helped keep the club going, working out a deal with Principal Figgins. She proved that the biggest antagonist in the series had a heart.
2 Nationals (S3.E21) – 9.1
When “Nationals” aired on television, it originally aired as part of a two-hour Glee finale. The second hour served as a goodbye episode for the characters who graduated high school. Perhaps this episode ranked higher simply because the audience wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
It could also be because “Nationals” would have worked as a perfect fairy tale ending for the show. In it, New Directions made it to nationals, competing against Vocal Adrenaline and Aural Intensity, their fiercest rivals. Mercedes overcame food poisoning, Rachel overcame her nerves, as did Unique, and for the first time, the group was the best glee club in the nation. It would have made a great series finale if the show hadn’t kept going.
1 The Quarterback (S5.E3) – 9.5
One of the most emotional episodes of the series happened to be Glee’s most well-received. Following the death of series star Cory Monteith, the cast and crew took some time off to grieve. When they returned, it was to film a send-off episode for his character, Finn Hudson.
The episode didn’t go into detail about what happened to Finn, but it picked up right after his death. Throughout the hour, the members of New Directions got together to mourn him through music. Different ways of dealing with grief were explored as Kurt, Santana, Puck, Will, and Rachel were all spotlighted throughout the extended episode.
NEXT: 10 Times Glee Broke Our Hearts
The Big Bang Theory: 10 Biggest Plot Holes Fans Can’t Overlook
About The Author
(911 Articles Published)
Amanda is a freelance writer in Florida. She holds a Psychology degree and loves superheroes and serial storytelling. Her favorite heroines include Black Widow, Blake Belladonna, and Sailor Jupiter.
More From Amanda Bruce