Ranking the top 'Grey's Anatomy' episodes of all time

Written by:
June 13, 2018

Ranking the top 'Grey's Anatomy' episodes of all time

For 15 seasons “Grey's Anatomy” has been thrilling and breaking the hearts of countless diehard fans. With 300 episodes and counting, the show is now the longest running primetime medical drama on television, giving it an outsize impact on American pop culture. Even those who have never seen an episode have probably heard someone reference “Dr. McDreamy” (a reference to Patrick Dempsey’s character) or watched one of the many shows that creator Shonda Rhimes has helmed since her “Grey’s Anatomy” breakout. It may have even changed the way some people view health care and doctors in the real world.

All this history makes it extremely difficult to narrow down the show’s best hours. After all, this is a show that's featured Post-It note weddings, hospital proms, and enough freak accidents to make any sane person think twice before checking into Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Fifteen seasons of heartbreaking departures has allowed the show's diverse cast to explore some of the most pressing social issues of the day, including LGBTQ+ rights and the #MeToo movement, in some of the series’ most acclaimed storylines. There’s no denying that Meredith Grey's life has been agonizing, chaotic, and electrifying to watch (and Rhimes has promised it won’t end until star Ellen Pompeo is ready to leave).

Stacker has taken a more democratic approach to reveal the top 50 best “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes. Using data from IMDb user votes, Stacker created a list of the best episodes of “Grey's Anatomy.” This list's rankings are based on each episode's average IMDb rating. In the case of a tie, episodes with more user votes were favored. The end result is a list of the best swoon-worthy declarations of love, heartbreaking tragedies, and moving moments of pure friendship that have kept fans glued to screens for more than a decade.

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1 / 50

#50. Migration

Season 8, Episode 23
Air date: May 10, 2012
IMDb rating: 8.8

"Migration" is this show’s most infamous plane crash episode. While “Grey's Anatomy” has had its share of shocking moments, seeing a plane carrying Meredith, Derek Shepherd, Cristina Yang, Mark Sloan, and Arizona Robbins go down remains chilling to this day.


2 / 50

#49. Staring at the End

Season 11, Episode 13
Air date: Feb. 26, 2015
IMDb rating: 8.8

Amelia Shepherd faces a major test of surgical skills when she takes on the challenge of removing Dr. Nicole Herman's brain tumor. Meanwhile, Arizona keeps her mentor Herman company while they wait for her to head into the operating room.

3 / 50

#48. Run, Baby, Run

Season 9, Episode 9
Air date: Dec. 13, 2012
IMDb rating: 8.8

Miranda Bailey nervously prepares for her wedding in this emotional episode. However, the episode’s highlight is Meredith and Derek finding out they're expecting, and hearing their baby's heartbeat for the first time.

4 / 50

#47. Wishin' and Hopin'

Season 3, Episode 14
Air date: Feb. 1, 2007
IMDb rating: 8.8

On the same day Bailey opens her clinic, George O'Malley and Callie Torres announce to their friends that they've eloped. However, it’s Meredith’s storyline that gives this episode its weight when her demented mother Ellis Grey experiences a lucid day and Meredith has to explain to her mother that she is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

5 / 50

#46. Beat Your Heart Out

Season 5, Episode 14
Air date: Feb. 5, 2009
IMDb rating: 8.8

For fans of Arizona and Callie, this episode is one to remember. "Beat Your Heart Out" features their first kiss, an unexpected moment that launched one of the show's most beloved couples.

6 / 50

#45. Beautiful Doom

Season 9, Episode 5
Air date: Nov. 8, 2012
IMDb rating: 8.8

The friendship between Meredith and Cristina is one of the most significant and long-lasting relationships the show has ever produced. Unsurprisingly, fans loved this episode structured entirely around the two best friends performing surgeries miles apart on the same day.

7 / 50

#44. Heart-Shaped Box

Season 8, Episode 8
Air date: Nov. 3, 2011
IMDb rating: 8.8

George's mother is admitted to the hospital, and it's a major blast from the past for Meredith and Callie. Callie experiences a much-needed cathartic moment when she catches up with her ex mother-in-law.

8 / 50

#43. Rise Up

Season 5, Episode 7
Air date: Nov. 6, 2008
IMDb rating: 8.8

Denny Duquette returns—kind of. When the patient who was supposed to receive the heart that Izzie Stevens stole for Denny is admitted to the hospital, Izzie is wracked with guilt and plagued by visions of her former love.

9 / 50

#42. There's No 'I' in Team

Season 5, Episode 5
Air date: Oct. 23, 2008
IMDb rating: 8.8

A domino kidney surgery, frank depictions of different types of sexual relationships and the arrival of Dr. Owen Hunt all come together in this fast-paced outing. However, nothing can top Callie's scenes with Erica Hahn and Mark in this explosive “Grey’s Anatomy” episode.

10 / 50

#41. Bring the Pain

Season 2, Episode 5
Air date: Oct. 23, 2005
IMDb rating: 8.8

"Bring the Pain" features what is, perhaps, the most famous line in the show’s history. Meredith serves Derek the ultimate ultimatum: her or his wife Addison Montgomery. In the heart-wrenching process, she pleads him to: "Pick me. Choose me. Love me."


11 / 50

#40. Brave New World

Season 5, Episode 4
Air date: Oct. 16, 2008
IMDb rating: 8.8

George passes his residency exam, while the original crew—Meredith, Izzie, and Cristina—find themselves escaping their problems in the relaxing dermatology department. Add in some patient-snatching from Alex Karev and Izzie, and you have a solid old-school episode.

12 / 50

#39. Six Days: Part 1

Season 3, Episode 11
Air date: Jan. 11, 2007
IMDb rating: 8.8

Poor George is faced with his father's mortality as his dad undergoes surgery for cancer. In another part of the hospital, Addison and Alex engage in a steamy kiss.

13 / 50

#38. Who's Zoomin' Who?

Season 1, Episode 9
Air date: May 22, 2005
IMDb rating: 8.8

The first ever "Grey's Anatomy" finale is wrapped with a syphilis outbreak at Seattle Grace. However, that’s nothing compared to Meredith and Derek's romance being blown apart when Meredith finds out about Derek’s wife Addison.

14 / 50

#37. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Season 12, Episode 5
Air date: Oct. 22, 2015
IMDb rating: 8.8

As the 250th episode of the show, it's only fitting that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" isn't an easy episode to swallow. A dinner party goes terribly wrong when a grieving Meredith discovers Callie is dating the doctor responsible for Derek's death.

15 / 50

#36. You Haven't Done Nothin'

Season 13, Episode 9
Air date: Nov. 17, 2016
IMDb rating: 8.9

The day before his trial, Alex finally finds out Jo Wilson's whole story. The news that she fled an abusive marriage and changed her name leaves Alex feeling extremely conflicted.

16 / 50

#35. Things We Lost in the Fire

Season 12, Episode 8
Air date: Nov. 19, 2015
IMDb rating: 8.9

The mystery of Owen's sister is introduced in this episode that sees the conflict between Owen and Nathan Riggs reach a boiling point. However, Jo and Alex fans will likely remember this episode best for his famously awful proposal.

17 / 50

#34. Make Me Lose Control

Season 2, Episode 3
Air date: Oct. 9, 2005
IMDb rating: 8.9

The entire team has to rally around Cristina after she collapses during surgery. She then undergoes her own procedure for an ectopic pregnancy while an oblivious Preston Burke is performing a surgery somewhere else in the hospital.

18 / 50

#33. The Time Warp

Season 6, Episode 15
Air date: Feb. 18, 2010
IMDb rating: 8.9

Longtime fans were rewarded for their loyalty with an episode devoted to flashbacks to a younger Richard Webber's time at the hospital. This included a look at young Bailey and an intimate exploration of Richard and Ellis' relationship.

19 / 50

#32. Time Has Come Today

Season 3, Episode 1
Air date: Sept. 21, 2006
IMDb rating: 8.9

The death of Denny leaves Izzie paralyzed with grief. As the day wears on, her friends come one by one to help her overcome her depression. However, it’s ultimately up to Izzie to rally herself.

20 / 50

#31. Going, Going, Gone

Season 9, Episode 1
Air date: Sept. 27, 2012
IMDb rating: 8.9

The aftermath of the plane crash unfolds. Mark is on life-support, Arizona's lost a leg, and Meredith can't seem to deal with her grief over losing her half-sister Lexie Grey in this sobering episode.

21 / 50

#30. Old Time Rock and Roll

Season 12, Episode 4
Air date: Oct. 15, 2015
IMDb rating: 9.0

Just as Meredith is beginning to move forward after Derek's death, the universe throws another curveball her way. At the end of this powerful episode, Callie shows up to a dinner party at Meredith’s house with her new girlfriend by her side. That girlfriend just so happens to be Penny Blake, the surgical resident responsible for Derek's death.

22 / 50

#29. Sweet Surrender

Season 5, Episode 20
Air date: April 23, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.0

Callie's father visits his daughter at Seattle Grace and ends up badgering two of her ex-boyfriends in the process. When he meets the new person his daughter is dating—Arizona—he demands she return home with him, but Callie proves she's ready to stand up to her father and cuts him out of her life.

23 / 50

#28. I Will Follow You Into the Dark

Season 5, Episode 17
Air date: March 12, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.0

After facing her diagnosis, Izzie finds a way to break the news that she has cancer to her toughest friend, Cristina. Of course, this comes at a time when Dr. Yang is also helping Owen deal with his PTSD.

24 / 50

#27. An Honest Mistake

Season 5, Episode 16
Air date: Feb. 19, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.0

Derek loses a pregnant patient in one of the lowest days of his career. His day is then topped off with a fist fight with his best friend, Mark.

25 / 50

#26. 1-800-799-7233

Season 14, Episode 9
Air date: Jan. 18, 2018
IMDb rating: 9.0

For the first time in the show's history, the title of an episode is not also a song title. Instead, the episode's title is the real life number of the Domestic Abuse hotline. It's a fitting title for an hour devoted to Jo standing up to her abusive husband with the support of Alex and her friends.

26 / 50

#25. Sympathy for the Devil

Season 5, Episode 12
Air date: Jan. 15, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.0

Tyne Daly guest stars as Derek's mother, who Meredith meets for the first time. However, this episode will forever be remembered as the one where Dr. Grey tells a serial killer how to kill himself post-surgery so that his organs can be donated to a child in need.

27 / 50

#24. Six Days: Part 2

Season 3, Episode 12
Air date: Jan. 18, 2007
IMDb rating: 9.0

"Grey's Anatomy" has always been heart-wrenching television, but this early season episode is still one of the most heartbreaking of them all. After George's father's surgery goes wrong, he loses his dad and ends up having a tearful heart-to-heart with Cristina.

28 / 50

#23. From a Whisper to a Scream

Season 3, Episode 9
Air date: Nov. 23, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.0

Dr. Burke is forced to face the limitations his hand injury is imposing on him, and the toll keeping his secret is taking on Cristina. After he puts a patient's life at risk, he goes to Richard with plans of revealing the truth, only to discover that Cristina beat him to the punch. 

29 / 50

#22. The Distance

Season 11, Episode 14
Air date: March 5, 2015
IMDb rating: 9.0

Amelia steps up and performs the most complicated surgery of her career. The fact that her patient is also her colleague, Dr. Herman, means all eyes are on her.

30 / 50

#21. 17 Seconds

Season 2, Episode 25
Air date: May 14, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.0

Izzie stops Denny's heart because she's certain that Burke will be there any minute with a donor heart for Denny if he's moved up the list. Her plan goes horribly awry when Burke is shot in the hospital's parking lot.

31 / 50

#20. Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response

Season 2, Episode 26
Air date: May 15, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.0

In the aftermath of "17 Seconds," Derek operates on Burke while the interns work to keep Denny alive and move him up the donor list. When it seems as if things are looking up for him, Denny shocks Izzie with a proposal.

32 / 50

#19. Remember the Time

Season 9, Episode 2
Air date: Oct. 4, 2012
IMDb rating: 9.1

Through a series of flashbacks, the traumatic moments after the plane crash are revealed. This shocking outing reveals Cristina going into a catatonic state and Mark making end-of-life plans during a moment of clarity.

33 / 50

#18. Losing My Religion

Season 2, Episode 27
Air date: May 15, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.1

A prom for Richard's niece leads to the doctors and interns at Seattle Grace dressing up in their finest outfits before everything goes terribly wrong. Meredith and Derek reunite at the absolute worst moment, and Denny dies shortly after Izzie accepts his proposal.

34 / 50

#17. Cold As Ice

Season 14, Episode 23
Air date: May 10, 2018
IMDb rating: 9.2

In a powerful outing, April Kepner comes close to death after a car crash. The entire hospital works overtime to save this always fascinating and occasionally divisive “Grey’s Anatomy” character.

35 / 50

#16. Stand by Me

Season 5, Episode 18
Air date: March 19, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.2

After being hit with the sheer amount of patients that he's lost, Derek retreats to the woods. The only thing that brings him home is the knowledge that he might be the only person capable of saving Izzie's life.

36 / 50

#15. Elevator Love Letter

Season 5, Episode 19
Air date: March 26, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.2

Derek finally proposes to Meredith by popping the question in the hospital elevator. "You got me into the OR. You put the rest of us to work because you've seen worse," he tells Meredith. "You know we'll survive. You say you're dark and twisty, but that's not a weakness, it's a strength. It makes you who you are. I love you Meredith Grey, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

37 / 50

#14. Here's to Future Days

Season 5, Episode 23
Air date: May 14, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.2

Izzie heads into a risky surgery for her cancer. Elsewhere, George is inspired by a patient to join the army.

38 / 50

#13. Personal Jesus

Season 14, Episode 10
Air date: Jan. 25, 2018
IMDb rating: 9.2

April's faith is tested in this episode that also sees Jo's abusive husband die. More importantly, this episode takes on the subject of police bias and the Black Lives Matter movement through one patient's story.

39 / 50

#12. Suddenly

Season 8, Episode 10
Air date: Jan. 5, 2012
IMDb rating: 9.3

Meredith is up for nearly two days straight as she fights to save a family involved in a tragic crash. By the episode's end, she and Derek receive an unexpected visitor when their adoption counselor shows up with baby Zola.

40 / 50

#11. Stairway to Heaven

Season 5, Episode 13
Air date: Jan. 22, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.3

After telling William, a serial killer, how to commit suicide, Meredith faces repercussions as doctors race to save him. William survives and asks Meredith to come to his execution, which she does. 

41 / 50

#10. What a Difference a Day Makes

Season 5, Episode 22
Air date: May 7, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.3

Derek finds another tumor in Izzie's brain and this one is inoperable. Fearing the worst, Meredith gives Izzie the wedding of her dreams as George walks Izzie down the aisle to a beaming Alex.

42 / 50

#9. Dark Was the Night

Season 8, Episode 9
Air date: Nov. 10, 2011
IMDb rating: 9.4

An ambulance crash leaves Meredith, Alex, and a young baby in a dangerous situation on a stormy night. While all three survive the crash, Meredith and Alex are met with a grizzly scene when they step out of the ambulance.

43 / 50

#8. Fear (of the Unknown)

Season 10, Episode 24
Air date: May 15, 2014
IMDb rating: 9.4

After 10 seasons of being the hospital's resident tough, snarky surgeon, Cristina Yang leaves Seattle for Zurich. However, she can't leave before giving "her person”Meredithone last pep talk.

44 / 50

#7. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Season 14, Episode 7
Air date: Nov. 9, 2017
IMDb rating: 9.4

In the landmark 300th episode, ghosts seem to be haunting the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial. Patients bearing more than striking resemblances to George, Cristina, and Izzie are admitted to the hospital, while Meredith has Derek on her mind after winning the Harper Avery Award.

45 / 50

#6. Sanctuary

Season 6, Episode 23
Air date: May 20, 2010
IMDb rating: 9.4

This episode is hard to watch, but brilliantly executed. A gunman comes to the hospital looking for Derek, while also indiscriminately shooting bystanders, including Alex. By the episode's end, Derek is bleeding out, and everyone is in danger.

46 / 50

#5. Death and All His Friends

Season 6, Episode 24
Air date: May 20, 2010
IMDb rating: 9.4

Derek's shooter remains on the loose as Cristina fights to save Derek's life. Ultimately, the shooter makes his way to Derek's operating room for an intense finale.

47 / 50

#4. The Sound of Silence

Season 12, Episode 9
Air date: Feb. 11, 2016
IMDb rating: 9.5

Meredith is brutally attacked by a patient. The episode chronicles her recovery during an excruciating period where she cannot speak.

48 / 50

#3. As We Know It

Season 2, Episode 17
Air date: Feb. 12, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.5

In 2006, "Grey's Anatomy" was given the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot, and the show made the most of their gift. The hospital is placed under Code Black when a patient with unexploded munitions lodged in his chest is brought into the hospital.

49 / 50

#2. It's the End of the World

Season 2, Episode 16
Air date: Feb. 5, 2006
IMDb rating: 9.5

With George's encouragement, Bailey delivers her son, who she names after O'Malley. Elsewhere, Burke and Meredith remove the munitions from the patient's chest and pass the unexploded device over to Kyle Chandler's character Dylan Young. He goes out into the hallway, and Meredith goes after him and witnesses the device explode, blowing Dylan up in the process.

50 / 50

#1. Now or Never

Season 5, Episode 24
Air date: May 14, 2009
IMDb rating: 9.6

Stacker’s #1 “Grey’s Anatomy” episode is packed with heart-wrenching moments and jaw-dropping twists. Derek and Meredith get Post-It note married. Izzie codes in Alex's arms and an unidentified patient who was admitted to the hospital as a John Doe turns out to be the beloved George O'Malley. The fifth season finale ends with an unforgettable shot of Izzie in her season two prom dress and George in his army uniform. Both step into an elevator to head to what can be interpreted as the great hereafter.

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