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

Written by:
June 8, 2022

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

For 18 seasons "Grey's Anatomy" has been thrilling and breaking the hearts of countless diehard fans. With 401 episodes and counting, the show is currently 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 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.

This rich 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. Heartbreaking departures have 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 Meredith Grey's life has been agonizing, chaotic, and electrifying to watch.

Stacker has taken a more democratic approach to reveal the top 25 best "Grey's Anatomy" episodes, using data from IMDb. Rankings are based on each episode's average IMDb rating, with ties broken by votes. 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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#25. Perfect Storm (2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 9, episode 24
- Director: Rob Corn

In the season finale of the ninth season of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Meredith goes into labor while a major storm causes the hospital to lose power. Although Meredith and Derek welcome their healthy baby, there are complications along the way. A bus also happens to crash in front of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and doctors attempt to rescue the survivors.

#24. Stand by Me (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 5, episode 18
- Director: Jessica Yu

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

#23. The Distance (2015)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 11, episode 14
- Director: Eric Laneuville

Amelia steps up to perform the most complicated surgery of her career. The fact that her patient is also her colleague, Dr. Nicole Herman (Geena Davis), means all eyes are on her.

#22. Elevator Love Letter (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 5, episode 19
- Director: Edward Ornelas

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.”

#21. The Time Warp (2010)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 6, episode 15
- Director: Rob Corn

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

#20. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (2015)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Season 12, episode 5
- Director: Debbie Allen

The 250th episode of the show, “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.

#19. Suddenly (2012)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 8, episode 10
- Director: Ron Underwood

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, Meredith and Derek receive an unexpected visitor when their adoption counselor shows up with baby Zola.

#18. Drowning on Dry Land (2007)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 3, episode 16
- Director: Rob Corn

Meredith’s friends and colleagues help to save her life after a near-drowning incident. Izzie, a surgical resident at the hospital, gathers her courage to perform surgery on a man who begins to have seizures where the ferry accident took place.

#17. Stairway to Heaven (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 5, episode 13
- Director: Allison Liddi-Brown

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.

#16. 17 Seconds (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 2, episode 25
- Director: Daniel Minahan

Izzie stops Denny's heart because she's certain 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.

#15. Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 2, episode 26
- Director: Rob Corn

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.

#14. I Saw What I Saw (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 6, episode 6
- Director: Allison Liddi-Brown

In this episode, burn victims from a hotel fire are rushed to the hospital. One of the victims dies unexpectedly due to medical negligence by one of the surgeons and Chief Webber tries to figure out what caused the death and who is responsible.

#13. Into You Like a Train (2005)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Season 2, episode 6
- Director: Jeff Melman

A train wreck results in several injured people having to go to the hospital. Bonnie and Tom are two one-episode characters who deliver emotional scenes. This particular episode has often been regarded as one of the show’s most emotional episodes.

#12. Dark Was the Night (2011)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Season 8, episode 9
- Director: Allison Liddi-Brown

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.

#11. What a Difference a Day Makes (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Season 5, episode 22
- Director: Rob Corn

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.

#10. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (2017)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Season 14, episode 7
- Director: Debbie Allen

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.

#9. Fear (of the Unknown) (2014)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Season 10, episode 24
- Directors: Bill D'Elia, Tony Phelan

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”—Meredith—one last pep talk.

#8. The Sound of Silence (2016)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Season 12, episode 9
- Director: Denzel Washington

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

#7. Losing My Religion (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Season 2, episode 27
- Director: Mark Tinker

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.

#6. As We Know It (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 9.4
- Season 2, episode 17
- Director: Peter Horton

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

#5. It's the End of the World (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 9.4
- Season 2, episode 16
- Director: Peter Horton

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 to Kyle Chandler’s character Dylan Young. Meredith follows the character into the hall and witnesses the device exploding, killing Dylan in the process.

#4. Silent All These Years (2019)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Season 15, episode 19
- Director: Debbie Allen

After a sexual assault, a patient (Abby) must have surgery. Abby shares with the doctor that every man reminds her of her rapist. The women staffers at the hospital—including doctors, nurses, and administrators—line the hallway in solidarity to block male staff from entering, showing Abby she’s in a safe space.

#3. Now or Never (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Season 5, episode 24
- Director: Rob Corn

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.

#2. Sanctuary (2010)

- IMDb user rating: 9.6
- Season 6, episode 23
- Director: Stephen Cragg

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.

#1. Death and All His Friends (2010)

- IMDb user rating: 9.7
- Season 6, episode 24
- Director: Rob Corn

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.

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