Optical illusions. Tricks of the light. Those Magic Eye pictures. A drawing that looks like an old woman from one angle and a young woman from another. This is how nearly every episode of Beyond Belief: Fact Or Fiction begins, the cult classic anthology show that ran for four seasons from 1997 to 2002, with host Jonathan Frakes (replacing original host James Brolin) showing off some silly gag as if it were a holy artifact. The point of it, beyond highlighting some funky imagery, is to underline the explicit point of the show: It’s all about pulling off the big reveal, complete with Frakes making a meal out of the big moment (or, on a rare occasion, telling you how smart you are). It’s the destination and not the journey, the explanation of why the drawing looks like two different things, not the things themselves.
Unlike other anthology shows, where you enjoy a story for the sake of the story, the meme-friendly Beyond Belief was a game with right and wrong answers. You were asked to solve a puzzle that just happened to look like prose, all so you could answer the show’s central question at the end of each episode: Was the story you just saw based on true events, or was it … beyond belief?
But what if you don’t play the game? What if you approach the stories on their own terms, as works of fiction and not pieces of a puzzle? What if you ignore the fact that this is a gimmicky anthology series about deciding whether or not bizarre stories about ghosts, premonitions, and bad people who karmically die of “fright” were loosely based on a real events or if they were—as Frakes puts it in so many episodes—dreamed up by the show’s team of writers?
As it turns out, some of the stories are really good. Others are absolute shit. So, in honor of this year being the anniversary of the premiere of Beyond Belief, we’ve compiled the definitive list of the 25 best fiction stories from the entire four-season run of the show. These aren’t necessarily the ones most likely to fool you into thinking they were true, as is the expressed purpose on the show. These are simply the best ones. They’re the most creatively interesting, the most satisfyingly spooky, and, in at least one case, the most audaciously and hilariously unhinged.