Opinion / Poll / Top 10

Columbo top 10 as voted by the fans: 2018 edition

Top 10 2018

In what has become a charming annual tradition, in the middle of each year I fling open the proverbial doors to fellow Columbo fans and invite them to cast their votes for their single favourite episode. 

It’s no easy feat, I know. Common feedback is that choosing just one episode is akin to selecting a favourite child. Yet thousands have managed to make that agonising decision and cast their votes accordingly.

So for your viewing pleasure (can I get a drum roll please), here are the top 10 Columbo episodes as voted for by the fans, as of August 2018. There aren’t many jaw-dropping surprises, but with two new entries, a re-entry and lots of movement elsewhere there’s enough intrigue to warrant a few minutes of your day, so READ ON!

“Common feedback is that choosing just one episode is akin to selecting a favourite child – yet thousands have cast their votes.”

10. Suitable for Framing – RE-ENTRY (2017 = 11th; 2016 = 8th)

Suitable 1

The velvet tux alone ought to be a guarantee of a top 10 slot

Suitable for Framing is fabulous entertainment from the get-go, starting with the quickest ever Columbo killing (within 60 seconds) and concluding with the gloved hand reveal, which I rate as the single greatest TV moment ever.

In between it’s terrific stuff every step of the way, with Ross Martin excelling as slimy art critic Dale Kingston, and a support cast boasting Oscar-winning talent Don Ameche and Kim Hunter all at the top of their games.

Read my full episode review here.

9. Troubled Waters (last year = 8th)

Waters 4

Big hair on the high seas…

An absolute blast from start to finish, Troubled Waters (directed by Falk’s old buddy Ben Gazzara) sees Columbo revert back to old-skool sleuthing techniques to bring down Robert Vaughn’s crooked, murderous car salesman on the high seas.

It’s so entertaining that the massive plot holes – and almost endless version of Volare – can be easily ignored. Just sit back  and enjoy the ride, not to mention the sight of Vaughn pimpin’ it up like few other Columbo killers.

Read my tribute to the late Robert Vaughn here.

“It’s so entertaining that the massive plot holes – and almost endless version of Volare – can be easily ignored.”

8. An Exercise in Fatality – NEW ENTRY

Exercise2

Swaggering into the top 10 like a loin-clothed beefcake at Muscle Beach, Season 4 opener An Exercise in Fatality earns fans’ appreciation through a heady mix of humorous injections and a detestable baddie in Milo Janus.

It’s an absolute pleasure to see Janus taken comprehensively down by the Lieutenant – especially after the rare sight of Columbo totally losing his cool at his foe at the hospital. But Exercise does levity well, too, not least when an out-of-shape Columbo tries to keep up with Janus on his morning workout. Add in Gretchen Corbett in a bikini and all the ingredients are there for a memorable outing.

Read my full episode review here.

7. Try & Catch Me (last year = 9th)

Columbo Try and catch me Dog

Try & Catch Me delights time and again because the interplay between Ruth Gordan’s cheeky Abigail Mitchell (at 85 the oldest Columbo killer by a mile) and the Lieutenant is so enjoyable throughout.

One can almost hope the old dear gets away with it, but there’s no sentimentality from Columbo. In one of the episode highlights, Abigail coos about what a nice man Columbo is. “Don’t count on that, Miss Mitchell,” he warns. “Don’t count on it.”

6. Negative Reaction – NEW ENTRY

Negative 123

“Don’t mind me, I’ll just incriminate myself…”

Only 17th last year, Dick Van Dyke and beard spring confidently into the top 10 – a well-earned accolade in this correspondent’s opinion, as Negative Reaction is a near perfect combination of steely drama and rib-tickling humour.

Playing hugely against type, Van Dyke is seriously good as evil photographer Paul Galesko – a man so sick of his wife’s nagging that he’s happy to commit murder. A wonderfully paced episode, the comic interludes featuring a jolly nun and a livid driving instructor never fail to delight, while the gotcha ranks up there with the very best.

Read my full episode review here.

“Negative Reaction is a near perfect combination of steely drama and rib-tickling humour.”

5. A Stitch in Crime (last year = 4th)

Columbo Stitch in Crime

Stitch in Crime is a magnificent tale of ambition and ruthlessness, as Leonard Nimoy’s superbly cool Dr Barry Mayfield attempts to kill his research partner and mentor through use of dissolving suture, and actually does kill two others who stand in his way – including an entirely innocent, troubled war veteran, who never knew what hit him.

Nimoy is so heartless that he even elicits a rare display of genuine anger from the usually polite detective after Mayfield laughs in his face. The power of that emotional outburst makes it extra sweet when Columbo takes him down at episode’s end.

Read my full episode review here.

4. Now You See Him (last year = 3rd)

Columbo Now You See Him

Never far off the top of the list, Now You See Him has many ingredients that make it memorable for both die-hards and casual fans. The magic cabaret setting is unique for starters, and Jack Cassidy is typically inspired as the villainous Santini.

Throw in a hated new coat for Columbo, the return of Sergeant Wilson and the Lieutenant indulging in a Sherlockian reveal at the end, and you have 90 minutes of TV to treasure.

3. Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (last year = 5th)

Bye-Bye1

It’s my absolute favourite, so I’m pleased to see that many other viewers share my enjoyment. Although there are some highly improbable moments and some plot holes you could sail the Titanic through, it’s really got it where it counts: some wonderful humour, half of dozen of the series’ genuinely great moments, a beautifully edited final sequence and a fine turn by Theo Bikel as tortured genius Oliver Brandt.

Bye-Bye also features that rarest of beasts – the Lieutenant actually telling us something real about his methods and motivations in a touching heart-to-heart with Brandt as the episode reaches its denouement. What’s not to like?

Read my tribute to Theo Bikel here.

“Bye-Bye is my absolute favourite, so I’m pleased to see that many other viewers share my enjoyment.”

2. Murder by the Book (non-mover)

Murder Book 1

It’s one of the most important TV episodes ever to air, and Murder by the Book still has the capacity to mesmerise more than 45 years on. With Spielberg at the helm capturing spell-binding shots of the action, and Jack Cassidy establishing himself straight away as the archetypal Columbo baddie, it’s nigh-on perfect, with only the slightly unconvincing ‘gotcha’ not matching all that comes before it.

When it comes to characters and script, Murder by the Book sets the benchmark that all other episodes are compared against. Kudos, then, to episode writer Stephen Bochco, who sadly passed away earlier this year, and further praise is reserved for Billy Goldenberg’s iconic score.

Read my full episode review here.

“Murder by the Book sets the benchmark that all other Columbo episodes are compared against.”

1. Any Old Port in a Storm (non-mover)

Port 6

“An exciting meal has been ruined by the presence of this LIQUID FILTH!”

While the above line may not single-handedly be the reason why Any Old Port in a Storm continues to top the standings by a mile, it is arguably the stand-out example in what was a lesson in line delivery from Donald Pleasence throughout. His pompous Adrian Carsini is the beneficiary of a truly vintage script, which affords him countless opportunities to put his clipped British accent to exceptional use.

Any Old Port is certainly an aural treat, but it’s perhaps the final scene that hits home most with viewers. The mutually respectful exchange in Columbo’s car, as he drives Carsini away from his winery to a life behind bars, is a beautiful thing. Two perfectionists, from completely different sides of the tracks, have found a common ground. It’s the sort of TV moment that almost doesn’t exist any more, and it’s all the more poignant because of it.

Read my episode review here.

“The mutually respectful exchange in Columbo’s car, as he drives Carsini away from his winery to a life behind bars, is a beautiful TV moment.”

So there we have it: the fans’ favourites as voted for by you – for this year at least. But the fun doesn’t end there! Oh no, dear readers. But before I beat it,  here’s a round-up of some of the other key findings from the poll.

The episodes dropping out

Publish 2

No top 10 slot? But HOW, WHY?

With two new entries and a re-entry this year, it necessarily equates to three episodes dropping out. In this case the luckless trio of Swan Song, Publish or Perish and A Friend in Deed slip down the pecking order.

Friend in Deed drops one place to 11th; Publish drops 6 places to 12th, while Swan Song plummets like a flaming light aircraft from 7th to 13th. All three remain within touching distance of the top 10, though, so we mustn’t rule out Lazarus-like returns in 2019.

Any surprises?

The lack of Robert Culp and Patrick McGoohan representation in the top 10 remains interesting. McGoohan’s highest ranked episode is 14th (By Dawn’s Early Light), two spaces ahead of Culp’s highest, Double Exposure (a former top 10 episode back in 2016). The two are sandwiched around Etude in Black, which continues its slide down the table from 6th in 2016 to 12th last year. How do you like those apples, Maestro?

How are the ‘new’ kids settling in?

Columbo’s comeback episodes predictably fare less well in the popularity stakes than the 70s classics with only Columbo Goes to College (18th) claiming a top 20 spot. It’s followed by Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo in 23rd but elsewhere it’s slim pickings with only Agenda for Murder (31st), Columbo Cries Wolf, and It’s All in the Game (both tied 36th) making the top 40.

Propping up the rest?

Columbo Wendt

Idiot, Wendt…

There are no big fat zeroes with voters, but it’ll come as no surprise to purists to learn that the lower echelons of the standings are packed with ‘new’ episodes.

Only two of the 10 lowest-polling episodes are from the 1970s’ run (Old Fashioned Murder and Matter of Honor), while the three least loved of all are Grand DeceptionsNo Time to Die and Strange Bedfellows – the latter propping up all the rest.

A HUGE THANKS to all who voted, and even if you haven’t you can go and skew the above findings straight away by casting your vote here.

Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore

Better luck next year, Last Salute!

76 thoughts on “Columbo top 10 as voted by the fans: 2018 edition

  1. surprised more people don’t enjoy identity crisis its one of my favourites , I wouldn’t have murder by the book in my top 10.

  2. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Troubled Waters | The Columbophile

  3. I’ve started watching the Ellery Queen TV series created by Levinson & Link. All in just one episode are Vera Miles (Lovely But Lethal), Forrest Tucker (Bo Williamson in Blueprint), and Theodore Bikel (Bye Bye Sky High), Another episode starred Mel Ferrer (Requiem For A Falling Star). Ellery Queen couldn’t rival the standard of Columbo, but it’s good and it’s a pity it lasted only one season.

    Levinson & Link were a class act!

    • Other stars in Ellery Queen were Dean Stockwell (victim in the Most Crucial Game and suspect in Troubled Waters), Gretchen Corbett (Exercise in Fatality), and Anne Francis (victim in A Stitch in Crime).

  4. this is similar to my top 10, except that rubbish any old port in a storm is about 30th in my list, what Colombo fans see in this episode I don’t know. try and catch me is top with either negative reaction and the bye bye high murder tussling for 2nd , swansong , identity crisis , playback prescription murder , make me a perfect murder , as stitch in crime all make up my top 10

    • also left one out its between how to dial a murder and double shock and suitable for framing , almost put publish or perish in there but it doesn’t quite make it , never been a big fan of a friend in deed or candidate for crime although they do have good endings

  5. If you haven’t seen Strange Bedfellows, it’s quite watchable. Much better than Last Salute To The Commodore or Undercover or Murder With Too Many Notes.

  6. Noticed some folks are saying the channel they watch shows the same episodes over and over … Might I suggest ” Hallmark Movies & Mysteries ” — that’s where I get my Columbo , and I would guess they show 80 – 90 percent of the old ones — and all the new ones — in chronological order and then they start over again ( plus sometimes marathons on the weekends ) … Hope it helps …

  7. Some great episodes making the list. I’m surprised that A Stitch In Crime isn’t higher on the list though. Surprised there doesn’t seem to be any love for The Greenhouse Jungle, Ray Milland’s character has a very clever murder plan and is so cold.

    Have you ever done a vote for coldest/cleverest Columbo killer?

  8. The ranking of all 69 episodes is fascinating … In my very humble opinion ” Deadly State of Mind ” ; “Ashes to Ashes” ; ” Grand Deceptions ” and ” Playback ” all are rated way to low and ” Troubled Waters ” ; ” The Conspirators ” ; ” Caution = Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health ” and ” It’s All In the Game ” are a little to high ….

  9. Thanks again for another great read. I can’t help but factor personal experience into the favourite episode list. The episodes that number among those I saw first give me greater enjoyment than some others I appreciate to be technically better in terms of the general criteria mentioned elsewhere (plot, lead actor’s chemistry with Columbo, quality of gotcha etc.). I especially love Playback and Death Lends A Hand in this respect. They blew my mind when I was a kid, and that stuff stays with you.

    • The ranking of all 69 episodes is fascinating … In my very humble opinion ” Deadly State of Mind ” ; “Ashes to Ashes” ; ” Grand Deceptions ” and ” Playback ” all are rated way to low and ” Troubled Waters ” ; ” The Conspirators ” ; ” Caution = Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health ” and ” It’s All In the Game ” are a little to high ….

  10. definitely agree with try and catch me , negative reaction and the bye- bye high iq murder they are in the top 3 let alone the top 10, the were simply absolute classic episodes in

      • I can’t understand why people even like “Bye-Bye.” The script is clunky, Bikel’s acting is uneven, and there’s not much to enjoy about being stuck in that room so long with that boring “interesting” record player.

  11. I wouldn’t have an exercise in fatality anywhere near my top 10 not a bad episode but not in my top 10 , cant see why identity crisis is not more popular , double exposure , playback make me a perfect murder and double shock aren’t in that bracket , because ill be honest I don’t think now you see him or murder by the book should be in the top 10 no disrespect to jack but they don’t have great endings merely motive was established , play back and by dawns early light for example have good endings, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

  12. The continuing popularity of “Try & Catch Me” is a testament to the power of a brilliant guest star. On paper, “Try & Catch Me” is a mediocre episode — with a contrived murder plot and a hokey ending clue (that should have been discovered before Columbo first arrived at the murder scene). But Ruth Gordon (as always) gives such a wonderful, winning performance and has such chemistry with Peter Falk, that you are compelled to watch and re-watch “Try & Catch Me” for the performances alone.

    There are many criteria for an exceptional Columbo, but the absence of some factors can be overcome by the brilliance of others.

    • To your point, I just watched (again) “Swan Song” and (again) marveled at how a premeditated double-murder is offset by the charm of Johnny Cash. On paper Tommy Brown should fall into the same category as Dale Kingston, Dr. Mayfield and Paul Galesko, yet his winning personality and aroused sympathy, much like with Adrian Carsini, elevates him above the vileness of those aforementioned killers.

  13. To me, every Columbo episode is defined by its quality in terms of the following aspects: 1) Murder plot; 2) Detective work; 3) Acting quality of killer, and whether he’s a good foil for Columbo; 4) Final Gotcha moment; 5) Complex psychological and moral issues regarding killer or victim; 6) Overall quality of music, directing, pacing, and number of funny and memorable scenes. As with everything we rate (picking a husband or wife?), we rate some highly because they score well across the board, and we favor some because they are off the charts in 2 or 3 categories, even if they have weaknesses elsewhere. This series has several episodes that are great in nearly everything, and those are the elite ones for me.
    All ten of these are really good, but only 1,2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 can arguably belong in the top 10. Bye Bye Birdie has a real good killer actor, murder plot and gotcha ending, but way too many holes in the detective work, and too many so-so scenes with poor acting. Exercise in Fatality has a poor killer actor, no spark between him and Columbo, and one of the weakest final endings. Robert Vaughn’s dreadfully monotonous and droll acting severely harms an otherwise great episode in Troubled Waters, and Suitable for Framing is not great in anything except for the final gotcha moment. I would probably include Prescription: Murder, Publish or Perish, Mind Over Mayhem and the Conspirators instead of these 4, and might also consider Case of Immunity, Swan Song, and By Dawn’s Early Light as possible top 10 selections.

    • Wow….but to each his own. In my opinion, while Gene Barry was the archetypal Columbo killer, Ross Martin’s Dale Kingston was the quintessential Columbo killer. I also think that Robert Vaughn was the only worthwhile aspect of “Troubled Waters” and I also thought Robert Conrad was a solid perp in “Exericse in Fatality”. Again, to each his own.

  14. candidate for crime and make me a perfect murder were also very good, but its easier to name the poorest from the 70s so heres mine 1= a matter of honour 2=dagger of the mind3=murder under glass
    4=lovely but lethal 5=last salute to the commodore 6=requiem for a falling star
    7=dead weight 8= fade in to murder 9= old fashioned murder 10 = short fuse
    narrowly missing out the greenhouse jungle and a case of immunity.

  15. i agree and disagree , why that any old port in a storm is top I diont know an exercise in fatality should be kicked out into abou,t 30th , murder by the book should be replaced by prescription murder, murder by the book by identity crisis noe you you see him with either playback , how to dial a murder swansong double shock or even by dawns early light.

  16. Fan for life! Could Cozi TV show more episodes? Too many other good shows to watch and still seems Cozi cannot get people love it… wish Cozi TV sees that.

  17. Columbo is the best of classic TV … Tell me why ” Grand Deceptions ” is rated so low ? ( 3rd lowest ) … It has the evil Colonel Braile as villain ( Robert Foxworthy ) and there’s great back -n- forth between him and the raincoat genius … Plus the ‘ gotcha ‘ part with the boxes is classic Columbo brains … Music is good too …

    • I agree about Grand Deceptions. It’s definitely more like classic 70’s Columbo than “All In The Game”, with its silly “romantic repartee”. (Come on, Lieutenant– are we really supposed to believe you want to date this woman? After all that talk about your wife?) Grand Deceptions has the pompous killer, it’s got Dog, there’s even a great scene where the Lt unexpectedly disappears with critical evidence in hand. (Poor Marcia never saw it coming. “You’re not supposed to see the red cover anyway.”)

      I’d also rate “Publish or Perish” over “Now You See Him”. Jack Cassidy seems to be having a lot more fun with the part– is Mueller just incredibly bored or what?– and how did Wilson’s first name get changed? Continuity please. Plus, the whole “escaped Nazi war criminal” bit is lazy script-writing. Though it was nice to see Mike Lally get a few more lines than usual. And the typewriter ribbon bit is good.

      • Great catch 55 on that scene in ‘ Deceptions ‘ where the lieutenant sneaks off with the folder under Marcia’s nose … Another great scene in that one is when Colonel Braille first meets Columbo and tells him he surely understands about losing someone that he leads and the Lieutenant says , ” Well, sir, as far as the people I lead, that would just be me ” — great stuff …

  18. I am surprised Double Shock only ranks 29th… I wonder why it is not higher? Ransom for a Dead Man seems a bit low too at 30….

    And Patrick McGoohan’s episodes are all a bit low. I’d rank Agenda for Murder much higher than 30 (he won an Emmy for this), and Ashes to Ashes much higher than 50. I’d rank By Dawn’s Early Light in the top 10 due to Falk and McGoohan’s (another Emmy award for McGoohan) incredible performances.

    Glad Negative Reaction is in the top 10… it is one of the best. Swan Song (13) and Exercise in Fatality (8) are ranked higher than I expected.

    Thanks for posting.. always fun to read! You should write a post listing your top 10 new episodes (ABC network episodes).. that would be fun!! And perhaps the 5 worst Columbo episodes? haha

  19. I didn’t care for “Dawns Early Light” or “The Last Commodore” too long and drawn out. Those story lines bored me.

  20. I really like the mystery movie
    Collection – Columbo likes the nightlife. Columbo is older but like fine wine very good.

  21. I believe that I know every line from every episode of Columbo but can never miss an episode. Great program,Excellent writing, great leading man, and great supporting cast members.

  22. What a excellent murder mystery. Columbo has a span of at least 25 years. Why are the same 20 shows always shown.

  23. Probably, I am on the top ten list if fans😍 Of course i love the top ten and I Have to add the Greenhouse Jungle because him coming down the shortest way is PRICELESS🤣🤣🤣🤣😝😝❣❣❤❤

  24. “I totally resent and object to my absence from the list of rogues that were bested by that imbecile Columbo. I had him and would have walked free less for that faulty cell phone technology. Signing off as you loyal nationwide conservative host, Fielding Chase. (With apologies to William Shatner)

  25. I feel that virtually any episode after the 1974-75 season should be automatically disqualified (excepting Now You See Him), for one important reason: The writers/producers, etc., decided to tweak Columbo’s character, in an way I feel detracted from the power of his episodes. I observe that Columbo slowed down his rate of speech, and used the words sir and mam too often. My top 10? A Friend in Deed, Etude in Blaxk, Publish or Parish, Murder by the Book, any Robert Culp episode (orginal series only), Negative Reaction, Exercise in Fatality, A Stitch in Crime, Suitable for framing, and Blueprint for Murder. Thank you. -Christopher Wilmot, Pittsford, NY

    • Feeling like that doesn’t do credit to so many great episodes, in my opinion. Seasons 5, 6 and 7 do have some excellent ones. For the life of me I cannot think why so many people dislike Old Fashioned Murder, A Matter of Honour, or The Conspirators. And what about Try and catch me? I love them all.

  26. I’m good as long as I never again have to watch or even hear discussion about “The Conspirators” and “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”. Two of the most dreadful episodes of any kind on television. There is a reason that both the episodes were the last of their eras.

    • My God, how could you compare the admittedly dreadful “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” with the delightful “The Conspirators”? It makes my Top 10 list! It has a superb killer who Columbo just loves to do battle with, a great ending, and a complex set of conflicting emotions that almost makes you feel sad for the killer.

      • I apologize for nothing. Both episodes are equally dreadful, just created several decades apart . You’ll never see either of those in the top 10, except 10 worst. I welcome the eventual discussions on these equally diabolically horrific episodes when their time comes…..all in due time.

        • No, they aren’t ‘equally dreadful’. I totally agree with Leo Schwarz here. But you are right, you don’t have to apologize for anything whatsoever. What a dull place the world would be if we were all in constant agreement. I’m looking forward to future discussions!

  27. Any episode with Jack Cassidy is a top ten in my book. Look up the word “debonair” in the dictionary and there’s his photo. Now if we can just get COZI TV to show something OTHER than the same six Columbo episodes over and over…

  28. Patrick mcgoohan was without a doubt the best murderer😎 but my favorite and most sympathetic was Donald pleasence. Culp, Cassidy, Conrad all very dispicable all with no heart.

  29. The three Jack Cassidy episodes, the three Robert Culp episodes, “Suitable for Framing,” “Double Shock,” “A Friend in Deed” and “By Dawn’s Early Light” make up my Top Ten.

    • I’m right there with you–the three Jack Cassidy episodes, the three Robert Culp episodes, “Dawn’s Early Light”, “Etude in Black”, “Swan Song”, and “A Friend in Deed” are my Top Ten.

      Thank you, I enjoy your Top Ten list and wonderful commentary each year, Columbophile.

  30. Are there any other sources for streaming video of any other episodes than that which you currently have on the site? Is there any chance of adding any additional episodes to this site?

    Just curious.

    Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.