Button, Button is the second segment of the twentieth episode from the first season (1985–86) of the television series The Twilight Zone. The episode is based on the short story of the same name by Richard Matheson; the same short story forms the basis of the 2009 film The Box. The original idea is taken from passage 1.6.2 of Genius of Christianity (1802) by François-René de Chateaubriand, in which the authors asks the reader what he would do if he could get rich by killing a mandarin in China solely by force of will.
Arthur and Norma Lewis are slowly descending into abject poverty. One day, they receive a mysterious locked box with a button on it and a note that says Mr. Steward will come visit. Then, just as the note says, a smartly dressed stranger who introduces himself as Steward comes to their door when Arthur is out. He gives Norma the key to the box and explains that, if they press the button, two things will happen: they will receive $200,000, and someone "whom [they] don't know" will die. After the stranger leaves, the Lewis's wonder whether Steward's proposal is genuine, and they agonize over whether to press the button. Norma rationalizes that they could make good use of the money and that the one who dies might be some Chinese peasant or cancer sufferer who is living a miserable life. Arthur takes the side that, since they do not know who will die, pressing the button may cause the death of an innocent baby. They open the box and discover no mechanism inside it—it is simply an empty box with a button on it. Arthur angrily throws the box in the trash. However, in the middle of the night while Arthur is asleep, Norma goes to the apartment building's dumpster and retrieves the device. The next day, Arthur leaves for work and sees Norma sitting at the kitchen table, her gaze transfixed on the button. At the end of the day, he returns from work and it appears that nothing has changed; Norma is still sitting and concentrating only on the button. The days go by. Norma and Arthur keep talking about the box, when suddenly Norma decides that she will push the button. The next day Mr. Steward returns, takes back the box, and gives them a briefcase with the $200,000. The Lewises are in shock and ask what will happen next. Steward ominously replies that the button will be "reprogrammed" and offered to someone else with the same terms and conditions, adding as he focuses on Norma: "I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don't know." A horrified, knowing expression crosses Norma's face.
"Button, Button" was first published in Playboy, June 1970, a short story written by Richard Matheson. The story was republished as part of a collection of Matheson's short stories. In the original short story, the plot is resolved differently. Norma presses the button, and receives the money—after her husband dies in a train incident where Arthur is pushed onto the tracks (the money was the no-fault insurance settlement, which is $50,000 instead of the $200,000 in the Twilight Zone episode). A despondent Norma asks the stranger why her husband was the one who was killed. The stranger replies, "Did you really think you knew your husband?" Matheson strongly disapproved of the Twilight Zone version, especially the new ending, and used his pseudonym Logan Swanson for the teleplay.