The Star Trek franchise turns 50 next year and we are hoping for a thirteenth Star Trek movie along with the announcement of its return to television. While Simon Pegg pens the script and production begins, I attempt to rank the existing 12 Star Trek movies from the original 1979 space opera Star Trek: The Motion Picture, through The Next Generation’s first film, Generations, and up through J.J. Abrams’ pseudo Wrath of Khan remake, Into Darkness. I’ll break down why I rank each Star Trek film the way I did and their placement will include things like character growth, special effects, musical scores, plot, and overall consistency. The Star Trek franchise is one of the biggest and oldest science fiction franchises out there, so I’m sure many will disagree with my ranking. Please comment with your own and let me know what you think of my list. Engage!
12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Is The Final Frontier really as bad as people say it is? Yes. Across the board. The basic plot is a beat up with a falling apart Enterprise-A staffed by an ever aging crew of our classic Original Series cast. The ship is taken over by Spock’s half-brother who is on a search for God at the center of the galaxy. Now, let’s forget how ridiculous it is that the Enterprise could get to the center of the galaxy in a short time (I’m more inclined to let these things go in the original TV show episodes, not the fifth film on the big screen) and instead focus on the corny dialogue, poor special effects, and all-around lame attempts at emotional moments. The budget for this film was slashed and we’ve been told that a lot of the movie was cut out. So perhaps the original version would have been better but instead what we’re left with is some cute camping scenes with our trio singing, Kirk making love to the mountain, Uhura’s weird fan dance, Scotty knocking himself out because he apparently doesn’t know the ship well anymore, and weird telepathic scenes where our crew sees their worst fears brought to life… though somehow everyone else can see what’s happening. At the end, we meet “God,” who is really just an alien that Kirk tries to outsmart with the famous, “What does God need with a starship?” line. Eventually, the day is saved by a random, could have been anyone, Klingon who wants to kill Kirk because it sounds like fun. The movie did so poorly that the original box set covers thought this was the end of the series and franchise so when Star Trek VI came out, it didn’t really fit in with the box set art.
I give it 2 marsh melons roasting on a corny fire.
11. Star Trek: Generations
Is this film an Original Series film or a Next Generation film? Neither. It’s actually a Kirk and Picard film that happens to have other people in it. We do get some very nice moments like seeing Sulu’s daughter, Guinan providing her always interesting wisdom (why wasn’t she credited in this film?), and Malcolm McDowell making a good villain. All reasons why this film outdoes our last place contender. So what’s so bad about it? Well, The Next Generation had just ended with one of my favorite finales ever, “All Good Things…” and gave us a fantastic story, adventure, and some closure for our beloved 24th century crew. The Original Series had their beautiful sendoff at the end of The Undiscovered Country. So I was hoping to see our Next Gen crew steal the show. Instead, we got an awkward sendoff on the Enterprise-B with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov. No Spock, no Uhura, no Sulu. Kirk is killed-ish and everyone is sad. The Enterprise-D crew, on the other hand, seems to just be on a normal mission, nothing too exciting. In fact, NOTHING could have really happened in the rest of the film if it wasn’t for one simple thing…. CHECK GEORDI’S VISOR! The guy had just been held as a prisoner on a Klingon ship and no one checks to see if he is bugged? Between Data, Worf, and Dr. Crusher… no one thought about this? Okay, so an old, small Bird of Prey (which the original Enterprise could have taken out easily according to Christopher Lloyd) destroys the Federation’s flagship with a couple of torpedoes. Meanwhile, Kirk and Picard are in the “do whatever we want to do” Nexus and somehow forget how to fight. I mean, I assume they have to be disoriented by the Nexus or something. Otherwise, why can’t they take down Soran in a 2-on-1 confrontation? Then, Kirk has his real death which echoes The Finale Frontier. You see, he always knew he’d die alone and here he is, alone on a planet… except for Picard and Soran, but I suppose he could have meant alone as in not with friends he loved like Spock and Bones. In the end, we got a movie that was not as good as the series finale, that didn’t know how to focus on the old and new at the same time and brought us a story filled with plot holes and vagueness with a relatively boring score and stale action sequences. But hey, it did give us yet another excuse to destroy the Enterprise.
I give it 4 trips through the Nexus to save the Enterprise crew.
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The space opera that started it all. The Motion Picture was the franchise’s epic return and they did so following the steps of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. Let’s talk about the good first. The film is beautiful. We have wonderful models and practical effects, as well as a gorgeous model of the Enterprise. The score is fantastic. Seriously. So much so that it was reused over and over including in The Next Generation as their main theme. So for those two factors, the movie is very successful. Unfortunately, the story, length, and costume design ruin it for everyone. The story was originally intended to be a 50ish minute episode for Star Trek: Phase II but since that didn’t happen, the story was extended to be a full motion picture (and then extended again for the Collector’s Edition) and additional scenes were added so Spock could have a more prominent role. Leonard Nimoy was originally not interested in returning to the franchise after the end of The Animated Series. Remember the scene in Spaceballs when they make fun of how long the ship is? Well, V’ger is definitely longer. The movie goes on forever with long, spanning shots, quiet pondering moments, suspense, any excuse to take up more screen time. Then we have the costumes. We went from the now classic look of the TV series to pajamas in space, all bland colors and tones…. except for Kirk, of course. And for most of the movie, Ilia, one of the only new characters, is essentially in a bathrobe. Of course, there is the cool non-canon book theory that this is what start the Borg. Make that canon and this movie becomes significantly more important. Check out the “Origins” section for more details and definitely read William Shatner’s “The Return”.
I give it 4 ten minute sweeping shots of the big budget ship models.
9. Star Trek Into Darkness
Ah yes, the second film in the JJ-verse. I don’t like this movie. In fact, I wanted to rate it dead last but I’m trying to be fair. The film is definitely more watchable than The Finale Frontier or The Motion Picture and more interesting than Generations, but it fails across the board. First, you take the alternate timeline concept from the 2009 film and instead of using that freedom, you just remake The Wrath of Khan BUT some of it is flipped! What a twist! You take a wonderful actor like Benedict Cumberbatch, give him a unique story, name, and motivation. Then you “surprise” us with him actually being Khan with a big reveal that means nothing to the characters (since THEY HAVEN’T ACTUALLY MET BEFORE) and mainly annoys fans who would actually know who he is. You give him motivations that actually kind of justify what he is doing, have him invent something that makes starships a waste of time, and turn the only two female characters into sex symbols that argue with their boyfriends in front of their captain. In all, the movie insults The Wrath of Khan, the audience, and the only two female characters all while trying to make Shatner’s old, campy KHAN yell into something that’s supposed to be intense, sad, and emotional. I laughed. Most of the theater laughed. I’m sorry. I love the cast. I love the uniforms. I even love the Enterprise design. This story bombed.
I give it 4 relatives trapped inside long range torpedoes but I’ll just transport to my destination and place a bomb because warp drive is slow now.
8. Star Trek: Nemesis
Personally, I think this film is very underrated and people are too quick to judge it. The bad? Well, we don’t need a car chase scene in Star Trek unless it’s with space ships and even then… only maybe… I’m looking at you, Justin Lin. Also, bringing back Data with B-4 was both cool and disappointing at the same time. Data’s death was very important and I will defend it to the end. He completed his journey in becoming human by sacrificing himself for Picard, his friend, mentor, and leader. I loved it. Bringing him back is both cool for us, people who love the character, and also disappointing because it takes a little something away from his original sacrifice. I thought Tom Hardy was a great casting choice. I loved the story, the cast, the special effects. It would have been nice to see Riker’s ship at the end but hey, I can dream. Overall, it was a darker tone that tried to end a generation’s journey in a way that we could respect, in a way that was somewhat final and I believe it did that, though not perfectly. Unfortunately, its tone and the state of the franchise at the time makes this feel more forgettable than it deserves.
I give it 5 Dr. Soong androids searching for purpose.
7. Star Trek: Insurrection
The biggest complaint I hear about this movie is that it’s just one long episode. Why is that bad? Most Trekkies and Trekkers agree that Star Trek belongs on TV. So a long episode sounds great and I think it was. The story is Trek at its best with the crew standing up against incredible odds to protect those who are in need. The script was solid, with some great dialogue for the main cast members, jokes, and singing. In fact, the scene aboard the Captain’s Yacht when the crew catches Picard is one of my favorite Trek scenes period. We had a classic villain in the form of F. Murray Abraham’s Ru’afo and a solid contrast to the normal Federation with Admiral Dougherty. I felt that the chemistry between the cast was at its height and that showed through to the story. But yes, I could have done without the lame joystick console in the middle of the bridge. Either way, great action sequence with Riker and Geordi having some fun. Everyone gets a chance to shine but Geordi gets one of the best moments when he gets to see a sunrise for the first time with functional eyes and later when he says he can’t hurt these people to keep that gift. They are the crew I want and the crew we need. “Saddle up, lock and load.”
I give it 7 extra warp cores in case of isolytic bursts.
6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
There are some fun and exciting moments in this film. Seeing everyone in various forms of dress helped support the cowboy diplomacy methods they use throughout the film. Scotty’s last second attempt at opening the spacedock doors is always an enjoyable scene. Christoper Lloyd makes for a fantastic Klingon and villain. His sarcastic attitude and lack of fear fits the character well. I’m not sure the damage done to the Enterprise after a single hit makes any sense regardless of how wired up Scotty had to make things. The ship did make it to spacedock on its own, remember? Overall, this is a good Trek movie. They kill off Kirk’s son, which was a fairly annoying character anyway and replace him with Kirk’s personal hatred for Klingons that would resurface in the sixth film. Robin Curtis did a decent job replacing Kirstie Alley but she didn’t give off the same, authentic Vulcan vibe. In general, I’m happy with this film but it does have some awkward moments and the ending sums things up a little too easily. Blow up the Enterprise, trick last remaining officer on Klingon ship, kick bad guy off a cliff. Very easy. I’m also a little confused by the planet’s changes. First off, where did the star it’s orbiting come from? But that aside, things like snow, desert lands, etc. come from the planet’s orbit and axis orientation to its star. It doesn’t have much to do with it’s actual stability, but hey, I’m not a geologist or scientist. I truly love the reversal of the Vulcan proverb, the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many. Also… everyone realizes that Saavik and young Spock fooled around, right?
I give it 7 year Pon farr cycles.
5. Star Trek (2009)
J.J. Abrams’ first film makes it into the top five. Congrats to him and Bad Robot. I enjoyed the 2009 Trek film a lot. Honestly. It’s bright, fun, exciting, and I felt it truly honored what came before and what they were trying to echo. I also loved the little time travel loop hole they used to create an alternate timeline. It gave them complete and legitimate right to change events (to a degree) without people crying “canon!” I really enjoyed the updated looks, whether it was the all-new Enterprise, the new uniforms, or even the Apple Store bridge. I thought the style worked well and gave the franchise a sense of coolness that the wasn’t there before. While some of the decisions, like the destruction of Vulcan, seemed a bit outlandish, even for Trek. And yes, the Red Matter was just an overly simple plot device that was way too convenient for its own good. With that said, I loved seeing Nimoy reprise his role of Spock and I enjoyed the double-Spock moments. The casting was also spot on. Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin were all fantastic choices for our rebooted crew. Eric Bana played a fantastic villain and it was nice to see the Romulans finally get some big screen action. Think about it. In twelve films, the Klingons show up in half of them, seven if you count the Bird of Prey in The Voyage Home. Romulans only show up twice and one time they were led by Picard’s human clone. Finally, Bruce Greenwood was a solid choice for Captain\Admiral Pike and they were able to throw a lot of little Easter Eggs throughout the film for long-time fans. One last thing, the poster pictured above is definitely one of my favorite movie posters, hands down.
I give it 7 time travel paradoxes wrapped up in a bow.
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
“Captain, there be whales here!” That pretty much sums up the movie. This “period piece” Trek film is great. It’s fun, lighthearted, enjoyable, and exciting. We see our crew break out of the more strict rules of the Federation and be themselves a bit. Kirk tries to curse, they visit a pawn shop, we get some great Cold War-era jokes with Chekov, we see a different Enterprise, and Spock swims with some whales, all while we using a fairly convenient and little lame time travel technique used once before. What I love about this film is its human and humorous moments. We left the darker, grittier tone from the first three films and just had some fun. For the most part, each crew member gets their moments but a particular focus is put on Bones, Scotty, and Chekov, which is nice. I love the scenes when Bones and Scotty are looking for tank enclosures and they give up the formula for transparent aluminum (which is actually a thing now!). I truly feel like this movie provides everyone the opportunity to shine as their true Trek-selves while providing a fun and enjoyable story set in a unique place for Trek, 1980’s San Francisco. The addition of Catherine Hicks was also great. I was a little sad they never returned to her character. The end of the film is exciting and uplifting with the terrible storms and the whales singing their songs. It’s a feel-good Trek film and there’s nothing wrong with that. The sequel book, “Probe”, leaves much to be desired, however.
I give it 8 slingshots around the sun for some whales.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Alright, the rankings here are getting tough. I want to say that I truly love everything in the top four. Any day of the week I could watch all of them and be very happy. With that said, Wrath of Khan hits at number three. It’s a fantastic film and great sequel to The Original Series episode “Space Seed.” Richardo Montalban is phenomenal. Hands down. He’s epic. He’s crazy. He’s vengeful. He’s perfect. The movie is shot very well with some fantastic music. Plus, it introduces my favorite Trek uniform, the classic red naval style uniforms used in half of the Trek films to date. The space battles between the Enterprise and Reliant were also great, and the level of camp that does exist works because of the time and cast. Kirk’s “KHAN” scream works so well here because it’s Shatner in 1982. Khan’s epic monologues are a bit cheesy but also brilliant and Shakespearean. But let’s not forget the end. The famous end where we lose Spock. His sacrifice in the face of certain death, the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few… or the one. The scene with Kirk and Spock separated is emotional, just incredibly so. Everyone feels it, the cast, the crew, the audience… everyone. I don’t think there are enough positive things I can say about this movie. Spock’s death, the balance of Kirk and Khan, the misleading repair timetables on open channels, the hide and seek in the Mutara Nebula, “the odds will be even.” I love an underdog, especially when it’s my Enterprise crew.
I give it 9 stab at thees from hell’s heart.
2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The end of an era. After the failure of The Final Frontier, I will be forever grateful that we were given a sixth film because it’s one of the best. Even if you don’t agree with all of my rankings here, you have to admit that this film has to be one of the top two of the franchise. The concept alone is fantastic. A Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked during a time when the Federation and the Klingon Empire are attempting to find peace, the parallels to Shakespeare, the addition of Christopher Plummer. There are so many fantastic moments. The special effects were great, the score was fantastic, and the cast and crew did a perfect job in their true finale. Even though Shatner and Takei were not on good terms, they were able to find a resolution that actually added to the film. The opening sequence with the Excelsior and Praxis blowing up was so cool. Bringing in Kim Cattrall as a spy was a great plot point too. The conspiracy, the diplomacy, the action, the respect between Chang and Kirk, I loved every moment of it. If I have any complaints, it’s due to the production of the Blu-Rays because the boxset does NOT include the Director’s Cut of the film which changes the end quite drastically. In the Director’s Cut, Rene Auberjonois’ Colonel West (he went on to play Odo) is responsible for working with the Klingons to kill the president of the Federation and stop the peace talks. This is all cut and we are led to think it was just another Klingon in the theatrical cut. At the end of the day, there are some fantastic action sequences, solid speeches, and a little theatrical drama. What better way to end the original generation’s journey?
I give it 9 heat seeking modified torpedoes looking for a tailpipe.
1. Star Trek: First Contact
This is where our journey comes to an end today. First Contact is by far the best Next Generation film and for me, it’s the best overall Trek movie. Why? Well, it wins across the board. It’s dark, serious, well-written, well-acted and directed (thank you, Jonathan Frakes), and focuses on the scariest and more challenging of the Star Trek villains, the Borg. Patrick Stewart is at the top of his game. The continuation of Picard’s assimilation story is stressful, emotional, and scary for the character. He must overcome the stigma everyone else has placed on him and help save the Federation and all of mankind. The special effects, especially of the brand new Enterprise-E and the updated Borg are phenomenal. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen is the definition of what they embody. She is deceitful, strong-willed, powerful, but also alluring to some. The story arc with Data is very engaging and there were moments when I thought maybe we had lost our android friend. James Cromwell, who had been in Trek as different characters before, was the perfect Cochrane, someone who just wanted to do his own thing, get away from it all but had history thrust upon him. This movie brought the best of Trek on the big screen with a big screen budget and updated special effects. It put together a movie that could be enjoyed by longtime Trekkies and Trekkers but also the mainstream audiences who wanted something a little more action packed from their sci-fi. The score is beautiful as well. It provided a sense of wonder and anxiety all at the same time. They even threw in some Klingon themed music for Worf’s bigger moments. And just tell me that the confrontation between Picard and Worf was not awesome. It showed the drive and willpower of Picard with the respect and honor Worf had for their relationship. This was incredibly powerful. Trek is best when it tackles complex social issues. The comparisons to “Moby Dick” were spot on. Picard had been hurt by the Borg, by the Queen and he was seeking revenge. While The Wrath of Khan saw the villain out for revenge, First Contact saw our hero, our diplomatic Captain Picard, set out for his own. The rest of the cast did a great job but the focus of the film is really on Picard, turning him into a significantly more emotionally complex character that, I believe, was carried on in Insurrection.
I give it 10 quantum torpedoes in the hull of a Borg sphere.
There you have it, folks. My Star Trek movie rankings. This was not an easy list to compile. I’ve thought it through several times and a couple movies move a spot or two but all-in-all, I am confident that this list took as much into consideration as possible. I was brought up on Trek. I own four copies of the original six films and three of the next four (different formats, releases, etc.). I own all but Deep Space Nine on DVD or Blu-Ray, and that’s just due to the cost. I’ve seen every episode except for the last two of The Animated Series, and that’s because I want to know that there is still Trek out there I haven’t seen. I own several soundtracks from the shows and films, countless action figures, and ships. Star Trek is incredibly important to who I am, and it helped shape me into the person I grew up to be.
I hope you enjoyed this ranking and please comment below with your own thoughts and your own ranking. Everyone has a different perspective, as Trek tried to teach us, and I’d love to read yours.
May you live long and prosper. \\\///
Make it so.