Star Trek: The Original Series officially aired on September 8, 1966. Now, exactly 50 years later, Star Trek has boldly gone where no series has gone before and then some. We’ve experienced First Contact, witnessed The Wrath Of Khan, journeyed through The Undiscovered Country and muscled our way through The Final Frontier (literally… that was rough). But when the show first premiered, who could have guessed we’d still be talking about it 50 years later? Who could have predicted the impact it would have after all this time?
Well, several more shows and 13 movies later, Star Trek still shines in the hearts and minds of fans. However, the shows and movies have had their high and low points, hence my dig at The Final Frontier. So in honor of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, we’re gonna be ranking the Star Trek film series. Now, I’ll be ranking these movies from Best to Worst, so expect things to get more negative as the list progresses. Everyone has their own opinion on what the worst and best films in the franchise are and I certainly have mine. So without further adieu, let’s get on with this. Minor Spoilers Ahead.
#1. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Yeah, yeah, I know this is everyone’s obvious choice. How original, right? But, I’m sorry, how is this not the best movie in the franchise? It’s the most memorable, has some of the best character development of the entire series and arguably the best villain of the series. Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) is out for revenge against Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), years after the events of Space Seed. So the game is on between a head strong captain and a vengeance fueled madman. Meanwhile, Kirk deals with his own mortality and learns humility as he faces a great loss.
Even after all these years (it was released in 1982) The Wrath Of Khan still holds up and has yet to lose its power. The storytelling implemented by screenwriter Nicolas Meyer is just brilliant. He writes Khan in a way that parallels to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and Captain Kirk is his White Whale. Montalban and Shatner play off of each other so well that their rivalry still remains legendary even years later. The scene at the end with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Kirk is enough to make even the strongest man cry and really demonstrates how strong their relationship truly is. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is cinematic brilliance at its finest.
#2. STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT
For many Trekkies, this film is a personal favorite and it’s not hard to see why. Like The Wrath Of Khan, Star Trek: First Contact continues a storyline from its respected series. Plus it got the taste of Star Trek: Generations out of our mouths so that was a big plus in its favor. Believe me, I’ll have my words for that train-wreck much later in this list. Star Trek: First Contact sees Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew going up against The Borg once again. This time, however, The Borg have traveled back in time to prevent earth’s first contact with the Vulcans. Now Jean-Luc and his crew must follow them to the past to stop The Borg and make sure that First Contact comes to fruition before mankind is lost forever.
Also, like The Wrath Of Khan, this film too takes a Moby Dick approach. Only this time it’s not the villain that resembles Captain Ahab, but rather our main hero. Picard was once assimilated into The Borg’s collective and was ultimately saved by his crew. So we see his torment as he becomes more and more obsessed with stopping and destroying The Borg, so much in fact that we see it clouding his judgement left and right, at one point even telling his crew to fight The Borg hand-to-hand. Usually the personal stories for the main characters make the best Star Trek movies and this was no exception.
However, it’s not just Picard’s story that makes the film interesting. We come to discover that the pilot who made first contact, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), had no ambition to do so. He’s a drunk, he’s a degenerate and doesn’t want to be so important. “I don’t want to be a statue”, he tells the crew. As a result, it’s up to the enterprise crew to lead their future hero down the right path. The film also delves into Data’s (Brent Spiner) ambition to become human, as we see The Borg Queen… well… there’s really no other way to put it… seduce him to the dark side. Seeing our favorite characters faced with overwhelming, personal odds only make the film stronger. Star Trek: First Contact is certainly one of Star Trek’s best.
#3. STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME
Unlike The Wrath Of Khan and First Contact, what made The Voyage Home so interesting was that there was no villain. The film didn’t have or even need a bad guy for the enterprise crew to stop. The Voyage Home was instead a film with an ecological message. While the enterprise crew deals with the aftermath of their actions in The Search For Spock, a probe arrives giving off the sound of the long extinct Humpback Whale. When the probe does not hear the sound of the whale on earth, it begins to slowly tear it apart. Now, the enterprise crew must go back in time to 1986 to find a whale and bring it to the future to save earth.
Given the premise of this film, this could of turned into an overly preachy mess. However, it never does. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is one of the most popular films in the series and for good reason. It is a film with ideas and a strong message for a brighter future. On top of that, the movie also manages to be one of the funniest films in the series. There is so much fun to be had as the enterprise crew struggles to integrate themselves into our present day world. It leads to some clever comedy as the crew find themselves clueless about San Francisco in 1986. Out of all the original series films, I think this is the one where the dynamic between the cast and characters shined the brightest.
#4. STAR TREK BEYOND
I may get a ton of ridicule for putting this one so high on the list but I honestly don’t care. Star Trek Beyond was a brilliant return to form for the series after a movie that was… let’s just say “less than stellar.” Star Trek Beyond continues the continuity of The Kelvin Timeline as a young Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are halfway into their five year mission. While on a rescue mission, they are led into an ambush, destroying their ship and stranding them separately on an unknown planet. All the while, the ruthless Krull (Idris Elba) is planning the destruction of The Yorktown Starbase. However, Krull’s motives may not be as black and white as you think.
Star Trek Beyond feels like a three part episode of the original Star Trek series with a bigger budget. If that doesn’t get you excited as a Star Trek fan, then why are you even reading this article? Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung showed that they clearly understand Star Trek. While the film has its action set pieces, never once do they overshadow the themes or the story. Believe me, I was worried about that too, especially with Justin Lin (Fast Five, Furious Six) directing this time. I’m so happy to say that this man really stepped up to the plate and delivered the Star Trek movie we deserved. The “Sabotage” scene is one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in years.
The film explores the theme of Purpose. What is the purpose of one’s life and what happens when someone’s purpose and reason for being is taken away? This is something we see Kirk and Krull struggle with in the film, giving them a perfect parallel. As a result, Star Trek Beyond is more cerebral and more thought provoking than the Star Trek films of recent years. Star Trek Beyond isn’t without its funny moments either. Spock (Zachary Quinto) & Bones (Karl Urban) have a ton of great scenes together and even develop a more personal bond than we’ve seen in the past. Even Scotty gets his moments to shine. The story is great, the pacing is perfect, the acting is the best it’s been in these new movies. Star Trek Beyond just rocks.
#5. STAR TREK: NEMESIS
Oh, I can just hear the angry ravings of so many Trekkies as Star Trek: Nemesis is considered to be one of the worst Star Trek films in history by the majority. However, I must respectfully disagree as I think it’s not only one of the best but possibly one of the most underrated science fiction films of all time. In this sendoff for the Next Gen crew, our heroes are sent to Romulus to work out what they think are negotiations for peace. However, much to their surprise, they discover that the new ruler of the planet is a human. But not just any human; a young clone of Jean-Luc Picard himself, going by the name of Shinzon (Tom Hardy). At first, Shinzon’s intentions seem genuine but when they discover his true nature, the enterprise must stop him from destroying earth.
Star Trek: Nemesis is not perfect and, in all fairness, has way too much action. I mean, the climax goes on for what feels like an eternity. That being said, it’s the ideas of Star Trek: Nemesis that make it such a good film. The ideas of Identity and Nature vs. Nurture are explored beautifully throughout. Picard isn’t just up against a soulless adversary this time. Instead, Picard is facing another version of himself, someone who shares the same DNA and who had the same potential but ultimately grew up under different and harsher circumstances. We’re left to wonder if Picard could have ended up this way if he had been raised the way Shinzon had. In the end, that’s something Star Trek has always been about; exploring and analyzing complex ideas and emotions.
Tom Hardy gives a brilliant and under-appreciated performance as Shinzon. His relationship with Picard in the film is not only expertly handled but also, in many respects, heartbreaking. I will admit that the film would have been better if there were more scenes of Picard and Shinzon together. If they had developed more of a friendship and an understanding before Shinzon’s true colors came to light, it would have made for a more intriguing film. Also, like First Contact, the scenes between Picard and Data are just wonderful and the final resolution with Data was well done for the most part. It harkens back to not just The Wrath Of Khan but to The Undiscovered Country as well. Anyway, I’m against the majority on this one. I loved Star Trek: Nemesis.
#6. STAR TREK (2009)
After a seven year hiatus, the series finally returned to the big screen, courtesy of J.J. Abrams and company. For moviegoers, this movie could do no wrong. For Trekkies, Star Trek (2009) (It was originally called Star Trek: The Future Begins… don’t know why they didn’t just run with that) was pretty split down the middle. Some called it a welcome change while others thought it was just a high-octane mess with no substance. Taking both arguments into account, I’m somewhere in the middle, but mostly leaning toward the positive. Star Trek (2009) found a time traveling Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana), going back in time and ultimately changing the Star Trek timeline from the day of James Kirk’s birth onward.
If I have any problems with this film, it’s the villain. Eric Bana gives an awesome performance but Nero’s plans are just stupid. He vows revenge on Spock when all he has to do is go to Romulus and tell them a supernova is coming. Problem solved, buddy. He also has this thing called Red Matter that basically just does whatever the plot requires it to do. Sometimes it sends you through time, sometimes it blows you up… I mean, consistency does help. That being said, the film is action packed, beautifully acted and expertly paced.
Star Trek (2009) faced a challenge that no other Star Trek film had to face at the time. The first six films had the original series to work off of. The Next Gen movies had The Next Gen series to work off of. Star Trek (2009), however, had nothing. It not only had to reboot a series for a new generation and re-establish an entire universe, but it also had to recognize and pay tribute to the old series as well. Given all it had to accomplish, I’d say it succeeded. The casting was perfect and it was interesting watching the characters we love come together under different circumstances. It’s a film about fate and where our fates will bring us in the end. It’s considered one of the best reboots and it’s really not hard to see why.
#7. STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
This was the send off to the original series cast. As far as send offs go, it was a good one. However, if I’m being honest, am I the only one who finds this one just a bit overrated? Not bad, mind you, just not as great as people make it out to be? When the Klingon home-world, Qo’noS is in peril, they turn to the federation for help. However, Captain Kirk, still hateful toward the Klingons due to his son’s death in The Search For Spock, is the one sent to negotiate peace between Qo’noS and The Federation. It isn’t long before Kirk is framed and put on trial for murdering a Klingon, forcing his crew to set out and prove his innocence.
Unlike the other films in the series, The Undiscovered Country is a mystery. That being said, that’s where my major issue with the film comes in. It’s a mystery that isn’t a mystery at all because the identity of the perpetrators is so frickin’ obvious. I swear, the villain of this film is such a painfully obvious bad guy it’s a wonder why they even bothered making this a mystery. Gee, I wonder if the villain is THE ONLY KLINGON WITH AN EYEPATCH & A TWIRLY MUSTACHE! On top of that, it’s also painfully obvious who is helping him on the enterprise. Gee, I wonder if it’s the person we’re only introducing six movies in? DERRRR! Who dun it, George?
That being said though, I can’t deny that the film does contain some great character development for James T. Kirk. I loved his personal journey throughout this film. The ideas of change and people being frightened by it are what make the film so socially relevant. For me, that was the glue that held this movie together. The film does explore great themes, it’s really just the mystery angle and the villain that doesn’t work for me.
#8: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
The odd numbered Star Trek films were once considered the bad ones in the series until Star Trek (2009) came along and broke that curse. However, The Search For Spock is the one odd numbered film in the original series that I would actually say is pretty good. At the very least, it’s not bad. Following the events of The Wrath Of Khan, Spock’s body is lying in wait on the genesis planet where he is slowly resurrecting. When Kirk discovers that he can save his lost friend, he and his crew risk their very careers and set out to find him. However, the Klingon Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) has other plans for Kirk and the genesis planet, which is slowly collapsing.
The big problem I have with this film is that it cheapens Wrath Of Khan’s ending. Yeah, I wanted to see Spock back just as much as any fan but not right away. I think it would have been a better move if they saved this for maybe the fourth or fifth movie. Maybe test the waters without Spock instead of just bringing him back immediately. But for what it is, it’s fine. The action is a ton of fun. They even blow up the enterprise this time and they give the scene a great deal of emotional weight. While their rivalry has nothing on Kirk & Khan, Kirk & Kruge still play off of each other rather nicely. Christopher Lloyd makes his character fun, even if he isn’t anywhere near as good as say Khan or The Borg Queen. The Search For Spock is a fun Star Trek movie.
Take it for what it is and you may just enjoy it.
#9. STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE
Okay, here’s where the really bad stuff begins. This was the first Star Trek movie and to this day, fans absolutely despise it. Not that it doesn’t have any good and even thought provoking ideas. No, it’s just a boring movie because instead of trying to make a Star Trek film, the director tried to make it more like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s unbelievable actually how a director can completely miss the point of Star Trek but more about that at #13. Star Trek: The Motion Picture sees the crew back together after many years as they encounter an anomaly in space that calls itself V’Ger. Meanwhile, Kirk deals with not being a captain anymore, Spock has a pointless ritual on Vulcan and the director for some reason never feels the need to cut away to anything.
Many of you are probably wondering why this isn’t higher on the list. Well, honestly, it’s because I actually think the film has some cool ideas. The mystery of what V’Ger ultimately turns out to be was incredibly thought provoking and, in a weird way, I kind of respect this film for at least trying something different. It didn’t work… like… at all but at least they tried. While the film ultimately earns it’s title as The Slow-Motion Picture, I strangely found myself enjoying the back and forth between Kirk and Dekker (Stephen Collins). It wasn’t great or anything but I will give it that much credit. Watching their egos go at it is really what kept me interested.
Make no mistake though, from the costume designs, to the hammy acting, to the pointless detours, to the the fact that the director almost NEVER cuts to anything, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was pretty bad.
10: STAR TREK: INSURRECTION
Star Trek: Insurrection is considered by many to be the worst in the Next Gen series of films. I personally think that title belongs to Star Trek: Generations, but more on that later. In this film, Picard and his crew encounter a group of aliens, The Baku, that have sworn off technology. They live on a planet that The Federation wants to use because of its power to prolong life, heal the sick and cure diseases. Through a series of circumstances, they find themselves protecting the inhabitants of the planet against a forced relocation by The Federation.
To me, this is not a good movie. However, I can see that it was obviously a well intentioned movie. It is talking about something serious after all. But the problem is that Picard is saying that “Forced Relocations” are wrong in this film, when he’s participated in two other relocations throughout the Next Gen series. Now, I could get behind this if The Baku were from this planet but the film clearly states that they aren’t. They only came to the planet a few hundred years prior. So, in other words, they’re just greedy and want the powers of the planet for themselves. I mean, c’mon, as a great man once said; “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” On top of all this, it’s just kind of a dull film.
Out of all the really bad Star Trek films, I think Insurrection had the most potential to be good. I just wish it had been.
#11: STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER
Well, after Leonard Nimoy got done directing two incredibly well received films for the series, I guess the next logical step was to hand over the directors chair to Shatner. I really wish all of you could hear the depressing sarcasm in my voice right now. The Final Frontier sees the enterprise hijacked by a vulcan named Sybok, who also just happens to be Spock’s brother. Of course he is. Anyway, Sybok has a strange power to take people’s pain away and ultimately is on a quest beyond The Great Barrier (whatever the heck that is) to find God. Yes, you heard that right. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is a movie about finding God.
Oh, where do I even begin with this one? Well, I will say this for it; like the bad Star Trek films I already mentioned, this did have some interesting ideas. Shatner also worked on the screenplay for this and was inspired to create Sybok after seeing a televangelist on television. And, true to form, that is how Sybok comes across and the scenes of him taking peoples pain away actually aren’t terrible. Again, the ideas are there, it’s Shatner’s execution that kills this movie. The climax is god awful. So many scenes just go nowhere. The whole opening sequence of Kirk, Spock and Bones (DeForest Kelley) is entirely useless. The acting feels downgraded from previous films. There’s really no other way to say it, The Final Frontier was a massive dud.
#12: STAR TREK: GENERATIONS
Star Trek: Generations is a Star Trek film so bad, it’s actually kind of hard to watch. It was an obvious passing of the torch movie as it found a way to get both Picard and Kirk on screen together for the first time by way of The Nexus. This was a film about Legacy and what we leave behind. While that sounds interesting, the film goes about telling it in the most boring way possible. Give The Motion Picture some credit, at least that movie had style. The only scene in this film that made me feel something was when Picard was lamenting his Legacy and how there will be no more Picards after him. Admittedly, that scene was great. Everything else is just a bore and most of the plot, especially regarding the villain’s (Malcolm McDowell) plan, really made no sense.
But beyond that, Generations committed an even worse sin by making me hate one of my favorite Star Trek characters. Data was my favorite character on The Next Generation. He was like the robot version of Pinocchio. A golden being that wanted to be human. And as the series went on, he became more and more like a human through his adventures with the enterprise crew. Well, this film says screw it, gives him a stupid emotion chip and has him bouncing around and laughing like an annoying idiot for most of the runtime. If I ever hear that lifeforms song again, heads are gonna role.
But even the horridness of this film is nothing compared to what lies ahead…
#13: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
Now, let me explain something right off the bat. If you’re judging this movie just as a film, the last four movies I mentioned are worse. You could probably make the argument that even Star Trek III was worse than this. However, when judging it as a Star Trek movie, Into Darkness is by far the worst one. When a terrorist, known as Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch)(I am not calling him John Harrison) attacks Federation Headquarters, Kirk and his crew pursue him with a vengeance. However, when they capture him, they discover that Khan may or may not be the real enemy. Spoiler Alert: He is the enemy.
How can I call this the worst Star Trek film? Because this is the ONLY Star Trek film without a single original and thought provoking idea in its head. Even the worst Star Trek movies like Insurrection, Generations, The Motion Picture & The Final Frontier gave me something to think about and that’s what Star Trek is. It’s supposed to give us things to think about and discuss. It’s supposed to help me walk away with a full mind, not an empty one.
Imagine for a moment it’s the mid-late 60’s. JFK’s been assassinated, we’re occupying Vietnam and we’re in the middle of The Cold War. Nobody thought we were gonna live to see the year 1970, let alone the year 2000. Then came Star Trek. It was a little show, taking place in the future, where mankind had put aside its petty differences in pursuit of a better future. You had characters of all different races and cultures working together. It gave people at the time not what they wanted but what they needed; they needed hope. Hope is what Star Trek once gave to people.
And the fact that it became THIS… this, stupid, brainless, generic, shoot-em-up action flick, going against everything that Star Trek has stood for since the beginning… it just makes me sick to my stomach. When it sacrificed thought provoking ideas and complex messages in favor of random action and rehashing plot points we’ve already seen in other Star Trek films (More specifically The Wrath of Khan & Nemesis), it lost its right to call itself Star Trek. Star Trek Into Darkness may be a fun action movie for some. It is well acted. It is well directed. Even some of the action scenes look nice.
But regardless, whatever this movie is, it sure isn’t Star Trek.
So that was my ranking of the Star Trek films. Did you like it? Do you agree or disagree? Please be sure to tell me in the comment box below and check out some more articles right here at TheNerdStash.com
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.