It’s safe to say that “Star Trek” has a complicated history at the movies. Over the course of twelve films and three different casts, the quality has surely varied from release to release, but thankfully — and consistently — a really good “Star Trek” movie inevitably pops up every few takes to remind us why the franchise works so well on both the small and big screen. And while the episodic format of “Star Trek” is perhaps when the franchise works best, the franchise’s film-length epics add a whole other level of weight to Trek adventures that, good of bad, excite fans to the (warp) core with every release.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the franchise, and the upcoming “Star Trek Beyond,” CBR News has ranked every “Star Trek” movie ever made, from worst to best.
Take a look at our list below, and be sure to sound off in CBR’s TV/Film forum with your own picks.
12. 12. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Sadly, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” really came full circle in quality by the time “Star Trek: Nemesis” rolled around. The franchise’s 2002 finale didn’t do justice for the series, or how far it had grown since its early days with ol’ Groppler Zorn. In some ways playing like a “Wrath of Khan” rehash, the film’s forcefully dark elements don’t ring true to the franchise we all know and love. Despite having a script from the revered John Logan, the plot with a “Dark Data,” and its villain Shinzon (played by a young Tom Hardy) really falter in execution. Plus, there are inexplicable appearances from the likes of Guinan and Wesley Crusher, just because it would be… cool?
11. 11. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
“Star Trek: Insurrection” seemed to have everything going for it. The third film with the “Next Generation” cast brought actor-director Jonathan Frakes back to helm, after directing the smash-hit “Star Trek: First Contact,” and a script from veteran “Star Trek” writer Michael Piller. Piller, after all, was responsible for making “TNG” good — really good — by the time the third season came around, and developed the groundbreaking spinoff “Deep Space Nine.” But sadly, the thrusters didn’t fire off for this one, as a boring plot and even less interesting villain made this stinker about as dull as “The Next Generation” at its worst. If you’re looking for good “Star Trek” around this time, be sure to check out “DS9” instead…
10. 10. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
The only thing bold about “Star Trek Into Darkness” is the choice to exclude a colon from its title. After a solid jump start to the franchise with the ’09 “Star Trek,” J.J. Abrams took a step in the wrong direction with his follow-up, by rehashing many elements of “Wrath of Khan,” rather than letting the new universe evolve in its own direction. While the film has solid performances from the cast and some glitzy action sequences, the writing is really the issue with this movie. Between irrational decisions, unearned deaths (resulting in speedy resurrections) and magical elements that have no place in a “Star Trek” movie, “Into Darkness” is a discouraging turn for the franchise that left many of us lacking hope in the future of the Kelvin timeline.
9. 9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
If there’s one thing bad about “The Voyage Home,” it’s that its success with comedy influenced “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” to try its hardest — so, so hard — to be funny. Unfortunately, it really didn’t work. After the smash-hit of “Star Trek IV,” it was William Shatner’s turn in the director’s chair, and, well, the comedy falls flat all around. Rather than using the best of each character’s quirks to instigate humor, the film undermines the crew, making some them (sorry, Scotty) come off as idiots. And did we really need that Uhura fan dance? “Star Trek V” is ambitious — the idea of Spock’s long-lost half-brother looking for God is an interesting one on paper — but it doesn’t deliver, and the performance from Laurence Luckinbill just makes us wish they were able to get Sean Connery.
8. 8. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
It’s a mystery how “Star Trek: Generations” turned out to be such an underwhelming big screen start for the “Next Generation” crew. Despite the series’ incredibly strong finale months prior — which was written in only two weeks, compared to the several months it took to complete “Star Trek: Generations” around the same time — Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore’s silver screen debut couldn’t quite recapture the magic they delivered with the groundbreaking “All Good Things.” The idea of uniting Kirk and Picard is the stuff of dreams for Trek fans, but it was underwhelming when executed on film. All that said, despite it not actually standing alone as a great film, “Star Trek: Generations” was significant for making “Star Trek” bigger than it ever was before — after all, Kirk and Picard made it onto the cover of TIME!
7. 7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” gets a lot of flack, mostly because of its incredibly slow pace and high-concept plot. The film, which reunited the Enterprise crew for the first time in live-action since 1969, followed a mysterious entity called “V’Ger,” eventually revealed to be a 300-year-old spacecraft, created to find the answers to life. The idea of finding meaning in life, despite facts suggesting otherwise, is still a fascinating theological premise for a film — and one that would likely be too bold to explore in a major blockbuster even today. Despite its pacing issues, under Oscar-winner Robert Wise’s direction, “The Motion Picture” is a methodical, visual treat that brought “Star Trek” back to the pop culture forefront after a long lull and paved the way for even better movies to come.
6. 6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Everybody praises the even numbered “Star Trek” movies, but they fail to mention (or at least severely underrate) “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” While “The Wrath of Khan” tackled death, the Leonard Nimoy-directed “Search for Spock” put a spotlight on grief, and the lonely emotional fallout of losing a friend. And while Spock does indeed return by the film’s end, the movie saw the death of another major character of sorts in the Enterprise itself. Among the film’s highlights is a stellar performance from DeForest Kelley, and the scene where Kirk and the rest of the crew sneak back onto the Enterprise. Plus, Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette show up as Klingons — what more could you ask?
5. 5. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best movie starring the “TNG” cast, hands down. While “Generations” failed to deliver in a lot of ways, Braga and Moore’s second feature hit it out of the park with an incredibly fun, tight plot — and stellar direction from cast member-turned-helmer Jonathan Frakes. The movie saw, as the title suggests, the “First Contact” between Vulcans and humans, which ignited the United Federation of Planets, and in turn, world peace. Apart from great performances from “Star Trek” veterans Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner (especially in a sexy sequence with the Borg Queen), “First Contact” benefited from the addition of James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard to the ensemble cast, who acted as an accessible lens for audiences who might not have delved into “Star Trek” before. And, for longtime fans, the film had serious payoff as Picard got his revenge on the Borg… once again (see: “TNG’s” “I, Borg” for the first time).
4. 4. Star Trek (2009)
In 2009, when he released his reboot (OK, technically it’s a sequel) J.J. Abrams did what many consider impossible for the “Star Trek” franchise — he made it “cool.” Abrams’ reimagining of the “Star Trek” universe in a younger version of “The Original Series” timeline resulted in a box office smash, and was responsible for reigniting a lot of interest in the property. Though the new take came at the price of compromising some intellectuality, Abrams’ first film in the series delivered the greatest action we’ve seen from any “Star Trek” movie. Abrams also has a way in the film of adding dimension to characters who barely got screen time in “The Original Series” and subsequent movies — offering shining moments with Sulu and Chekov, and creating the Spock-Uhura romance, among other highlights.
3. 3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
By the time “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” came out in 1991 — the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek” — the cast was in their late ’50s and early ’60s. While that’s unheard of for blockbusters today, it really worked for “The Undiscovered Country,” which, with the addition of Christopher Plummer as the villainous Chang, made the film the most Shakespearian of all the “Star Trek” movies. Of the main cast, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley deliver some of the best performances of their careers, grounding the Klingon conflict like a serious political thriller and enthralling murder mystery. “The Undiscovered Country” is a wonderful sendoff for the original Enterprise crew under the helm of “Wrath of Khan” director Nicholas Meyer, who returned to give the “Original Series” movies one last kick after the failure of “The Final Frontier.”
2. 2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
In 1986, Paramount turned one of its more successful (and serious) action franchises into a full-on comedy. For those unfamiliar with “Star Trek: The Voyage Home,” you’d probably assume that kind of transformation for the series was a disaster. Instead, it was one of the best things to happen to “Star Trek.” Under the direction of Leonard Nimoy, “The Voyage Home” is equal parts hilarious (still!) and enthralling, serving as a close to what’s been dubbed “The Motion Picture Trilogy” in a light-hearted action/adventure that still manages to pack in a message — one of environmentalism. “The Voyage Home” does what “Star Trek” does best, delivering a thoughtful moral tale that rings true no matter what era it takes place. “The Voyage Home” is also notable for its incredible box office success, which influenced the reimagining of the franchise on the small-screen with “The Next Generation.”
1. 1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is, quite simply, “Star Trek” at its best. Somehow, it manages to feel like a close to “The Original Series” and a refresher for the franchise all at once. After the less-than-well-received first film, Nicholas Meyer injected the “Star Trek” franchise with new hope and incredible action, packing in weighted themes of age, death, resurrection and friendship. “Wrath of Khan” is so different from modern blockbusters — it takes time for character, thoughtfulness, heady references to Shakespeare, “Moby Dick” and Charles Dickens — and it also delivers on a visceral level of pure adventure. Packing horror, drama, and incredible heart, “The Wrath of Khan” is an ode to the endurance of “Star Trek.” Even in the face of death, the franchise’s signature optimism lives on.
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