Star Trek has been exploring the final frontier in one form or another for over 50 years. From starships named Enterprise and Voyager to space stations like Deep Space Nine, these shows have brought the 23rd and 24th century to life for generations of fans. We’ve gotten many different Trek crews and many different kinds of Star Trek actors. In an age-old fan tradition, it’s fun to take a look at all of these performances and see who comes out on top. Who’s the best actor? Who’s the worst? And how do we even decide?
However, we had to have some ground rules first. For instance, we’re not looking at any Star Trek: Discovery actors because that show has not yet completed its first season, so it’s not really fair to judge. And we’re not looking at the reboot actors because they are mostly reprising Original Series characters. Basically, there’s only so much space on the list, and if we’re going to look at characters like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, we’re going to be looking at the originals. Want to see who made the list and where they landed? You don’t need a tricorder to figure it out…just keep scrolling to check out 20 Star Trek Actors, Ranked!
20. ROBERT BELTRAN
In some ways, Robert Beltran (Commander Chakotay) was doomed from the beginning of his time on Voyager. His character had Native American heritage and was meant to increase the diversity of the crew. However, the show had a special “Native American consultant” for this character, Jamake Highwater, who ended up being a grifter who faked being Native American.
Because of this, all of the Native American storylines and plot points for Chakotay ended up being offensive stereotypes or just plain weird. On top of that, though, Beltran wasn’t very enthusiastic at all about the role: in an old “Skitz Interviews” clip that recently surfaced, Beltran mentions how he was motivated by Shakespeare, and then asks, “You think I wanted to be on BLEEPING Star Trek?” Whether sabotaged by the writers or himself, Beltran is the worst performance on our list.
19. MARINA SIRTIS
For those keeping track of how non-progressive a progressive show like Star Trek, Deanna Troi (played by Marina Sirtis is a powerful example). Sirtis herself can be a very good actor when she is given the right script. Unfortunately, Star Trek: The Next Generation mostly put her in skimpy clothes and had her occasionally move the plot along with her vaguely-defined powers.
In their wonderful Greatest Generation podcast, hosts Ben and Adam note how the show treats Troi as a “potted plant.” And it’s true: she is a pretty addition to the scenery that they otherwise choose to pay no real attention to. It makes for a pretty miserable performance, and it’s notable that the character had more to do in three episodes of Voyager than in almost all of Next Generation.
18. ETHAN PHILLIPS
Ethan Phillips played one of Trek‘s least-liked characters, Neelix. The character is a Delta Quadrant resident who Voyager rescues, and he becomes the ship’s cook. On occasion, he provides insight about the quadrant, though that fades the further they go. And that’s pretty much the beginning and end of the characterization he actually gets on the show.
Phillips tried to make the character endearing, and in his best moments, he functioned as a kind of ersatz counselor. However, Robert Picardo’s Doctor ultimately fulfilled that role much better, and so the talents of Ethan Phillips wasted while Neelix spent seven years focusing on meal prep. As gifted as Phillips may be, this was deathly dull to watch, which places him near the bottom of our list.
17. JOLENE BLALOCK
Sometimes, performances are bad because of bad writing. Sometimes, they are bad because of bad direction. And in the case of Jolene Blalock, who played the Vulcan T’Pol on Enterprise, she is the victim of both. On “good” days, her character was simply boring, and on bad days, she was little more than a desired object.
She represented the token alien outsider character on the show. Unlike other characters (such as Spock, Data, or Odo), she was never really written in a way that helps viewers examine their own humanity. Instead, she channeled more Kirk than Spock in the way she put needless pauses into most of her sentences. And whenever the show needed a ratings bump, they found a way to remove most of her clothes. Looking back, this exploitation is desperate and sad, and the actor deserved better.
16. SCOTT BAKULA
You’ve probably figured out by now that this list has some good actors in lower positions because they were trapped by a role. This is true for no one so much as Scott Bakula. He previously won our hearts in Quantum Leap and currently shows dynamic range on NCIS: New Orleans. However, as Captain Archer on Enterprise, there was little for him to do.
The writers clearly wanted him to be an Action Man in the vein of Captain Kirk. Unfortunately, this usually meant blundering into everything from crew interactions to alien encounters with no finesse at all. He was often impatient and downright twitchy as the captain, and we rarely got to see an introspective side that was crucial to understanding characters like Kirk. Ultimately, Enterprise ending as early as it did likely helped Bakula’s career rather than hurt it!
15. DEFOREST KELLEY
DeForest Kelley played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek: The Original Series. In many ways, he was better than the material the writers gave him: even in episodes that focused primarily on Kirk and Spock, Kelly never let us forget that McCoy was the third main character of the show.
However, his role on the show was limited by design. He was the passionate human who played off of Spock’s impassionate alien. Because of this, McCoy’s character was largely reactionary, and he had little room to grow as a character (who do you think he is mostly remembered for his “dammit, Jim” catchphrases?). Adding insult to injury is that our only real glimpse at his tragic background (he helped his diseased father commit suicide shortly before a cure for the disease was found) comes during the Trek move everyone tries to forget: The Final Frontier.
14. JERI RYAN
Jeri Ryan came into Voyager with the deck stacked against her. Every single cast member and viewer knew that her casting was a ratings stunt: Voyager was combating low ratings by parading a voluptuous blonde Borg around in a skintight catsuit. Reportedly, this is one of the reasons that she and Kate Mulgrew (who felt such casting in a progressive show was very regressive) often clashed behind the scenes.
Admirably, though, Ryan managed to rise above it. Despite that she and Mulgrew were allegedly at each other’s throats when the cameras were off, Ryan showed great chemistry with her on-screen. She also played the ice queen Borg in such a way that we were always reminded of the humanity lurking underneath. How good was Ryan? For better or for worse, most scripts began revolving around her, even though this left some series vets in the cold (sorry, Chakotay).
13. ANDREW ROBINSON
Before Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians didn’t have much characterization. They were basically space Nazis with weird necks. That all changed when DS9 showed us “plain, simple Garak,” a Cardassian tailor living on the station who was hiding a rich and fascinating background as a disgraced, former Cardassian spy.
Robinson didn’t just give us one of the best performances in Deep Space Nine; he gave us one of the most captivating characters in all of Trek. Part of this is because he wrote his own detailed diary of character background information when he was first cast in the role. This diary was so detailed and so good that it was eventually turned into a Star Trek book called A Stitch in Time. To this day, Robinson’s the only Trek writer to write a Trek book without any ghostwriters helping (we’re looking at you, Shatner).
12. GEORGE TAKEI
There are several actors on this list who managed to grow beyond very simple roles. George Takei is the foremost example of this: as Hikaru Sulu, he didn’t have a lot to do in Star Trek: The Original Series. However, his character became more prominent in the Trek movies, and he was eventually the Captain of the Excelsior in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. He’s appeared in a whole lot of Trek since then (including Voyager and even fan movies), and parlayed his success into a personal brand.
As Trek went on, we could see the intensity behind Takei. Back on The Original Series, he was mostly remembered for his half-naked swashbuckling episode. By the time you see his commanding presence as the Excelsior Captain, chances are you’ll be sad we never got a Captain Sulu series!
11. KATE MULGREW
As an actor, Kate Mulgrew had a lot of responsibility laid at her feet. She had to follow the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine by being an entirely different captain for an entirely different kind of Trek. She also had the burden of fan expectations: she was going to be Trek‘s first prominent female captain, and so she had the eyes of the world watching her.
For the most part, Mulgrew knocked it out of the park. Like the rest of the cast, she suffered from the occasional bad scripts (we all try to forget when she made weird lizard babies with Tom Paris, right?), but she kept the show grounded in the best possible way. Ultimately, Mulgrew threaded the needle by portraying Janeway as a tough, no-nonsense leader who was still very approachable and humane.
10. WILLIAM SHATNER
It almost feels impossible to find William Shatner’s place on this list. It’s fair to say that the success of Star Trek would not exist without his iconic performance as Captain James T. Kirk. It’s also fair to say, though, that his performance is a collection of manic highs and lows.
Shatner’s performance has some well-documented excesses. This includes his famous stilted speech as well as a kind of high-key overacting that we’re meant to view as “emotional.” At the same time, though, Shatner’s Kirk had a powerful physical intensity, and his charisma is a powerful, palpable thing. Bottom line? It’s easy to laugh at the excesses of Shatner’s performance, but no one would have believed in Star Trek if they hadn’t first believed in the authentic, absolutely-going-for-it portrayal of Captain Kirk.
9. ARMIN SHIMERMAN
Armin Shimerman is one of the few actors to get a genuine “take two” in Trek. He played as Letek, one of the first Ferengi that we ever see in Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, these aliens were over-the-top jokes that no one could take seriously as a threat. When Shimmerman was cast as Quark on DS9, he had to rehabilitate an entire fictional race.
Shimmerman, though, was up for the challenge. Quark may have been an alien, but Shimerman used him as a lens for us to examine our human excesses, including the dangerous love of money. He added dimensionality and depth to a character that could easily have been very basic and flat. Finally, his interactions with Starfleet personnel were priceless, and provided the ultimate proof that this station was a frontier unlike anything we had previously seen.
8. JONATHAN FRAKES
If you’re marking a Star Trek all-stars team, you’re going to want Jonathan Frakes on it. He is almost single-handedly responsible for how fun Star Trek: The Next Generation was thanks to his portrayal as Commander Riker. Just as Patrick Stewart’s Picard was serious and stuffy, Riker was fun-loving and joyful. His character helps remind us of just how awesome life on a starship can really be.
Whether he’s the focus of the episode or just cutting up in the background, Frakes always manages to command the audience’s attention. He’s also the most successful Trek director behind the camera since Leonard Nimoy: he directed a number of Trek episodes, and he went on to direct both Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Even after all these years, we’re still impressed at everything Frakes can do!
7. RENE AUBERJONOIS
It’s fair to say that playing Odo was one of the biggest challenges on Deep Space Nine. Not only is the performance going to be partially hidden behind weird makeup and occasional CGI effects, but it’s also difficult to break out of the stereotype of “gruff security chief.” However, Rene Auberjonois does everything brilliantly.
As shape-shifting Odo, Auberjonois manages to infuse his gruffness with pathos: Odo has been an outsider all of his life, and his anger is always tinged with loneliness. His character gets pretty full arcs in both romancing Major Kira and discovering where he comes from, and Auberjunois does a great job showing both Odo’s emerging humanity and how much he fears changing who he is. It’s just a powerhouse performance from the first season all the way to the end.
6. AVERY BROOKS
Avery Brooks gave one of the most divisive performances in Star Trek as Benjamin Sisko on Deep Space Nine. However, it was also one of the most commanding performances. His character was an intersection of metaphor and significance: just as Sisko was an alien Christ figure to the Bajorans, Brooks was a powerful symbol of Trek finally making a black man the focus of a show.
In some ways, Brooks channeled William Shatner: when he went-for-it, he really went for it. Some fans were turned off by Sisko’s most dramatic emotional moments. Overall, though, his performance is grounded by his intensity as well as the character’s clear love for his son and his crew. In many ways, you learn more about Sisko than any other Captain in Trek, and it’s to Avery Brooks’ credit that we’re on the edge of our seats for all of it.
5. ROBERT PICARDO
Actors sometimes look at scripts and complain that “there isn’t much there, there.” As in, they are given very little to do. Robert Picardo faced the paradox on Star Trek: Voyager. He was given a great deal to do, but as a holographic doctor who (initially) couldn’t leave sickbay, there’s wasn’t much “there” to him!
However, Picardo carries this role with dignity and weight. Ironically, despite playing a hologram, he gives the performance a great deal of substance. The character quickly became the heart of the ship, and Picardo’s great charisma meant the Doctor could bond with pretty much anyone. He experienced genuine growth and change as the series went on, and as the Doctor discovered more of what he was and could be, it reminded viewers of our potential for growth and change.
4. BRENT SPINER
Brent Spiner was given the ultimate Trek acting challenge: he had to spend seven years portraying an emotionless android in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also had to do so in a way that kept the character fresh instead of boring and gave us a constant glimpse of the inner humanity that his character Data is constantly trying to access.
And Spiner was not only up for the challenge, but he fully embraced the role. This “emotionless” android could easily make you laugh when he misunderstands something and then cry when the android daughter he built dies. The show hid Spiner’s eyes behind yellow contacts, but it was impossible not to notice the depth of his character behind those eyes in each and every scene.
3. NANA VISITOR
Nana Visitor was another Trek actor with a fairly major challenge. As Bajoran Kira Nerys, she was a toughened survivor of the occupation of Bajor and served as an ongoing contrast to the orderly Starfleet represented by Benjamin Sisko. After watching a few episodes, you’ll be forgiven if you think this show is actually all about Kira!
The character actually invites dynamic emotional range, and Visitor rises to the occasion each time. When we see her violent intensity, we can fully believe she has a freedom fighter background that would make Cardassians tremble. When she opens up about the horrors she has seen to characters like Odo, though, we can perfectly see the scared woman inside that her tough exterior protects. She has several satisfying arcs in the series, and Visitor keeps viewers enchanted for each one of them.
2. LEONARD NIMOY
Leonard Nimoy’s Spock needs no introduction among Star Trek fans. From the very beginning, he has been one of the most captivating parts of Star Trek. In fact, he was so captivating to audiences that early Trek writers were given studio guidance to make more scripts focus on his character, as audiences were responding more to him than to Captain Kirk!
Spock created the Trek template for alien characters that help audiences explore their own humanity. To this end, Kirk is absolutely right in Wrath of Khan when he declares that Spock has been the most “human” soul he has ever encountered. Nimoy infused the character with dignity and quiet grace, and he went on to show his skills behind the camera in directing Search for Spock and The Voyage Home. Throw in his appearances in the rebooted Trek films and you have a performance (quite literally) for the generations!
1. PATRICK STEWART
Patrick Stewart had an almost impossible task when he was cast as Captain Picard for Next Generation: he had to be as different from Captain Kirk as possible. At the same time, he had to be just as captivating as the original Enterprise captain and to find ways to play to his strengths and win both new audiences and old Trek fans over.
It it to his credit as an actor that he was so successful. Stewart’s Picard showed us a modern captain who was more thoughtful, diplomatic, and worldly than his predecessor. At the same time, Picard could be a man of action, and the Next Gen movies showed that Stewart had the muscles (both creatively and physically) to lead action-centric movies. Ultimately, Stewart is an actor who did a little bit of everything in Star Trek and he did it perfectly; for that, he’s earned the top spot!
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