It’s the Internet, and if the Internet loves anything more than clickbait, it’s lists!
So here’s a list of Star Trek movies ranked worst to first.
(All photos Paramount)
13. Nemesis (2002)
The premise: Picard’s younger clone takes over the Romulan Empire, wants to conquer Vulcan, and kill Picard for his genetic material. Meanwhile, Data finds another Soong android named B4. (“Before” Get it? Har har har!)
Just no. No. It doesn’t try to inspire like The Motion Picture. It’s not as silly The Final Frontier. And it doesn’t at least have some stellar performances to prop up the script like Into Darkness. No, Nemesis not only marked a sad end to the Next Generation’s film run, it literally killed the franchise. The next movie was canceled along with Enterprise. How bad is Nemesis? The cast, including Brent Spiner, who cowrote the script, trashes it and to a person gleefully points out that director Stuart Baird never helmed another movie.
This was the first Trek movie I refused to watch in the theater. When I got it on DVD, it was two hours I would never get back. It’s best qualities? It supplied jumping off points for the Kelvin Timeline and Star Trek: Picard.
12. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
The premise: A huge cloud that eats Klingon cruisers is headed for Earth to find its creator. And the Enterprise is the only ship in range to intercept. But she’s in refit. Which Kirk uses to retake command of the ship.
It’s no secret that Star Wars led to Trek’s jump to the big screen. But as Glen Larson exploited the zeitgeist of the time with flashy, explosive laiden shows like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers, Trek’s writer’s room went more for a 2001/Solaris vibe. An earlier idea involved the Enterprise having a mind-bending experience battling the Titans, an alien race of higher consciousness. The film is long and ponderous. The actors look bored. It’s main feature is showing a new, improved Enterprise and the crew back together. I recommend the Director’s Cut, which eliminates a lot of the annoying red alert sounds and choppy editing.
11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
The premise: A Vulcan takes hostages to lure a starship to Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace, so he can hijack it and go see God at the center of the galaxy. So Starfleet sends an unfinished Enterprise. The punchline? The Vulcan is Spock’s half-brother.
OK, anyone whining about Spock’s heretofore unknown foster sister needs to take a good, hard look at this movie and the episodes “Amok Time” and “Journey to Babel.” Spock is notorious for not mentioning family. Really? Even Pike didn’t know Spock was married? Anyway, this movie is one of those so-bad-it’s-good deals. And Shatner confesses he didn’t manage his budget very well. It has one fan, however. Longtime Shatner nemesis George Takei is often quick to point out that 1.) Paramount kept cutting the budget (and boy, do you miss ILM’s magic in this one!) and 2.) Shatner did a terrific job making the actors comfortable and shielding them from studio interference.
That said, as long as you go in understanding that the movie really needs three smart-ass silhouettes at the bottom to complete it, you’ll have fun watching this. In fact, this was one of RiffTrax early offerings, lampooned by Mike Nelson, Bill “Brain Guy” Corbett, and Kevin “Servo/Bobo” Murphy, along with Neil Patrick Harris. Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, you should really just relax.
10. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
The premise: A renegade named John Harrison bombs Section 31, shoots up Starfleet Command, and scares the bejesus out of Fleet Admiral Marcus. As Harrison killed Christopher Pike in the process, Marcus sends a vengeful Kirk after him. Surprise! He’s Khan. And Marcus is lying through his teeth about him.
Remaking The Wrath of Khan so early in the Kelvin timeline was probably a misfire. Benedict Cumberbatch is menacing as Khan. But the writing, which tries to be one big Easter egg for Trek fans, only goes off the rails. Newer fans are confused while older fans are pissed off. And while Chris Pine has done an excellent job reinventing Kirk (the most thankless job in all of Trekdom), here Kirk is written pretty much like an idiot. Also, Spock’s screaming Kirk’s line from the original (“Khaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnn!!!!!!”) is just silly. Maybe they should have rebooted the numbering system and called it Star Trek II: Trek Harder.
9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
The first four movies on this list are misfires. With the exception of Nemesis, which inspires only to go pull an Ernest movie off the shelf, they at least have their charms. V is, if anything, a comedy and still fun if you don’t take it seriously. The Motion Picture is, before anything else, a love letter to the Starship Enterprise. And Into Darkness has some great parts to it; they just don’t really work as a whole.
Now, though, we get to the Meh Treks. These movies are basically just extended episodes gorgeously filmed but with little story. First Contact should have guaranteed the future of the Next Generation cast on the big screen for much longer. But Nemesis, literally a franchise killer, followed this forgettable outing. There are some bright spots here and there. Data asks Worf, after overhearing a conversation between Crusher and Troi, “Have you noticed your boobs feel firmer?”
Yeah. That’s what I took away from Insurrection. Too bad, because the Enterprise-E kicks ass. Both ship and crew deserved something more epic on screen. Alas, Brannon Braga and Ron Moore, who wrote First Contact, had moved on the bigger and better things. Braga was slowly taking the helm of the TV side of Trek, and Moore had other fish to fry, culminating in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
8. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Like Insurrection, Generations comes off as William Shatner’s turn to do a Next Generation episode. The premise to get Kirk and Picard on screen together is contrived, and Kirk dying at the end, while heroic, also means that’s it for the original Captain Kirk. Shatner tried to get around Kirk’s on-screen and irrefutable death with a series of interesting novels, for whom he enlisted the brilliant Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens as collaborators. (Tales of Shatner coming to the house and acting out scenes make for some great reading in and of themselves.) The cast seems to be relaxed and in their element, but it’s as though the writers and producers were trying to figure out what to do with this cast. The original cast had 12 years and six movies to figure it out, and Shatner’s scenes with Walter Koenig and James Doohan at the beginning feel more natural. Which is too bad because the Enterprise-D’s ultimate demise would have been much more iconic in Trek lore if the movie had been stronger. Still, not a bad beginning.
7. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Premise: Spock has died, but McCoy has his mind. The crew takes the battered and decommissioned Enterprise to Genesis on her final voyage to retrieve Spock’s body to take back to Vulcan. Surprise! Apparently, Genesis regenerated Spock’s body, but with no Enterprise, they need a way to both get to Vulcan and put him back together.
Now we’re up to the Nicholas Meyer Treks, two JJ Treks, and the only NextGen movie that counts. And while Meyer did not direct, his fingerprints are all over this. The remaining seven Treks are good, and five of them can be called scifi classics in and of themselves. However, someone has to go last, and The Search for Spock has the shakiest premise of the bunch. Nonetheless, first-time director Leonard Nimoy pulls it off, picking up literally days after the events of The Wrath of Khan. What makes the Nick Meyer movies work is their emphasis on the crew and their interactions. This feels like a family, and we go into this knowing we can’t leave an old friend behind on a dying planet. It’s one of Shatner’s better performances, especially when his son is murdered as Kirk listens.
6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The Premise: A cataclysm over Qo’noS forces an end to the long cold war between the Klingons and the Federation. Only someone doesn’t want peace to happen. They frame Kirk for the Chancellor’s assassination.
The original cast’s last hurrah. This is a Nick Meyer movie, written by Leonard Nimoy. Action is the order of the day, and while the movie rides roughshod over its own plot, it brings the story of the original Enterprise crew careening to an end and setting the stage for the Next Generation. Everyone has some great moments in this, and David Warner seems relieved to put Star Trek V behind him as he brings gravitas to doomed Chancellor Gorkon. Shatner pal Christopher Plummer is a mad villain and has fun spewing Shakespeare and basically making Palpatine look like a schoolyard bully. Best of all, we get to see Captain Sulu aboard the Excelsior.
5. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Beyond does what Into Darkness tried to do: Bring back the spirit of the original series. There is a nod to every movie (including the first two Kelvin timeline movies), all five series (at that point), and even Galaxy Quest in the opening sequence. The cast has really gelled, and it’s a crime that Star Trek 4 never got made. (Here’s hoping Tarantino pulls his version off. Rumor has it he’s collapsing the Kelvin timeline into the prime one.) Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, this entry lures in new fans while giving lots of Easter eggs to longtime ones. And it’s just damn fun to watch.
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Premise: As the crew of the late Starship Enterprise heads back to Earth to face the music, an alien probe wreaks havoc on Earth demanding to speak to humpback whales. Since they’re extinct, that presents a problem. So the crew heads back in time to find some.
The third of the Meyer-era films, although Meyer had maybe the least involvement in this one. (Star Trek V was its own thing.) Director Nimoy takes the premise from The Motion Picture and reinvents it to focus on the crew. This one is played for laughs after three heavy films – Kirk’s middle-age crisis, Khan’s vengeful cruelty, and the crew’s sacrifice to save Spock. The time travel element, which Rick Berman would overuse in the 90s, works here because it turns the cast into fish out of water.
3. Star Trek (2009)
Premise: Romulus is destroyed shortly after the events of Nemesis. A miner named Nero is swept back in time along with Spock, creating a new timeline. His first act is to kill James Kirk’s father on the day he is born. The new timeline results in a more rebellious Kirk and a more standoffish Spock end up battling Nero after the destruction of Vulcan.
The Kelvin timeline exists for one reason and one reason only: The inexplicable split between Viacom and CBS (and yet still part of the same company.) Paramount had to license its own property back and was ordered to make it significantly different from existing Trek. (Proving Les Moonves is as stupid as he is perverted.)
The new cast is terrific in recreating the originals. The standouts are Zachary Quinto as Spock (mentored by Nimoy himself), Karl Urban as McCoy, and Simon Pegg as Scotty. Chris Pine has the most thankless task in all of Trekdom: Replacing William Shatner. Fortunately, Kirk is at the epicenter of the timeline change, so his Kirk is a talented juvenile delinquent instead of a martinet who loosens up over time.
2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Premise: The Borg are back, and we’re gonna be in trouble. When Starfleet – and Picard – stop the Borg at Earth, they travel back in time to kill Zefram Cochrane. Picard and crew go back and thwart them.
First Contact isn’t just a great Star Trek movie. It’s a great movie in and of itself. A lot of Trek lore is woven into this without putting off newer or casual fans. The result is some of the most iconic movie moments of the 90s. “Resistance is futile.” The Borg Queen. The interstellar era opening to the strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” Jonathan Frakes proves his chops as a director (and is now a go-to guy for all the new Treks and The Orville) thanks to getting a meaty story from Braga and Moore, at the peak of their skills.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Premise: Khan Noonien Singh escapes his prison on a desolate planet, hijacks a starship, and seeks revenge against Kirk. He intends to steal a secret invention called Genesis. The battle is won, but only after the ultimate sacrifice by Spock.
This is one of the great science fiction films of the 1980s, and Star Trek is merely its vehicle. The crew hits their stride as older, wiser versions of the people we saw from the 1960s. Kirk struggles with age while Spock is clearly uncomfortable with command. Ricardo Montalban amps up his menace and even hams things up as a man insane with rage. It’s often compared to Moby Dick, and Khan is most certainly Captain Ahab. It is the one movie that informs every Trek that comes after it, including the television series.