Believe it or not, the Star Trek franchise began with more of a whimper than a bang. The original series, which began airing in September 1966, was canceled after just three short seasons and 79 episodes. In fact, it wasn’t until the series began airing in broadcast syndication that it truly took off, with Star Trek becoming a staple of the 1970s.
Since then, Star Trek fans have witnessed 13 feature films, making it one of the largest science-fiction franchises of all-time. However, just because the franchise is so expansive doesn’t mean every installment is a winner. To be honest, there are quite a few embarrassments in the history of Star Trek films. On the other hand, though, there have also been some absolute gems.
That being said, let’s take a look at which film falls under which of those aforementioned categories, as well as which ones fall somewhere in the middle. Here are all 13 Star Trek films, ranked from worst to best:
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Despite being successful in terms of ratings for seven seasons, something was apparently lost in translation when the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation made the jump from the small screen to the big screen. Case in point: Star Trek: Insurrection.
While it’s not an inherently terrible film, Insurrection suffers primarily due to the fact that it’s the most mundane of the Star Trek films, and it’s certainly the smallest in scope. Considering other films in the series focused on epic events, such as the death of Spock and his subsequent rebirth, the idea of a greedy alien race trying to claim a “fountain-of-youth-esque” MacGuffin all for themselves leaves a lot to be desired.Advertisement
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
What makes most of the Star Trek movies so enticing is the dramatic tension surrounding the main plot. However, when the plot involves the Enterprise and its crew being hijacked by an extremist who’s hell-bent on literally finding God, it’s difficult to remain emotionally invested. After all, was anyone really watching Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, sitting on the edge of their seat, and wondering if Sybok was going to find the Lord Almighty somewhere in the cosmos?
Perhaps it was the directorial duties transitioning from Leonard Nimoy to William Shatner that caused The Final Frontier to run off the rails. In fact, this almost resulted in George Takei not reprising his role as Sulu, originally refusing to be directed by Shatner. On the other hand, some could say the film was doomed from the start because of a drastically slashed special effects budget since Industrial Light and Magic was busy with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the time.
In any case, most critics generally agree that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Star Trek film to feature the series’ original cast and crew.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Despite being so low on the list, Star Trek: Nemesis does have some redeeming qualities. For example, Patrick Stewart delivers a stellar performance as Captain Picard, per usual. Plus, it’s fun to see a young Tom Hardy portray the villainous Shinzon. However, Shinzon’s motivations for seeking vengeance on Picard feel rather forced, and one could argue that Nemesis is merely a poor man’s version of The Wrath of Khan.
From a visual standpoint, Nemesis certainly has its merits, and the scene where the Enterprise rams the Scimitar is an outstanding example of practical effects at their finest. Aside from the explosions, the ramming of the Scimitar by the Enterprise is not computer-generated. The filming crew actually ran a model of the forward saucer into a buildup of the Scimitar, shot it in slow motion, and hung it upside down to give the illusion of the hull flotsam drifting into space.
Unfortunately, Nemesis ultimately fails due to the overly villain-centric plot and the lack of screen time for the TNG cast. The end result is the absolute lowest-grossing Star Trek movie of all-time.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Without a doubt, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a visual spectacle far ahead of its time. However, so much of the then-whopping $45 million budget was put into the effects and paying the cast and crew, but not much was spent on giving the cast anything of significance to actually do.
Many of the scenes involve the Enterprise crew simply reacting to things occurring on monitors. In fact, some critics have stated that watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture is like watching someone else watch TV. It’s a stale film, and it sorely lacks the wit and humor that enhanced the television series.
From a financial standpoint, Star Trek: The Motion Picture can be considered a success. However, much of this is because Star Trek fans had been waiting so long for a big-screen adaptation, and despite many of those fans leaving the theater disappointed, word of mouth traveled much slower in the pre-internet days.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
In a world where reboots are all too common, the results are often mixed. However, 2009’s Star Trek stands out as one of the better more recent attempts, and the powers that be hoped lightning could strike twice with the sequel: Star Trek Into Darkness. Unfortunately, this film fails to live up to its predecessor, and more importantly, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – the film that Star Trek Into Darkness attempts to reboot.
Like most J.J. Abrams films, Star Trek Into Darkness is extremely watchable and visually stunning. Additionally, despite complaints of whitewashing, Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Khan is a force to be reckoned with.
Ultimately, the main problem with Star Trek Into Darkness is that the plot is incredibly underwhelming, and even if the film is fun to watch, it does little to appease die-hard Trekkies looking for a faithful adaptation of The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
After the outstanding finale to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and his crew were finally ready to make the jump to the big screen in Star Trek: Generations. However, one has to wonder if writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga got the memo because, at times, Generations feels like nothing more than an extended episode of the television series. That’s not to say that Generations is an outright bad movie. It just doesn’t feel worthy of being the big-screen debut of the cast of The Next Generation.
For example, the meeting between Captains Kirk and Picard is an incredible moment. But wouldn’t it have been better if they met on the Enterprise instead of on a ranch? It’s little things like this that hold Generations back. The film is good, but by all means, it should have been great, and it certainly isn’t.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Star Trek Beyond is the most recent addition to the rebooted Star Trek franchise. Furthermore, it’s the film that seems to have steadied the ship after the underwhelming Star Trek Into Darkness.
As the third installment in the new franchise, the overtly in-your-face fanservice is toned down a great deal, allowing the Enterprise crew to loosen up and truly settle into their roles. Still, even with the new cast, the film also manages to remain evocative of the original television series; something Star Trek Into Darkness struggled with greatly.
Is Star Trek Beyond a great film? Not especially. However, it should certainly give Star Trek fans hope for the franchise moving forward.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
The plot may have been spelled out by the conclusion of The Wrath of Khan. Still, that doesn’t stop Star Trek III: The Search for Spock from being one of the best films to feature the original Star Trek cast and crew.
The stakes are incredibly high throughout the film, especially for Captain Kirk, who loses his son, his ship, and nearly his career, all for the chance to save the life of his best friend. Furthermore, The Search for Spock delivers an incredibly compelling villain in the form of Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge, who Kirk manages to defeat in a brutal battle at the climax of the film.
On the whole, The Search for Spock is held back slightly because it failed to live up to the hype generated after The Wrath of Khan. Nevertheless, The Search for Spock remains a satisfying film from start to finish, even upon repeated viewings.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
As evidenced by earlier entries on this list, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew have faced more than their fair share of choppy waters when it comes to big-screen adaptations. Thankfully, Picard and company have one saving grace in the form of Star Trek: First Contact.
Every member of the massive cast is given something of importance to do, and Patrick Stewart delivers one of his best portrayals of Captain Picard to date. Additionally, the story manages to hit all the right notes, building on a plot point from an episode of TNG, but increasing the scale to warrant a big-screen adaptation by incorporating themes from films like The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home.
Truthfully, First Contact has few discernible flaws, and it’s nice to see that out of several trips to the batter’s box, the TNG crew was at least able to deliver one home run.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
After the borderline train wreck that was The Final Frontier, the powers that be decided it was still worthwhile to give the original Enterprise crew one last hurrah. To ensure success this time around, they called upon The Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer, who worked with Leonard Nimoy to create Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
The film evokes thematic elements of the television series, such as the use of stories that mirror the current political and world landscape. For example, the idea of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the basis of the film’s main narrative, with the Klingon’s, of course, playing the role of the Soviet Union.
Overall, The Undiscovered Country does an exceptional job capturing the essence of Star Trek, from both the TV series to the previous films, and it makes for a truly fitting send-off for the original crew.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
The plot of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t work. An alien probe arrives on Earth and begins wreaking havoc. Spock determines the reason for this is because the probe is trying to communicate with the now-extinct humpback whales, so the Enterprise crew travels back in time to bring the whales to their future and save the world.
Surprisingly, though, the lighthearted, humorous tone of the film works, despite the silly premise. This is largely due to the fact that The Voyage Home is very true to the spirit of the television series. Additionally, the tone is a refreshing and welcomed change after the incredibly dramatic nature of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.
Even though The Voyage Home doesn’t match the scale of the visual effects in other Star Trek films, it makes up for it in terms of character beats and dialogue. This allows The Voyage Home to stand out in the crowd as one of the most distinctive Star Trek films we’ve gotten so far.
Star Trek (2009)
The reason 2009’s Star Trek ranks so high on this list isn’t just because it’s a great film. It’s because this film took a franchise that virtually dead to all but the biggest of Trekkies, and brought it back into the mainstream. In fact, one could argue it’s even more mainstream now than it ever was.
J.J. Abrams does a phenomenal job reimagining the classic Enterprise crew and updating them for a modern audience, as well as expanding upon the crew’s pre-established history by giving them a proper origin. There’s plenty to appreciate if you’re a longtime Star Trek fan, too, with a plethora of callbacks to the original series and films.
A vocal minority still criticize this film, mainly because they’re Star Trek purists that don’t like their niche interest becoming so popular. Still, without this film, we likely wouldn’t have a whole new generation of Star Trek fans out there today.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
There’s a reason this film has been referenced numerous times in this list. There’s a reason so many other Star Trek properties borrow from this story. It’s because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek movie of all-time. Seriously, it’s the Empire Strikes Back of the Star Trek franchise.
Surprisingly, the film almost didn’t happen, either. Paramount was juggling several scripts around, and Leonard Nimoy was strongly considering not reprising his role as Spock. However, director Nicholas Meyer somehow worked a miracle, piecing together various portions of each script, as well as convincing Nimoy to say onboard to deliver one of his best outings as Spock in his career.
Without a doubt, The Wrath of Khan set the standard for what a Star Trek movie should be. Unfortunately, other entries on this list were far less successful in their attempts at recreating what was done in 1982. Still, the fact that The Wrath of Khan is held in such high regard by Star Trek fans and filmmakers to this day is what cements its legacy as the greatest Star Trek film of all-time.