Before we rank the Star Trek movies, a warning there are significant spoilers for each one these movies here, so if for any reason you do not understand that particular characters die in certain films, even decades later said movie premiered, it is wise to bookmark this guide, watch all of the Star Trek movies, then come back. Are we good? Alright, now let's begin with all the worst of this group, and work our way.
Following ten years of false starts with various missing scripts, a potential new TV series called Star Trek Phase II that almost happened, and the beginning of what we think of now as fan culture, Star Trek: The Motion Picture eventually took flight in 1979 with a then-astronomical budget of 45 million dollars. And for the most part, you saw every penny of that $45 million on the screen -- the effects were light years in the old series, and the Company looked magnificent for the first time. With an A-list director, Robert Wise, all of the original cast returned on top of that, at the helm.
Well, pretty much everything. The film is a tedious slog. It's a remake of the original series episode"The Changeling," where a classic 20th Century Earth probe gets rewired by alien technology, becomes godlike and returns to Earth looking for its creator, wreaking havoc along the way. Except for that old low budget episode told the same story economically, and with fun and humor sprinkled in, two things TMP is entirely missing. The banter from the old series is gone, replaced with the cast giving glares at pretty lights for what seems like forever, out of the viewscreen. In beige or white uniforms, everybody is instead of bright colors. Captain Kirk looks like he's wearing a dentist's shirt for some reason. Did Spock need a root canal or something?
Spock has an arc and has a few of the stuff, but everyone else is just there. The film made bank, though, mainly because Trek fans had waited a decade for it to happen, but the reaction to this movie almost stopped the revival of Star Trek before it began. They had one more shot at this, and everything worked out.
After up 2009's Star Trek, one of the most well-received reboots in recent memory, had to be an unenviable task for all involved. Unfortunately, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did almost everything wrong when composing Star Trek Into Darkness. The name stinks. The main reason this movie is as high as it's one the list is mainly this: The first hour of the film mostly works, and addresses specific significant issues the previous movie had --like the fact that saving the world or not, cadet Kirk was not ready to be Captain of a boat yet. The act has moments and hums.
And the film hits on its next hour. After Benedict Cumberbatch reveals his true identity and hisses into the camera that he's Khan, everything runs a wall. Did deadline disruptions turn the Khan Noonian Singh into a pasty white dude that is British? Is it his master plan? There is not any good reason for Khan to be in this movie, apart from the fact that there was another Star Trek II that had a Khan inside. But if you are going to do Khan, do him not or at all. And redoing the conclusion of Wrath of Khan, but with Kirk dying instead of Spock, and the two of them sharing that heartfelt goodbye moment, feels unearned at this point in the series.
It's to JJ Abrams' credit he's such a good manager of popcorn entertainment, that he can almost make you forget that the story in this film makes no sense and that the script has giant plot holes (some may even say he did this for The Force Awakens, but the plot holes are WAY bigger in this film ). There is a reason this movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score--it's watchable, especially if you want entertaining eye candy. It's simply not very good.
Oh, and Khan has magic resurrection blood in this movie. Because of reasons.
There is a good deal about Star Trek Generations, the first big screen outing into the TNG crew, that doesn't work. Even the movie's writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga admit as much on the film's DVD Commentary. The set of writers-who had just finished TNG's final episode"All Good Things"--one of the most excellent last episodes of any show, ever--chose to keep doing the reverse of what fans desired and anticipated with this story, instead of just giving fans what they wanted.
But it's best to give. Instead of being introduced into the TNG crew in a significant action set piece, we're instead introduced to them in a cheesy holodeck scene on a boat. Instead of Picard being the stoic commander in his first movie outing, he is seen crying at the loss of his brother and his nephew who die display off and mostly suffering. All this would be fine if this were just an episode of TNG, but this is their big screen debut, and you do not need to see Jean-Luc blubbering all over his photo album in his first movie outing.
Generations aren't dull and have some genuinely fun minutes. Shows the Kirk at a last moment of Shatner, demonstrating why he is the prototypical starship captain. And as with most Trek movies, this movie comprises significant moments in the lore of this series, keeping it from being"just an episode on the big screen"--(I'm lookin' at you, Insurrection). Data eventually get emotions, and all those scenes with Brent Spiner coping with feelings are gold. Also fresh is the destruction of this Enterprise-D, which gets blown up real good, just as it finally got well lit.
Malcolm McDowell as the protagonist Soran is ok; he's neither the best nor worst Trek baddie and falls squarely in the center. His whole villain plot to get into a richly defined paradise dimension known as the Nexus is pretty lame, though. But the scenes over the Nexus with Captains Picard and Kirk meeting face to face are pretty fun, even if you desperately wish they had been on the Enterprise not and together on some ranch somewhere cooking breakfast and riding horses.
There's a long-standing notion that the Star Trek films in the original series which are odd numbered are the"bad" entries, together with the even numbered ones the"good ones." While that is mostly true, there's one exception to that rule, and it's The Search for Spock. After Wrath of Khan, it was pretty clear that the producers were giving themselves an"out" if they opt to bring Nimoy back as Mr. Spock, so the fact that some fans acted like it's some out-of-the-blue, cheap cop-out they took seems ridiculous to me. I mean, the final shots of Khan pretty much spell out precisely what the next film will revolve around.
The best thing about III is that the manufacturers realized that if Spock were to come back to life, storywise there would need to be significant repercussions for Kirk and company. So Sure, Spock comes back at the end of the film (that Leonard Nimoy directed), but at what price. Kirk loses so much to receive his friend back--from the film's end, Spock could be breathing, but the Enterprise is destroyed, his son is killed, and his career is in ruins. All to save the life span of his friend, who may not even remember him for all he knows. It's touching, powerful stuff, and it gives the picture a satisfying throughline. And the film's villain, Christopher Lloyd, remains the most ruthless Klingon of time as Kruge, the most excellent lousy guy the Enterprise team faced after Khan. The only issue with Trek III in my book is that it's simply not as perfect as Wrath of Khan, and that is it. Okay, and Robin Curtis isn't as good as the half-Vulcan Lt. Saavik as Kirstie Alley was at the part, whom she replaced for this movie. But that's one tiny complaint, as this film is satisfying from start to finish
After the lukewarm fan response to Star Trek Into Darkness, JJ Abrams stepped back as director (but remained as the manufacturer ) for the third part of the adventures of this Enterprise crew in the rebooted universe. Fast and the Furious manager Justin Lin came on board, and between all the explosions and bikes poppin' wheelies in the trailers, everyone thought this was going to be Star Trek in name only. But that could not have been further from the truth.
Taking place three years to the team's five-year mission (where the original series left ), Kirk and company have dropped into regular. Then, an out of nowhere surprise attack from an unknown species forces the Enterprise to crash land onto a strange world. The attack came from Krall (Idris Elba), an alien commander who needs a valuable artifact that is aboard the Enterprise. The crew must battle a race when attempting to find a means.
At first, Krall appears to be an alien villain, but a reveal in the movie paints him in a completely new light and makes him far more interesting than he seems. And while destroying the Enterprise is a cliche at this time, it serves the story in a significant way, as the crew needs to find who they are to each other without the boundaries of the boat. As the film that was meant to celebrate 50 years of Star Trek, it hit all the right notes. Here's hoping it is not Pine and Quinto's journey as Spock and Kirk.
While the TNG team had a rough time of it with their entries in the movie series, they at least got one genuine classic out of the group with First Contact. In many ways, this film borrows from the best of the first series features films before it, but does so in a fantastic idea. Sequel to a TV episode that is beloved? A Moby Dick-inspired revenge story, a la Wrath of Khan? Time travel like in Voyage Home? Check. They ticked off all the proper boxes.
The plot gets the Federation nemesis that the Borg go back in time to stop the contact between humanity and the Vulcans, therefore halting the Federation from forming. Picard and the crew of the newly minted Enterprise-E return to prevent them from interfering with the first ever warp flight, carried out by Zefram Cochrane, played by veteran actor James Cromwell, who's a welcome addition to the cast, as is Alfre Woodard as his helper Lily. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen even gives a bad idea on paper--giving the Borg collective a single chief -- a spectacular outcome.
This is a Picard movie through and through, although technically an ensemble film. The Captain has to undergo his anger and trauma at what the Borg did to him on the TV series, when they assimilated him into the collective and forced him Locutus, causing hundreds of deaths, and Patrick Stewart brings it. When he hisses out" the line has to draw here, this far! No further! " you know he means business. Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes directed this entry, and he gives nearly everyone in the crew something to do that matters in the narrative, but never forgets that this is a Jean-Luc Picard story. This is the TNG writing, directing and acting staff firing on all cylinders, and it never got better than this for them on the big screen.
After Star Trek V got horrible reviews and underwhelming box office, the prevailing thought at Paramount was to reboot the first characters with a set of younger actors, giving the Enterprise team an origin story--something JJ Abrams would end up doing 20 years after. However, with the 25th Anniversary of this franchise around the corner, wiser heads prevailed in the studio and decided that William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the original crew had yet another picture left in them and that they deserved a proper swan song.
Wrath of Khan's Nicolas Meyer returned to direct, working from a story he and Leonard Nimoy concocted, and together they made sure that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the finale the original crew deserved. Like the best of this classic series, real-world scenarios were used by this entry as the basis for the narrative --in this instance, the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the Klingon Empire standing in for the USSR. Combining that graphic element with a beautiful "whodunit?" Aboard the Enterprise, and fantastic villain in Christopher Plummer's Klingon commander Chang, and all of the right ingredients come together for an excellent movie, and an excellent finale for the original series crew.
Having gone through life, death, and life again together, the Enterprise team required to lighten up a little, and that they did in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Using two of the very tropes of the original series--time travel and social commentary--this entry in the show winds up working on every level. But that's mainly because after all that drama in the previous two installments, and they chose a little comedy was precisely what these series were they ever perfect, and had.
But just because it's funny does not mean there isn't an exciting story happening. An alien probe wreaks havoc and comes to Earth because the humpback whale species they're trying to communicate with is now long extinct. The Enterprise team, in an old Klingon Bird of Prey following the previous film's events and dishonored, return in time to bring the whales into their future to save the Earth. It all works like gangbusters on screen although it seems silly as hell on paper.
The humor in the film is smart and not slapsticky (see: Star Trek V) and the"save the whales" commentary works and doesn't feel as ham-fisted as it should. Each of the crew gets a minute to do something important (Okay, maybe just something shitty happens to Chekov, and he screams loud, again). (Nicholas Meyer also helped with the story as well). For years this was the viral Star Trek film at the box office, because enthusiast or not, it's just a terrific time at the movies. It helps make entrances III, II, and IV form a little trilogy. Had the series ended here, it wouldn't have been the thing.
When JJ Abrams' massive screen reboot of Star Trek came out, the franchise was dead as a doornail. The previous TV series Business never really clicked with viewers and was the first Trek show to get canceled because the original. The prevailing thought was that Star Trek as a franchise had its day. Then JJ comes along, and reinvigorated the film series with a remarkably re-watchable and fun entry, one that gives the traditional Enterprise team the source story they never had before, and finds a way to give Leonard Nimoy's Spock a proper swan song as well. Star Trek'09 became the most significant grossing film in the franchise, and that's even adjusted for inflation.
None of this would have worked as it had been if the re-casting of the crew wasn't as impeccable. These were giant boots to fill, and everyone from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto right on down to Anton Yelchin as Chekov do their best to evoke the original characters, without resorting to impersonations. Ok, perhaps Karl Urban is doing a Bones belief, but it is so good I don't care. There are tons of callbacks to the original series and the first round of films (as well as small hints to all the other shows too), but everything feels bright and not forced. The narrative moves at a pace, and even if it is ridiculous that James Kirk goes from cadet, JJ works his magic so that each time you watch it, you buy into it.
The movie gets some hatred from hardcore Trek loyalists, but I think it's just sour grapes that their formerly insidery cult franchise was fodder for a film as mainstream and audience-pleasing as this one. It is not"intellectual " they state. Additionally, it is occasionally"The Trouble With Tribbles" and about starship battles as well. This entry in the series is all about character and enjoyable. .and that okay. I'll agree with one often-vocalized complaint, in that there are probably many lens flares. But that is one real complaint.
The second Star Trek feature film should have been an entire cluster*$%#. They couldn't find, although paramount had several scripts they considered. Leonard Nimoy adamantly did not want to return as Spock following the last film did not satisfy him and threatened to fire his agent if he ever said the words"Star Trek" to him. The budget was going to be considerably lower than the movie. All of this was a recipe for disaster.
He took the best elements of the various scripts they'd -- one about the return of TV series villain Khan, another about a Genesis device which creates worlds, one about Kirk's long lost son -- and put them together into one fantastic script. This was now a story about aging and death, the mistakes of the past coming back to haunt you, and the sacrifices one makes in friendship's name. Meyer weaved in a death scene to lure Nimoy back, and it turned into one of the celebrity's most beautiful moments. Add to that a killer Moby Dick-inspired revenge story with a sublime villain, played by Ricardo Montalban, a submarine-like battle in a nebula, an excellent score from the late James Horner, and you haven't only the best Star Trek movie of all time, but among the greatest science fiction films of all time, period.
Spock's death led to new life for the franchise, and the franchise was"pursuing Khan" ever since. Both Nemesis and Into Darkness try to ape this picture manner too much, but this film set such a high bar, neither of these other two movies could ever come close to this movie's perfection. It is almost sure that no matter how many new Star Trek films come down the pipeline in years to come, The Wrath of Khan will remain the gold standard.