On Screen Presents: The top Star Trek movies

Dylan Wright , Alex Eiden, and Rachael Eyler


Dylan Wright , Arts and Entertainment Editor

Since its inception in 1966, Star Trek has boldly gone where no one has gone before in terms of telling unique science fiction tales and engrossing audiences worldwide. With the series celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, and a new television show on the way, what better time to honor the franchise by taking a look at its films, from the very worst to the absolute best.

13. “Star Trek Nemesis” (2002)

What can you say about the worst Star Trek movie? It has a young Tom Hardy in it as the main villain, mumbling his way to a mediocre Khan rip-off. The movie is just too flashy and dark for its own good, and really strayed from what made The Next Generation such a good show. Regretfully, it killed the Star Trek franchise for a couple of years before J.J. Abrams picked it back up again.

12. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989)

“What does God need with a starship?” This quote sums up “The Final Frontier” in all of its terrible glory. Within the movie, we have a pivotal sequence where Kirk, Spock and McCoy sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and gravity boots. Directed by William Shatner, the film acts as a love letter to Kirk and how great he is. It falls flat, especially when it is underwhelmingly revealed that the antagonist is Spock’s half-brother.

11. “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998)

The worst thing about this movie is that it is forgettable. The plot is condescending to its audience about the wonders of not using technology and nothing really memorable happens within the film. It just plays out like an extended version of a bad episode, easily tossed aside for the better ones.

10. “Star Trek: Generations” (1994)

Another middling effort for the Next Generation crew, this movie at least benefits from the meeting of the two Enterprise captains: Jean-Luc Picard and James T. Kirk. Though the movie decides to send off Kirk in one of the worst possible ways, the meeting of these two captains is enough to edge out the other films below it. Malcolm McDowell is pretty charismatic as the villain, but his ambitions and goals are muddied and vague.

9. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)

Often nicknamed “The Slow-Motion Picture,” the first Star Trek film suffers from attempting to be “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The film’s pace crawls, from 10 minute sequences showing off the Enterprise as it is docked to a slow build of Spock traveling to the satellite. The film is nice to look at, and the twist on what the antagonist actually ends up being is smart. Ultimately, the film suffers from dragging its heels to get to the end.

8. “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)

“Star Trek Into Darkness” can be summed up with one simple phrase: “Wrath of Khan” for the Abramsverse. The film steals wholesale from the film, repurposing some scenes in different places and taking full dialogue from the film and giving it to different characters. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a good Khan, but cannot live up to the gravitas that Ricardo Montalban brings to the role. The lens flares also bog down the movie terribly, and make some of the action scenes almost painful to watch. Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus adds some heavy acting chops to the movie, but it loses points for ripping off better material without bringing enough new ideas to it.

7. “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984)

The first directing credit for Leonard Nimoy, “The Search for Spock” finds itself suffering from following “Wrath of Khan” and being before “The Voyage Home.” The movie is just OK, with lead villain Christopher Lloyd adding some fun to the arrangement. Plot points that are brought up in “Wrath of Khan” are dumped here, and ultimately, the movie unravels the tension of what came before. “Search for Spock” is a good bridge movie, but suffers from being the weakest of a three part story.

6. “Star Trek” (2009)

The first of the JJ Abrams reboot movies, this film does a good job introducing new audiences to the world of Star Trek. Although the time travel science is confusing and sometimes nonsensical, the recast Enterprise crew really fit their performances while bringing new elements to the table. The inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime also adds a great amount of weight to the movie, and it helps act as a passing of the torch in a better way than “Generations” did. Those lens flares ruin parts of the movie though.

5. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996)

“First Contact” features the best villains that The Next Generation ever had: the Borg. Directed by actor Jonathan Frakes, “First Contact” features the continuation of Picard’s Ahab-like relationship with the Borg. The emotional weight carried out by Sir Patrick Stewart in this film is intense, and the adventures of the rest of the crew trying to stop the Borg from changing history is also riveting. It is the best of the Next Generation films and helps add to the Star Trek mythos in a constructive manner.

4. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986)

The better of the Leonard Nimoy-directed films, “The Voyage Home” is a fun adventure for the crew. Sending the Enterprise out into 1980’s San Francisco, the crew finds themselves as fishes out of water. This ends up giving the cast some funny moments, and the pairing of Kirk and Spock as the captain tries desperately to hide Spock’s alien nature is great to watch. The movie also has an environmental message that makes the movie meaningful in a way some of the others were not.

3. “Star Trek Beyond” (2016)

“Star Trek Beyond” is the best of the new movies, with fun pairings of characters and callbacks to the original series. The villain of the story, played by the always intimidating Idris Elba, has a complicated backstory that works for the character’s motivations. The real reason this film is this far on the list is that it has one of the most cheesy Star Trek moments in the history of the franchise that really keeps to the spirit of the series. The scene where the crew destroys the hive-minded aliens by blasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” from the ship. It is a moment of pure joy and fun, something the movies sometimes forget to add in.

2. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991)

“The Undiscovered Country” plays out like the “Phantom Menace” should have on the political end of the spectrum. Tense meetings between long-warring factions occur in this movie, and sabotage and intrigue happen on both sides. The cast gives their all in their performances, and the movie genuinely feels like an end to the arc that Kirk has had throughout the films. Christopher Plummer as the Klingon Chang adds a new dimension to the often one-dimensional race, and is a welcome addition to the Star Trek Universe. The influences of this movie would go on to inform The Next Generation on a few of its strengths.

1. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

It is impossible to talk about any Star Trek movie without drawing comparisons to “Wrath of Khan.” The movie was popular enough that the franchise attempted to replicate the formula twice (“Nemesis” and “Into Darkness”) to a lesser effect. “Wrath of Khan” is often considered one of the best science fiction films of all time, let alone the best Star Trek film. The antagonist is not only from the original series, but has a personal tie to Kirk and the crew. The acting from the main cast is at its best, and the themes of aging and forging a legacy are powerful. The movie has dramatic weight, showcasing Star Trek at its best, and rightfully deserves the number one spot.

Star Trek is a franchise that keeps reviving itself when people think it has ended, and will continue to do so as time goes on. As long as audiences still care to boldly go where no one has gone before, the Star Trek franchise will continue to live long and prosper.

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