Recently, I re-watched Star Trek Into Darkness for probably the fifth time. A small number considering how many times I’ve seen most of the other Trek movies. While certainly entertaining and fun, it was probably my least favorite of the reboot films.
This got me to thinking: As a Trekker, how would I rank all the films in the Star Trek franchise and why? Some I loved so much that I watched twice in a single day at the theater. Some I thought were such abominations that I often find myself rewriting the scripts in my head.
Here is my definitive list, from worst to first, broken into four tiers:
The Wesley Crusher Tier
13. Star Trek: Insurrection
The three movies in this tier are pretty close in their level of feculence. But this one lies at the bottom of the port-a-potty. Following one of the best sci-fi films ever made, Insurrection was a massive let down. No suspense, boring plot, and antagonists you just don’t care about. It came across as more of a made-for-tv film that’s shown on the Hallmark Channel at 2 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. That, plus many Trek fans REALLY wanted to see Q in the next film, but instead got this dreck. Tally ho!
12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
This film was rife with trouble from the beginning, largely because of Shatner’s zany ideas and script re-writes. Originally, Sybok was to be played by Sean Connery and the Enterprise was supposed to meet the Devil at the center of the galaxy. A bit far-fetched, but kind of cool. Instead, what we got was some guy you’ve never heard of, and some weird blue entity that pretended to be God. Horrible acting, dumb story line, and the feel that the entire cast was going through the motions just to get the paycheck. It might have been cooler if the blue entity had quoted Ezekiel 25:17, though.
11. Star Trek: Nemesis
Romulans? Check. Bad-ass enemy ship? Check. Tom Hardy as the main antagonist? Check. So why does this film suck? It all starts with Director Stuart Baird, who hated Trek and refused to watch any of the Next Gen episodes to do research. He wanted to make an action movie, which did not sit well with the rest of the cast. In the end no one was happy with how it transpired, and it showed in the final product. Had all the deleted scenes been left in (over 50 minutes of extra footage!), this could have been a MUCH better film. Den of Geek does a good job pointing that out here.
The Deep Space Nine Season One “Meh” Tier
10. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
When I was a kid, I had this movie ranked with Star Trek II as my favorite. Granted, there were only five Star Trek films released before I was a teenager. Why? Two things shocked me that resonated for a long time: The destruction of the Enterprise and the introduction of my all-time favorite non-Federation ship, the Klingon Bird of Prey. But looking back on it after so many years, it just hasn’t aged well. Touching in moments, sure, but the method of bringing Spock back was a bit of a stretch, and the Genesis story line had already gotten stale. It was a little too depressing.
9. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Okay, this one isn’t as bad as you remember. Think about it: Take out the loooooong, examination of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and the loooooong, psychedelic trip through V’Ger’s cloud, and the loooooong trip over every inch of V’Ger’s ship (put together, I wouldn’t be surprised if that adds up to a quarter of the film’s run time), and you’ve got a pretty decent film. It’s an interesting plot, and it did revive the franchise. However, aside from the long 2001-esque space scenes, there were those hideous uniforms, Spock’s weird behavior, and a flat ending. Little-known fact: the Director, Robert Wise, was also the director of West Side Story and The Sound of Music.
8. Star Trek Into Darkness
I was tempted to put this in the next tier of films. I did, after all, see it three times in the theaters (including on back to back nights). It was fun, action-packed, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn wasn’t too bad. But it was the emphasis on the action and things blowing up rather than what makes Trek, Trek (exploration, unity, adventure). The producers obviously wanted a film to bring in non-Trek audiences, and they succeeded. But how many times must we watch the Enterprise get the shit kicked out of her? When will they actually, you know, boldly go? Oh, and don’t get me started on the beaming device that can transport people from one entire quadrant of the galaxy to the other. Just…nope.
The Will Riker “Wow, I Forgot He Was Pretty Awesome” Tier
7. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Whales! Colorful metaphors! A visit to (then) modern-day earth! After a dreary Star Trek III, this movie came along at just the right time and with the right message. “Save the Whales” was a big movement in 1986, and this fun-yet-campy movie brought that to the forefront. It also paid a nice tribute to the astronauts lost in the Challenger explosion. It was pretty cheesy in parts, and Gillian Taylor could be pretty annoying, but it was still a fun movie and one that most non-Trekkies count as one of their favorites. It’s the highest grossing Trek film in North American theaters, not counting the reboots.
6. Star Trek: Generations
There are a LOT of Trekkies and Trekkers who put this film much further down the list. I’ve never understood why. It was clear after Star Trek VI and the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation that a torch-passing movie had to be made. Some people hated the way Kirk went out in this film, hated the whole “Nexus” story line, and hated to see the Enterprise-D destroyed. But I loved it. It’s fun, and it was great to see the Next Gen crew on the big screen. I admit, I love Data and the issues he had with his emotion chip.
5. Star Trek (2009)
When I first heard they were rebooting the franchise with this film with a story line starting before Kirk and Spock met, I was not very pleased. I wanted the story to continue forward, past Next Gen. How can you EVER replace Shatner and Nimoy and Kelley? You can’t, but Pine, Quinto, and especially Urban did an amazing job. That opening sequence pulls you in right off the bat, and if you don’t shed a tear after the Romulans show up to Vulcan, something is seriously wrong with you. Well done, J.J. Abrams, well done.
4. Star Trek Beyond
My favorite of the reboot films, this was the most “Trek” of the three. Instead of spending the majority of time on Earth as in the first two films, Beyond focused on exploration and the challenges of a five-year mission into deep space. The dynamics between the characters were better than just about any film in the entire Trek franchise. Despite critical success, it did not do as well at the box office. I blame that on the horrible marketing job (did we really need it emphasized that the director of the Fast and Furious was directing this?).
The “Trek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” Tier
3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The beginning of the creme-de-la-creme of the Trek films. This was the final film that focused on the original series cast. After the flop that had been Star Trek V, the producers needed a good story and a good film. So they went out and brought back Nicholas Meyer as Director; the man behind the helm of Star Trek IV and Star Trek II, the best of the films at that point. With a story that centered around Klingon/Federation relations, this movie hit all the right notes for Trekkies and Trekkers everywhere. From the opening explosion of Praxis to the final sendoff of the Enterprise crew, this film still stands as one of the best made films in the franchise. I even included the phrase “Undiscovered Country” in my wedding vows! (Right after she included “boldly go” in hers!)
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
Ask nearly any Trekker or Trekkie what their favorite Star Trek film is, and Wrath of Kahn is nearly always mentioned as #1 or #2. Ricardo Montalban plays the famous Trek villain, and he’s back for some serious vengeance. There are a lot of parallels between this film and Moby Dick, with a focus on how revenge can consume someone. It’s one of the more violent Trek films, but also packs an emotional punch. Kahn has always been held up as the measuring stick for evil Trek villains, no matter the film or TV series. I always shed a tear at the end, especially once Scotty starts playing the bagpipes. It also has the best line in all of Trek film history:
1. Star Trek: First Contact
The best of the best and the only film I’ve seen twice in the theater on the same day. I remember how extremely excited I was when Generations was announced, but First Contact got me even more excited. Not only does the Next Gen crew have an awesome new Enterprise but they square off against the Borg, one of the most evil races in all of science fiction. Like Wrath of Kahn, elements of Moby Dick are hinted at throughout the film. However, it’s Captain Picard who must decide how far his thirst for revenge against the Borg will take him, and at what cost. First Contact explores what the human race is capable of, where it’s going, and where it’s been. Also like Wrath of Kahn, I do shed a few tears at the end, but nostalgic ones. Throw in a quirky, booze-consuming Zefram Cochrane (the founder of Warp Drive technology), an underrated performance by Alfre Woodard, and the wonderful directorial skills of Jonathan Frakes and you’ve got the best Star Trek film ever made.