Sci-Fi: ‘Star Trek’ Movies Ranked

Screen capture of Kirstie Alley as Saavik and Leonard Nimoy as Spock in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn’. Copyright goes to Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

I’ve talked about the J.J. Abrams films a few times on this blog, mostly because I love them, but I’ve never discussed the original ‘Star Trek’ movies here before. I recently sat down to watch all ten of them though, and now I have a lot of thoughts. So as every ‘Star Trek’ fan has done at least once on the internet, I’m going to rank all ten from worst to best! ‘Star Trek’ is one of those things that always came across as better suited to a serial format, so admittedly a lot of these movies aren’t…well…very good. But I’d say at least half of them are worth watching and even rewatching. That said I have some unpopular opinions in here, so though I know Trekkie’s tend to be a pretty chill fandom, I do want to emphasize that all of this is just personal opinion. In any case, let’s get started!

10. ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’: This one is widely regarded as the worst of all the ‘Star Trek’ movies. First off, the character of Sybok alone is so cringy, he’s worth ranking this film in last. He bases his religion/cult on the idea that one can become their true self if they’re released from the pain they carry. But his followers don’t change much aside from winding up loyal to him, which makes his beliefs completely irrelevant. There’s also the issue of Sybok being both a Vulcan and Spock’s brother. Neither of these things play into this character at all. He doesn’t address his Vulcan side most of the time, with the narrative telling us he abandoned logic long ago. He uses Vulcan mind melding to rid people of their pain but the process acts so differently from most mind melds that it could easily be something different. And his relationship to Spock is non-existent, with the only event it provides conflict being Kirk criticizing Spock for not killing Sybok immediately. As if Spock regularly goes around shooting first and asking questions later. Putting Sybok aside, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov all get the shaft by siding with Sybok for no reason and betraying Kirk. The only characters who actively don’t do this are Spock and Bones, and that’s only because Nimoy and Kelley were in a position to object to it. After all that, we get cringy scenes with Kirk and Bones trying to teach Spock “Row Row Row Your Boat” for no reason and some Shatner scenes that come across as ridiculous because Shatner was the director and didn’t reign in his own…er…acting quirks. And I didn’t even mention the search for “God” that results in the regularly quoted line “Why would God need a spaceship?” Just a really bad movie overall.

9. ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’: Here we get the worst of ‘The Next Generation’s feature films and a movie that’s cited as a reason for the temporary fall of ‘Star Trek’. ‘Nemesis’ primarily gets this placement for the treatment of Deanna Troi. Deanna was never a completely well treated female character in any ‘Next Generation’ content. But here they decided that they were going to go for a telepathic sexual assault scene that’s intermixed with a love scene between her and Riker just to make the violation she’s experiencing more obvious. Because clearly we needed to have violence against women be the main storyline for the only female character that gets any substantial screen time in this film. And then, when she tearfully recounts this whole thing to Picard, clearly traumatized, Picard brushes aside the assault and suggests that the information that could be gained from it is more important than her well being. This entire sequence completely damned the movie for me at only around the halfway mark. But the rest doesn’t help its case. Tom Hardy doesn’t come across as anything like Picard. Shaving someone’s head doesn’t suddenly make them a Patrick Stewart look-alike, and no decision he makes in this movie, no tone of voice, not even one mannerism, makes him feel like Picard. He’s just vaguely creepy. That’s it. I liked the moments between Data and B-4, but they never really went anywhere aside from giving us someone to survive Data at the end of the film. And Data’s death felt so abrupt and random that the wrap up they did to honor Data at the end of the movie didn’t feel earned. And what was with the lack of Worf? This movie was one big yikes.

8. ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’: There isn’t much to say about this one. Nothing really happens in it. Genuinely, the majority of this movie is just reaction shots from everyone on the bridge while something very slow and very bright moves across the view screen. We get so many shots of the Enterprise that I don’t think there’s a single angle of the ship I haven’t seen. The plot line, which follows a strange life-form interacting with the Enterprise and somehow killing one of the crew, could be interesting but winds up a little silly. And the fact that two random crew members and their love story take up a huge chunk of the plot even though we’ve never seen them before and never see them again, also makes this movie feel pointless. If you want a ‘Star Trek’ movie to bore you to tears, this is the one to go for.

7. ‘Star Trek III: The Search For Spock’: This movie definitely has problems, but it isn’t horrible. The main issue with this movie is the treatment of both Spock and Bones. Spock isn’t really in this. He shows up at the end briefly, but that’s all. For the rest of the movie we get various versions of Spock as he ages into the person we all recognize. Except it’s also still not Spock, because Spock’s soul is essentially inside Bones and is fighting for dominance with Bones’ personality. Which is where my issues with Bones come in because, for a majority of the time, he’s a raving lunatic who talks to himself in the corner. Where this movie does shine, is the use of the rest of the cast. Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov all get to joke around with each other more in this film. We also get epic moments of these characters turning against Starfleet command to save Spock, including one where Uhura holds someone at phaser-point and forces him to lock himself in a closet. She’s such a badass. Still, this movie suffers from a never-fully-developed villain, which is sad because it’s Christopher Lloyd, another weird venture into Pon farr, and a really unimportant death despite the fact that Kirk’s son is the one who dies.

6. ‘Star Trek: Generations’: This one is another mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s really nice to see a crew that’s a bit more well-balanced and closer to one another after all the TOS movies. With the TOS cast it often feels like the characters outside of Kirk, Spock, and Bones don’t really hold a close relationship with one another or the core three. That’s partly because TOS is an older show with older forms of storytelling and character development that were updated by the time Next Gen rolled around. And though the movies do a good job of putting more of these things on screen, the camaraderie between Next Gen characters still comes off stronger, shown best is scenes covering Data’s emotion chip. Past that though, this film doesn’t have a strong story. The villain wants to unleash the Nexus to escape his personal pain, which could make for an understandable villain. But he just spends the majority of the movie setting up a missile on a desert planet and ranting to a very bored looking Picard. Eventually we get into the Nexus to reunite with Kirk, who disappeared earlier in the movie. But it’s probably worse once we get there. Picard’s “perfect life” involves five kids, and while I did appreciate some of the emotional moments Picard has over his nephew’s untimely death, I still don’t buy that he’d want five kids. He could barely handle three when he was stuck with them in a turbolift. And Shatner’s acting is so jarring after a movie full of Stewart’s, their scenes together feel odd. It all ends with Kirk’s death, and though I’m not a huge fan of Kirk, I still thought being crushed by a bridge was a ridiculous death for such a popular character.

5. ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’: This movie’s biggest issues align with the fact that it feels like a weaker episode of ‘The Next Generation’. But it’s at least gleeful in its execution. The movie hooks you right from the beginning when Picard manages to calm Data down and take him captive by singing “A British Tar” and getting Worf to sing along. A scene that could be cheesy immediately comes across as endearing simply because of the acting. This fun, particularly with Data, extends to the rest of the movie where a child decides to teach Data how to “play”. And though the villains in this movie aren’t all that intriguing, it still is satisfying to see the villains reunite with their parents at the end of the film. Where this movie fails is its ridiculous plot points, including an environment that makes the crew act like teenagers again. Which leads to a ridiculously sexist scene where the effects are shown on Deanna and Beverley by the two discussing their breasts. We also have a really forgettable love interest for Picard here, which is never my favorite Trek story element. Jonathan Frakes saves this movie with good directing and an emphasis on the chemistry between the cast, but it still suffers for its strange plot.

4. ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn’: I’m sorry! Don’t hurt me! I really do like this movie. In fact, this movie is the start of the ‘Star Trek’ films on this list I really like. I just like the other movies above this one better. My main issue with this one has to do with its two leads. William Shatner’s dramatic acting comes through with this film a little more than it does in other entires in this series. Which is not much helped when it’s being paired with Ricardo Mantalban’s fun but still very dramatic style of acting. Still, this is definitely one of the more solid ‘Star Trek’ plots. Kahn is an intriguing villain that gets enough time to really dive into his character, which is a rarity for many villains in Trek movies. The movie does a good job of setting these two up as rivals before engaging in space battles, where the two use each other’s weaknesses against one another in a back-and-forth that’s captivating to follow. This movie also has the most satisfying death in the series. Spock’s death is sad, but the way he sacrifices himself for the entire crew and is able to still say goodbye to Jim makes for a sequence that will never be forgotten by ‘Star Trek’ fans. Though I don’t care for the storyline about Kirk’s son or the way Kirk refers to Spock as “human” in his eulogy, this movie still pulls through triumphant.

3. ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’: This is the perfect ending to the TOS movies. The way it ties in the themes of the past movies is truly enviable. It manages to pull in Kirk’s son, whose death really had no impact on the story, in a way that challenges Kirk. It also ends the feud with the Klingons after several movies of seeing them as adversaries. As the Klingons experience catastrophe on their planet and are forced to seek peace with the Federation, Kirk has to come to terms with his hatred of Klingons because of his son’s death. And his ability to commit to peace is put to the test when a group of people dressed in Starfleet space suits go over to the Klingon ship and start killing people while the Enterprise fires torpedoes at it though Kirk gave no orders. This setup leads perfectly into a prison-break storyline for Kirk and Bones, who are tried and sent to prison for the murders. Though I disliked the random, brief love interest they give Kirk in this sequence, the sequence is still very fun to watch. Meanwhile, we get scenes where Spock gets the spotlight as he works out what actually caused the attack on the Klingons. Though the villains aren’t great here, Chang is formidable enough, and well acted enough, that he’s certainly respectable. And I really like the ways that the rest of the crew actually play major roles in this film. Uhura gives various suggestions that lead to the Enterprise’s success at the end of the movie. And Sulu is the captain of his own ship and gets to save the day a few times. This is definitely one of the more well rounded films in Trek.

2. ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’: This movie is the most fun I had with a TOS movie. Though its premise isn’t the most serious given its focus on whales, it still has a good message to send. The best part of it, though, is the way all the characters are written in this movie. This film is by far the best at giving us the full cast of characters as full pieces of the story. It also uses a story element I love, which is pairing off the characters for part of the film to give us stronger relationships between characters we don’t always see together. We always see Kirk and Spock together, but this pairing is particularly meaningful because Spock is still regaining his memories after the events of ‘Search For Spock’. And who better to help him out than Kirk? Spock also gets some of the funniest moments in this movie because of his general irritation with everyone around him. The moment he Vulcan nerve pinches the guy on the bus will always be one of the best moments in all of ‘Star Trek’. Meanwhile, Scotty and Bones make a surprisingly hilarious and competent duo. Sulu gets some time on his own to just enjoy flying a helicopter which is very wholesome to watch. Uhura and Chekov don’t get as much time to talk, but they get more action sequences. They also have funny moments given their general cluelessness about modern day. The love interest is forgettable here but she doesn’t diminish the joy this movie brings me, all encompassed in the scene where the entire crew celebrates the return of the whales with an impromptu swim. I couldn’t help but smile throughout the entire run time.

1. ‘Star Trek: First Contact’: I really love ‘The Next Generation’ and this is by far the best movie within their four movies. It’s also the most tense and exhilarating of all the ‘Star Trek’ films. Honestly, the Borg are always strong villains. They’re terrifying and giving us a full movie of the Borg’s attempt to take over the Enterprise was such a good idea. ‘First Contact’ goes even deeper with this though, deciding to dive into Picard’s trauma over becoming Locutus to make the fight against the Borg feel even more personal. It’s horrifying to see Picard strike down crew that turned into Borg without a thought, and you really get to see how far he’ll go to wipe them out. This movie, like four, also includes time travel in a way that really works for the plot. In this film the time travel gives us the character of Lily, who is one of the most badass women in any of these movies. Though she screams her head off when she sees the Borg, and who wouldn’t, she kicks ass and she’s one of the only people in all of Trek to give Picard a piece of her mind and manage to make him change his stance. In particular, she helps conclude Picard’s arc by making him realize how destructive his need for vengeance is. She does all of this and she’s never a love interest, which is too rare within Trek. Simultaneously we get to watch Riker and Deanna head the group on Earth that’s trying to help the scientist who invented warp drive. Deanna gets a lot more to do here than in other movies, and the scene where she gets drunk is so endearing. I didn’t like Data’s storyline in this movie as much, partly because I don’t care much about the Borg Queen who is really only meant to be sexy. But I do like a good Data-saves-the-day moment, which happens at the end of ‘First Contact’. Between an eye-catching holodeck scene and a lot of tense moments, this film completely stole my heart. I love many of these films, but I’ll return to this one the most.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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