The Top Ten Star Trek Movies of All Time

24 May

Unlike other websites, our Top Ten lists are created from the empirical data of our global rankings.

It seems admittedly odd to have a Top Ten list from a series with only twelve movies, but with Star Trek Into Darkness currently in theaters, we thought this would be a good time to see how the Flickchart community has ranked the Star Trek series to date.

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

It’s hardly a surprise that The Wrath of Khan is the highest-ranked film in the Star Trek canon. It has cast a shadow the last 31 years from which no other Trek feature has managed to break free. Kirk vs. Khan is one of the most epic showdowns in geek culture, and along the way this film took Star Trek into storytelling places it had previously never really explored.

Travis: You know, sometimes I think The Wrath of Khan is overrated (I’m a Star Trek VI guy), but I have to admit that every time I’ve re-watched it I’ve had to eat those words. The action, the intensity of Ricardo Montalban as Khan, the trademark wry humor and especially the camaraderie between Kirk, Spock and Bones are irresistible. And then there’s that finale…!

Nigel: I vacillate between this and Star Trek: First Contact as my favorite Trek film, but I think that’s mostly because I grew up with The Next Generation, rather than the original series. There are many reasons this film is so highly regarded. It has it all: Fantastic action, killer performances (not just Montalban), and an emotional payoff so satisfying, I challenge anybody to find me half a dozen better in genre films. The Wrath of Khan is still amazing, 31 years later.

#2. Star Trek (2009)

When is a reboot not a reboot? When it starts at the end of the last series and goes back in time to start a new one. The ambitious 2009 film polarized longtime fans but clearly won over the wide audience that had previously eluded the franchise.

Travis: If they had asked me, I’d have said there were plenty of other more interesting ideas than re-casting the iconic original series characters…but no one asked me, so they did this. I can nitpick it with everyone else, but at the end of the day I have to admit that I loved it. It was something Star Trek hadn’t been in a long time: fun.

Nigel: What J.J. Abrams and his writers did with this film was utterly brilliant. They respected the Star Trek “canon” by completely throwing it away, thus getting nitpicky Trekkies off their backs. I loved this movie, and the new cast captures their characters most excellently. (I took a much closer look at Star Trek vs. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – and what I love about both – in my Reel Rumbles piece.)

#3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

The One With The Whales! The Voyage Home was the most successful of the series until it was eclipsed by the 2009 reboot. Breaking away from the grit of the previous films, director/star Leonard Nimoy brought a light but socially conscious touch to this one that made it accessible to the general public while still celebrating the rich storytelling traditions of the original series.

Travis: This is my brother’s favorite Star Trek movie, and it’s undeniably enjoyable. I love the dialog throughout, from Kirk schooling Spock on “colorful metaphors” to Dr. McCoy infiltrating a San Franciscan hospital to retrieve Chekov. It’s easily the most quote-worthy of the series if only for “Double dumbass on you!” The Voyage Home was ahead of its time, because that would have been an instant meme if the line debuted today.

Nigel: It’s just so much fun. By placing the crew in such a fish-out-of-water scenario, it makes them that much more relatable. The eco-friendly message may get a little heavy-handed, but that’s more than made up for by the humor, and the excitement that is surprisingly light on violence in the wake of the first two parts of this “trilogy”.

#4. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

The middle act of the story arc that runs from The Wrath of Khan to The Voyage Home is often overlooked, especially among fans who are certain that the odd-numbered entries in the series are inferior to the even-numbered ones.

Travis: I’m both surprised and delighted to see that the global community thinks so highly of this one. It’s a step down from Khan in several ways, but it’s a great showcase of the camaraderie of Kirk’s crew. “The word is ‘no’. I am therefore going anyway.” I love it! Then, when Kirk tries to excuse Scotty, Sulu and Chekov from going any further with the rogue operation, they in turn refuse to leave their captain’s side. That section of the film, and the finale’s triumphant return of Spock, are more than enough to compensate for any other deficiencies.

Nigel: I’ve never believed in the odd-numbered curse, and The Search for Spock is my proof of that. Sure, you can see how tight the budget was, but it doesn’t matter, because you can invest in the story. There may be a sense that they were trying too hard to top the emotional finale of The Wrath of Khan, but I think this entry is nearly as successful in that regard. Quite frankly: William Shatner has never been better as Kirk than he is in this film.

#5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Released to celebrate (and/or cash in on) the franchise’s 25th anniversary, The Undiscovered Country is a commentary on the end of the Cold War…and the last hurrah for Captain Kirk and his crew.

Travis: This is “my” Star Trek movie, and pretty much anything I have to say about it I already said in my Posters of Prominence piece.

Nigel: This is a brilliant send-off for the original crew, and I’m shocked that it (and First Contact below it) rank as low as they do. Star Trek VI is my earliest theater memory, and I cherish it. Star Trek is, I think, usually more successful overall on the small screen, but all the elements that make Trek movies great are present here: a fantastic villain, stellar performances from the regulars and the “guest stars”, action, humor. Yet one of The Undiscovered Country’s greatest strengths is that it nails that “social commentary” aspect perfectly. (It also does a wonderful job in showing just how Worf, a full-blooded member of the original Trek’s greatest villain race, could come to serve on the bridge of the Enterprise during The Next Generation; look for Michael Dorn’s small “Easter Egg” role in this film.)

#6. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Universally recognized as the best of the four feature films starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, First Contact was a hit with Trekkers, Trekkies and non-fans alike. Its balance of dark action and light humor make it the perfect compromise between The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home.

Travis: I have a theory that there’s a direct correlation between the number of costume changes and the quality of the TNG movies. Picard wears something like half a dozen outfits throughout this one, including various states of dress from his primary uniform (stripping away his nifty commando vest and tunic to just a muscle shirt for the film’s climax). I never saw Picard as an action hero, but I totally bought it in this film and that completely changed my perception of not just him as a character, but the meaning of the TNG movies.

Nigel: What’s not to love? The Borg were made to be big-screen Trek villains, and with a bit of a budget afforded, they got a major makeover, with wonderful results. Even with all the advances in digital technology since 1996, the Borg Queen’s entrance is still something to behold. This one takes that time-travel, fish-out-of-water aspect of The Voyage Home, but puts the TNG crew in the middle of Trek’s own history. Take the big action and awesome villain aspects of Wrath of Khan, stir in a healthy dose of Trek humor, and you’ve got a winning combination. First Contact is also an interesting mirror to Wrath in one significant way: The revenge aspect shifts from villain to captain, and Patrick Stewart here is just as brilliant as in any of his finest hours on the television series.

#7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Paramount hauled Star Trek out of mothballs in the wake of the box office success of Star Wars, bringing Captain Kirk and his crew together a decade after the original TV series had been canceled. Often derided for its laborious pace, The Motion Picture is essentially a big-screen remake of the original series episode, “The Changeling” with a much larger production budget.

Travis: There are things to truly love about this one, not the least of which is Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score. Given that the studio wanted to get a piece of the Star Wars box office action, I’ve long admired that The Motion Picture is an old school science-fiction story rather than a space opera, though its complete lack of urgency makes it something of a snoozefest. Robert Wise’s director’s cut, released on DVD, trims a lot of the fat and actually finds an enjoyable movie buried under all the starship porn.

Nigel: Sure, it gets a pass for that score, but this is the only Star Trek movie capable of actually putting me to sleep. This film started life as a script for Phase II, an attempt to reunite Kirk and Company on the small screen, and the fact that it is a thinner story shows. Add all the ponderous effects sequences that were thrown in as a reaction to Star Wars, and the fact that all the vibrancy and color of the original TV series was sucked out of the costumes and the sets (and some of the performances), and this really is a clunker.

#8. Star Trek Generations (1994)

With Kirk’s crew sent off into the sunset at the end of The Undiscovered Country, and with The Next Generation crew having completed its seven-year tour of duty on TV, the time had come for Picard and his crew to assume command the feature film franchise. How else could that have been done, except by putting Kirk and Picard together?

Travis: I like this one more than I probably should, because it’s one of the easiest to pick apart. The plot device of The Nexus is convoluted, but Brent Spiner gets to flex his comedic muscle, though, and that’s enough to hold my interest until Shatner reappears in the third act. I’ve never been satisfied with the end of Kirk’s journey. I’ll never understand just how it is that what made it into the film is an improvement over the original version that test audiences hated (Soran simply shooting Kirk in the back).

Nigel: TNG on the big screen was a big deal to me in the day. But the three members of the original crew who make an appearance get short-changed. I do enjoy Malcolm McDowell in the villain role, Brent Spiner gets some great moments, there’s something undeniably cool about Shatner and Stewart sharing the screen, and the crash scene is impressive. This outing is, otherwise, a bit muddled.

#9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Spock’s heretofore unknown half-brother Sybok is on a quest to find God…literally. He and his cult followers manage to hijack the Enterprise for their purpose. Audiences yawned in 1989, often citing lousy visual effects and blaming rookie director William Shatner (who, in turn, blames stingy Paramount for providing lousy visual effects), though in fairness that was a year full of movies in several major franchises and something was bound to be drowned out. Sean Connery passed on the role of Sybok, electing instead to play Professor Henry Jones, Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Without his guest-star power, Paramount tightened the coin purse on Shatner. As a somewhat bitter in-joke, the name given to the destination where God is believed to dwell is “Sha’Ka’Ree” (Sea’ Co’ery).

Travis: I won’t lie: I love The Final Frontier. The two things I love most about Star Trek are both on full display here: Great chemistry between the cast (even the ones who hated each other), and a story that asks us to ask questions. Spiritual faith is a tremendously important issue for a lot of people, and Shatner’s film offers a surprisingly thoughtful look at the subject. I still feel that this and The Search for Spock are the truest in spirit to the original TV series.

Nigel: The Final Frontier is, by turns, completely awesome and utterly terrible. The best scenes are all great little character moments – the campfire, obviously, but there are many more – yet the overriding story is a mess. Add some seriously questionable scenes (Uhura’s fan dance) and odd directorial touches (The Enterprise has how many decks? A triple-breasted cat woman?), and this movie is one seriously weird trip.

#10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Taking a page from the original series playbook, writer/producer Michael Piller felt a lighter touch was needed in the wake of the darker First Contact. This is The Next Generation’s Voyage Home, replacing nature preservation with minority displacement as its social cause. It was the only Star Trek movie that late film critic Gene Siskel enjoyed, but many longtime fans felt it was a glorified two-part TV episode masquerading as a feature film.

Travis: I admit, I shared the mainstream fan criticism at the time. I came to realize that my real problem with it was just that it wasn’t First Contact. Once I saw that and got past that admittedly unfair point, I found a lot to like about Insurrection. I love Picard’s question, “Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?” Piller’s story was timely enough in the late ’90s, but resonates even more powerfully in post-9/11 America where our collective majority has been frequently too willing to run roughshod over minorities. It’s a prescient film, really, and I would challenge naysayers to give it another look in that context.

Nigel: Insurrection’s biggest problem is that it is not “epic” enough for a feature film. It’s an extended television episode, but the thing is, it’s a good episode. This is a light, enjoyable film that suffered merely because it came on the heels of the completely epic First Contact. Except for the Ba’ku village itself (which is a pretty amazing set), from the script to the visual effects (farmed out because Industrial Light & Magic was too busy with new Star Wars), just kind of screams “TV on the big screen”. Yet the late Michael Piller, who turned The Next Generation around in its third season and made it one of the greatest shows on television, turned out quite a beautiful little story.

#11. Star Trek Nemesis (2002)

When you’re #11 on a Top Ten list, it’s usually an “honorable mention” thing, but the truth is that it seemed weird to us to omit just one movie from this list. Nemesis was conceived as the final Next Generation movie – or, at the very least, the final movie with Data – and it very nearly became the final Star Trek movie altogether after bombing terribly in 2002. Patrick Stewart publicly criticized fans for neglecting Nemesis to flock instead to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Travis: Here’s the problem with The Wrath of Khan: every Star Trek movie since has tried to live up to it and this time, writer John Logan essentially just tried to remake it. There are some vintage TNG elements to enjoy, but by and large this one just plays like fan-fiction to me: “What if The Wrath of Khan happened to Picard and his crew?” By the time we get to Data’s sacrifice, it’s so terribly obvious not just what will happen, but why, that it’s devoid of any emotional meaning. How many costumes for Picard? Just one through the entire film. I do, however, completely love that Picard rams the Enterprise into the Scimitar. That was spectacular!

Nigel: There are elements to this film that I love. The ramming scene as already been mentioned, but for my money, the best special effect in this film was a still relatively unknown Tom Hardy. As an “evil” clone of Picard, shining a light on what our fearless captain might have become had his fate just been different, Hardy nails it. It’s just too bad that the movie around him kind of sucks. I think Nemesis suffers from the combination of a writer who was a massive Star Trek fan coupled with a director who didn’t understand the franchise at all. (The fact that Oscar-nominated writer John Logan was recently involved with one of the more fantastic entries in another big franchise, Skyfall, makes Nemesis even more galling.) An uneven mess.

Where will Star Trek Into Darkness ultimately end up on this list? You decide! Remember, every time you rank movies, you help influence the global list. If you disagree with any of these rankings, the most effective way to change them is to get to ranking!

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