Star Trek Movies Ranked From Worst to Best
Forget the "odd numbered are bad, even numbered are good" superstition about this franchise. We finally sat down and ranked every Star Trek movie.
You’d think there wouldn’t be all that many surprises in a ranking of the various Star Trek movies. Official fan doctrine tends to elevate a select handful of them to the very top (and rightfully so, because when this franchise is great, it’s really great) while dismissing, fairly or unfairly, others. But the reality is, there’s such a wide array of tones across Star Trek films that one fan’s skippable entry is another fan’s favorite (well…most of the time).
We chose a panel of our most decorated Starfleet experts to vote on the highs and lows of the Star Trek movie franchise. There’s probably a few surprises in here, but one thing we hope we managed to do, if nothing else, is dispel the “odd number/even number” superstition about these flicks.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
It’s hard to imagine any entry in the entire franchise straying further from what Star Trek is all about than Into Darkness. A laughably grim, mean-spirited film that tries awfully hard to conceal its weird “Space Seed”/Wrath of Khan ambitions beneath some clumsy mystery-boxing and an almost absurd amount of violence, Into Darkness is more akin to a lesser Fast & Furious sequel than it is about “boldly going” anywhere other than into vague nods to absurd conspiracy theories.
If JJ Abrams’ previous Star Trek (which we’ll get to below) was Trek-as-action-movie, proving that with some gorgeous production values and a talented cast that the franchise could once again compete on the big screen, then Into Darkness is Trek as pop culture ouroboros, foreshadowing the backwards-looking fan apologia of his The Rise of Skywalker by six years. Not even the brilliant cast, stunning special effects, and another great Michael Giacchino score can save this one, with the core crew reduced to delivering performances akin to SNL caricatures and a big “reveal” that everyone saw coming three months out. – Mike Cecchini
Star Trek: Nemesis
It’s true, even in a generous appraisal, Nemesis seems unlikely to be anyone’s favorite Star Trek movie. It’s yet another example of how studio execs learned all the wrong lessons from The Wrath of Khan, that amping up the action, and having a genuine, capital-V villain is the key to box office success. Here, a shadowy villain with a vendetta against Captain Picard (hmmmm…where have we heard that before) stages a coup against the Romulan leadership.
It’s not great, and so obviously derivative in its central villainous conceit (despite the twist) that it comes off as a little desperate. It’s notable primarily for being many folks’ first introduction to Tom Hardy as the young Jean-Luc Picard clone, Shinzon, the introduction of the Remans to Trek lore, and Ron Perlman under some cool Reman makeup. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Nemesis is better than you remember if you were particularly allergic to it out of the gate, but without the weight of expectations surrounding it, and especially now that it’s no longer the final voyage of the beloved Next Generation crew, perhaps we can be a little more forgiving of it. – MC
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Ah yes, the one where they meet “God.” The deck was always stacked against The Final Frontier, coming as it did not only on the heels of the beloved Trek trilogy of The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home, but also in the same summer that delivered bona fide classics in Tim Burton’s first Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (not to mention other high-profile blockbusters like Ghostbusters 2 and RoboCop 2).
The film’s antagonist, Sybok, might be easier to swallow were he not Spock’s half-brother, a needless addition in a high-concept but ultimately convoluted film. William Shatner’s story and directorial ambitions never quite hold together here, with the film further hampered by some of the worst special effects of the entire film series. Still, there’s a hint of TOS-y weirdness to the concept of this one, but it’s not enough to make it feel like anything other than the most disposable entry in the otherwise sterling run of original crew films. – MC
Star Trek Beyond
Although 2009’s Star Trek was an undeniable hit, it’s easy to understand the skepticism that greeted 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. Not only did it follow up the misguided Into Darkness, but it also swapped out JJ Abrams with the even flashier, but far more competent, Justin Lin. Beyond certainly does have some of the things that made viewers tire of the Kelvinverse, including a battle sequence inexplicably set to The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and nods to classic storylines. But it also had a lot more of what people say they want in Trek: characters exploring, building relationships, and maintaining hope.
The exploration comes in the form of Jaylah (a variation of J-Law, based on the original plan to cast Jennifer Lawrence in the part), played with undeniable energy by Sofia Boutella. The stranded Jaylah forms a bond with Simon Pegg’s delightful Scotty, but the real pleasure of the film comes from the pairing of Spock and McCoy. The tension between the two has been a hallmark of the series since Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly were in the roles, but Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban find new ways to antagonize and grudgingly respect one another, grounding even the biggest blockbuster moments of the movie in good ol’ Star Trek hang-out fun. – Joe George
Star Trek: Insurrection
It is time to reevaluate Insurrection. On release it got a bum rap for being essentially an extra long episode the TV show, but in 2023 that’s no bad thing. Yes, there are moments we could live without (flying the Enterprise by joystick, the phaser bazooka, Data’s inflatable arse) but it is also, bafflingly, still the only Star Trek movie about landing on an alien planet and meeting the people who live there (apart from Beyond, maybe, if you squint).
But mainly, this film is really the last time (with the possible exception of upcoming Picard season 3) we get to see the TNG crew being a proper crew, with actors who’ve known each other a decade just hanging out and really enjoying playing off each other. It is much more fun than you remember it being. – Chris Farnell
Star Trek: Generations
When reviewing movies, it is always important to review the film you’re watching, not the film you wish you were watching. But that is so hard to do with Generations, even now. The film fans wanted to see in 1994 is still the film we miss now – Picard and Kirk in a buddy movie, their leadership styles clashing as they take on a galactic scale threat together.
Instead, they take on a member of the Enterprise’s bartender’s species while both captains are worrying about how they don’t really want to be captains anymore, and while it might be appropriate Kirk dies after a fist fight on some desert rocks, it still feels anticlimactic. It has some nice moments, but we’re always going to mourn what could have been. – CF
Star Trek (2009)
What if Star Trek was just a regular movie? In 2009, the J.J. Abrams reboot film accomplished the impossible: It tricked the general public into thinking of Star Trek as a brand-new phenomenon. On paper, almost nothing about the 2009 reboot movie should work, and it’s hard to imagine a film like this working today, either. Had this come out a few years earlier, or later, it probably wouldn’t have been as successful. But, in an era where the MCU hadn’t quite gotten going, and origin stories (Batman Begins) were all the rage, Star Trek scratched an itch the zeitgeist didn’t know it had.
What works about the 2009 reboot is also connected to what doesn’t work. Instead of being an outright remake or reimagining (like the 2003 Battlestar Galactica) screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci split the difference; this version of 2258 predates The Original Series but is also an alternate dimension from it. Thinking too hard about the mechanics of all of this will certainly ruin your enjoyment of the movie (WTF is red matter anyway?) but what has aged well is the focus on the characters. Perhaps more than any other Star Trek movie, the TOS crew feels like a team of outer space superheroes. And, after seven feature films in which Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was moving through various midlife crises, it was refreshing to have Chris Pine remind us that at heart, Jim Kirk is forever young. – Ryan Britt
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
A lot of Star Trek movies want to be The Wrath of Khan, but they could all stand to be a bit more The Motion Picture.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is, at heart, a pure science fiction movie – possibly the only Star Trek movie that can claim to be, taking its cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than Horatio Hornblower. It is slow moving film, even in the newly released (and much improved) cut, but that’s not necessarily a flaw. In a movie series that is all too often about vengeful madmen and their personal vendettas, The Motion Picture is about voyaging deep into the unknown, and finding ourselves when we get there. – CF
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Arguably the most overlooked of the classic Trek films, The Search For Spock, is, nonetheless, perhaps the most formative Trek movie of them all. It was here that one of the Trek actors — namely Leonard Nimoy — became deeply influential behind the camera. This tradition would carry on for the rest of the TOS film series, and into The Next Generation, too. As a director, it’s easy to say that The Voyage Home was Nimoy’s better film. And yet, if you’re looking for a grab-bag of what made Trek great in the ‘80s, look no further than The Search For Spock.
For aesthetics alone, it was in this film that Star Trek started to feel like the Star Trek we think of today. Designed by David Carson and Nilo Rodis at ILM, this film gave us the beautiful Spacedock, a design so perfect it reappeared not just in other TOS films, but in The Next Generation, too (with an influence that extends to both Lower Decks and Picard) The USS Excelsior appeared here for the first time, as did the immortal Klingon Bird-of-Prey. We also got Christopher Lloyd playing Klingon Commander Kruge, one year before he played Doc Brown in Back to the Future. After negotiations with Kirstie Alley didn’t work out, Nimoy recast Robin Curtis as Saavik. Curtis is the only actor in Star Trek history to play a Vulcan and be cast by Leonard Nimoy, and, in some ways, her take on the character was probably closer to being truly Vulcan than Alley’s take.
On top of all of this, the absence of Spock for most of the film, allowed the rest of the TOS cast to shine in a way they never had before. Based on his experience on Mission: Impossible, Nimoy was inspired to make The Search For Spock more of an ensemble piece than any previous Trek project. The final result is a movie in which the entire classic crew is showcased beautifully, and brings the Star Trek family closer than it ever had been before. – RB
Star Trek: First Contact
If you’re trying to explain why Star Trek was such a big deal in the 1990s, the best cultural artifact is easily the 1996 film First Contact. Released on November 22, 1996, just two months after the 30th anniversary of The Original Series, the second feature film focused on The Next Generation crew was a confluence of everything that was happening in Trek at that time, but also, a retroactive origin story about how it all started. Today, various MCU movies check continuity boxes like this all the time, but First Contact was unique because it somehow spanned three ‘90s Trek shows by not only featuring the TNG crew front and center but also referencing Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart have never been better, but the guest cast for First Contact is the real proof of just how big this film was. Alfre Woodard’s Lily is the perfect audience surrogate for the poor soul who knows nothing about Trek (“It’s my first ray gun”) while James Cromwell reboots the father of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, with charming (and drunken) panache. To top it all off, Alice Krige’s Borg Queen recontextualized the greatest Trek villain of all time, with a performance that is both understated and unique. In 1996, Trek traded “boldly go” for “let’s rock and roll!” and it worked perfectly. – RB
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
It’s funny: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – the final big screen voyage of the entire original series cast – never seems to get the same type of discussion or analysis as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or even Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Which is too bad, because it’s right up there with The Wrath of Khan as one of the finest of the bunch.
It’s no coincidence that it was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer, the same filmmaker who was in the center seat for Khan, and just as he did with that film, Meyer here crafts a character-driven space opera filled with excitement, suspense, Big Themes, and some of the best moments ever written for William Shatner’s Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Both men grapple with age, irrelevance, and their own flaws – Kirk’s bigotry on one hand, Spock’s hubris on the other – as they try to determine who wants to sabotage a peace process between the Federation and the Klingons and start a galactic war.
Highlights include a superb climactic battle against the rogue Klingon ship (commanded by an awesome Christopher Plummer), Sulu (George Takei) in action as captain of his own starship, and a scene in Spock’s quarters between the Vulcan and Kirk that is both poignant and meta (“Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute… a joke?”). By the time the Enterprise literally sails off into the sun at the end, you almost don’t want this to be this cast’s sign-off. But it was, and they went out like a nova. – Don Kaye
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek has always been goofy. Yes, yes, Star Trek can be lots of things, including exciting and romantic and philosophical. But it has always been goofy, with giant Spock heads and Worf assuring us that he is not a Merry Man. So it makes sense that the most popular Trek movie of all time would also be one of its silliest. But whatever you might think about a story that sends the original crew back to 1980s San Fransisco to save the whales, The Voyage Home always laughs with the characters, not at them.
Finally embracing his connection to the Trek world and stepping back into the director’s chair, Leonard Nimoy brings the same affection for his co-stars that marked Search for Spock. From that affection, Nimoy brings out the best in the cast, giving them delightful scenes in which Scotty talks lovingly into a computer mouse and Chekov seeks nuclear “wessels.” But as much as the movie shares the attention, the biggest chunk, as always, goes to William Shatner, who more than meets comedic task. That twinkle in his eye when he corrects Catherine Hicks’s marine biologist Gillian Taylor (“No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space”), reminds us why, after all the jokes and horror stories, Kirk is still the captain. – JG
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Can you honestly say you were surprised that this is Number One? More than 40 years and a dozen movies later, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still the gold standard for what this franchise could and occasionally did achieve on the big screen. Conceived in the wake of the successful — but financially and creatively bloated — Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a smaller-scale adventure more in line with the TV show, The Wrath of Khan fulfilled its brief and then some, acting as both a sequel to a classic original series episode while addressing head-on the aging of the cast and the canon itself.
With Trek creator Gene Roddenberry kicked “upstairs” to an emeritus position, The Wrath of Khan proved that sometimes an established IP gets its best entries from people who have no previous attachment to the material. Executive producer Harve Bennett, writer-director Nicholas Meyer, and producer Robert Sallin were all new to Star Trek, yet ended up crafting a movie that felt in tone, pace, and theme like an expanded, outstanding episode of the TV show – a feeling missing from the first film.
Star Trek II also featured the return of arguably the original series’ greatest villain, the genetic superman Khan Noonien Singh, played once again with over-the-top relish by Ricardo Montalban. His obsessive, at-all-costs pursuit of vengeance against Kirk gives the film real stakes, as does the discovery that Kirk – the man who could never settle down and always fled to the stars – has a son he hadn’t seen in decades, who wants nothing to do with him. And then there’s Spock: his climactic self-sacrifice, capping one of sci-fi cinema’s most exciting space battles, never fails to be moving (even if the studio forced Meyer to slightly pull his punch at the very end). This is grand sci-fi, and even grander Trek, and somehow we think it will retain its place at the top of the heap for as long as Earth sails through space. – DK
What are your favorite Star Trek movies? Let us know in the comments!