With Star Trek Beyond being released in theaters this weekend, that can mean only one thing: Series Rewatch! Over the last month, I've been slowly but surely getting through all six TOS movies, the 4 Next Gen movies, and the two JJ-Treks, and I've come up with the definitive ranking of all twelve films! Without further ado, let's get to the countdown...
12. Star Trek: Nemesis
If you want to know what rock bottom looks like in the Star Trek universe, look no further than the final big screen adventure from the TNG cast, Star Trek: Nemesis. Despite featuring Tom Hardy as the villain, Nemesis is a boneheaded film whose plot makes zero sense, and which is so focused on giving Brent Spiner more to do as Data that they virtually ignore everyone else in the crew. Data and Picard suffered the most in the big screen adaptations, with Data becoming a comic relief buffoon and Picard turning into a bloodthirsty maniac who shoots first and asks questions later.
This film cranks up both of those insufferable qualities in the characters, reaching its zenith with the death of Data, which is supposed to elicit emotion from an audience that had loved the character for 15 years, but instead made it downright comical. They also essentially cancel his death out moments later by introducing B4, who has Data's memories installed in him. Woof! When Tom Hardy AND Ron Perlman can't save your movie, it's probably a pile of shit.
11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Coming off the biggest hit in the entire franchise—The Voyage Home—the Trek franchise was facing an identity crisis. Should they continue down the road IV paved, full of comic subplots and characters, or return to the more serious Trek people knew and loved? Well, Star Trek V split the difference, creating a film with loads of unnecessary comedy that turned Montgomery Scott into a blithering idiot. Add to this the fact that William Shatner, upset that his co-star Leonard Nimoy got to direct the last two big screen Treks, directed the film like it was basically a big budget made for TV movie, and you've got the absolute low point for the original cast. The film finds them crossing paths with Spock's half-brother (woof) who is on a quest to find God—a repurposed plot line based on Gene Roddenberry's original treatment for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Honestly, the only thing keeping me from ranking it dead last is that it gave us this amazing bit of viral video brilliance...
I've walked out of five movies in my lifetime, which is a pretty good average considering how many movies I've seen, but none angered me so much as Star Trek Into Darkness. I went in with the promise of J.J. Abrams and company that Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't playing Khan, and when that big reveal happened, I was pissed, but willing to see where they'd go with it. By the time they did a role-reversal on Wrath of Khan's ending, culminating in Spock screaming Khan to the high heavens, I stormed out of the theater, furious at what had been done to this series in such a short amount of time. 2009's Star Trek set up a world where anything was possible thanks to a new timeline, and to see them immediately go back to the well and try to redo Wrath of Khan was infuriating. This wasn't just hallowed ground they were trampling on, it was the height of lazy rehashing in this series, and it was only the second film. And don't even get me started on the fact that they essentially cure death in this film—not to mention a portable trans-warp drive—more or less removed all stakes from the franchise once and for all.
While I've since swallowed my pride a bit and rewatched the film, I think that at least the first act and most of the second act hold up as a fun and thrilling space adventure, but it's still brought to a screeching halt when they enter the warp core. Thankfully nearly everyone involved in the film has made it a point to say that this was a mistake by now, but it doesn't change the fact that this was a gigantic step backwards for the most forward thinking sci-fi franchise in history.
9. Star Trek: Insurrection
The third Next Gen big screen adventure wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't good. Ultimately it felt like a crappy two-part episode of the series, with yet another evil Admiral standing between the Enterprise crew and victory. Add in potentially the lamest villain in all of Star Trek lore—F. Murray Abraham's Ru'afo—and you've got a film that's just plain lame. Another thing I didn't ever need to see was Picard and Data singing Gilbert and Sullivan, especially after The Simpsons more or less gave us the definitive H.M.S. Pinafore joke a full five years before this movie came out. This follow-up to the best Next Gen film just felt like a letdown after that flick, and time has only made it seem dumber than it did back in 1998. The good folks over at Red Letter Media did a brilliant takedown of this film that you should watch, rather than ever watching this film...
8. Star Trek: Generations
While certainly not as terrible as its reputation suggests, the notion that Star Trek fans wouldn't embrace a big screen Next Gen film ultimately hampers Generations. Did we really need to have Kirk and Picard meet? I mean, I get it completely, but did we need it? The answer is no. Not even a little bit. One of the high points of the film is Malcolm McDowell's villain Soran. While his plan isn't exactly full of anything resembling sound logic, the fact that he's willing to play all sides to enact his plan gives him a leg up on the average Trek villain. I'll also give the film points for allowing Cameron from Ferris Bueller to captain a starship, but it doesn't really make up for all of the stupidity on display. Less time spent with Picard crying over Robert and René and more time spent punching Soran in the face might have helped. The ending does have a pretty great speech by Picard as well about time, though even that doesn't make up for the fact that he no longer gives a shit about the Kurlan naiskos...
7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Widely maligned in its day for being overly long and dull, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is actually a damn good transition for the original crew to the big screen. Sure it's got its problems, not least of which is the excessive running time, but as an antidote to the big budget spectacles of the late 70s, it's actually quite good. Directed by Oscar-winner Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story), the film's plot is simple yet the ideas it posits are as complex as all the great works of science fiction. It hasn't aged terribly well, and the pajama looking uniforms worn by the crew still look ridiculous, but it's a pretty damn good representation of what Star Trek can do when it's at its best: Boil down unthinkable concepts into digestible bits, fit for mass consumption.
The best of the odd numbered Treks—and the first one I saw on the big screen as a six year old—The Search for Spock is a pretty solid flick with a handful of fatal flaws. Let's start with the positives. This is McCoy's time to shine, and DeForest Kelley gives his best performance as Bones in this film, including one of my favorite Star Trek lines ever with, "How can you be deaf with ears like that?" I also thoroughly enjoyed Shatner's performance here, a nice segue for the character from Wrath of Khan, and his reaction to the news that his son has been killed might just be the best acting he's ever done ("Klingon bastard!"). And Leonard Nimoy proves a capable director, giving the film an somewhat epic feel that the budget certainly doesn't back up, which is where this film's biggest problems begin and end. You can tell that they cut corners anywhere they could with this one, and the film suffers as a result. It's still better than the average Trek, and about as good as a film with Christopher Lloyd playing a Klingon could possibly hope to be.
5. Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek was deader than a doornail at the tail end of the aughts. The cancellation of Enterprise—arguably the weakest Star Trek series—and the box office failure of Nemesis made it seem like Gene Roddenberry's franchise would never regain its former glory. Enter JJ Abrams, who gave us the most fun and engaging Star Trek film in over a decade with this smart, funny, and fun adventure. Sure, it put the emphasis on action over all else, but they were also savvy enough to include some brilliant bits of fan service, along with a top notch cast that paid homage to the original crew without attempting to replace them. Seven years later, the film still holds up as one of the best sci-fi films of the new millennium, and a worthy continuation to the franchise that brought in an entire generation of new fans.
4. Star Trek: First Contact
The high water mark for the Next Gen crew on the big screen, First Contact was a sly and fun continuation of the best Next Gen episode, the two-part "Best of Both Worlds." With arguably the best supporting cast of any Next Gen film (James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Alice Krige, and Dwight "Howlin' Mad Murdock" Schultz) the film is a terrific representation of the best aspects of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Seeing the actual "First Contact" between humans and Vulcans was beyond every Trekkers' wildest dream, and using the unstoppable Borg as the villain gave the crew some interesting and seemingly un-winnable situations with which to deal. The truly great thing about the film, however, is how well it sums up everything the future of Star Trek is about, hope, and it all comes in a scene with no action, just a simple dialogue between Picard and Alfre Woodard's Lily...
3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Following the debacle that was The Final Frontier, most people thought Trek was dead on the big screen. Thankfully they decided that was no way to send-off the original crew, so why not bring back the guy who helped revive Star Trek on the big screen—Nicholas Meyer—to give them the farewell they deserved? Cementing the notion that the even numbered Treks were the best, The Undiscovered Country brought all of the themes from the TOS movies together under one roof. Placing the Klingons, Kirk's biggest nemeses, at the center of the conflict helped to make this feel like a full circle trip for the crew, while also doing what Star Trek has always done best: Holding up a mirror to our current society to reflect how ridiculous our squabbles feel in the grand scheme of the universe. Christopher Plummer's General Chang was an absolutely perfect foil for this adventure, and the film's ending still manages to get me choked up no matter how many times I've seen it.
2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Often derided as being too comedic, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is actually the best representation of a TOS episode on the big screen. It's far from a perfect film, but it's about as close as the Star Trek films got on the big screen. Sure the plot seems somewhat hokey now, what with its Save the Whales sloganizing, but it's the most fun you'll have watching a Star Trek film, that's for sure. The comedy is both incisive and innocently rooted in age old "fish out of water" tropes, with most of the film's big laughs still landing after multiple viewings. Everything from classic lines like "double dumb ass on you" to the way time paradoxes are casually explained away in a single line of dialogue makes for the lightest, breeziest, and most fun Star Trek film ever made.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Was there ever any doubt that this would top the list? Not only the best Star Trek film ever made, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gets my vote for the greatest science fiction film ever made. Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, Wrath of Khan not only brought back one of the most memorable villains and storylines from the original series, it took Star Trek somewhere it had never been before. Meyer explained his pitch for the film as "Horatio Hornblower in space" and the seamless way in which the space adventure film and the nautical adventure stories of yesteryear blended together is a credit to his incredible forward thinking. There's not a single moment in the film that rings false—provided you ignore Khan somehow knowing who Chekhov was when he didn't join the cast of the show until the year after his episode aired—and it remains the absolute gold standard in the series.
This is the film by which all other Treks are judged, and with good reason. It's just that damn good. Ricardo Montalban—fake chest or no—cuts the most memorable villain in all of Star Trek lore, and the absolutely gut-wrenching final act of the film make it a great film, but it's all the little moments that add up to make it a classic.
With the exception of Nemesis and Undiscovered Country, the artwork above is by UK artist Tony Dicker. Click here to check out his Deviant Art page