Ranking the Star Trek movies (2022 edition)

I first did something like this eleven years ago. My opinions on some of the films, as you’ll see below, have changed. This list include consideration of the 4K UHD remaster of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition released on April 5, 2022, and the revelation that TMP could have had a different (and much better) ending.

Films are ranked worst-to-best. Light spoilers may follow.

#13 STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

Yeah. It took 14 years for a film to supplant Star Trek: Nemesis as my pick for “worst Star Trek movie ever made”. The main issue is the movie just feels lazy. Lazy in conception, writing, production… pretty much everything. I disliked Beyond so much, I couldn’t sit through the theatrical screening in 2016. Subsequent attempts at re-watches have not improved its position in my book.

#12 STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002)

Nemesis feels like a completely generic action movie set in outer space. That “feeling” that dominates most of the previous Trek movies is gone. Plus, the editing is awful. I could’ve used more/better “character moments”, and less action action action.

And: Tom Hardy (even a young Tom Hardy) looks nothing like Patrick Stewart.

#11 STAR TREK: GENERATIONS (1994)

It’s better than Star Trek: Nemesis, but it’s still not a good Trek movie by any measure. When I think about why, the old adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” comes to mind. There were just too many creatives and suits involved in the gestation and production of Star Trek: Generations, who wanted too many things out of it. Generations couldn’t deliver on expectations, and there you are.

#10 STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Leonard Nimoy was not a great director. Sure, he could get his actors in front of the camera and shoot good scenes. And his chemistry with the original Trek cast is undeniable. But as a crafter of motion picture, mise en scene even, whose arguable career highlight was Three Men and a Baby, Nimoy was less auteur and more… workman. And there’s really nothing wrong with that, per se. Like Coke Zero, it is what it is. Would I have hired Nimoy to direct a Trek movie? No, but then again, I’m not a studio executive.

But there’s a counter-argument to made here: in Trek III and its sequel, the cast is truly having a good time, with loads of chemistry in front of and behind the camera, and you can’t fake that. Nimoy enjoyed directing; the cast genuinely responded to his filmmaking. So, I guess I’ll give him a pass.

Moving on… in my mind, Trek III is a nice collection of action/adventure setpieces. There’s a lot of nice interplay between the various castmembers. Christopher Lloyd is a nice but nasty Klingon villain. But when I think back, the first thing I remember about III is the incredible poster art. The second is the “Mr. Adventure” scene featuring Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).

So I guess in my mind, III is the most disposable of the original-cast Trek movies, and there you go. Except, I will admit: it was my favorite Trek movie when I was a kid.

#9 STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

To put Final Frontier in at number nine on this list is not a slight, nor is it an oversight. I genuinely believe William Shatner’s sole directorial/story effort in the Star Trek movie series is not as bad as legend has it. The movie is entertaining; the action and adventure scenes are done quite well; the drama is well-done, with great acting from Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. But there’s another thing that elevates Trek V in my book: to me, it feels more like an episode of the original series than any other movie of the first six.

#8 STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (1996)

Star Trek: First Contact is a great movie for what it is: The Next Generation cast’s attempt to go “big” and dark with lots of action and drama. It works. But I might be the only Trekkie this side of Risa who thinks Insurrection is better. Yep. Call me crazy. To me, some elements of First Contact haven’t aged well (the opening scenes in particular), and when I want to spend some “good cinematic time” with the TNG crew, I just find I like Insurrection more.

#7 STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

Ugh. This one. TMP is a good movie in concept, but the execution kind of killed it. To be honest, I used to be a BIG fan, but… sigh… the story does not connect for me now (especially after viewing the remastered Director’s Edition).

Concept- and story-wise, you could cut the irony with a Klingon bat’leth! The movie whose tagline was the human adventure is just beginning has no human story to tell at all. Maybe if they’d used this music in the final scenes, it would have worked better. Maybe.

I will add that I appreciate TMP on a lot of levels, especially in its quest to be the only Star Trek movie going for “hard science fiction” with Big Ideas and the like. I can also appreciate that TMP was the closest Gene Roddenberry ever got to total control on a Trek movie production. But where’s the heart?

#6 STAR TREK (2009)

It’s a good movie. Great acting, amazing special effects. Arguably the first and only “hard” science fiction Trek movie since The Motion Picture. The story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the pictures are so pretty we forget that pretty quickly. And Nimoy’s great here as Spock. He really makes the movie.

#5 STAR TREK: INSURRECTION (1998)

Sometimes you just need good, simple entertainment: entertainment that doesn’t work you too hard. Something you can pop into the disc player, or load up on the hard drive, or cue up on the streaming service-du-jour, and just go with it. Star Trek: Insurrection works on that level. It moves along at a brisk pace, has some good character moments, great special effects (the best in the entire Trek franchise until J.J. happened along a decade later), and… whoa, is that F. Murray f’ing Abraham as a villain? Yes, it is. Add to that the music score, among Jerry Goldsmith’s absolute best; great acting; surefooted directing from Jonathan Frakes; a story with real consequence. It took three tries, but with Insurrection the TNG team finally got cinematic Trek right.

#4 STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

I get it. I’m totally in the minority here. Thing is, I love Into Darkness. For me, the movie works on so many levels. I loved it the first time I saw it (theatrically, in IMAX). Producer/director J.J. Abrams injects some much-needed pathos into the Trek franchise, and I’m grateful. Into Darkness is serious cinema; I hold it up as the best any modern Star Trek movie could aspire to be.

 

#3 STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)

It’s no coincidence: the three best Star Trek movies are the ones that involved writer/editor/director Nicholas Meyer to one extent or another. Trek VI is the lesser of his efforts, but it’s still a good movie. All else notwithstanding, Trek VI holds a special place in my heart because my father took me to see it in a movie theater when I was 13. As far as I can remember, it was the only movie we ever saw together in a movie theater. Ever. I loved my dad (he passed away in 2019), and Star Trek was one of the only things we ever really bonded over. Weep, weep.

#2 STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

The Voyage Home is the only Trek movie that works as outright comedy. I genuinely laugh out loud when I watch it. For a jaded, cynical Trekkie, that’s something. There’s also genuine atmosphere in The Voyage Home, much like of that in The Motion Picture, which makes the movie stand out in my memory.

#1 STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

Wrath of Khan is the Goldfinger of the Trek movie series: the entry almost everyone calls “the best”. Fine, I’ll go with that. It has heart, which is something TMP sorely lacked. And I’ll be the first to say there’s no way those pecs are real (Ricardo Montalban’s). But… yeah.