So as you can see from the dates, I’m not including the “Kelvin Timeline” films in this ranking. Since they’re set in a totally separate timeline (and look/act nothing like the first ten), it’s simply not fair to include them. So I’m sticking with the first ten Star Trek films, from The Motion Picture to Nemesis.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
This should come as a surprise to no one, as my love for this film (and the soundtrack) is well known. While The Motion Picture fell somewhat flat, The Wrath of Khan set the standard for how the Star Trek universe would look on the big screen. It also brought back one of the most iconic villains from The Original Series: Khan Noonien Singh, with Ricardo Montalban reprising his role as the genetically engineered warlord, now bent on seeking revenge for the death of his wife. James Horner’s immortal score only heightens an already amazing film and it is with good reason that this film remains a favorite among cinephiles.
See also: Remembering James Horner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
If The Wrath of Khan is the greatest Star Trek film overall, than Star Trek: First Contact should be second, as it is (for me), the greatest film featuring the Next Generation cast. Like The Wrath of Khan, First Contact picks up the threads from a pair of television episodes, in this case “The Best of Both Worlds Parts 1 and 2” (the season closer/opener for seasons 3 & 4 respectively). In those episodes, Captain Picard was kidnapped and forcibly assimilated into the Borg collective, acting as their representive “Locutus of Borg.” While the crew of the Enterprise eventually rescued him and restored his humanity, the memory of helping the Borg destroy the fleet continued to haunt him and plays a big part when the Borg again launch an attack against Earth.
3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
This film picks up where The Wrath of Khan leaves off and is centered (obviously) on the quest to save Spock, who is actually alive, though not whole. Through a series of events, Spock’s consciousness is actually lodged in McCoy’s mind, while his regenerating body is located on the unstable Genesis planet (created at the conclusion of the previous film). With Starfleet denying Kirk permission to visit the area, Kirk and company proceed to steal the Enterprise and head towards the Genesis planet, with plans to leave for Vulcan immediately after retrieving Spock’s body. However, it’s not going to be that simple: a rogue Klingon warlord is also interested in the Genesis planet, and the two are on a collision course that will end in the death of someone very close to Kirk. I rank this film as high as I have because it concludes the story begun in The Wrath of Khan and it contains another superior score from James Horner.
4. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
I know many people won’t agree with this, but I don’t care, Insurrection is an amazing film, with a great (if heavy-handed) message. Picard and company intervene when they catch wind of a plot to forcibly re-locate the Ba’ku people from their home (a planet whose rings have certain properties that render the inhabitants functionally immortal). Allegedly, this is being done for the greater good of the Federation, but Picard suspects the motives of the So’Nah (who are working with the Federation Admiral in charge of the project) are less than pure, and he doesn’t know how right he is.
I have to add that I get slightly irritated at times when people call this film “a glorified Next Generation episode.” It bothers me because I grew up watching the Next Generation television series and I can tell you that this film is NOTHING like those (Generations is a whole different matter though, see my thoughts below on the subject).
5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
To be honest, I almost put this film in the #4 slot, but it’s still worthy of being in the Top 5 either way. As the final film to feature the entire Original Series cast, there is something special about The Undiscovered Country that I can’t quite name, but it makes the film extremely enjoyable. By this stage, everyone knows their roles inside and out and you can feel the camaraderie in this last go-round with the Enterprise A. The story was heavily influenced by the recent fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War and the immense change that wrought on the world order. Kirk has to grapple with the fact that Klingons aren’t the enemy anymore and that the world he’s known for so many years is changing quickly. Christopher Plummer makes a terrific Klingon as General Chang, and it’s just great to see the original cast one last time.
6. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
No, I do not consider Nemesis to be the worst Star Trek film ever made. It may be among the weakest of the Next Generation films, but there are worse films in the franchise than this one. For my part, I enjoyed this film, I liked the revelation of a secret Picard clone and I personally thought Tom Hardy nailed the role of Shinzon. Ron Perlman was excellent (as always) as the viceroy and Jerry Goldsmith contributing one final score to Star Trek makes this film very special. At the time of release, there weren’t going to be any more Star Trek films after this one, so I took in every detail and savored it, because this was going to be the end. I seriously hope this film’s reputation gets re-evaluated as more time passes, because the films that remain ARE worse than this one.
See also: A Random Thought on “Star Trek: Nemesis”
7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
If I were ranking these films based on music alone, The Motion Picture would be a lot higher. Goldsmith’s score is enchanting and is the only thing that saves this film from being a complete disaster. Let’s face it, the pacing of this film is all wrong, scenes run-on endlessly, and the “exploration of V’Ger” takes WAY too long. But I still get a feeling of what they were going for, and so every once in a while I can sit down and watch this film (and enjoy it).
8. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
I don’t like this movie, I have never liked the time travel episodes of Star Trek. I’m not sure why, I just don’t like them, and so to have an entire film set in the ‘past’ of the 1980s, I just don’t like it. Yes it’s cool that a pair of humpback whales saved the planet and Kirk and company saved the species from extinction, but still…definitely not one of my favorites (I avoid it whenever possible).
9. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
If you’re looking for the “glorified” television episode, look no further! You’ve found it! First of all, this film was shot at the same time as the series finale “All Good Things…” Second, the film uses the EXACT same sets from the television series. Third, the music *facepalms at the thought* was composed by a person who wrote music for the television series, so it even SOUNDS like one of the episodes. Really, they only made this film as an excuse to put Kirk and Picard on screen at the same time. And it’s cool that they meet…sort of anyways. The thing is, the original cast already had their big send-off in The Undiscovered Country. Re-introducing Kirk (and subsequently killing him) kind of spoils all that. You’ll notice that McCoy and Spock are conspiciously absent at the christening of the Enterprise B (that’s because when Nimoy and Kelley were asked to reprise their roles, they flat out refused). Malcolm McDowell is a decent villain, but he’s one of the few bright spots in a film whose existence I generally choose to ignore.
10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
It goes without saying that Star Trek V deserves to be at the bottom of ANY ranking of Star Trek films, because it is without a doubt the worst film of the bunch. To be fair, the concept of finding God (or some equivalent) at the center of the galaxy is not a bad one, it’s just that they executed it all wrong. And giving Spock a half-brother out of nowhere didn’t make much sense either. Sybok IS an interesting character, I will say that, but I don’t see why he had to be Spock’s brother to be relevant; I think he could’ve easily been just a rogue Vulcan and that would’ve worked as well. I will watch this film once in a blue moon (maybe just to remind myself how bad it is), but Goldsmith’s music for this film IS excellent. It’s a shame the film is so awful.
And that’s how I would rank the ten Star Trek films set in the prime universe (once I see Star Trek Beyond sometime in the future I’ll make a list for the three Kelvin Timeline films). What do you think of my rankings? Do you agree? Disagree? I hadn’t really given it much thought in the past, but this is order makes sense to me. -Becky
You can find more of my thoughts on Star Trek here
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