With the upcoming Star Trek film creating such a huge buzz, I decided to look back and rank the 10 movies that came before it. Some have been considered well-made films and other have been flat-out awful. The original TV show may have started one of the biggest cult followings ever, but the movies made it a commercial success. I hope Abrams vision of Star Trek is successful because it certainly needs a shot of adrenaline. I hope to rank his high on my new list, but for now, here’s the current ten.
1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Often referred to as “the one with the whales,” this one involves the Enterprise crew going back in time (in a captured Klingon ship) to 1986 to retrieve two Humpback whales in which they would communicate with an ancient alien space probe threatening earth in the 23rd century. Yes, the plot on paper sounds ridiculous, but this is the best of the series and appeals to any non-Trek fan. Directed by Leonard Nimoy (Spock), this one is easy to relate to because it takes place in (then) contemporary times, is very character driven, has no bombastic villain with an evil plot or over-the-top special effects. This one also dishes out a lot of humor and it certainly will not disappoint. I recommend it simply as just a very good movie, Star Trek or not.
2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The best from the Next Generation cast, First Contact is more action-oriented than previous Trek films and it features by far the coolest antagonists, The Borg. When the Borg’s (half-machine/half-human cyborgs) attempt to assimilate and destroy Earth fails, they proceed in time to 2063 to stop “first contact” between human and aliens and conquer Earth in the past. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Co. follow the Borg in time to stop their plan. Directed by Jonathan Frakes (first officer Riker), First Contact also involves the element of time-travel. It too has a lot of humor and has a memorable performance by James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of warp speed. He also utters perhaps the greatest line in Trek history while talking to the Enterprise crew, “So, you’re all… astronauts, on…some kind of star trek.”
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Considered the best of the films (except on this list), Star Trek II has Kahn (Ricardo Montablan) seeking revenge on Kirk (William Shatner) after he left him on a once hospitable, but now baron planet. When Pavol Chekov (Walter Koeing) and Capt. Terrell (Paul Winfield) are looking for a supposed dead planet to start the Genesis project, a technology used to create a new life, they accidentally stumble upon Kahn and his followers. Kahn captures the two and then hijacks their ship, the U.S.S. Reliant. Kahn uses the ship to hunt down Kirk to find the location of Genesis, which he will use as a weapon of mass destruction. Kirk, who’s training new recruits on the Enterprise, must stop Kahn from executing his plans. Director and co-writer Nicholas Meyer single-handedly saved Star Trek after the disaster of the first film. He breathed new life into the franchise and came out with a fast-paced, nicely-written movie about revenge, life and death.
4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Nicholas Meyer once again saves Star Trek after the god-awful Star Trek V. This was also the last movie to feature the original cast and they ended on a high note. After years of fighting, the Federation and the Klingons decide to negotiate for peace. Kirk and crew, on their last mission aboard the Enterprise, are sent to escort the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth. When the Enterprise fires upon Gorkon’s ship and sends a crew to kill Gorkon, the event almost launches the Federation and Klingons into a full-scale war. Kirk says the Enterprise didn’t fire upon the ship and wasn’t aware of the boarding party sent to kill Gorkon. After Kirk and Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam aboard the ship to save the chancellor’s life fails, they are accused of murder by General Chang (Christopher Plummer) and sentenced to death in a Klingon mining colony. Meanwhile, Spock leads an investigation to prove Kirk and McCoy are innocent. A very underrated Star Trek movie, Undiscovered Country echoed the parallels to the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War. Star Trek VI never has a dull moment.
5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
After Spock’s death in Part II, his body is sent to the newly created Genesis planet. With McCoy now inheriting Spock’s “essence,” Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) persuades Kirk and his crew to go back to Genesis to retrieve his body. Meanwhile, the Klingons, led by Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), have gained knowledge of the Genesis project and want to use it as a super weapon. Kirk, given the order to not return to Genesis, steals the Enterprise and is forced to deal with the Klingons in a deadly encounter. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Search for Spock is a good sequel to Wrath of Khan, but doesn’t have the same impact that film had. It does have a few minor plot holes, like Spock being “regenerated” by the planet. It’s an enjoyable watch, but obviously not on par with Star Trek II or IV.
6. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
The original cast passes the torch to the Next Generation and this was the last to feature William Shatner as Kirk. The meeting between Picard and Kirk was certainly an enticing plot point, but Generations was somewhat of a disappointment. Kirk is supposedly killed on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise B by an energy beam called the Nexus. When scientist Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell) threatens the destruction of planets to get back to the Nexus, the Enterprise must him stop before millions of life-forms are killed. Despite the hype this movie displays between the two captains, the outcome is pretty weak. Also, Data is exceptionally annoying when he decides to get an emotion chip to have human feeling. His feelings, however, go haywire and he goes crazy. McDowell was very good as the villain, but the meeting between Picard and Kirk plays like an afterthought.
7. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
This is the last movie to feature the Next Generation cast and also the last Trek film altogether, until the Abrams one. When a younger clone of Picard named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) overthrows the Romulan senate to become praetor, the Enterprise must go on a diplomatic mission to meet Shinzon. They later find out that Shinzon actually wants to use Picard’s DNA to keep himself alive and disrupt the human race with his unstoppable ship, the Scimitar. The only thing that kept this movie from being terrible was the action, which is the most Star Trek has ever seen. The whole Picard clone thing and Data discovering an android brother were both weak. It also featured perhaps the ugliest alien villains, the Remans.
8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
This movie isn’t the best example of ushering in a popular TV show to the silver screen. Essentially a rip-off of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Motion Picture follows the Enterprise crew intercepting a mysterious cloud named V’Ger. V’Ger is destroying everything in its path and is threatening Earth. Directed by the legendary Robert Wise, the movie seems to focus more on special effects (by Douglas Trumbull, 2001) and less on story. The movie was plagued with problems from the beginning and easily went over budget. It’s very boring and has by far the worst costumes of any sci-fi movie. This also marked the first appearance of the hideous Klingon make-up.
9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Insurrection feels like a two-part miniseries than an actual movie. When the Son’a (not that ugly, surprisingly) is forcing a group of people named the Bak’u off their unique planet, the Enterprise must stop the Son’a extraction at all cost, even committing a direct violation of their orders. Because of the worthless script, this was by far the worst Next Generation movie. It featured the worst villain, Adhar Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) and the worst villainous plot. Ru’afo wants to remove a group of people from a planet so he can become young again. Wow, so exciting. Not good at all.
10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
This piece of crap is why people bash Star Trek and give it a bad name. Directed and co-written by William Shatner, this horrid excuse for a movie has the Enterprise being hijacked by Spock’s half-brother, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill). Sybok, thinking he’s the next messiah, commands the Enterprise to the mysterious Sha Ka Ree (Vulcan version of Heaven) to find God (not kidding about this part). Meanwhile, the Klingons just decide out of the blue to go after Kirk because they don’t like him. It also has embarrassing moments like Scotty (James Doohan) saying he knows the Enterprise like the back of his hand and then proceed to knock himself out or a middle-aged Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) doing an “exotic dance.” It has horrendous special effects and it could easily be one of the worst movies of the 80′s. It was also the proud winner of three Razzies, including worst actor (Shatner), worst director (Shatner) and worst picture. Completely avoid this.