What are the best Star Trek movies, and what are the worst? Look, we love Star Trek more than words can describe, but the movies are a mixed bag. They’ve been a cinematic staple since the late ’70s and have transitioned through three major eras, so it’s no surprise that there’s some major fluctuation in quality.
Beginning in the aftermath of Star Wars, the first Star Trek movie was created to revitalize the franchise, in order to investigate whether it could be a mega-commercial hit alongside its sci-fi competitor. The answer was: not really, but it brought back the best Star Trek characters anyway, pushing Shatner’s Kirk back into the captain’s chair, eventually leading to a number of the best science fiction movies ever made. If you’re re-watching the Star Trek movies in order, you really are in for a treat… mostly.
Since then we’ve had the TNG-era movies, which continued on from one of the best TV series of all time and brought back Star Trek The Next Generation cast, and the Kelvin timeline reboots. Such a long cinematic history means that, with the Star Trek 4 release date still up in the air, there are currently 13 Star Trek movies. We’re here to do our duty and sort the flops from the high flyers. Here are all the Star Trek movies, ranked from best to worst.
All the Star Trek movies, ranked from worst to best:
- Star Trek: Generations
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Star Trek: The Final Frontier
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Star Trek: Insurrection
- Star Trek 2009
- Star Trek Beyond
- Star Trek: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek: First Contact
- Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
- Star Trek: The Voyage Home
- Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek Generations (1994)
Generations is a fairly controversial pick for the worst Star Trek movie as the movie does have its fans, but we also have our reasons. It all boils down to the fact that Generations, in its attempt to stitch together the Kirk and Picard eras of Star Trek, ruined two perfect endings: it undid the conclusions of All Good Things and The Undiscovered Country. Any follow-up to both needed to justify itself as a necessary addition to the story. Generations completely failed to meet that bar, and the result is a botched mess.
The movie’s plot is a convoluted puddle of slop filled with more holes than a very holey slice of Swiss cheese. Visually, Generations attempts to make the USS Enterprise-D more cinematic, but the result is that everything looks cold and empty, with a sickly color filter stuck over the top for good measure. The attempted action is laughable, and (like with most of the TNG-era movies) the majority of the Enterprise-D’s crew are left to fight for insignificant scraps. It’s a flop: an awful start to the TNG-era movies, and a limp ending to the story of Kirk. Everyone deserved better, especially us.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
This is less controversial. Nemesis killed the TNG era, and can partly be blamed for the near death of the franchise in the early 2000s. It’s lifeless and dour and completely loses the usual heart of Star Trek, which is a cocktail of optimism, thoughtfulness, and adventure. Whatever Nemesis is, it certainly isn’t any of that.
Perhaps its worst sin is that it’s just so depressing, especially when it served as the end of the TNG story for so long. These are characters who audiences across the world had truly come to know and love, and Nemesis treated them appallingly. Thankfully Star Trek Picard season 3, though not perfect, gave the TNG crew a better goodbye, vaguely rehabilitating Nemesis in the process by undoing it as TNG’s final story.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Into Darkness is perhaps the Star Trek movie that is most devoted to the concept of spectacle and action. Star Trek (2009) introduced a new style, and Into Darkness took this to its natural conclusion. It’s packed with overblown explosions, brutal hand-to-hand fist fights, and lightning-fast starship combat.
Sadly, all that is just a cover for the fact that the plot is a contrived, convoluted mess that relies too heavily on characters and tropes from the past. Having Spock cry out “Khan!” in anger at Kirk’s death just doesn’t work. Sorry. The main culprit here is the woefully miscast Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. The reveal of his identity couldn’t have been any less impactful, or any more sigh-inducing.
Star Trek: The Final Frontier (1989)
It seems that each era of the Star Trek movie series is obliged to put forward at least one bad movie – and sometimes even more. The Final Frontier is the TOS-era’s only unequivocally ‘bad’ offering, contrary to popular belief. The action sequences are dull and cheap, the visuals take a dive, and the plot’s grand aims (the crew of the Enterprise meets the creator of the universe) lack direction and are overwrought.
Still, The Final Frontier has its charm. It’s undoubtedly ambitious, and Sybok is a good villain. The moments with Kirk, Spock, and Bones which bookend the movie are ridiculous and on the nose, but are also warm and tingly. It gets that their relationship is what drives the success of the TOS movies. All in all, then, The Final Frontier is a hard movie to hate, even if it gets much more wrong than it does right.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Speaking of hard movies to hate: we get to Star Trek Insurrection. Star Trek Insurrection isn’t just a hard movie to hate, it’s a hard movie to have any significant feelings about whatsoever because it’s so forgettable and paint-by-numbers.
Insurrection (Frakes’ second directorial effort) is often described as the TNG movie that feels most like an episode of the show. Unfortunately, Insurrection wouldn’t even rank among the top half of the best TNG episodes, so there’s no chance that it was going to be in any way memorable as a movie. It’s a muted effort that tries to return to a more basic premise but never really gets it right. If you’re ironing some clothes, and it’s on in the background, it’s just about adequate. But if you want to sit down and watch the movie from start to finish as a proper cinematic experience, I wish you luck.
Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979)
The question with Star Trek The Motion Picture isn’t: ‘Is this a good movie?’ (no, not really) but: ‘Is this even a movie at all?’ It certainly doesn’t feel like it. The plot is paper-thin, and approximately 50% of the runtime is comprised of (admittedly stunning) shots of the Enterprise either barely moving or not moving at all, hence its nickname: The Motionless Picture. Ouch.
And yet… I love it. Forgive me. It’s astonishingly beautiful, has some of the best Enterprise sets in the franchise’s history, and captures a true sense of scale. Meanwhile, the real battle at the heart of the movie, Kirk and Decker wrestling for control of the Enterprise in a macho game of brinkmanship, is far more engaging than it receives credit for. It says so much about Kirk, and Shatner plays the ego and jealousy brilliantly.
It’s also the only Star Trek movie where the themes and character dynamics take precedence over the plot. Kirk’s longing to be a captain again; longing for the Enterprise; and longing for Spock. It parallels V’Ger’s own longing for connection, which also mirrors Decker’s yearning for Ilia. It’s about relationships, and that’s never more apparent than in the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Bones doesn’t come aboard until 30 minutes in, and it’s at just under halfway that Spock (even more emotionless and detached than ever) is reunited with Kirk. But, there’s none of the camaraderie or love from before. That’s been fractured by time, and distance.
Above all that, it’s also just very funny that Paramount wanted to capitalize on the success of the adventurous and action-packed Star Wars, and ended up with the inert, tedious, and cold The Motion Picture. Whatever else it is, it’s the opposite of Star Wars: a glacially slow two-hour movie that feels like a four-hour movie, where the villain is a slow-moving cloud.
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek 2009 was the start of a whole new era. This was the first Kelvin timeline film, shaking up the entire Star Trek timeline and promising to give audiences a new take on Star Trek. It was designed to appeal to a more mainstream palette while maintaining the iconography of the Star Trek movies that had come before. In what it tried to do, it mostly succeeded.
The plot isn’t particularly meaty, but Star Trek 2009 is more about introducing the audience to new faces playing old characters. It’s charismatic and entertaining, and though it loses a lot of what makes Star Trek so distinct as a franchise, it still manages to sweep you up and take you along for the ride. It could have been better, and it could have been worse. Either way, it’s a decent amount of fun.
Star Trek: Beyond (2016)
Star Trek: Beyond is when the Kelvin timeline series finally hit its stride. It was the perfect blend of the action-adventure format that the new era wanted to pioneer, but it managed to ditch the universe-spanning stakes that made the previous Kelvin movies so unwieldy.
The whole cast finally feels settled in, and Chris Pine is at his very best as Captain Kirk. Three years into his five-year mission, the character is beginning to be overwhelmed by the intimidating vastness of space. It’s a great set-up, and the toned-down personal drama makes the adventure movie feel a lot more like Star Trek. Beyond is undoubtedly the greatest of the Star Trek Kelvin timeline movies and one of the most underappreciated Star Trek movies in general.
Star Trek: The Search for Spock (1984)
The Search for Spock often gets a lot of criticism, and yes, it has issues. While Christopher Lloyd is great as the Klingon villain Kruge, his whole plot to steal the Genesis device feels tacked on; like it’s only there because it needed a villain, and Khan was a hard act to follow. It also undoes a lot of the character changes from The Wrath of Khan: it kills David, brings back Spock, and abandons Carol Marcus.
Then, there’s all the good stuff. Kirk’s confrontation with Kruge is glorious fun. The crew’s theft of the Enterprise is a stunning set piece, and something that Star Trek has tried to replicate many times since with not even half the success, and Uhura’s scene in this is just magic. The score, too, with its central theme, is brilliant. Unlike The Motion Picture, this really is Star Trek at its most Star Wars, and it’s a complete blast of ’80s fun.
And, of course, the return of Spock will leave you with a big old lump in your throat. As an adventure movie, The Search for Spock is great. It might not be the best, but despite its flaws, we still can’t help but adore it, warts and all.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
After the disappointment of Generations, Star Trek: First Contact managed to find a way to bring the Enterprise and its crew into a cinematic format with confidence and success. The movie was helped by the fact that it used Star Trek’s greatest villains, the Borg, as the antagonists. It even manages its time-travel plot with surprising deftness and has some of the best action sequences that Star Trek has ever put to film.
And make no mistake: First Contact is an action movie first and foremost. This has seen First Contact be criticized as the start of Captain Picard’s transformation into an action hero rather than what he was before. There’s a lot of truth in that, and the success of First Contact arguably taught the executives behind the movies the wrong lessons. But, judged on its own, it is undoubtedly the best of the TNG-era movies. It’s just a shame that those successes were never replicated by future TNG-era installments.
Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
A perfect goodbye is a rare thing indeed, but The Undiscovered Country is one. With a story about age and prejudice, and overcoming both, it concludes the TOS story with grace and precision, perfectly balancing the daunting pressure of the ending with an exciting and thoughtful plot about treachery and vengeance.
Like The Wrath of Khan, again directed by Nicholas Meyer, it juggles action and tension with introspection and quiet moments of reflection, and you can’t really ask for more from Star Trek. Also, Christopher Plummer as a villainous Shakespeare-quoting Klingon general is a wonderful villain and a spot-on counter-balance to Kirk.
Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
The Voyage Home is, of course, the one with the whales. It’s also much, much more and offered a fresh and fun take on Star Trek that was full of moments of levity and excitement.
The Voyage Home is a lot less serious than either of the first three films, which are generally more somber and tense. This helped to inject a sense of life and newness back into the Star Trek movie series, and the movie is, perhaps, the ultimate Star Trek crowd-pleaser. It’s an easy watch, with adventure, action, and humor balanced almost to perfection, and it also concludes one of the best sci-fi trilogies of all time: The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is right. The Wrath of Khan really is the best Star Trek movie: the greatest of them all, surrounded by other top-notch competitors. Blending swashbuckling action, tension, and adventure with a grounded story about Kirk coming to terms with life and death, it’s Star Trek through and through, and with one of the greatest villains of all time it ranks among the best movies ever made.
It pushes Kirk and Spock – and Shatner and Nimoy – right to the edge of their limits, and that’s unquestionably a good thing. This leads to some of Star Trek’s most emotional highs, with Spock’s temporary death being shocking and earned. Against that, there’s the thrilling surprise attack on the Enterprise by the USS Reliant, Kirk’s explosive reply, and the final confrontation in the Mutara nebula: the greatest starship combat ever put to screen. True cinematic perfection.
That’s it on our ranking of the Star Trek movies. What a ride. You’re bound to agree and disagree in equal measure. But whatever you think about the ranking, we can all settle on this: Star Trek has its ups and downs, but it’s still the best there is.
Is there more Trek on the horizon? Well, you’ll have to check out our list of all the new movies coming in 2023 to find out and see what’s going on with the Section 31 release date and the Star Trek 4 release date. Or, read our interview with Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn and if you’re looking for something new to watch, check out our list of everything new on Paramount Plus and see our hopes for Avatar 3.