The Star Trek movies are a mixed bag. The science fiction movies have been a cinematic staple since the late ’70s and have transitioned through three major eras, so it’s to be expected that there’s some fluctuation in quality.
The Star Trek movie series started with the movies with the original cast, led by William Shatner’s Kirk, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, and DeForest Kelley’s Bones. Then, there were the TNG-era movies, which continued the adventures of Captain Picard and the rest of his crew.
After a short break, the Star Trek franchise returned to the big screen with a reboot of the TOS-era cast. Chris Pine took on the role of James T. Kirk, flanked by a younger cast including Zoe Saldaña, Zacahary Quinto, Karl Urban, and Simon Pegg.
That long cinematic history means that, with Star Trek 4 still up in the air, there are currently 13 Star Trek movies. That’s a daunting number, but fear not: we’re here to sort the flops from the high-flyers. Here’s our guide to all 13 Star Trek movies, ranked from best to worst.
STAR TREK: Generations
Here’s the thing: the ending to TNG was perfect. It concluded the story of the Enterprise-D, its crew, and Captain Picard with an impossible level of expertise.
So, any follow-up needed to justify itself as a necessary addition to the story. Generations completely failed to meet that bar. The result is that the movie is a mess that, like Nemesis, has shockingly few redeeming features.
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 colour filter stuck over the top for good measure. The attempted action is laughable, and like with Nemesis, the majority of the Enterprise’s crew are left to fight for insignificant scraps.
It’s a flop, a botched start to the TNG-era movies, and a limp ending to the story of Kirk. Everyone deserved better, especially us.
STAR TREK: Nemesis
Nemesis is light on redeeming features. Tom Hardy, as a young Picard-clone, is the movie’s antagonist, and the actor does the best with what he’s given, but he isn’t given a lot.
It also doesn’t help that, more than even the other TNG-era movies, the supporting cast are essentially relegated to cameo roles in what should be their own movie.
It tried to be a space-thriller movie, but instead, Nemesis is a dour, depressing, undeserving end for the TNG story, and a baffling conclusion to an era of Star Trek movies that could never really find it footing. Hopefully, Star Trek Picard season 3 can act as a better send-off to a group of characters who are so beloved by so many.
STAR TREK Into Darkness
Into Darkness is the Star Trek movie that is most devoted to spectacle and action. There are huge explosions, brutal hand-to-hand fist fights, and of course, starship combat.
Unfortunately, this comes completely at the expense of coherence. The movie’s plot is a mess, and it relies too heavily on characters and tropes from previous movies without understanding why they were originally successful.
So, not only is it a disservice to the main cast and their characters, but also the cameo characters who it brings back from the past. The main culprit here is Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. The reveal of his identity couldn’t have been any less impactful, or any more sigh-inducing. It does, at least, feel like a movie. The same can’t necessarily be said for at least one of the remaining entries in the list.
STAR TREK: The Final Frontier
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 offering.
The action sequences are dull and cheap, the visuals took a dive, and the plot’s grand aims (the crew of the Enterprise meets the creator of the universe) lack direction and are over-ambitious. Spock’s half-brother, Sybok, is the story’s villain and one of the only positive features of the movie. However, he can’t save the movie, and The Final Frontier is the first serious misstep in the series.
STAR TREK: Insurrection
Insurrection is often described as the TNG movie that feels most like an episode of the TNG sci-fi series. If only that were true.
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 forgettable, muted effort which tries to return to a more basic premise and fails.
It’s also totally bland. There’s just not that much to say about a film so uninspired and lacklustre. 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 2009
Star Trek 2009 was the start of a whole new era. This was the first Kelvin timeline film, and it promised 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: The Search for Spock
The Search for Spock acts as a perfectly serviceable conclusion to the first three Star Trek movies, which form a mini-trilogy. The movie is a middle-ground between the strengths of the first and second movies, so unsurprisingly, it isn’t quite as distinctive as either.
Nevertheless, it still successfully maintains the adventurous spirit of the original series while exploring engaging themes around life, death and rebirth. That success is largely thanks to the direction of Leonard Nimoy, Spock himself. The destruction of the Enterprise is a particular highlight of the movie, though other effects are a bit jankier. If the Star Trek movies had ended as a trilogy with The Search for Spock, that would have been no bad thing.
STAR TREK: The Undiscovered Country
The Undiscovered Country is the final entry in the first era of Star Trek movies. Nicholas Meyer, who helmed The Wrath of Khan, returned to finish off the movie series, which resulted in a lot of tonal and thematic similarities between the two.
That’s no bad thing, and like The Wrath of Khan, the movie combines personal stakes with tense action to great effect. It brings in some of the humour from The Voyage Home and is gripping and weighty while also maintaining a fun, light-heartedness.
In successfully balancing entertaining action and comedy with moments of tension and gravity, The Undiscovered Country is the blueprint that most subsequent Star Trek movies aimed to emulate. It’s hard to conceive of a more fitting send-off to the cast of Star Trek’s original series.
STAR TREK: The Voyage Home
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 sombre 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 humour balanced almost to perfection.
STAR TREK:The Motion Picture
The first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is an underappreciated, underrated gem. Yes, it’s slow, plodding, sombre, and – at times – tedious. But, more than any other Star Trek movie, it captures the essence of Star Trek’s foundation, the TV series. The visual effects and cinematography, still, are stunning, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is one of the all time greats of science fiction movie soundtracks.
The return of Kirk to the Enterprise is utterly triumphant, while the friction between the main trio unfolds exquisitely. If you can stick with it, the unsettling atmosphere will draw you in, and not let you go until the final credits roll.
STAR TREK: First Contact
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.
Make no mistake – First Contact is an action movie first and foremost. The movie’s focus on action can be criticised as the start of Captain Picard’s transformation into an action hero, rather than what he was before. But, judged on its own, it is undoubtedly the best of the TNG-era movies and, yes, one of the best Star Trek movies in general. It’s just a shame that those successes were never replicated by future TNG-era instalments.
STAR TREK: Beyond
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 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 Wrath of Khan
The second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, is the only Star Trek movie that truly manages to blend action, tension, and adventure without compromising on that quintessential, almost indescribable Star Trek feel. Other Star Trek movies have managed to succeed at one or the other, but The Wrath of Khan is the only one to unarguably nail both.
It’s also the Star Trek movie with the strongest villain, which of course, is a big ingredient in the recipe for cinematic success. It also allows Shatner’s Kirk to be pushed to the very edge of his limits, and that’s unquestionably a good thing. The ending is one of Star Trek’s emotional highs, with Spock’s temporary death being shocking and earned.
13 Star Trek movies are enough science fiction for anyone. So, why not swap genres and check out our guide to the best fantasy movies for a refresher? Or, if you’re somehow desperate for more Star Trek content, take a look at our guide to the Star Trek captains ranked.