Every Star Trek Movie, Ranked
13 films. Three trips through time. Two "Khaaaaaaans!” Since 1979, “Star Trek” has invited audiences to boldly go on its big-screen adventures. That’s a hell of a run for a franchise that started as an underdog TV show from 1966. Some of those movies have been all-caps great (“Wrath of Khan” FTW!) and some have been, well, “Star Trek: Nemesis.” On the 10th anniversary of JJ Abrams' "Star Trek" reboot — here’s a definitive ranking ranking of every cinematic voyage the Enterprise has taken to the Final Frontier.
13. 'Star Trek Into Darkness' (2013)
J.J. Abrams' last “Trek” is his worst film. His much-loved “Mystery Box” approach, which only really works as a marketing tool, fails him on a story level when we learn who the villain really is (as if we didn't know already). It's a movie where the head of Starfleet is totally fine violating Federation principles and risking war with the Klingons to cover up his secret plans with an all-out military strike (which, as cover-ups go, not very discrete), but, if you’re Jim Kirk and you're caught lying, then he must uphold the very rules he's taking 7 photon torpedoes to. If you like movies where heroes lie to save their own ass and put their crews in a wringer, or stories that lurch from one set piece to another with inconsistent characterizations and little emotional resonance, or that remix bits from the best “Trek” movie ever without appreciating why it is the best, then “STID” is for you.
12. 'Star Trek: Nemesis' (2002)
Traditionally, even-numbered “Trek” films are high points of the franchise. The tenth installment, and the fourth film featuring the “Next Generation” cast, broke that tradition. “Nemesis” is a very uneven and dull effort that feels like fan-fic, one that is surprisingly tone-deaf in regards to how to portray these characters -- especially Picard in the first half. The movie bombed, killing future missions from the “TNG” crew. It would take Paramount seven years to recover with J.J. Abrams' reboot.
11. 'Star Trek: Insurrection' (1998)
The Enterprise crew must protect an ancient society's fountain of youth from hammy villains who will do anything to get it. “Insurrection” could have been “Star Trek: Heart of Darkness,” but only a sliver of that potential can be seen here, in a movie that goes too light in tone after the “seriousness” of hit “Star Trek: First Contact.” An over-the-top villain, cheap production values, and yet another climax (the series' third!) featuring Picard struggling to stop a bad guy's doomsday device from activating sully one of the worst odd-numbered Enterprise missions. (And don't get us started on Data being used as a flotation device.)
10. 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier' (1989)
'What does God need with a starship?’ Good question. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” got clobbered in the Summer of '89 by the likes of Batman and Indiana Jones; William Shatner's directorial debut's low, low budget and really bad special effects just couldn't compete with the other blockbusters -- and neither could its uneven story that tries too hard to capture the lighting-in-a-bottle mix of comedy and sci-fi that turned “Voyage Home” into a hit. >Despite being one of the lowest grossing Trek's ever, this misfire does feature a few strong scenes, especially when God-searching Sybok confronts his half-brother, Spock, and McCoy with their secret pains. (And we don't mind the funny campfire scene either.)
9. 'Star Trek: Generations' (1994)
Captains Picard and Kirk finally meet and the end result is, well, meh. Fresh off the “TNG” series finale, the “Next Gen” crew had a better final episode than first movie, as Picard deals with the Nexus (don't ask) and Malcolm McDowell's just-okay baddie trying to get back to it because reasons. A great (if too long) crash sequence involving the Enterprise-D, and vivid cinematography, are the film's high points, unless you have always wanted the greatest captains ever to meet cute over (I sh** you not) chopping firewood and making eggs. And Kirk's death lacks the emotional impact that both the iconic hero and his fans deserve.
8. 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' (1979)
Paramount's answer to “Star Wars” is this bloated slog of a movie, one that addresses some truly interesting philosophical themes in ways that the best episodes of the series did. Robert Wise's serviceable direction indulges too much in the special effects -- the opening fly-by with the new Enterprise goes on so long it feels like starship porn. But the core Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship is always engaging, especially when confronting space cloud V'ger and its search for the Creator.
7. 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' (1984)
The best of the odd-numbered Treks, “Search for Spock” features some of the franchise’s most memorable moments: The destruction of Enterprise and Kirk's gut-punch reaction to his son's death, after helplessly listening to those “Klingon bastards” murder his boy. This was also Leonard Nimoy's feature-film directorial debut. So there’s that.
6. 'Star Trek Beyond' (2016)
The best odd-numbered film since “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” “Star Trek Beyond” is waaaay better than “STID.” (Phew.) It celebrates what makes “Trek” so great -- its themes and characters -- while honoring the 50th anniversary with a scary-entertaining mix of humor (SO funny), heart, and spectacle. We'd rank it higher if not for the problematic execution of villain Krall (a surprisingly ineffectual Idris Elba), whose motivations (while GREAT on paper) are denied the necessary screentime to truly connect. But it overcomes that, as well as certain tonal and narrative bumps, thanks to the filmmakers making the first of these nu Treks to feel like an episode of “The Original Series.” “Beyond” leaves us feeling that which “STID” failed to do: Wanting more.
5. 'Star Trek: First Contact' (1996)
The best movie of the “Next Gen” cast pits Picard vs. the Borg and goes full action movie at times to deliver the goods. When “First Contact” isn't making its Captain struggle with the themes of revenge and identity, it phasers the s**t out of drones and fills the screen with one hell of a space battle. It also introduces the series' second-best movie villain, the Borg Queen, and Picard's “the line must be drawn here!” speech is an all-timer for the franchise.
4. 'Star Trek' (2009)
Abrams' best “Star Wars” movie was his first “Star Trek.” The opening sequence on the Kelvin still makes us ugly-cry, and we always watch the thrilling space-set action from the edge of our seat. With “Trek,” Abrams took something old and not mainstream and injected it with new life -- making “Trek” popular outside of the usual fanbase for the first time in its now-50 year history. Also for the first time, Team Abrams made space, well, feel like space; there is a scope here to The Final Frontier never before afforded the franchise. That, packed with sweeping visuals and characters that are never not entertaining, make “Star Trek” Abrams' most complete and rewatchable cinematic experience. One of Hollywood's best reboots.
3. 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' (1991)
On the eve of universal peace, Kirk and his crew struggle to stop conspirators from lighting the fuse on more war between the Klingons and Federation. “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”; is a perfect note for the TOS cast to go out on, thanks to co-writer and “Wrath of Khan” director Nicholas Meyer bringing equal parts murder-mystery whodunit and prison break to this inspired and gripping sequel.
2 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home' (1986)
Director Nicholas Meyer (“Wrath of Khan”) co-wrote this classic Trek, which centers on Admiral Kirk's mission to save the future by traveling back to 1986 San Francisco in search of humpback whales. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the rest of the crew have a hilariously hard time trying to fit into our comparatively primitive society. As a result, the film is full of sweet, funny, and surprisingly poignant moments.
1. 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' (1982)
Best. Death scene. Ever. Ricardo Montalban reprises his role of villain Khaaaaaan! Noonien Singh to battle Kirk and the Enterprise crew in this much-loved sequel, which features one of cinema's greatest rivalries. The most thematically and emotionally rich film in the series, "Khan" -- more than 35 years after its release -- is still the benchmark to which all subsequent Treks aspire. Not only is it the best big-screen mission for the Enterprise, it's also one of the genre's best ever entries.