by Hans A. Carpenter
With the final Episode of Star Trek: Picard Season 1 coming out this week, let’s take look back at the up-and-down roller coaster franchise the Star Trek movies turned out to be. Ranked from Worst to Best, here we go:
13. The Final Frontier
This William Shatner directed camp fest is cartoonish, garish in all the wrong ways, and features the Enterprise crew and Spock’s long-lost brother searching for, God. Yeah, this is easily the low point of the franchise and one of the cursed “odd” films. For some reason, the odd numbered Trek movies generally are considered inferior. Will that pattern hold? Let’s find out.
12. Into Darkness
Star Trek Into Darkness was a gimmicky movie with a gimmicky name. This is JJ Abrams at his absolutely most annoying, with his trademark visual flare crossing the Rubicon into self-indulgence. This film is basically a crappy remake of The Wrath of Khan, which really sucks because the first act is very intriguing, in which the Enterprise is sent to seek retaliation on a terrorist responsible for several attacks on the Federation. Abrams and his fan service juke box of nostalgia succeeded in his first go at the franchise (we’ll get to that), but fail miserably here. Thankfully, Abrams never made that mistake with an iconic space franchise again.
Beyond was doomed from the start, as the reinvigorated franchise was nearly vaporized by the follow up to 2009’s Star Trek. The Enterprise is attacked, and the crew must survive crash landed on a hostile plane This is an entertaining movie, and one that tries to capture the adventurous spirit of the original series. Ultimately, though, it just tries too hard to be cool. This is Star Trek, trying to make it a hip action franchise is just silly.
10. The Motion Picture
The movie that started it all. After years of anticipation, Star Trek exploded onto the big screen with a big budget epic that blew people’s minds with its special effects, and that’s about it. This movie is painfully, unforgivably boring. The Enterprise has to stop a big angry space cloud from destroying the Earth for some reason. This is a recycled episode of the show stretched out to feature length and a lot of…floating in space. It’s like the team responsible tried to make a copy of 2001 with a bunch of people in salmon-colored pajamas.
Another Trek with a bunch of pointless action scenes, this one at least has Tom Hardy and Patrick Stewart to force entertainment out of sheer charisma. Picard comes face-to-face with his clone Shinzon, who has taken over the Romulan Empire and turns his sights to Earth. Nemesis isn’t the most thought provoking Star Trek, but it at least is entertaining even if it does drag in the middle.
Of all of the New Generation movies, this one feels the most like the show. That’s a good thing, as the show rocks, but at the same time, this is basically a TV episode stretched out to an hour and a half. Unlike The Motion Picture, stuff actually happens and the kind of moral dilemmas we’re so accustomed to from Picard’s show are front and center.
Kirk and Picard meet for the first time across time as the Enterprise is confronted with a madman played by Malcolm McDowell who is Hell bent on getting back to the Nexus, a plane of pure joy that grants the heart’s desire. Kirk’s final showdown is a bit anticlimactic but this movie boasts stellar performances by Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner with genuine feels.
6. The Voyage Home
The Enterprise crew travels back to 1980s San Francisco to bring whales into the future to talk to a probe that’s threatening the Earth. Yeah, it’s that silly, but unlike The Final Frontier, the camp works in this one. The first three Star Trek movies were dead serious, but The Voyage Home is more of a comedy. At least the jokes land in this one.
5. Star Trek
2009’s JJ Abrams reboot shows the first meeting of the Enterprise crew, opening up an alternate timeline. This movie hits all the right nostalgia buttons without being hollow, and an exceptional cast absolutely nails new interpretations of iconic characters.
4. The Search for Spock
The “odd” movie that breaks the cycle, The Search for Spock sees a tad convoluted plot to resurrect the titular Vulcan after his death. It does feature a great performance from William Shatner and a delightfully over-the-top Christopher Lloyd as a ruthless Klingon opponent. And, unlike in Into Darkness, a resurrection here comes with a heavy price as Kirk gives it all up to save his friend.
3. The Undiscovered Country
The Undiscovered Country is a political thriller full of Cold War politics as the Federation and Klingon Empire look to put away years of animosity. Kirk is framed for the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor by a faction of forces with a lot to lose from peace. This is the sendoff the Enterprise and her crew deserved in a well-paced, fun, and thematically resonant movie that was very much of its time.
2. First Contact
When the Borg travel back in time to prevent humanity’s first warp flight, Picard and crew must ensure that First Contact happens while keeping the Borg from assimilating their crew into the hive. First Contact is as close to horror as Star Trek gets. The Borg scenes play like a zombie movie, with mindless, disfigured cybernetic automatrons roaming the ship turning crew members into their own. Patrick Stewart is fantastic as a violent Picard Hell bent on revenge against the Borg who once assimilated him. Subplots with Data being tempted by the Borg queen with organic flesh and Riker finding out icon Zephram Cochran isn’t quite the man in the history books hit home. This is as good as Star Trek gets, and almost number one but…
1. The Wrath of Khan
How could it be anything other than The Wrath of Khan? Kirk is confronted with an old adversary, Khan Singh, a genetically enhanced dictator from Earth’s past. Riccardo Mantalbon is iconic in this role, and though he and William Shatner are never actually in a room together, their chemistry is epic. Add in a great performance by Leonard Nimoy, the best space battles in the franchise, sharp dialog, and snappy direction, and you have the best Star Trek has to offer.
by Hans A. Carpenter