All Star Trek movies, ranked from worst to best

Trekkies have been given an early Christmas present, with all Star Trek movies bar one now available on Stan. Critic Travis Johnson revisits all 13 feature films and ranks them from worst to best.

The good folks at Stan just gifted Australia with all of the Star Trek movies from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness (2016’s Star Trek Beyond didn’t get a look-in, alas).

This is incredibly good news for Trekkies, Trekkers, Trekans, or whatever the hell the fan base are calling themselves this week. But for the casual viewer it offers a daunting challenge. What if you don’t want to start at the beautiful but, let’s face it, somewhat hidebound Motion Picture and work your way forward? What if you just want the cream of the crop?

We’ve got you covered. Here is the definitive Flicks ranking of all 13 Trek flicks (including Beyond) for your edification. Please enjoy and, if your personal list doesn’t jibe with ours, don’t let your emotions override your logic and remember that the universe runs on IDIC.

13) Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

What if The Wrath of Khan was terrible? That’s the thesis behind J.J. Abrams’ second NuTrek film, which subverts, reverses, and basically stuffs up everything that made Khan great.

Into Darkness is colossal act of hubris and ignorance, reworking the Wrath of Khan plot even though in this iteration of the chronology, Khan and the crew have never encountered each other before. The death of Spock is flipped with Kirk (Chris Pine) sacrificing himself instead, and the whole exercise feels cynical and self-serving, the downbeat paranoid tone flying in face of the Trek ethos. Chillingly, Into Darkness is the highest-grossing Star Trek film of all time.

12) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

It’s Kirk Vs God – no bets on who wins. When Spock’s half-brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) kidnaps a passel of human, Romulan and Klingon dignitaries as part of a plot to find the mystical planet of Sha Ka Ree (named after Sean Connery, who was originally slated to appear), the Enterprise is dispatched to sort out the mess.

This ultimately leads to a face-off between Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and an entity claiming to be god. Would it surprise you to learn that noted egomaniac Shatner directed this one? The overall cheapness of the production aside, his self-aggrandising touch and the fact that the TOS team look so goddamn tired consign The Final Frontier to the bottom echelons of the list.

11) Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

The final big screen outing of the Next Generation sees Picard (Patrick Stewart) take on Picard – or at least a clone of himself in the form of Shinzon (Tom Hardy, and save that factoid for trivia night), who was created by the Romulans to be the perfect spy.

Now the revolutionary leader of the Romulans’ sister-race, the Remans, Shinzon plans to destroy the federation for reasons that are never made clear. Indeed, not much is made clear in the course of Nemesis, a mess of “And then this happened” storytelling that piles incident upon incident in the hopes that it will all add up to something impactful. It does not. Also, Data dies.

10) Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

What should have been a bold shake-up of the entire Star Trek universe – a Federation civil war with Picard and Riker (Jonathan Frakes) on opposite sides was rumoured – got downgrade to a vaguely interesting but ultimately uninspired planet-bound adventure as the TNG crew go to bat for the oppressed but arcadian Ba’ku people, who seem to have discovered the secret of immortality.

A faction within the Federation have teamed up with the alien Son’a to boot the Ba’ku off their planet and take their secret life-extending energy, which gives us a provocative bit of commentary on colonialization and little else. Insurrection is almost a complete non-event of a film, although you do get F. Murray Abraham and Antony Zerbe as the villains. So that’s nice.

9) Star Trek: Generations (1994)

The bridging of the gap! Faced with a mysterious, destructive energy force called the Nexus and the desperate scientist, Dr. Soran (the ever-reliable Malcolm McDowell) who wants to exploit to for his own ends, Captain Picard teams up with the only man brave enough for the job: Captain Kirk, who was lost to the Nexus years ago but is more than up for some interstellar derring-do in his dotage.

Very much a passing-of-the-torch movie, Generations was designed to give the TOS crew a fond farewell while setting up TNG for cinematic ventures beyond the bounds of broadcast television. Sadly, a muddled script and ill-defined treatment mean it doesn’t add up to much as a stand-alone narrative. But if you want to see Shatner and Stewart bounce off each other, this is the place to go.

8) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Legendary director Robert Wise brings a solemnity and ponderousness to the first Star Trek movie that is a poor fit for the post-Star Wars world the film found itself in. That and the weird short-sleeve uniforms the crew sport date The Motion Picture pretty badly, though this tale of the ageing Enterprise gang’s encounter with a seemingly malevolent alien probe (yes, it’s a recurring theme) offers pleasures for the dedicated sci-fi fan – even if its glacial pace may leave casual viewers nonplussed.

At some points The Motion Picture evokes the sheer sense of scale and awe found in classic SF lit by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven; at others, it just seems impossibly self-serious.

7) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Spock lives! Following his death in The Wrath of Khan, Spock is resurrected on the newly-minted Genesis Planet, but his spirit is locked inside McCoy’s mind. Disobeying orders, Kirk and the crew hijack the Enterprise in order to mount a rescue effort.

Meanwhile, rogue Klingon Commander Kruge (the great Christopher Lloyd) wants to seize the secret of Genesis. He believes it to be a weapon of incredible power and has no qualms about offing a few Federation scientists along the way. Compared to today’s pixel-powered blockbusters, Star Trek III feels weirdly low-key, and it suffers from being buttressed by two better films. But if your criteria is “solid feature-length episode,” it passes muster.

6) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1984)

AKA The One with the Whales. Exiled after their mutiny to rescue Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Star trek III, Kirk and company once again find themselves Earth’s last hope after a giant alien probe begins terraforming the planet when it finds a world bereft of humpback whales.

The solution? Travel back to 1980s San Francisco and shanghai a couple of cetaceans so they can get the probe to pump its brakes. This is Star Trek as comedy and although there’s a fairly obvious environmental message, character and character foibles are forefronted to great effect. The scene in which Spock nerve-pinches an obnoxious punk still raises a chuckle.

5) Star Trek (2009)

This J.J. Abrams reboot jumps through some hoops to get to where it needs to be in order to recast the original series principals and reassure the faithful that all the old stories are still canonical (time travel is a hell of a thing).

While the plot is, when you get right down to it, nonsense, the new cast is absolutely spot on. Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, and the much missed Anton Yelchin as Chekov (actually a major break with canon, but screw it) carry the day despite a rather generic villain in Romulan rebel Nero (Eric Bana continuing a run of baffling career choices). Much like Abrams’ later Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this puts all the pieces on the board and sets us up for a new string of adventures, albeit sacrificing some originality in order to do so.

4) Star Trek Beyond (2016)

AKA: The New One that Got It Right. Kirk (Pine) and the crew stack the Enterprise (a surprisingly common event in the franchise) and find themselves up against would-be alien despot Krall (Idris Elba), who plans to use a horrifying bioweapon to invade Federation Space from the murky nebula he calls home.

Director Justin Lin (the Fast and the Furious franchise) knows how to mount an action scene, but it’s the deft script, co-written by Simon “Scotty” Pegg, that carries the day here. It pairs off the crew in interesting and dynamic ways, interrogating just what it is that the Enterprise and her crew stand for. Colourful, charismatic, thoughtful, and adventurous – just what Star Trek should be.

3) Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

The best of the Next Generation movies sees Captain Picard and the gang flung back in time to stop the Borg Collective from preventing scientist Ephraim Cochrane (James Cromwell) from inventing Warp Drive and launching humanity into the stars.

It might be the most canon-bound of the Star Trek big screen outings, with its dependence on ephemera like the Battle of Wolf 359 and the third world war that lurks in Trek’s future history. But First Contact moves like a bullet, boasting some imaginative action set pieces (Picard cutting loose with a tommy gun in the holodeck is an all-timer), and a sense of wonder and hope that is vital to the tone of the best Trek.

2) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Nicholas Meyer brings it again in this Cold War parable that sees Kirk sent on a diplomatic mission to mend fences with the warlike Klingon Empire, only to get framed for an assassination and banged up in an alien gulag with faithful Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley).

Meanwhile, Spock mounts a rescue mission and tries to unravel a conspiracy bent on war between the Federation and the Empire. A cracking mystery, a timely political commentary, and arguably the last time the entire original cast were firing on all cylinders.

1) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Director Nicholas Myer strips Trek back to its Horatio Hornblower roots to make what is both a ripping naval combat movie in space and a never-bettered thematic and character coda to the original series. Honestly, if it had ended here, it would have been perfect.

Ricardo Montalban reprises his villainous role from the episode Space Seed” as Khan, who returns from exile to wreak revenge. Captain Kirk faces a real-life Kobayashi Maru scenario and learns that some victories come with a terrible price. Spock dies. Audience cries. Peak Trek all round.