Continuing this ranking of Star Trek films, we go from the undeniable classics to the lesser entries in the Star Trek film series. They range from being just okay to junk best seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000. As explained in the previous article, tier three films have their flaws but also boast some admirable qualities about them. Meanwhile, the tier four flicks are absolute junk that should only be seen by hardcore fans or the morbidly curious who want sleep aids.
7. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984): The second Star Trek sequel has so many elements going for it, but for some reason it doesn’t take off. After the triumph of Star Trek II, this direct sequel is a huge letdown. Trying to follow up Star Trek II is a difficult task and try as it did, Star Trek III couldn’t equal it, much less top it. For me, it’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a misfire, but for all the important plot developments it doesn’t have much passion.
In this sequel, James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his core Enterprise crew risk everything, including their careers, to retrieve Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) body from the Genesis Planet. Once there, they discover that he’s resurrected and now have to save him. There are many pivotal events in this movie; the Enterprise is destroyed, someone close to Kirk is killed, while his best friend comes back to life, and careers are jeopardized. Yet, most of these events feel ho-hum. One thing will happen, the characters reflect about it, then it’s on to the next development.
On the other hand, Star Trek III is not to be missed, not just because of what happens in the movie, but for its merits. The character interactions are fantastic and the actors all turn in solid performances. The villain of Star Trek III, a Klingon commander (Christopher Lloyd) is quite menacing and Lloyd plays him more nuanced than your typical Klingon, which was refreshing. The final battle between him and Kirk was also satisfying to watch. Production wise, Star Trek III hits the right marks and this is the movie that introduces the ubiquitous and iconic Klingon bird-of-prey ship and the Excelsior-class starship. Compared to the other films, Star Trek III is a good, but not an outstanding entry in this series.
8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): I’ll be frank and say this movie is boring in many parts. Yet, there is so much that I like about it. It is the one film that stays truest to creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek and humanity in the future. Out of all the films, this one is the most cerebral and takes its influence from pre-Star Wars films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it does so to a fault.
In the first Star Trek movie, an enormous, destructive energy cloud is headed towards Earth and a newly refitted Enterprise is dispatched to confront it. The lead up to encountering the cloud was pretty good. Remember, when the film came out, we hadn’t seen the original crew in anything since the series ended in 1969. So, the film reveled in re-introducing Star Trek’s many iconic characters like James T. Kirk, Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley). That reunion aspect worked very well thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic and triumphant score, special effects that still hold up today and the cast’s acting prowess–they’re clearly comfortable in their familiar roles.
Well, we’re building up to when the Enterprise confronts the energy cloud. The movie is self-indulgent at parts, but it’s moving along. Then midway through it, the film comes to a snoozing halt after the first encounter reveals that the cloud is hiding an immense artificial entity that is seeking its creator. Overly long scenes of people staring at special effects plague the movie. They’re pretty to look at, but after a few minutes, it becomes overkill and enough is enough! There is a lot of pondering throughout, in fact, there’s too much of it. But in spite of its faults, Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an ethereal, contemplative quality that is hard to dismiss.
9. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): This is probably the most underrated Star Trek film in the batch, which is unfortunate. Due to its dismal reception at the box office and with fans, this would turn out to be the last film to feature The Next Generation crew. It does have major faults, such as its by-the-numbers execution and that it outright cannibalizes plot elements from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek II. At one point, it was the best ripoff of the first Star Trek sequel until Star Trek Into Darkness came along.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is ordered to take the Enterprise-E to the enemy Romulan homeworld and meet that empire’s new leader in a peace initiative. This leader turns out to be Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a young clone of Picard and he has a major beef with Picard and the Federation. Shinzon’s unclear motives are one of the weakest elements about Star Trek: Nemesis and that is vital since this film’s premise hangs on the villain. He just lacks the gravitas to be an effective foil for Picard. What’s worse is his lack of reason for wanting to attack the Federation. All Shinzon does is spout corny lines about being Picard’s opposite. It’s probably the film’s clumsy attempt at addressing the theme of duality. Adding to that theme is a redundant sub plot involving the android Data (Brent Spiner) and his duplicate, which already happened n the TV series. The action is unexpectedly flaccid considering that the director (Stuart Baird) was known for helming action films.
Still, this film has some merits. It features interesting character scenes and it exudes an atmosphere of impending change. The scene where the Enterprise-E is rammed against Shinzon’s warship is pretty cool though, but a major character’s death doesn’t generate much of a reaction from me. It felt forced and trite since it tried to evoke Spock’s death in Star Trek II. With all that, somehow, it serves as a decent wrap up for films featuring The Next Generation crew. At the very least, the film isn’t dull and has superb special effects and the last score done by composer Jerry Goldsmith.
10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998): The very first Star Trek film is infamous for being dull, but this one is even duller. There isn’t anything wrong with its technical aspects in terms of special effects, music and production design. What dooms this film is its banal nature. Given that Star Trek: First Contact was such a great film, it’s hard to understand how the same filmmakers (including director Jonathan Frakes) could turn in such a bland follow up.
It’s about Capt. Picard and his crew defying Starfleet to protect a planet’s peaceful inhabitants from nefarious aliens allied with Starfleet. The problem with the movie is that the story doesn’t go far enough. A Star Trek film needs to be EPIC. Major events are supposed to happen. Characters are supposed to be pushed to the limits and face life-changing moments. This doesn’t happen here. Star Trek: Insurrection looks and feels like a gussied up, two-part episode from the show.
Let’s look at the plot. OK, Picard doesn’t like the fact that the natives of the planet will be forcibly removed because of the planet’s regenerative properties. While that would work as a standard TV episode, the film needs to be more extreme. The stakes should’ve been higher. The motive to disobey Starfleet doesn’t seem intense. There should’ve been scenes of Federation starships confronting the Enterprise-E, Picard should’ve had a stronger reason for his actions, something that would’ve warranted the term insurrection. Much of it seems to be Picard taking a misguided admiral at his word and not bothering to go over his head. It doesn’t help that the villains, the Son’a, are just boring villains. It’s frustrating because Star Trek has a rich trove of enemy aliens they could’ve used. Star Trek: Insurrection is a forgettable entry because in terms of story and characters, the filmmakers played it too safe.
11. Star Trek Generations (1994): As with choosing the best film, I had a difficult time deciding which film was the absolute worst. Star Trek Generations in many ways deserves the bottom ranking, but is saved by Shatner’s portrayal of James T. Kirk. This film features one of his best performances and whenever he’s on the screen–the first few minutes and final act– he steals the movie.
Star Trek Generations begins with Kirk apparently killed during a disaster. The movie jumps ahead decades later and introduces The Next Generation crew of the Enterprise-D as they investigate a dull mystery concerning a mad scientist (Malcolm McDowell). Later in the film, Picard, via a timey-wimey method, meets Kirk. You would think that the monumental first meeting between these two Starfleet captains would’ve set the screen on fire. But it really doesn’t. Kirk’s presence underscores how much more charisma and verve he has when compared to Picard, who is too stolid and rigid. The film really dropped the ball on this encounter and with Kirk’s death. Frankly, the character deserved a more heroic, epic death scene. Instead, his death comes off as an afterthought.
Like Star Trek: Insurrection, this movie feels more like a sub-standard episode from the show. The main characters, except for Picard, are astonishingly bland and Data’s character arc deserves special condemnation. He gets an emotion chip and then behaves like a buffoon throughout the movie in a stupid, amateurish attempt at comedy. Maybe the film came out too soon after the show ended, but most of the actors seems bored. On the flip side, the people behind the scenes went overboard in trying to make the endeavor feel like a big-budget movie, but it was so clumsily handled. Take the overlong use of slow-motion shots, the weird, theatrical pacing and the gloomy cinematography. On top of all that, the story is rushed and not thought out logically. A perfect example is why didn’t Picard just time travel back earlier in the movie and do away with the mad scientist from the start? Never mind, this mess is not worth the effort in analyzing.
12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Now we get to the worst of the worst. A Star Trek film that is so bad that it makes me embarrassed to be a Star Trek fan. There are so many things wrong with this movie that I don’t know where to begin. But two things out of everything else kills this film; the story and presentation. Kirk and his Enterprise-A crew are sent to a desert planet to free hostages held by a crazed religious Vulcan (Laurence Luckinbill). This futuristic Charles Manson wannabe winds up commandeering Kirk’s ship and takes it to the center of the galaxy and to meet God. Well, there’s one thing that can be said about this plot…it’s bold…and out there. But the execution is just so poor and amateurish. Even all those recent fan-made Star Trek films are better made and more polished.
Getting back to the plot, with a sub-title like The Final Frontier you would think this film would be a grand adventure. There is little of that. Instead, we’re entreated to bad humor, characters behaving strangely and a lackluster villain. The filmmakers wanted to repeat Star Trek IV’s light comedic tone, but we wind up with cringeworthy moments. Take the scene where Scotty (James Doohan) walks into a bulkhead and collapses. Or when Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) does this bizarre, supposedly provocative dance to distract brain-dead guards.
What’s worse is that this movie is saddled with the worst Star Trek villain to date. Luckinbill’s character isn’t menacing at all. He comes off as an aging, misguided and well meaning hippie that would be more at home growing mushrooms and marijuana. Then there are the special effects. They don’t deserve to be labeled special at all. I understand that the film’s budget was cut and they couldn’t afford top-of-the-line effects companies but what’s on screen is revoltingly shoddy. They would have been better off using stock footage. One thing going for the Star Trek films are their excellent special effects, but that wasn’t present here. For that reason, among many others, Star Trek V is the worst film in the series.