Star Trek movies have been with us since the late ’70s and have received very mixed reactions. Some are revered as the very best of sci-fi films, while others received vicious barbs from fans and critics alike. Now that there is an even dozen films, it’s time to rank them in order.
The way my rankings work are basically four tiers. The first tier includes genuine classics that still hold up today and are iconic; the second tier features films that are undeniably enjoyable and worth watching, though they have their faults; the third tier is filled with flawed but noteworthy movies that have some good qualities and are sometimes underrated; the fourth tier, naturally is littered with the bottom-dwelling movies that are just terrible with little to recommend about them.
1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): I know this may shock most fans who expected Star Trek II to be the number pick. Choosing the very best Star Trek film was quite difficult and honestly, it’s more of a tie between the two films. To those that would argue that Star Trek II is the best one, you won’t get an argument from me, but time and time again I keep going to the fourth film in the franchise.
Why? To me this one showed the original cast and filmmakers at the top of their game. Everything was top notch with this film: production values, special effects, acting, and the story. The movie which was about the original Enterprise crew time traveling to San Francisco in the late 20th century to find whales was a great example of a fish-out-of-water yarn. We got to see the crew out of their element, yet persevering in the strange environment of the past. The movie presented a lighter, more comedic side but it was still exciting and engaging. It also showed that a Star Trek film didn’t need a scene-chewing villain to carry a film.
Finally, this film allowed all of the cast members to have their moment in the sun. They contributed to the story and had many outstanding scenes. Still, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were the highlights, especially Shatner. His James T. Kirk wasn’t morose as in previous films, he was more confident, surprisingly funny and showed off his famous romantic, charming demeanor. By the film’s end, you feel completely satisfied. The crew had a new ship, Kirk was doing what he was meant to do and there was the promise of new beginnings as the Enterprise-A headed out to the unknown.
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982): On a different day I might’ve ranked this as so many do, as the best Star Trek film ever made. This is still the most important film in the franchise because it’s the one that saved it in its infancy. After the wooden and pedestrian debut film, there was doubt another expensive Star Trek film would ever be made. The filmmakers’ challenge was to put out an exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that would leave people talking about it for a long time to come. And they succeeded.
One of Kirk’s enemies from the original show, Khan (Ricardo Montalban), commandeers a Starfleet ship and goes on a warpath against Kirk. He blames our hero for marooning him on a desolate planet and wants Kirk to suffer as he did. And boy does he give it to Kirk. The battle of wits between the two adversaries became famous thanks in part to the performances from both actors. This is Shatner’s best performance as a Kirk, who finally faces middle age, while Montalban clearly relishes his role as the battered but regal Khan. His character is undeniably one of the best movie villains of all time.
Even though the special effects and Nicholas Meyer’s direction are exemplary, what makes the film endure is its focus on the characters and its themes about dealing with your past, the destructiveness of vengeance and facing the future with dignity. So why isn’t this my favorite Star Trek film? Well, it nearly is and on some days I’ll admit it. But the film feels a bit ponderous and pompous at times. The script tends to go overboard with its constant quoting from classic literature. Then there’s Spock’s (Nimoy) death, while it’s eloquent and heartfelt, given that the character returns in later films, the death feels a bit empty. Those are just minor quibbles though and this movie is a must-see classic for everyone.
3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996): It’s not only the best Star Trek film that features The Next Generation cast but one of the franchise’s very best efforts. Director Jonathan Frakes (who also plays Riker) and the production team hit all the right marks in this great Star Trek film. Its success started with this well-written time travel/alien invasion saga.
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his Enterprise-E crew time travel to Earth’s mid-21st century to prevent the evil cybernetic Borg from conquering the planet. Successfully incorporating action and horror elements, Star Trek: First Contact was both exciting and suspenseful with a morality tale about obsession and dealing with destiny. This film is full of so many cool moments. One of the best was when the experimental warp ship the Phoenix launches from a missile silo as its pilot, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) blasts Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”. Another was Picard’s histrionic ranting about the Borg, which forced him to look within himself. The Borg themselves are presented as the fearful, unrelenting force they were meant to be. The movie’s main villain, the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), is one of the more interesting and unique foes. She isn’t some revenge-minded madwoman but is cold, calculating, and with a strange allure.
As with the better films, this one showcased many of the supporting characters and featured smile-inducing nods and cameos from the other Star Trek shows. The best one had to be the cameo of Star Trek: Voyager’s EMH (Robert Picardo) who appears as the Enterprise-E’s own EMH. One of his lines is also a nice tribute to Dr. McCoy. After falling short with the previous entry Star Trek Generations, the filmmakers had to get the franchise back on track and succeeded with this one. Everyone involved is to be lauded, from the actors, to the composer, to the production team and, of course, the director, who like Nimoy understood Star Trek. Continue reading