Since the Picard series has concluded and we have a couple of months until the next Star Trek series returns to the air (Anson Mount and his glorious hair will be back on Paramount Plus on June 15th), this seemed like an opportune time to fill your Trek-related needs with the definitive ranking of all the Star Trek Movies.
Mary Fan and I sent each other our rankings, and we averaged out the results to bring you this list. What’s interesting to me is that despite growing up on different eras of Trek – I’m an original series guy, Mary prefers The Next Generation – our rankings weren’t all that far off. Our general tiers were pretty close, where we agreed on the best, and our bottom five were the same, but in slightly different orders. If we were ranking the Star Wars movies, there’d be a lot more disagreement! (Mainly because Mary inexplicably loves Attack of the Clones and I am the token “The Last Jedi is good, actually” writer on staff, but that is an argument for another time.)
I’m going to bet that you can guess what our top choice will be, but where will the others go? How did the reboots from the last decade fare? Which TNG movie will come out on top? Read on, and boldly go where no ranking has gone before!
Fair warning: we are going to assume that you are a Trek fan and have watched all of these so we will occasionally mention spoilers. (The newest of these films is seven years old, so what are you waiting for?) All are available on Paramount Plus, so go and watch any you might have missed.
13) Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Victor: We both really liked the first JJ Abrams reboot, and we both hated this one. Rather than explore the new timeline they created, they slavishly tried to cram in the Khan storyline. And not only that, they totally misunderstood the reason why that movie worked. The ending of Wrath of Khan works because Spock’s sacrifice is so true to character. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And that sacrifice is weighed against his friendship with Kirk, that was established in pop culture for 20 years. In STID, Kirk is trying to literally kickstart the warp core while Spock rages out on earth. Oh, and McCoy cures death so the sacrifice is meaningless. Womp womp.
Mary: Hah, meanwhile I didn’t get into Trek fandom until the mid 2010s and had only seen a few TNG episodes in the ‘90s when my mom was watching them. I liked the 2009 Star Trek a lot though, and I went to Into Darkness with only that background, having never seen Wrath of Khan. I think the filmmakers tried to have it both ways, mining the original series while also trying to appeal to new audiences, and they failed on both fronts. I remember being spectacularly confused by the whole thing. And yeah, the ending read as false. New Kirk and New Spock, as far as we audiences were concerned, had barely established their relationship. Plus, this is a franchise. No way the death was gonna stick. I remember rolling my eyes like “can we get this over with?? I know he ain’t gonna perma-die.”
12) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Mary: Oh my goodness, Final Frontier. Look, any time a sci-fi/fantasy franchise decides to deal with God, someone needs to slam the table and say “NO!” That whole storyline was overly self serious and nonsensical at once… and so terrible, it’s practically hilarious. I think the only reason this ranks above Into Darkness is because it gets legacy points. But quality-wise, it might be even worse.
Victor: So much wrong in this movie. First, they let notorious egomaniac Shatner direct. I assume they were thinking that if Nimoy could make a great movie like The Voyage Home, Shatner could have his turn. Guess what? No. And the plot is reminiscent of a story that Harlan Ellison used to tell about pitching ideas for the first Star Trek movie. They kept asking for something bigger and bigger, so Ellison finally says “The Enterprise confronts God and then kills him.” “NO! BIGGER!” There are some fun moments here, like the camping scene with Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, but this is such a weird entry. And they made Uhura do a fan dance! Whut?
11) Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Victor: I know a lot of fans think this is the worst one overall, but I don’t think it’s terrible. Just a massive downer. It’s kind of the tipping point for me of when Trek started to steer away from being optimistic SF and turn into dark and serious SF. And it’s literally a very dark movie, that is to say, dimly lit. Plus Data dies (but in a convenient way that leaves his memories in a weird prototype). It was a really bad send off to a beloved cast of characters. Not even baby Tom Hardy can save this as Picard’s clone son.
Mary: I didn’t mind Nemesis! Though again I was watching it outside its cultural moment — I saw it for the first time last year. Agree that it’s a massive downer, though in the post-Discovery era of Trek we’re now in, that wasn’t as striking to me. It was mostly that I didn’t buy for two seconds that Tom Hardy could be Patrick Stewart’s younger clone. Really, they would have been better off casting Stewart in both roles and hand-waving the age thing (which they did anyway… blah blah, because sci-fi). Though even then it might have been a hard sell. Nothing about the character felt Picard-y, so the whole premise of Picard facing off against himself fell flat. Also, and I don’t know how this could have been avoided, it didn’t feel like a movie? More like a TV 2-parter?
Victor: Yeah, that happens a lot with the TNG movies. They’d be OK as a midseason cliff hanger two part episode, but they don’t have the same oomph on the big screen.
10) Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Mary: Generations had promise, I think. Again, I watched it out of its cultural context, but even so, I thought it was cool that they managed a TOS/TNG crossover! The way they did it was so off, though. First of all, they once again went with the depressing route. Why kill off Picard’s family like that? It didn’t really add anything to the story. I think sometimes writers mistake depressing for deep. And as far as send-offs go, our fearless Kirk deserved better. The whole Nexus thing was bizarre, and after all the wackiness Kirk has survived, i thought he should have gone out with a bigger bang. And again, it felt more like a TV 2-parter. The movie dragged in a lot of show references, which might have been fun for those following along at the time, but were just confusing out of context.
Victor: It could have been such a fun premise. Kirk and Picard, fighting Q or the Borg or something. Instead, it was handled incredibly badly. I remember the grumblings of the TNG cast at the time, saying that they didn’t feel like Paramount trusted them to launch a film without the help of the original cast. As it is, Kirk feels almost incidental to the story, most of the Next Gen cast doesn’t have a lot to do, and they needlessly kill off Picard’s family for dumb reasons. Very disappointing all around. The high point is Data getting his emotion chip and sobbing tears of joy over finding his cat Spot unharmed in the wreckage of the Enterprise. But overall, yes, it feels like just a wasted opportunity.
Mary: It would’ve been the same plot without Kirk there at all.
Victor: Guinan was more relevant to the plot than Kirk!
9) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Victor: Did you know they had Star Trek: The Motion Picture Happy Meals at McDonald’s? I know, because I was 7 when this came out. My mom and dad were both big Trek fans, and they took me and my younger brother to see it in the theaters. They figured that since I loved Star Wars, I might enjoy this. They were wrong. Perhaps this is clouded by the lens of youth, but I remember this movie being about nine hours long. Oh, and the McDonald’s Happy Meals had scenes from the movie and they didn’t make any more sense in that context.
I watched it again as an adult, and the plot wasn’t a whole lot better. It suffers from introducing new characters when all the audience really wanted was to see their crew on screen again. Also, I was a kid very much into space and the pictures of Jupiter that Voyager was sending back, and even I couldn’t be bothered with the whole V’ger plot line.
Mary: Ah, the Motionless Picture! I watched it as an adult and yeah, it felt about 9 hours long. I actually didn’t mind the overall story with V’ger and the romance and all that. If it had been a standalone episode of an anthology show or something (and about 1/3 the length) I would have liked it. But it weirdly didn’t feel… Star Trek-y. The aesthetic was glacial and generic… nothing like the warm, bright palette of the series. The tone too! Also ice, ice baby. It felt like the Enterprise crew was almost incidental to the core of the story. Like someone took what should have been a standalone sci-fi think-y story and shoved it into the Star Trek universe.
Victor: Yeah, if this was a season three story about V’Ger and an officer on the Enterprise, sure, fine. But as the triumphant return to the screen for the crew? And in what was (at the time) the most expensive film ever made? No thank you.
8) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Victor: We’ve now moved into the “Pretty Good!” tier of Star Trek movies!
Mary: I went into Search for Spock pretty biased. I mean, I had just watched Khan (how do you follow that??) and the title doesn’t invite confidence. But I was pleasantly surprised! I mean, it’s kind of a heist movie, and everyone loves heist movies! It was fun getting to see the crew go rogue. Some plot elements were kind of weird… resurrection via terraforming (???), speed aging to go from kid to Leonard Nimoy in a few hours (????), Spock’s spirit floating about (?????)… yeah, things got weird lol. But if you’re gonna kill off Spock and bring him back, at least do it in a meaningful way, and I’m glad that Star Trek gave it a whole movie rather than hand-waving his resurrection into being.
Victor: I have a soft spot for this movie, since it may be the one I’ve seen the most. (I swear it was on Canadian HBO like three times a day when I was a kid.) And I love Christopher Lloyd as a scenery chewing Klingon, carrying on the fine tradition of villainy established by Ricardo Montalban. And the ending with Kirk kicking him off a cliff is such fun. “I…(kick)…have had…(kick)…enough of YOU! (kick)”
Mary: I mean, I read that Nimoy wanted the film to be “operatic,” so some scene-chewing is in order.
Victor: It is only logical.
Mary: And then there’s the infamous “Klingon killed my son” moment… quintessential Shatner overacting.
Victor: It’s not the best Trek, and it dramatically undercuts the ending of Khan, but it is a very fun space opera.
7) Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Victor: I think this might be the movie we differed the most on! I ranked it 8th and you had it all the way up at 4! I thought it was a fun and exciting adventure, although it severely underused Idris Elba, but you rank this as a top 4 Trek movie. Why does this one resonate for you?
Mary: See, this is the one I have a soft spot for. It’s just so fun! Again, I watched this before I was big into Star Trek, so I didn’t have much background about the lore or anything going in… I was watching it as just a fun space movie, and in that, it succeeds. The action, the Millennial-style snark, the visual grandeur — it was like catnip to me. I don’t know how it holds up in terms of storytelling quality or anything, but it was a joy to watch.
Victor: That’s totally valid! I think it’s a fun movie, but most of it evaporated from my mind as soon as it was over. I remember the bit with the space mines following Scotty playing “Sabotage” and… not a whole lot else, to be honest. I had even forgotten about Sulu having a husband until someone brought it up on Twitter the other day!
Mary: Hah, meanwhile I remember that part vividly, mostly because of the debate it invited at the time (the writers wanted to pay tribute to Takei plus win diversity points, Takei said this made his character seem closeted and he didn’t like that… fun times). Anyway, it is definitely a departure from traditional Trek, and really doesn’t feel Trek-y at all in some ways. Basically, it’s a Fast & Furious movie in Trek clothing, and I’m here for it!
6) Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Mary: I went into this one rather blind… I was catching up on TNG movies I’d missed, and I had no idea what it was about. Based on the title I thought it was going to be a lot more war-y, with galaxy-ending stakes, so I was surprised to find a comparably gentle story about Picard & co. saving a people (and the insurrection in question simply being the Enterprise crew defying orders). Again, and I feel like a broken record, it felt more like a TV 2-parter than a MOVIE movie. I think a lot of that comes from how it feels like a middle chapter, with longtime relationships between characters and worlds simply happening (pity the moviegoer who hasn’t seen at least 5 seasons of TV before stepping into this). Seeing Riker and Troi get together finally was nice, though! And I liked the premise of the story.
Victor: There are good two part episodes and there are bad two part episodes, and this was a good one! Especially coming after the galaxy-ending stakes of First Contact, this was a nice change of pace. Picard got to be flirty with Donna Murphy’s character, Riker and Troi got together, it was a nice visit with old friends. And sometimes, that’s all you want.
5) Star Trek: VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Victor: This was a big deal when it came out. It was the last (ha!) hurrah of the original crew, with a plot line that tied OG trek into TNGTrek. And, like classic Trek, it tried to be politically relevant! The Klingon home world suffers a Chernobyl-like disaster that forces them to reach out to the Federation for assistance, but there are forces on both sides that would prefer they stayed enemies. (Again, very relevant at the time with the end of the Soviet Union) Plus there’s a murder mystery, new Vulcan characters, and an incredibly ham-tastic performance by Christopher Plummer as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon. It was a ton of fun, and a fond farewell to the original Enterprise crew. And I adore the signatures of the actors in the end credits. (The Russo Brothers admitted that they were inspired by that and used the same device at the end of Avengers: Endgame.)
Mary: So I watched all 6 original Trek movies in order in the span of about a week, and I remember this one felt like such catharsis after the stinker that was The Final Frontier. It’s got a great plot, both relevant to its times and undeniably Trek-y. It was a great way to end a binge watch.
4) Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Mary: We’ve officially entered the “Best Treks” reign! You know what’s funny? I didn’t really follow Trek until a few years ago but I do remember watching First Contact as a teenager… I think I found it at a secondhand video store for cheap and thought I’d check it out because hey, I like sci-fi. Even with that little context, I still liked it! And some images stuck vividly… the Borg Queen, Cochran (who I still thought of as “the farmer dude from Babe”), that Vulcan greeting at the end. By the way I forget 99% of movies I watch so the fact that it stuck when I wasn’t yet a dedicated fan of the franchise means it wasn’t just a good Trek movie, it was a good MOVIE.
Victor: Yes, the best TNG film by far, and the Borg Queen is another great villain. (I’m seeing a trend here. The best Treks usually have the best villains. Shocking, I know!) It was great to see the Borg being terrifying, it was great to see the TNG crew getting to go all out to save the galaxy. It was a fantastic rebound after the mess that was Generations.
3) Star Trek (2009)
Victor: I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie when it came out. Remember, at the time it had been 7 years since the last movie and 4 years since the last TV series. And here comes a reboot of the original show with a new cast playing fresh out of the academy versions of the characters. This could have gone wrong in about a hundred different ways! But it was good! It was an exciting adventure! The cast was amazing, not doing imitations of Shatner and Nimoy, but rather bringing their own spin to the characters. Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and Zachary Quinto all do fantastic work, as does Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s doomed father and Bruce Greenwood as Pike. And Pike has an all-time great line to guilt/encourage Kirk into joining the Federation: “Your father was captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.” Ahh, chills!
Mary: If the goal of Star Trek 09 was to get new audiences interested, then mission accomplished! I was 21 and had the vaguest memories of TNG, and wasn’t really invested in the franchise at all. I barely knew the original series existed except through cultural osmosis. And I really, REALLY enjoyed the 09 movie. Thought the action was spectacular, and while I didn’t understand all the world building references, it all made enough sense for me to appreciate. But the best part was the crew! Every single one of those cast members brought their character to life, and the camaraderie was fantastic. It’s thanks to the reboot movies that I eventually out of curiosity checked out the original series.
Victor: We’ve talked before about how a giant franchise like Trek can seem daunting to newcomers. There’s over 50 years of stories and lore! (And Lore!) That’s why it’s so great that they can make a fun adventure movie that will introduce a new group of fans to Star Trek (a Next Generation, if you will) and still be satisfying to long time Trekkers. It’s an incredibly hard feat to pull off (as you can see from the sequel, Into Darkness)
Mary: Exactly! The challenge with any long-running franchise is how to satisfy old fans and appeal to new ones. Not everyone was gonna be happy with Star Trek 09 but I thought they did a great job
2) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Mary: Admiral, there be whales here!!! I have a mighty need to rewatch Voyage Home just from typing that. This movie has no business being so dang good. I mean, the Enterprise goes back in time to save the whales? Sounds silly… and it is! But in a wonderful way! It’s fun, clever, and leaves you grinning. And it has some of the best jokes in the entire franchise. Yet for all its humor, it’s also heartwarming and earnest.
Victor: People forget that Trek can be funny. The original show had lots of jokes mixed in with Kirk flirting with alien women and dilithium crystal failures. This movie is flat out funny! Chekov wandering around San Francisco asking to see the “nuclear wessels.” When his date asks him if he’s from outer space, Kirk answers “No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.” Scotty trying to talk to a computer with the mouse. Spock learning to swear. So many fun moments! And the cast looked like they were having a blast.
Mary: Totally! I quote Scotty all the time when my tech isn’t working. “Computer…”
1) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Victor: Could it have been any other?
This came out the same summer as ET. And this is the film I had the most fun watching. This came after the dreadfully dull ST:TMP, and I am frankly amazed that I recovered enough from that experience to go and give Trek another chance. Ricardo Montalban is the classic Trek villain, obsessed with revenge on Kirk. The script draws from Shakespeare and Moby Dick, and of course it has one of the all time classic death scenes.
Mary: KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!! There are few things all Trek fans can agree on, but I’d say this comes pretty close. From that banger of an opening, with the Kobayashi Maru, to Khan’s sadistic antics, to that tear-jerking finale… this movie doesn’t miss a beat. It also doesn’t require much background knowledge. A casual fan or a non-fan can go in and still understand everything that’s going on.
Victor: And it’s so incredibly quotable. “Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space!” And Kirk’s eulogy… “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”
Mary: Indeed! Soundtrack was fantastic too.
Victor: Well, we just wrote about 3800 words to come to the inevitable conclusion. I think we can end it here. Ready to sign out? On three…