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star trek: the motion picture
Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The best and worst Star Trek movies, ranked

How does the new Star Trek Beyond movie rank within the 12 prior films? Let us count (down) the ways.

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Time Out contributors
&
Joshua Rothkopf
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With every new Star Trek movie, there’s a chance for greatness or awfulness. We’ll either be beamed up by the series-long spirit of rousing intergalactic adventure and warm crew camaraderie, or we’ll be gutted by dramatic gestures that felt exhausted decades ago. (Sometimes this happens within the same film.) Still, sci-fi movies wouldn’t be the same without Star Trek, and the 13 installments to date have supplied their share of action over the years. Here’s our definitive ranking—a list that includes summer blockbuster The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Beyond, one of the best new movies to see—based on years of faithful Trekking.

Best and worst Star Trek movies

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

More like Star Trek: Nadir. Future Mad Max Tom Hardy bores us as a power-mad dictator. A overall sluggishness signaled creative exhaustion. Were it not for rebooter J.J. Abrams, this would have been the tombstone.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Fatigue sets in as Patrick Stewart’s Picard goes rogue in defense of an alien planet (and also gets it on with one of its inhabitants). The plot was about beneficial radiation, a hint of how confused this script was.

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Star Trek Generations (1994)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Despite a fresh crew, the Next Generation team never got the big-screen vehicle it deserved, despite boasting strong writing on the TV show. Kirk is killed by Malcolm McDowell’s baddie, an undignified end.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

After 2009’s thrilling reboot, audiences couldn’t help but be let down by this merely okay sequel (sort of like the franchise’s Quantum of Solace). Coyness about Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan was a major waste of time.

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Star Trek: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Tellingly, William Shatner directed the most swooningly egotistical chapter in the franchise. It’s about an encounter with a self-proclaimed alien “God,” and includes plenty of manly showdowns with Klingons.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Reinventing the wheel with new ship designs, better special effects and more robust action, First Contact felt like a respectable sci-fi film—a modest goal in light of what this fan base expects (and deserves).

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

The fun returns, as does a strong vibe of the ’60-era TV series. The latest Trek boasts strong special effects via the alien swarm, and much unexpected pathos with every onscreen shot of the late Anton Yelchin.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

It certainly starts off well, with Jerry Goldsmith’s soaring main theme virtually serving as the main character. But for a first chapter, this sure takes its time; audiences emerged from screenings light-years older.

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Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

A fine send-off to the original cast, this sixth film rebounded strongly from The Final Frontier’s dullness, thanks to returning Wrath of Khan writer-director Nicholas Meyer and an abundance of Nixonian geopolitics.

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Film

It’s still the funniest of the series, and that goes a long way given these films’ usual solemnity. Kirk, Spock and crew travel back in time to (then) present-day Earth to save the whales.

Star Trek (2009)
  • Film

Captain Kirk and company get an action-packed reboot in J.J. Abrams’s paean to space travel and lens flares. A fresh cast led by brash, rascally Chris Pine breathed vigor into the old character chemistries.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Of course it’s in our top spot, for its killer villain (Ricardo Montalban) and nuanced development. This is the one in which Spock “dies,” but it also has one of the most moving final lines of any SF film: “I feel young.”

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