I’ve been in a bit of a Star Trek mood lately. As I explained briefly over at Josh Kern Scale Models, when COVID-19 self-isolating started, one of the first shows I “binged” was Star Trek: Picard and that kinda brought me into a Trek mindset; because of that I decided to repaint my old U.S.S. Enterprise model, specifically the version of the ship seen in the six original Star Trek movies.
And while doing that, I’ve been watching various clips of the various films to see the ship and its markings from different angles, make sure I’m getting the colors and details right and so on. And while doing that, I’ve been thinking a lot about those movies, and what was good and bad about them.
So: Let’s rank ’em! I’ll use a scoring system here, a fun trick I do at Raptors HQ sometimes (not that I originated it); let’s go with the following categories, ranked on a scale of 1-10:
- Plot: What’s the basic story, and is it any good? And just as importantly: Should this have been a movie, or an episode of the TV show?
- Dialogue and memorable lines: Plot aside, how is the script? What lines of dialogue stand out?
- Main cast: What do we think of the performances of the main cast…
- Guest stars: … and who did we get beyond the main cast, and how much did they add to the flick?
- Action: How thrilling and exciting are the action and adventure scenes?
- Humour/tone: This is a tricky one; humour has always been part of Star Trek, but some movies are supposed to be comedic (The Voyage Home, Insurrection) while some are more somber (The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock). So we’ll try and rank this on how funny the films are as well as how appropriate the humour is for the tone.
- Effects: These are moderate- to big-budget feature films, and the special effects should be out of this world. Are they?
- Makeup and costumes: Same with the makeup and the outfits: Does it make us believe in new life forms and new civilizations?
- Music: Star Trek films are accompanied by traditional scores; how well does the music fit each of the films?
- Goosebump moment: What delivers the chills? What scene still stands out, years later?
And then we’ll give each flim a final score out of 100.
There are 13 films of course, so in the interest of not putting anyone completely to sleep while reading this, I’ll split it up, from bottom to top; five today, four Wednesday and four Friday.
13: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
To appease William Shatner’s ego, Paramount hands the reins to the captain… with disastrous results.
Plot: Captain Kirk fights God. This is literally the plot of like eight original series episodes.
Dialogue and memorable lines: “What does God need with a starship?” Look, it’s a reasonable question, all things considered, but the fact that it has to be asked at all…
Main cast: Pretty much everyone except Kirk looks uncomfortable through the whole movie. Maybe I’m projecting, but I can’t help but think they all knew they were shooting a freaking disaster as they were making it.
Guest stars: I don’t suppose it’s fair to blame Laurence Luckinbill for Sybok, a waste of a character. We do get our first taste of David Warner in Star Trek!
Action: You can’t deny this film has action scenes! There’s a hostage taking and a hostage rescue, a rock climbing accident, a jail break, fistfights, the Enterprise “breaking the barrier,” a shootout with a Bird of Prey and freaking God shooting laser beams out of his eyes!
Humour/tone: You would think the search for God or Eden or paradise or whatever would be pretty serious, but everyone seems to be acting like they’re in a comedy. The jokes are bad and ill-timed, and worst of all, mainly serve to make the heroes the butt of the jokes. Yep, looking at you, Scotty walking into a bulkhead!
Effects: Um… there are some cool shots of the Enterprise? There are too many competing backstories behind this to sift through, but for whatever reason, the effects were handed to unproven effects houses, and it shows.
Makeup/costumes: This film features the three-breasted alien woman in the bar, so it’s got that going for it. The main cast does get some new uniforms, which I guess are like landing party uniforms, and Kirk gets a fancy captain’s jacket, that I don’t think is ever seen again.
Music: Boy, I really hope they didn’t pay Jerry Goldsmith full rate for this, as he pretty much re-uses all of his Star Trek: The Motion Picture themes. Which of course, are great, but since this was also the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme — airing concurrently! — it really seemed like there was nothing new to say, musically. I will give him props for the lovely melody as the Enterprise breaks the barrier and “paradise” is revealed.
Goosebump moment: The Enterprise breaking the barrier, and the reveal of the “paradise planet,” is a cool moment. I’m a sap, so I’m also a sucker for Kirk’s admitting that Spock and McCoy are family to him.
Final score: 25/100
Final thoughts: This film coming in last place shouldn’t be a surprise, as there is nothing good about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. It’s the only film I never bought on DVD!
12. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
The most boring and least memorable Trek film, with a straight-out-of-TV plot, terrible villains, mediocre visuals, and cringe-worthy humour; this film all but killed Star Trek as a feature film vehicle.
Plot: Bad guys are trying to steal a planet — one that grants eternal life — from its inhabitants, and the Enterprise must protect said inhabitants. This movie feels the most like an episode of the TV show, and not in a good way; it’s a standard alien plot-of-the-week retread. Nothing of consequence happens, except, I guess, Riker shaving his beard? The stakes are pretty much non-existent. There are some classic Trek “prime directive” elements, though, and it’s not bad sci-fi… it’s just not a good movie.
Dialogue and memorable lines: Are there any? Data saying “Let’s lock and load” as the crew gathers phasers is the one that made all the trailers. Picard does have a good bit about how humans have a long history of “forced relocation of small groups of people,” but that’s a pretty vanilla way to describe it — and the theme largely goes unexplored anyway.
Main cast: Everyone looks bored, mostly, and awkward, probably because they all knew the movie was bad. I swear they’re almost all cringing whenever they attempt to deliver one of the “jokes”. Riker and Troi seem awkward and their rekindled romance seems completely forced.
Guest stars: Could you even name one guest star in this film? Probably not! (Although I fault the script more than the actors.) F. Murray Abraham is a great actor, but his villain is completely forgettable and hidden behind terrible makeup. Anthony Zerbe as a corrupt Starfleet admiral? Also forgettable. Donna Murphy is pretty good as Anij, and I did appreciate the film trying to give Picard a love interest.
Action: The space battle between the Enterprise and the enemy ships is kinda cool, at least in terms of action (the ship effects are pretty weak though). The only other action sequences are a long hike in which the crew are attacked by easily-dispatched drones, and a shuttle chase sequence that’s halfway decent.
Humour/tone: I gather this film was trying to recapture the magic of Star Trek IV, but it didn’t come close. All of the jokes are duds. What’s at stake is so vague, that there’s no urgency in the story. I guess the tone is supposed to be “light,” and I suppose it is, but it’s so light that I don’t care about any of it, and since the jokes all fall flat and the action is subpar… there’s nothing to hold on to, here.
Effects: There are some simple time-slowing effects, some early shoddy CGI ship effects (the ships are entirely CG, and it shows), and those drones? Wow, are they really terribly composited.
Makeup and costumes: I gather that awful makeup on the alien bad guys that is supposed to make them look scary, but it’s actually kinda hilarious. We get new, all-white Starfleet dress uniforms, which are pretty goofy-looking. The crew does get to wear some off-duty civilian clothes, though, which look decent enough.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith is back again, and once again he weaves classic Trek themes in nicely. But the melodies, while quite nice, are ultimately pretty slow and boring — which isn’t his fault, they fit the film just fine, it’s just that the film is slow and boring.
Goosebump moment: There isn’t one. I suppose I’ll give it to the “blow out the ramscoops” moment, aka “The Riker Maneuver”, in the ship battle, ’cause that’s kinda cool, even though the effects look a bit off.
Final score: 30/100
Final thoughts: Again, I don’t think there can be any argument with this placement — unless you think Insurrection should actually be lower than The Final Frontier!
11. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Star Trek: Insurrection tried its best to kill off Star Trek as a movie franchise, but didn’t quite get there. Not to worry though, because here comes Star Trek: Nemesis to save the day!
Plot: A young clone of Captain Picard takes over the Romulan Empire, and the crew of the Enterprise must stop him from starting a war with the Federation. You know, on its surface, that actually doesn’t sound that bad; the clone thing is a bit goofy, but it’s classic sci-fi, and a confrontation with the Romulans on the big screen was way overdue. But when it came time to execute, well…
Dialogue and memorable lines: Data singing “Blue Skies” is really the only thing that stands out in terms of memorable lines, and that may only be because of its importance to Star Trek: Picard. It’s a really weak script. All of the subplots (like everything to do with Data, and Troi and Riker leaving) are equally weak. And Data’s death, with him “downloading” his brain into his replacement android, is a complete re-hash of Spock’s death. Also, “B-4” as a name for an android predecessor to Data? Come on. I’m also not sure they treated the villains psychically raping Counselor Troi with the gravity it deserved.
Main cast: The crew fares better here than in the last film, though I do get the impression Brent Spiner was getting a little tired of Data (not that I could blame him). Whoopi Goldberg makes an appearance, as does Wil Wheaton, though most of his scenes were cut.
Guest stars: Would you even believe that 18 years ago young Tom Hardy played young Captain Picard? Hardy is OK, I guess, though I don’t think the script does him any favours; despite a backstory as a freedom fighter, Shinzon mostly comes across as a typical one-note villain. We get Ron Perlman and Dina Meyer too, both buried under tons of makeup.
Action: This film was clearly a shift back to more action and adventure than Insurrection, and it mostly delivers. There’s cool ship-to-ship stuff, a prison escape (which features a pretty goofy “driving a shuttle through the interior of a spaceship” sequence) and hand-to-hand fights between Picard and Shinzon, and Riker and the Viceroy… and of course, the Enterprise ramming the Romulan ship. I’m still not sure if that scene is really cool, or really dumb.
Humour/tone: I’m not sure this film works on the level it should, tonally. It sometimes feels like a romp, but then it tries to go into some dark territory, particularly the aforementioned psychic rape scene. There are a few jokes and quips that land though.
Effects: The CGI ships here are infinitely better than Insurrection; they look great. I wasn’t as convinced by the disintegrating Romulan weapon effect, though. The ramming sequence looks pretty cool, although again, how feasible it really is, I’m not sure.
Makeup and costumes: This was supposed to be our first film with the Romulans as antagonists, but instead we get this offshoot culture, the Remans, with big heads and sunken eyes. They look cool enough I suppose, but if the idea was just “scarier Romulans” I don’t think they succeeded. As for costumes, it’s more of the same for Starfleet (Counselor Troi also gets to wear a very lovely wedding dress!) and the Remans get these long robes which are trying way too hard to look villainous.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith is back again! This is his fifth and final Trek film, and it’s pretty decent. He remixes a lot of his stuff from The Motion Picture and First Contact, which are his two best films, and he delivers some pretty creepy new stuff for the Remans as well.
Goosebump moment: There’s not a whole lot of substance here, but the goodbye between Picard and Riker, which ultimately serves as a goodbye between The Next Generation cast and its fans, does get me a bit choked up. (Data’s death should get me choked up, but I found it kind of hokey.)
Final score: 48/100
Final thoughts: That’s actually a higher score than I would have thought, but the placement here of Nemesis feels right. It’s not the worst of the Trek films, but it’s not a good film, at all.
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Following various campaigns to save Star Trek, and a movie plan, then a TV show plan, then a movie plan again, Star Trek finally made its return, on the silver screen, with Gene Rodenberry running the show, Robert Wise in the director’s chair, and the entire main cast back in action.
Plot: An enormous, destructive alien object is heading towards Earth, and only the Enterprise can stop it. I like this story, and the scale of it makes it movie-worthy, but ultimately, with its idea of machine intelligence and new life forms, it probably would have made a better TV episode than movie.
Dialogue and memorable lines: This movie really suffers from some wooden dialogue. I can’t even really recall any memorable dialogue, other than Persis Khambatta’s robotic “Kirk-unit?” delivery.
Main cast: The entire original cast is reunited, and everyone has a sort of “I can’t believe we’re really here” look about them. But Shatner’s Kirk is really wooden in this one; so is Nimoy’s Spock, though that’s a deliberate part of his character arc at least. DeForrest Kelley is probably the standout of the three of them, but he hardly gets any screen time. We also get TOS regulars Majel Barrett as Christine Chapel and Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand as well.
Guest stars: Persis Khambatta got a raw deal, getting cast in Star Trek Phase II, then getting only one movie — a movie in which she had to shave her head and talk like a robot for two-thirds of, before dying at the end! Stephen Collins is fine as Decker, but the tension that’s supposed to be there between he and Kirk just doesn’t quite come together.
Action: The plot of this film is solid, but the problem with it is that the Enterprise simply flies in to the giant alien object, and almost all of the “action” takes place on the view screen. We may be treated to some cool visuals, but our heroes spend the bulk of the film sitting around, watching TV!
Humour/tone: There’s not really any humour in this film, as it takes itself incredibly seriously. While it isn’t a “funny” story and too much humour would have felt off, a lighter touch might have helped this film’s pacing.
Effects: Most of this film’s budget was spent on effects; ironically, coming on the heels of Star Wars, those effects seem slow, and quaint. But they are gorgeous, and they suit Star Trek incredibly well. Besides, you could set every other visual aside and this would still rank high, thanks to the debut of the refit Enterprise, revealed here in it’s infamous, six-minute long beauty shot.
Makeup/costumes: Good: This film introduces the “new” Klingon makeup that would become the standard for the next 30 years. Bad: It also introduces the horrific pastel pyjamas, which thankfully, are never seen again.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith’s score is absolutely perfect. That aforementioned beauty shot only works because of the music. And hey, it was good enough that it became the main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was re-used in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as well. Plus: This movie features an overture before the credits! How awesome is that?
Goosebump moment: The reveal of the new Enterprise. I could watch that scene over and over. But, as gorgeous as this scene is, not everyone is turned on by starship porn. I suppose, then, that you could make the case that the reveal of V’Ger as a NASA Voyager space probe is pretty neat.
Final score: 57/100
Final thoughts: There’s definitely a good Star Trek movie in here, and I probably enjoy it more than most. But the film’s slow pace, lack of action, and wooden performances all drag it down.
9. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
After seven years of TV stories, the torch of adventure is passed from the original crew to the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unfortunately a rushed production schedule results in a film full of holes, an ending that had to be completely re-shot, and an ultimately unsatisfying picture.
Plot: Captain Jean-Luc Picard must team up with the legendary James T. Kirk to stop a mad scientist from destroying a star. Look, that synopsis barely describes this film; it’s really beyond description. It’s so utterly dumb, and there are so many plot holes, that it’s impossible to describe.
Dialogue and memorable lines: For such a dumb plot, this is a great script. There are fantastic and fun bits of dialogue throughout, there’s great banter, and truly heartfelt scenes. The Kirk-Picard meeting, of course, is the most memorable, and we’ll get to that in a bit, but all the banter in the opening sequence, Worf’s promotion, Data’s emotions, even the final lines between Picard and Riker…it’s all good stuff. I really hate that the plot is so off-centre because everything else is great.
Main cast: The 25+ years of working together pay off in the opening scenes between Kirk, Chekov and Scotty, and the seven years on TV together pay off for the entire TNG cast. (OK, maybe Data goes a bit broad, but, I blame the script, not Brent Spiner.) And look, Patrick Stewart is a big screen actor. He shows it off more in the next picture, but Stewart’s look of wonder when Picard comes across Kirk, and then his delivery of “I’m Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship… Enterprise,” with that little pause and hint of a smile… he’s so good.
Guest stars: Malcolm McDowell should have been a great Star Trek villain. He’s such a great actor, and he plays bad guys so well… but his character’s motivations are so “off” that it’s hard to believe in him. He wants to murder millions of people so that he can… go back to an alternate dimension that feels like pure joy? What?? We get Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan and Alan Ruck as Captain Harriman of the Enterprise-B as well.
Action: The opening “energy ribbon” scene with the Enterprise-B is great. The Enterprise-D crash sequence is truly spectacular, edge of your seat stuff. The final fight between Kirk, Picard and Soran is… goofy. These three dudes are like a combined 400 years old! They shouldn’t be having a fistfight in the middle of the desert! And Kirk dies because he’s holding on to a bridge that collapses? It’s just weird man.
Humour/tone: This film has tonal shifts throughout, going from funny to somber and back several times. But it mostly works, I think? And the funny bits are pretty funny.
Effects: Some pretty cool stuff in this one, including the Enterprise-B and the energy ribbon, and of course the crash. But there are some re-used effects from the TV show and Star Trek VI. Also who the heck turned all the lights off on the Enterprise-D?
Makeup and costumes: Kirk gets a new vest look, which I think actually makes Shatner seem, er, rounder? (I’m not weight-shaming Shatner — he was 63! — but I just don’t think the costume was flattering. He looks much better in the standard uniform scenes.) As for the TNG costumes, they decided to dress most of the regulars in the new one-piece jumpsuits from Deep Space Nine for some reason, which already looked bad on TV and looked way, way worse on the big screen. They also decided to bring the Klingon Kleavage to the big screen, which, sigh.
Music: I dig the music in this one, particularly the opening credits, and Kirk and Picard’s horseback ride, and the final farewell… it’s all pretty solid. This is Dennis McCarthy’s only Star Trek feature, but he was the main composer for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, so it’s safe to say he know the material.
Goosebump moment: The meeting between Picard and Kirk is the moment we were all waiting for, although I think the ultimate goosebump moment comes a few minutes later, when Kirk shakes off the “joy dimension” and he and Picard finally have a real conversation.
“Don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship because while you’re there… You can make a difference.”
“Come back with me, help me stop Soran. Make a difference again.”
That’s good shit. Kirk’s death (“Oh my…”) is also solid, if you can ignore the goofy way it happens. (I’m also a complete sucker for when Data finds Spot in the end!).
Final score: 58/100
Final thoughts: I thought this one might end up higher, because despite all of its problems, I do really enjoy Generations. It’s fun! But I think it’s probably in the right spot.
These are, by my estimation, the five worst Star Trek movies. Unfortunately for the cast of Star Trek The Next Generation… three of their four movies fall into this group! It’s not their fault; yhey got stuck with some really sub-par scripts.
Next time out we’ll hit the middle of the pack, in which I suspect we’ll see the “reboot” Star Trek films make their debut.