Welcome to Part 2 of my Star Trek Movie Rankings! If this exercise took me three entries, clearly, I put way too much time and effort into it, but still, it was fun to think about these films, some of which were some of the first movies I ever saw.
Be sure to catch up on Part 1 here! And as a reminder, we’re judging every Star Trek film (all 13!) on 10 categories, and giving them a score out of 10; the higher the total score the higher the rank. The categories:
- Dialogue and memorable lines
- Main cast
- Guest stars
- Makeup and costumes
- Goosebump moment
And so far, we’ve revealed the bottom five films:
13. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
12. Star Trek: Insurrection
11. Star Trek: Nemesis
10: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
9. Star Trek Generations
Today, we’ll countdown from eight to five. Let’s get to it!
8: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
A sequel to the successful 2009 reboot was inevitable, and so, it seemed, was using Khan as the villain. But the marketing, which deliberately confused the villain’s identity, would prove the perfect counterpart to the film’s equally confusing plot.
Plot: Captain Kirk loses his command for violating the Prime Directive, but retakes it after an alleged renegade Starfleet officer kills Captain Pike — a renegade officer with a secret past, who Kirk and the Enterprise must now hunt down. Seems simple enough, but the film throws so many red herrings and misdirections — all of them unnecessary — that it quickly becomes nonsensical. I have a lot of problems with this film, not the least of which is the simple fact that attempting to obscure Khan’s identity makes no sense and really bogs down the first half of the film — and then it makes most of the second half of film feel like it was trying to justify the decision! It’s a mess. And much like the previous film — and JJ Abrams’ Star Wars films, for that matter — the science is just conveniently ignored for the sake of “cool shit”, like ship-to-ship warp combat or the Enterprise hiding underwater in the opening sequence.
Dialogue and memorable lines: Let’s talk about the opening sequence. I enjoyed the Indiana Jones-like teaser nature of it, but I really don’t like how lightly Kirk treats the Prime Directive — or the general tone of how the film treats the scene. On the flip side — I appreciate that Kirk almost immediately faces consequences for his actions. Which leads to probably the best scene in the film, Captain Pike dressing down Kirk, and then building him back up. Giving Kirk a father figure is something I think this film and its predecessor did really well, and helps differentiate it from the Original Series (where Kirk was older). On the other hand, this film spends three minutes with Spock and Uhura in a lover’s quarrel on a shuttle with the captain and two redshirts sitting right beside them. So, you know. Bit of a mixed bag.
Main cast: Everyone here is excellent, again, although I still don’t love Simon Pegg’s Scotty. The problem is that the film tries to treat the crew in the same way the Original Series films (do particularly Star Trek II and III) — like a family, who would do anything for each other, and I don’t get that vibe from the cast, not at this point. That’s not to say their chemistry is bad, it’s just they haven’t earned it yet. The original cast had almost 20 years together before everyone risked their lives to save Spock in The Search for Spock, but here, they’re willing to do the same even though they’ve only known each other for what seems like a few months. I just don’t quite buy it.
Guest stars: Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a great villain; he’s sinister and threatening in all the right ways. But he never should have been cast as Khan; he’s not Middle Eastern, for one thing, but also, he’s tall and thin, where Khan is supposed to be broad and strong. Beyond Cumberbatch we get Alice Eve, who I adore, but who gets stuck with the unfortunate underwear scene, and Peter Weller, who’s great as a war-crazed Starfleet Admiral. Bruce Greenwood is solid as Christopher Pike once again, and of course, it was great to see Leonard Nimoy as Spock one last time.
Action: As with Star Trek (2009), it’s pretty much non-stop… but it’s also probably not entirely what I want from Star Trek. Still, the action always looks great… from the space jump to Spock chasing Khan, to the Vengeance crashing in San Francisco… say what you will about Abrams, the guy knows how to keep things moving!
Humour/tone: Not sure this film knows what kind of movie it wants to be. Well, I think it wants to be dark — there are obvious anti-military overtones, there’s a lot of death and consequences. But it still tries to capture this action-adventure romp, swashbuckling adventure feel, and the two don’t quite mesh.
Effects: The lens flares are back! Not as pronounced as Star Trek (2009), but still there. Despite the wonky science of so much of the film, all those scenes do look cool, including the warp fight and the Enterprise coming out of the water.
Makeup and costumes: Not a fan of the Starfleet uniforms (dress uniforms?) with the military style caps, or the more casual uniforms with the speciality colors on the upper chest. (I do like the more casual “arms dealer” disguises the away team wears.) Don’t love the new Klingon makeup, either. And why are the Klingons wearing helmets that make them look like puppy dogs?
Music: Michael Giacchino’s main theme is back from Star Trek (2009), and it’s just as great. But some of the other themes, which I think are meant to convey the more somber tone of the film, don’t work as well, and his Klingon theme in particular, with a chanting, upbeat chorus, doesn’t hold a candle to previous Klingon themes.
Goosebump moment: The film really wants it to be Kirk’s “death” scene, and I guess it kinda is (especially if you factor the Enterprise coming out of the clouds right before it, which is actually pretty damn cool). Thing is, the scene really does straddle the line between homage, and pandering, to Star Trek II. (Spock screaming “KHHAAAN!!!” is definitely pandering, by the way.) And then of course they resurrect Kirk two minutes later (Abrams did the same thing with Chewbacca in The Rise of Skywalker… sigh). So I don’t know.
Here’s what I will say about the scene: I love that Kirk admits he’s afraid of dying. It’s pretty cool to see that, from this icon, this legendary heroic ideal; for Kirk to say that he’s scared makes him more human. Furthermore, his admitting it to Spock pays off the moment in the first film where Kirk says “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” and Spock says every captain, when faced with such a scenario, will experience “fear in the face of certain death.” This is Kirk’s final answer to the no-win scenario test, and he’s passed, but is still afraid. And Spock admitting he doesn’t know how not to feel, also works, showing that both of these two characters are, in fact, human. Ultimately I dig it.
Final score: 60
Final thoughts: Much like Generations, there’s a lot to like about this film, but it can’t seem to get out of the way of its messy plot. Ultimately it’s more of a missed opportunity than anything else.
7. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Leonard Nimoy returns to the director’s chair as the franchise takes a lighthearted turn after the somber parts II and III. The time-travel adventure became the most financially successful Star Trek film until the 2009 reboot.
Plot: Admiral Kirk and crew return to Earth to face the consequences of their actions in Star Trek III, but when the planet is threatened by an alien probe, they travel back in time to find answers. This is the first film to use the time travel device, and the “we can film in present day, and save money on expensive sci-fi sets” concept does make it feel a bit like a TV show. The timely social issue (environmental conservationism) also feels straight out of classic Trek.
Dialogue and memorable lines: This is a pretty solid script, loaded with jokes and banter; it keeps the film moving, even though there isn’t much action to be found. And the prologue/epilogue (non-time-travel) scenes are perfect. I don’t know that I can pick out anything that stands out though — not until the very end, anyway, when Kirk gives voice to the film’s theme and declares, “My friends… we’ve come home.”
Main cast: Everyone clearly is having a ball here, and they really do seem to appreciate the lighter tone in comparison to the previous two films. Everyone’s timing on the jokes and bits is right on. Both Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney appear as well, making this film the one to feature the most characters (the original seven, plus Chapel and Rand, and Sarek and Amanda) who appeared in the Original Series. Which is pretty cool.
Guest stars: We get Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt as Spock’s parents, a welcome (if brief) return. And Brock Peters makes his first Trek appearance as Admiral Cartwright. Catherine Hicks is fine as Gillian, Kirk’s first real love interest since the TV show. The final appearance of Robin Curtis as Saavik.
Action: Other than the Klingon Bird of Prey chasing down a whaling ship at the climax, and Chekov running across the deck of an aircraft carrier, none to speak of. It’s not an action film though, so it’s hard to hold this against it.
Humour/tone: This movie is a comedy, and it is funny, even if a lot of the humour is borderline dad-humour (I mean, these people were all in their 50s, so…). The filmmakers clearly wanted to switch it up tonally after the previous two films, and they nailed it. The film also deftly shifts to a slightly more serious tone as needed, making the 23rd-century crisis seem real.
Effects: The whale footage is pretty impressive for 1986! The Bird of Prey crash is also solid, and the Spacedock sequences (when the probe strikes, and later, when the Enterprise-A is revealed) are also well done. I’m not sure what to make of the “visions” the crew experiences as part of the time-travel sequence; it’s early CGI so I guess it’s impressive for the era, but still looks kinda goofy.
Makeup and costumes: We have Klingons and Vulcans, pretty standard stuff at this point. Not much else to speak of. And the crew pretty much wears the exact same outfits that they wore in The Search for Spock.
Music: Probably the weakest of all the Star Trek soundtracks overall, with ’80s synthesizers trying to set the mood. But the reveal of the Enterprise-A at the end does save it somewhat.
Goosebump moment: The aforementioned introduction of the Enterprise-A. Would have been even better if they’d actually designed a new ship!
Final score: 64/100
Final thoughts: This is one of the most popular Star Trek films, and certainly judging by box office one of the most successful. But it never quite gelled for me. And so its place on these rankings, while maybe a bit low to some, feels about right.
6. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
After JJ Abrams left the franchise to do Star Wars, Star Trek was handed off to Justin Lin, a capable enough director — but one known for action flicks, and it seemed like the third reboot Trek movie would be another non-stop adrenaline rush. Only… it kinda isn’t? And it’s actually got some real substance to it?
Plot: An alien warlord captures the Enterprise crew in order to reactivate an ancient bio-weapon, with which he intends to destroy the Federation. Pretty typical Star Trek plot! The stakes are big enough to make this feel like more than a TV show, but not so much that it makes every scene feel like the. most. important. thing. ever. But there are still serious problems; the main one being, why does Krall need an ancient bio weapon? He already has incredibly advanced technology, so much so that he was able to destroy the Federation flagship in about three minutes while barely taking a single casualty. Judging by the later attack scenes in the film, Krall has hundreds of thousands of his swarm ships, that are impervious to Federation weapons and can penetrate Federation shields with ease. He obviously has advanced manufacturing capabilities in order to make and maintain them. He has advanced bio-tech that allows him to suck the life out of others and transfer it to himself.
So what, exactly, is the bio-weapon for?
In other words this entire film is a goof. None of it needs to happen! Sigh.
On the other hand, this film does a lovely job elucidating its anti-war and pro-unity themes, and Krall’s feelings of isolation and loss of being a soldier in peacetime. I mean, these are nothing new but I think the film handles them well.
Dialogue and memorable lines: The scenes between Spock and McCoy are the highlight of the film, and the interplay between them is something that I didn’t realize was missing from the previous two films. Scotty and Jaylah also have some great scenes. There’s more technobabble in this one than in the previous two films, which maybe isn’t a positive, but at least feels a little more Trek-like?
Main cast: As with the other two reboot films, the main cast is great once again — and I actually like Simon Pegg a lot more in this one than I did in the previous two! It is utterly heartbreaking that this is Anton Yelchin’s final Star Trek film; I’m glad he and Chris Pine get some extended screen time together.
Guest stars: I don’t think I’ll ever understand why you’d cast Idris Elba, but then bury him under makeup and have him barely able to speak. Literally anyone could have played Krall! I suppose you could make the same complaint about Sofia Boutella’s makeup as Jaylah, but at least she gets to give a real (and excellent) performance underneath all her makeup. I’m also a huge fan of Shohreh Aghdashloo, so it was great to see her in a small role.
Action: There’s plenty of action in this flick, like its two predecessors, but unlike those two, it doesn’t feel quite as unrelenting, which is nice. Jaylah gets some great fight scenes, and, even though it’s kinda cheesy, I enjoyed Kirk on the motorbike. The Enterprise crash has been done before, and better, and I am not a fan of detonating the saucer and then crashing it on top of someone to kill them, if that’s what Kirk and Chekov do (that scene is not entirely clear, nor is it clear how Kirk and Chekov would survive while the bad guys didn’t). Also, does anyone else notice a morbid trend of these reboot films showing screaming people getting sucked out into space? It’s in every film! And what the heck is with Federation ships and water in these reboot flicks?
Humour/tone: I feel like the one-liners are toned down a bit, which I like, and most of the humour comes from McCoy and Spock’s interaction, which I also like. I think the tone works overall, I think you really do get the sense of Kirk’s exhaustion in the beginning, Spock’s uncertainty later on, and the overall action-adventure feel throughout.
Effects: The effects are fine, I guess, if nothing to write home about. The Yorktown base is cool, though unlikely (I don’t know why you’d need to build a base that big out in the middle of nowhere). My problem mainly comes from the aforementioned “swarm” ships, which are basically just pixels on screen, with no discernable weight or feel to them. I railed against “giant CGI armies” in my Marvel Cinematic Universe rankings, and this is very much in the same vein.
Makeup and costumes: This film might have the best makeup out of any Star Trek film, and I think it definitely has the most aliens. Silly as it is to bury Idris Elba, the makeup is solid, as is the rest of his crew. Jaylah looks great, and we also get Ensign Syl, with the Alien facehugger on the back of her head. Costume-wise, the crew gets new, slightly more stylized uniforms; I think I liked the previous ones more. I did like their casual wear in the last scene though, and I guess the away jackets are pretty cool. However: What the heck is with Kirk’s hair in this film? It really doesn’t suit him!
Music: Michael Giacchino is back for his third Star Trek film, and his main theme remains a favourite. There’s not really much new that caught my ear though. Of course, we can’t talk about this film without talking about “the beats with the shouting”, in other words, Jaylah pumping Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” through the USS Franklin’s speakers. I love both of these songs, but their inclusion still feels weird… I felt the same about “All Along the Watchtower” in Battlestar Galactica: It’s too contemporary and feels more like the writers wanted to put their favourite songs in their movie/show, rather than actually craft something believable for the world they’ve created.
Goosebump moment: I think the best choice here is Spock looking at old Spock’s photo of the original crew, and realizing it’s their destiny — his and Kirk’s, and also the entire crew — to stay together and explore the galaxy as crewmates and friends. If that, and the crew looking up together at the construction of their new ship, are the last image of this crew, this cast, which it seems it will be, well, then I guess that’s fitting.
Final Score: 67
Final thoughts: Upon initial viewing, this film left a much better taste in the mouth than Star Trek Into Darkness, and at first I thought it might be higher on my list. But subsequent viewings are not quite as kind, especially regarding the villains.
5. Star Trek II: The Search for Spock (1986)
Leonard Nimoy agrees to return as Spock following the character’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — as long as they let him direct. Paramount agrees, and with Harve Bennett back producing, another moderately-budgeted Trek outing is underway.
Plot: The Enterprise crew is lost without their first officer, but when they discover a chance, however slim, to bring him back from the dead, they risk their careers and their lives to save him. The scale of this film feels smaller than the previous two, but it’s hard to argue that events as momentous as the return of Spock, the death of David Marcus and the destruction of the Enterprise were only TV-worthy.
Dialogue and memorable lines: This script isn’t as rich as The Wrath of Khan, but still has some bangers, including Sulu’s “don’t call me Tiny,” McCoy’s “You’ve turned death into a fighting chance to live,” Spock’s “your name… is Jim,” and of course, Kirk’s “You Klingon bastard… you’ve killed my son.”
Main cast: The absence of Nimoy’s Spock for 90% of the film is noticeable, but this is DeForest Kelley’s finest performance. I also really love seeing Nichelle Nichols finally get a chance to own a scene. And I do have to give Shatner props for the aforementioned death scene… as much as I have to take some away for “I… have had… enough… of… you!” during the final confrontation with Kruge.
Guest stars: How Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquete ended up as Klingons I’ll never know. Robin Curtis is a poor substitute for Kirstie Alley, and Merritt Butrick did not improve in between Star Trek II and III. Huge round of applause for the return of Mark Lenard as Sarek though! And Dame Judith Anderson as the Vulcan Priestess brought some gravity to the Vulcan mysticism angle.
Action: Finally, Admiral Kirk gets to beat down on a foe the old-fashioned way: With his fists! Unfortunately, no one was really paying to see 53-year-old William Shatner and 46-year old Christopher Lloyd throw down. The theft, and later destruction, of the Enterprise does win back some points though.
Humour/tone: Much like The Wrath of Khan, this is a fairly serious film, but the subtle bits of humour present do really work, including “Don’t call me tiny” and every time McCoy bitches about his situation. There is an air of melancholy over everything, though, which I think turns some off when it’s part of Star Trek — but given the story, it seems very appropriate to me.
Effects: This flick is all over the place. First, the bad: All of the Genesis planet scenes are shot on a sound stage, and boy, does it show. That’s probably the fakest snow you’ll ever see on screen! Even the sunset looks phony. And the creatures? Those slugs, and that Klingon dog? Sheesh. The reason for this, though, is because this film absolutely broke the bank on model work. We get two new Federation starship designs: The U.S.S. Excelsior and the U.S.S. Grissom. We get a pirate freighter. We get a Klingon Bird of Prey. And we get Spacedock, possibly the coolest Star Trek model ever made! On top of that, there’s the Enterprise’s destruction sequence, which is absolutely perfect.
Makeup and costumes: Our first extensive use of the Klingon makeup first seen in The Motion Picture, and our first female Klingon, too! Some good stuff on the aging Spock, too, and some funky aliens in the bar McCoy visits (“how can you be deaf, with ears like that?”). As for costumes, we get our first real look at casualwear in the 23rd century, as most of the main cast is out of uniform for the bulk of the film.
Music: James Horner is here for his second Trek outing, and although the music in the “stealing the Enterprise” scene is some of the best of the entire series, overall it feels like more of the same from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Goosebump moment: It has to be the destruction of the Enterprise. It’s almost cliche now, because Star Trek has made a habit of blowing up its ships, but this was the first time the Enterprise was destroyed on screen, and as mentioned, it’s a beautiful sequence. But I also want to give credit to the mind-meld sequence between Kirk and Sarek, where Kirk is forced to re-live Spock’s death. Incredible scene between Shatner and Mark Lenard.
Final score: 68/100
Final thoughts: I’ve probably got this way higher than most people would; general consensus is that The Search for Spock falls into the old “all the odd-numbered Star Trek films are bad!” convention. I disagree, obviously, and I really like this one!
OK, so now you know that the top four comprises the 2009 reboot, First Contact, The Undiscovered Country and The Wrath of Khan. But what order will they rank? Find out here!