In 1975, Paramount asked Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, to write a script for a potential film based upon the series. The story, titled The God Thing, would have centered around the Enterprise confronting an alien starship masquerading as God on its way back to Earth. This script was rejected because of the fact it might have alienated movie-goers.
In 1976, a new script was written and almost became the first film. This story, titled Planet of the Titans, involved the Enterprise crew in some form of time travel and would have accidentally created fire for the human race, revering the Enterprise crew as the Titans of Greek mythology. Plans were abandoned when Star Wars came out in 1977, and a new series was being developed, called Star Trek: Phase II, to be the cornerstone of a fourth television network. When the script for the pilot of Phase II was turned in, called “In Thy Image,” it became the first film and thus the feature film aspect of the Star Trek franchise was born.
Finally, in the last piece of the puzzle of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek saga, here is my worst-to-best countdown of all 12 released films in the franchise. The newest film, Star Trek Beyond, will be released to theaters on July 22, so this film will not be included for obvious reasons. I rated these based on quality and each one will have a brief explanation as to why it deserves its place in the countdown.
12. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (released Dec. 7, 1979)
The first film of the series is pretty much an adapted form of a pilot episode that was supposed to filmed for Phase II. In this film, the Enterprise—completely refit—heads out to confront a mysterious entity called “V’Ger,” which turns out to be an antiquated Voyager probe. The reason why this is the worst film in the franchise is because it is extremely slow-paced and has very little action. The only two exciting scenes are the wormhole sequence and the Spock spacewalk scene.
11. Star Trek Nemesis (released Dec. 13, 2002)
Nemesis doesn’t deserve the harsh criticism it receives, but it deserves this place on the countdown for a particular reason. While the movie is definitely an exciting sci-fi action film and has nice character moments, it seems to suffer from being a bit rushed and because not a lot emphasis was placed on the ending of the Next Generation era. Nemesis tells the story of a plot by Shinzon (played by Tom Hardy) to take over the Federation with a dangerous device and is a clone of Captain Picard. The film is good, but just not great.
10. Star Trek Into Darkness (released May 16, 2013)
Into Darkness suffers from too much social media being thrown at it and at the same time being criticized for the use of a popular villain. If they had just said that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was Khan right from the get-go, the film wouldn’t have suffered the hatred from die-hard fans. In this outing—the second of the rebooted film series—Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew hunt down Khan (masquerading as John Harrison) and all at the same time it is part of a larger part of a plan of a militarized Starfleet as envisioned by Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller).
9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (released June 9, 1989)
The Final Frontier doesn’t deserve half the criticism it receives—and yet it kind of does. Yes, it is a poorly-made film in the special effects department, but at least it has a decent story. In the film, Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) goes on a one-man crusade to find Sha Ka Ree, the mythical Vulcan place located at the center of the galaxy where creation sprang. Sybok brainwashes the Enterprise crew and several other high-ranking officials (sans McCoy and Spock) in order to achieve his goals.
8. Star Trek: Insurrection (released Dec. 11, 1998)
Insurrection is one of those films that makes you go “what the heck happened the last two hours? Did I miss something?” Insurrection is a great film, yet it suffers from bad dialogue in certain parts. It is a fun, enjoyable adventure in this, the third entry from the Next Generation crew. In the film, the crew attempts to save a primitive people called the Ba’ku from being forced to relocate from a planet with regenerative powers.
7. Star Trek Generations (released Nov. 18, 1994)
Generations is a solid entry in the film franchise but it really does feel like an episode of The Next Generation, which had ended when the film was released. Plus, Shatner’s Kirk dies, so that’s a bit of a low point, but it definitely deserves this point in the countdown. The Data comedy act was really funny and enjoyable to watch. In Generations, Captain Picard joins forces with Captain Kirk to defeat Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) from destroying an entire solar system just to achieve his goals.
6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (released June 1, 1984)
The Search for Spock, while being a direct continuation of the previous film, suffers a little bit from having a first-time director at the helm—in this case, Leonard Nimoy himself. A couple of characters are one-dimensional (Captain Styles and Kruge, the villain) and are not needed, but nevertheless, the film deserves this seventh spot in the countdown. In this movie, the crew of the Enterprise sacrifices everything they hold most dear in order to rescue their comrade, the reborn Spock, from the Genesis Planet, which is slowly destroying itself in order to restore his mind (residing in McCoy) to his body.
5. Star Trek (released May 8, 2009)
The eleventh film deserves the fifth place in the countdown because while it reboots the series by having elements of the “prime” timeline interfere in past events and creating an alternate universe free of continuity and enjoyable to watch, the fans’ criticisms levied against it drive it down from being the overall best. In this film, Romulans from the 24th century alter the past, creating an alternate timeline and setting up a brand new era of adventures from an Enterprise crew who barely have gotten to know one another.
4.Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (released Nov. 26, 1986)
This fourth film deserves the fourth place in the countdown for two simple reasons. One, the humor throughout makes it an enjoyable film to watch, and two, the environmental message against the practice of whaling. In the film, a probe sent from a distant corner of the galaxy begins to shriek whale song at Earth, slowly destroying the planet. Spock analyzes the calls and realizes the crew must travel back to 1986 Earth to retrieve a pair of whales so they can save the future Earth.
3. Star Trek: First Contact (released Nov. 22, 1996)
Celebrating Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, this film blends the right amount of action, sci-fi, and humor into the story. Also, it’s a big-screen sequel to a popular two-part episode of The Next Generation, but it is still accessible so non-fans could get sucked right into it without having seen much of the series. In this film, the Borg travel back in time to prevent the historic first contact between humans and Vulcans. The Enterprise travels back with them and works to preserve the timeline.
2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (released Dec. 6, 1991)
Another film celebrating a milestone (this time the 25th anniversary—the main reason why the film got made in the first place following the relative failure of The Final Frontier), is a film that definitely mirrored real-life and it works beautifully. In this outing, the Klingon Empire’s moon of Praxis explodes and devastates the Empire itself. The Federation enters negotiations with the Klingons, much to the distrust of Kirk himself. Little does anyone know, a larger conspiracy is set to unfold.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (released June 4, 1982)
This one comes with no surprise as to why it’s at the top of the countdown. The Wrath of Khan set the standard that the rest of the films try to replicate or even surpass. The film is the right amount of everything that The Motion Picture was not. In this film, Khan (this time played by Ricardo Montalban) is hell-bent on revenge for his exile by Kirk fifteen years earlier. Spock sacrifices his life to save the ship from Khan’s last-ditch attempt to win.