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All Star Trek movies, ranked worst to best!

3 crews, 13 movies, and more than 1 starship ruined - no wonder we're counting down the best of Starfleet's best

Star Trek
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

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Space is definitely the final frontier, but which space is the most final? Star Trek as a whole is approaching its 60th anniversary, but even on the big screen, it’s nearing the half-century mark with no less than 13 movies since it made it to theaters — that’s more than Star Wars, somewhat surprisingly! But with that many cinematic voyages home and beyond, it’s time to wonder: which Big Screen Star Treks are the finest? Friends, may I introduce you to the USS best Star Trek movies.

Before bolding going into the ranking itself, let’s climb inside the Jeffries Tube and put some things in place: Firstly, all Star Trek movies are good, even the bad ones. (I have spent far too long watching the slow, slow fly-by for the Enterprise in The Motion Picture to pretend otherwise; I know it’s objectively too long, and yet…) Secondly, this is a subjective ranking, which means that you are almost certainly going to disagree with where some of the movies fall on the list. I understand; I’d definitely disagree with your list as well; thankfully the comments section exists and can be used to share just where I went wrong, or even where I went right…!

With those two facts out the way, it’s time for us to open hailing frequencies and scan the surface to find out just which order we should all be beaming up the Enterprise crews. As a wise, bald man once said: make it so.

Star Trek movies: Ranked Worst to Best

13. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Star Trek: Nemesis
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

How bad is Nemesis? Bad enough that it essentially killed the Star Trek movie franchise for close to a decade, despite featuring a very early appearance by none other than Tom Hardy as a clone of Jean-Luc Picard. (No, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense from a visual standpoint, but I guess Hardy was cheap back then.) It’s a movie that doesn’t really seem to understand the appeal of Star Trek overall, and especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that’s far from its only sin: try watching it now and you’ll discover a very muddled movie that suffers from a plot that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and some very dated directorial choices. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a movie that says, “I watched Hackers and thought, what if there was a dune buggy chase,” this might be the movie for you.

12. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Star Trek: Insurrection
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

On the plus side of this late-era TNG movie, it plays out like an extended episode of The Next Generation series. On the minus side, it doesn’t play out like an extended good episode of The Next Generation series. Playing out somewhat slowly, a little too dry, and with moments that feel as if they’re meant to have more drama and momentum than actually plays out on-screen, this is a perfectly fine way for anyone who loves these characters to spend an hour or so — but as a standalone movie that feels like the cost of admission, it’s far from the best.

11. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

There are some very real problems with Star Trek Into Darkness that go beyond the fact that the Khan reveal really doesn’t work at all unless you’re a fan of the earlier movies. (Although that’s certainly a pretty big problem in and of itself.) To this day, I’m still unsure if the end of this movie means that the James T. Kirk of this timeline is functionally immortal or not — but I’m also unsure if I care, because at least it means that the movie was over. After the goodwill generated by the first reboot movie, it’s almost impressive how quickly and fully that was ruined by this movie… but, to be fair, this is a movie filled with wrong moves on almost every level. Benedict Cumberbatch, what were you thinking…?

10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Star Trek V
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

After the massive success of Star Trek IV — and the small-screen launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was also gaining favor around this time — many people wondered where the Star Trek movie series was going to go next. Few expected the answer to be, “far too down its own rabbit hole.” There are certainly elements of this movie that work quite well, but the combination of an uneven screenplay that arguably learned the wrong lessons from the comedy of the last movie, and some wooden directing that failed to paper over the writing’s faults means this is very firmly a lesser entry in a series of pretty great movies. Poor Sybok deserved better.

9. Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Star Trek: Generations
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

The cinematic equivalent of a disappointing cake that wasn’t given enough time to bake, Star Trek: Generations should be far more enjoyable than it actually ends up being. After all, who wouldn’t want to see Captain Kirk’s final mission, or a low-key crossover between the original and Next Generation crews? What fan in their right mind wouldn’t get excited about Malcolm McDowell as a villain? Or Jean-Luc Picard on a horse? (Okay, that one’s just me? Fine, then.) Unfortunately, it all just fails to come together somehow, leaving the end result inexplicably disappointing in ways that are difficult to explain. You just want it to be… better, somehow.

8. Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Perhaps it’s the lowered expectations that came from Into Darkness, or simply the simple joys of seeing Chris Pine’s charming version of James T. Kirk again, but Star Trek Beyond is a movie that manages to earn a strange amount of gratitude for being… entirely fine. As with so many Trek movies, the stakes are simultaneously curiously dull and universe-threatening, but there’s something very fun about seeing everyone go through the motions while trying to work out how to insert action set pieces into a property that really isn’t very interested in that sort of thing, thanks very much. Added points go to a second Beastie Boys shout-out for seemingly no reason other than nostalgia for just seven years prior.

7. Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

On the one hand, no-one really asked for a reboot of the Star Trek franchise before this movie. On that same hand, despite producers having spoken about a flashback Starfleet Academy installment about Kirk’s college days for literal decades before this movie, I’m not sure that anyone really wanted to see that, either… and yet, this movie works, despite both of those things, and struggling with an overly complicated time-travel plot just to ensure that Leonard Nimoy could show up and be great once again as the aged-Spock. Of course, even if it wasn’t as fun and fast-moving as it was, I’d still rate this pretty highly just for Eric Bana’s oddball Nero and his deadpan delivery throughout most of the movie. Let’s have more evil masterminds who seem as confused by their own existence as he does, please.

6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Whether in its original theatrical state or the recent director’s cut, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is overlong, over-serious, and lacking a convincing third act… and yet, it’s a dated delight to watch every single time. Chalk that up to a genuine passion on display from at least half the cast, backing up a story that’s trying too hard but asking the big questions in a way that feels Star Trek to its very DNA. And, of course, it’s impossible to overstate the fannish pleasure of seeing all your favorites come back together after a decade once again. A flawed masterpiece that’s too ambitious for its own good, but isn’t that ambition part of why we love Trek?

5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Star Trek VI
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

The final official outing for the original crew overcomes its limitations thanks to a story that combines Kirk’s personal prejudice and analogies to the real-world politics of the era, and some enjoyable fan service that demonstrates just why these characters (and actors) kept the series alive even when executives didn’t want to. A smart, funny romp through the universe one last time, it’s a movie that also underscores how Trek is different from a lot of sci-fi: at its core, it’s kinder to everyone involved, even the bad guys.

4. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Star Trek III
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

For a show that made much out of the concept of the final frontier, it’s fitting that the third Star Trek movie declared that even death didn’t deserve that title, in comparison to exploring the unknown. Despite dealing with literal omnipotent powers, Star Trek III is a surprisingly personal movie in many ways, and it’s seeing Kirk deal with unexpected threats — not the Klingons, but grief, the responsibilities of being a father, and the unknown of his life changing — that makes this quite as wonderful as it is. (But then, there’s also the Klingons, and Spock’s resurrection, and everything else to make it even more fun.)

3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Star Trek: First Contact
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

On the face of it, the idea of First Contact shouldn’t work; yes, we all love the Borg as an existential threat on the show, but did anyone really want a mash-up of Terminator and Aliens with the Borg replacing the threat in both? Apparently, we should have: in acting against type, First Contact turns out to be a surprisingly tense story that manages that rarest of tricks: a Star Trek movie that works as a movie first, and a Star Trek movie second. Resistance, as it turns out, wasn’t just futile, but unnecessary.

2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Partly a cover of earlier time travel stories from the TV show, partly a plea for the environment that knows when to lean heavy on the message and when to bring in the laughs, Star Trek IV is a winner that keeps the audience on the wrong foot throughout its entire runtime and makes them grateful for the experience. How did the final chapter of an unofficial trilogy about revenge and death turn out to be a time travel comedy that ignores so much of the dangling plots for the majority of the movie… and why does it all work so well? Think of this one as cinematic magic, and just sit back and enjoy it one more time.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Star Trek II
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

Look, there’s no way you’re surprised this takes the top spot: The Wrath of Khan is everything a Trek movie can be: filled with character but operating at a scale where everything feels like the most dramatic moment imaginable, with a magnetic villain, stakes that bring the (occasionally too-intellectual) themes of the show to life in ways that are meaningful, and performances that chew the scenery even as you still believe them. Oh, and eagworms. Don’t forget the earworms. Not just the best Star Trek movie, Star Trek II is one of the best sci-fi movies, period.

Admit it; now you want to watch lots of Star Trek again. We’ve got a guide to help you with that, and we’re also keeping an eye on the many frontiers opening up in the franchise in the next few years, too. (Yes, that includes the rumored fourth movie in the Kelvin Timeline.) Were you surprised that the original series movies dominated the list above so much? Not as surprised as we were by people’s choice of their favorite Trek series — and even more so over the second most popular show. But that’s the thing about Trek: it continually renews itself and emerges as a potent, productive voice in science fiction, over and over again.

Space may be the final frontier, but there's no end to Popverse's love of the Star Trek universe. Hop aboard the starship Enterprise with our Star Trek watch order, explore strange new worlds with our upcoming Star Trek TV shows and movies list, seek out the new life of the franchise, and boldly go where no Star TRek film has ever gone before - with Quentin Tarantino?