In anticipation of Star Trek Beyond, opening this weekend, it seems like a good time to finally cause division and strife by ranking the movies that have come before it. I consulted with the experts at Reel World, mainly Fizz and Mark Wingerter, and have done my very best to come up with a good ranking that reflects both my personal taste, cinematic quality, fidelity to Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek, and also my desire to avoid being murdered by Trekkies because I am a Star Wars guy. So, with as little fanfare as possible, here is my Top 5 Star Trek movies.
5) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The original TV show cast of Star Trek will always be the group I remember when I think of Star Trek. In the mid-90’s my dad bought the VHS box set of all six original movies that made a picture of the USS Enterprise flying through space. I will never forget that image nor the many images and unforgettable scenes from the original six movies. While I didn’t get into the TV show until I was older and watched re-runs on the old Sci-Fi channel when they actually showed Sci-Fi, I was already intimately familiar with Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Ohura, Chekov, Sulu, and even the multi-movie appearing Lt. Savik.
As a kid, The Voyage Home was my favorite. Not only did it seem familiar with the crew traveling back in time to modern-day San Fransisco, but I remember it being the funniest movie because Earth in the 90’s was like the Enterprise crew visiting a different planet! Oh yeah, and it had whales! As an adult, the movie is very Star Trek in its plotting and Leonard Nimoy’s direction in the movie shows a deep and expert understanding of each character and a commitment to making those characters and funny, but also human, as possible.
The scene I will never forget is the picture going along with this movie where Scotty tries to use a computer from the 90’s. When the computer doesn’t respond to his voice commands, the glass factory employee tells him to use the mouse. When speaking into the mouse doesn’t work, he is instructed to use the keyboard and he responds, “Use the keyboard, how quaint.” I’m laughing just typing the line and can recall the multiple times I have used this joke at work and it curiously is never funny to anyone else and usually gets a weird look. I am waiting for the day I work with a Trekkie and it instantly bonds us to one another.
4) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
After the incredibly intriguing but terribly boring and silly The Final Frontier, the final movie featuring the entire original cast left the series on a high note. I could talk about The Voyage Home all day, but the Nicholas Meyer directed movie is equally as memorable but more for its dramatic tension, fabulous depth of Captain Kirk’s character, and an honest look at the social and racial tensions between humans and Klingons. More than fancy technology, futuristic adventure, or overly silly plots, The Undiscovered Country is about relationships between the crew of the Enterprise and also between Kirk and the alien race he blames for the death of his son. I remember great scenes like the murder of Chancellor Gorkon, Kirk’s trial, and when he kicks an alien in “the shin”, but upon rewatching the movie, I realized how deeply empathetic the movie manages to be while staying true to what a Star Trek movie should be.
3) Star Trek (2009)
It was almost thirty years between the last movie featuring the original crew of the USS Enterprise, and it was a big deal when the new movie was announced with the old crew but with new actors and JJ Abrams directing. In retrospect, we should have known Abrams was going to deliver on staying true to classic Star Trek while paving a new direction, but back in 2009, we had no idea Abrams could recreate the success of reinvigorating a classic franchise with such a deft hand.
What I will always remember the most about the reboot is obviously the time travel, new timeline angle it takes. It was certainly a genius maneuver to pull off in a movie, but seven years removed it does seem a smidge on the lazy side. However, what could you have possibly done? Abrams was looking at the impossible, yet somehow he managed to logically reboot the franchise both in the minds of audiences as well within the narrative of the Star Trek Universe. It now made sense there was more action, more fun, crazier stunts, and slightly different relationships and attitudes amongst the crew of the Enterprise. It gave me new reasons to love certain characters, as well as reinvest in some of my favorite characters with new actors. It is incredibly sad to me that Anton Yelchin tragically died recently since Chekov was easily my favorite rebooted character.
Thank you, JJ Abrams, for handling Star Trek with care for the reboot. While we can debate how you handled it after this movie, at least we have this one as a better intro to the Enterprise crew than we did in the 1979 movie.
2) Star Trek: First Contact
I was never into The Next Generation crew like I was the original crew, but I have seen all the movies and recognize the superiority of this movie over almost all other movies. First Contact is everything a Star Trek movie should be: high-quality cinema, true to what Star Trek is all about, and incredibly fun to watch (thanks to Mark Wingerter for pointing this out in an email conversation). It also contains some of the best cinematic moments from the TNG crew, including PIcard’s famous line of, “The line must be drawn HERE!”
The plot is ingenious and super fun. The crew has to go back in time to make sure the human discoverer of the warp drive, Zefram Cochran, successfully makes contact with aliens while the Borg tries to prevent it from happening. While I haven’t seen the movie in at least a decade, I remember seeing it in theaters and loving it for how it kept me at the edge of my seat and also much fun it was despite my lack of familiarity with the TNG crew. The plot felt a lot like The Voyage Home but with a lot more stakes and a much scarier alien presence in the Borg rather than a flying space whale sausage link.
1) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I mean, cmon. Really? Could I put any other movie here? Probably not if I wanted to keep my position here at Reel World or continue to have a relationship with my dad. I think if I didn’t put this movie here my dad might make a good case in court to disown me and write me out of his will. That is how much this movie means to my dad, and many others, as a Star Trek fan and how culturally significant the second Star Trek movie is.
Boasting an incredible cast, the movie is stolen by the cool, psychotic performance of Ricardo Montalban as Khan and the final scene with *spoiler alert* Spock’s death. It has the adventure, excitement, and character depth of a great movie, as well as a great villain, scary ear bugs, and did I mention Ricardo Montalban? Seriously, the man is amazing in the role as the flamboyant and aggressive Khan, and no one not even Benedict Cumberbatch can do what he does in this movie.
And Spocks’ death. Oh man, cinematically it is impactful and incredibly meaningful in developing Kirk and Spock’s relationship. Without the third movie to rebirth Spock, I think this would be the saddest on-screen death from my childhood, even more than Obi-Wan Kenobi.
My final argument…KKKKHHHHAAAAAANNNNNNNNN!