When director J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise back in 2009, fans were hesitant about how the filmmaker would treat the fan-favorite characters and mythology. However, the film was mostly embraced by moviegoers, leading to the somewhat more divisive sequel four years later. The third go-round for this new version of the Gene Roddenberry-created universe, Star Trek Beyond, landed in theaters in 2016, the same year the franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary.
One of the film’s more controversial aspects among fans has been the news that the character of Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho in these new films) will be revealed to be gay, introducing some more diversity into the franchise and serving as a tribute to original Sulu George Takei. The elder actor’s thoughts on the move appear less than enthusiastic on the matter, as he cites the change as tampering with Roddenberry’s original vision. Regardless of which side of the argument fans fall on, they can all agree that Takei remains one of the biggest champions of Star Trek and a key part of the surviving cast. We look back at some of Takei’s most memorable film roles. For the record, we’re limiting this list to one entry per franchise (yes, even Star Trek).
1. Hell to Eternity (1960)
Following some TV roles and big-screen voice work, this film marked the first live-action film role for Takei. The World War II drama — chronicling the real-life story of Marine hero Guy Gabaldon (Jeffrey Hunter) — stars Hunter, David Janssen, and Vic Damone, and Takei appears in a smaller role as one of the friends of Guy’s brother.
2. The Green Berets (1968)
Takei played Captain Nim in this Vietnam-set war film starring Hollywood icon John Wayne. Based on the 1965 novel by Robin Moore, the film was a commercial success even though it drew heavy criticism for its thematic material and cliche storytelling. Nevertheless, it marked a major step forward for Takei’s film career.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
After Star Trek was resurrected for the big screen in 1979, this sequel marked a significant improvement. Reuniting the original cast of the show, this film still stands as perhaps the most beloved of all 12 Star Trek films to date (not including Beyond, of course). In fact, 2013 release Into Darkness largely aped its story and famous moments.
4. Mulan (1998)
This underrated Disney animated musical film chronicles the heroic Fa Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) as she poses as a man to take her father’s place in battle. Takei only voices the small role of one of Mulan’s ancestors, but the quality of the film as a whole elevates it to our list. He also returned for the direct-to-DVD sequel seven years later.
5. Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)
This under-seen release was heavily touted as the world’s first animated lesbian-themed sci-fi film upon its release at the Los Angeles Bent-Con in late 2011. Set in a dystopian future, the story follows a lesbian couple who form a band, but after they break up, a mystery brings them back into each other’s lives. Takei appears in a small voice role.
6. Space Milkshake (2012)
Another sci-fi voice role for Takei, this one is far wackier. It centers on a team of astronauts who inadvertently erase all life on Earth and must contend with a growing number of galactic catastrophes. Least of which is a mutating rubber duck (we told you it was wacky) named Gary with malicious intent. Naturally, Gary is voiced by Takei.
7. Married and Counting (2013)
Takei has longe been a staunch advocate for marriage equality and other gay rights issues. So it stands to reason that he would be featured in this documentary film, which follows a longtime gay couple as they travel across the United States to get married in every state that had embraced marriage equality at the time of its production. Powerful stuff.
8. To Be Takei (2014)
Over the years, Takei has evolved from an actor to a pop cultural force, and this documentary finally takes a close look at the man himself. Its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival garnered strong reviews, celebrating Takei’s wide-ranging accomplishments and the optimistic personality that has attracted fans the world over.
9. Eat with Me (2014)
This romantic comedy/drama centers on a woman (Sharon Omi) who must reconnect with her estranged gay son (Teddy Chen Culver) when she moves in with him. The film is based on a short film by writer/director David Au and features Takei in a small role as himself, lending a bit of name recognition to this indie production.
10. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
This one isn’t even due for release until August 2016, but we can already tell that it will mark a significant entry in Takei’s filmography. The latest from animation studio Laika (Coraline, The Boxtrolls), the film follows a young boy (Art Parkinson) who must locate a magical suit of armor. Takei plays a character named Hosato.
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