If there’s one thing we can expect for fan-favorite properties, it’s that some segment of longtime fans are bound to take issue when a new interpretation of their beloved characters or franchise inevitably comes to pass. Recently, we’ve seen several properties earn the ire of moviegoers, with Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot earning the lion’s share of the online criticism. While some hardcore purists revel in taking the rebooted series to task for the ways in which it diverges from the original television series and first run of films, the Star Trek movie franchise has proven itself to be particularly resilient in facing its own evolution.
After all, in its 50-year history, the world of Star Trek has spawned a multimedia phenomenon that extends to six television series and 13 films that together encompass three different subsets of big-screen Star Trek adventures. The most recent installment — director Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond — has earned solid critical notices. With the franchise recently hitting a milestone in 2016 (and the new film’s direct tribute to the original Enterprise crew), we look back at all the Star Trek films to date and rate them from worst to best.
13. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Throughout much of Star Trek‘s history, the series had developed a trend wherein the even-numbered entries tended to become more embraced by fans and critics. However, this installment — which marked the death knell for the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation — proved to be the exception that led Paramount to shelve the series for the better part of a decade. Sidenote: Look for a young Tom Hardy as the film’s villain.
12. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
The penultimate adventure for Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), this was the second consecutive Star Trek film directed by star Jonathan Frakes. Following the success of Star Trek: First Contact, many expected this ninth entry to duplicate the thrills and excitement of its predecessor. How wrong they were.
11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
The only Star Trek film directed by William Shatner, The Final Frontier attempts to delve into religious themes in its tale of a Vulcan’s search for God. Alas, the film also proved to be among the least popular entries and reportedly nearly ended the franchise before its sequel redeemed the brand a few years later.
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
A full decade after the original Star Trek television series came to an end, Kirk, Spock and the crew made the leap to the big screen, thanks to the cult fanbase the show had developed in syndication. Thankfully, the film managed to overcome tepid reviews and become a box office hit, setting the stage for grander adventures to follow.
9. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
After six films, the original series crew finally passed the big-screen reign over to The Next Generation cast with this seventh installment. Although only Kirk (William Shatner), Chekov (Walter Koenig), and Scotty (James Doohan) make appearances, Generations very much marks the end of an era and the start of a promising future, albeit one that would prove somewhat short-lived.
8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Following the massive success of The Wrath of Khan, the Star Trek franchise had a lot to live up to. This film was the first of two consecutive releases to be directed by Leonard Nimoy himself. The story is the first in the series to directly follow its predecessor and sees Christopher Lloyd join the franchise as a renegade Klingon.
7. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Speaking of Wrath of Khan, this J.J. Abrams-directed entry faced great criticism for its blatant similarities to what worked so well in that earlier release. Still, Abrams’s direction and the winning cast led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto elevate the film into more than a ripoff of Wrath of Khan, as does the performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious villain.
6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The last film to feature the entire original crew, The Undiscovered Country is notable for the return of Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer to the franchise. Much like Star Trek Beyond aimed to capitalize on the 50th anniversary of the original show’s debut, this entry celebrated the 25th and serves as the perfect finale to the cast’s big-screen run.
5. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Sure, some fans may deem this one as another failed attempt to embody the spirit of the original, but the film’s episodic tone, rich characters, and overarching message of peace and diplomacy do hew remarkably close to the original Star Trek mandate by creator Gene Roddenberry. Even though a sequel has been announced already, this movie would have served as the perfect finale to this reboot era. Also, the late Anton Yelchin shines in his final Star Trek entry.
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Serving as the finale in the three-part story that began with Wrath of Khan, this Leonard Nimoy-directed film finds the crew travelling back in time to prevent a disaster in Earth’s future. Its environmental message and keen sense of humor propelled the film to become one of the most beloved entries in the franchise and a bonafide smash hit.
3. Star Trek (2009)
Faced with offering a fresh spin on the ailing franchise, director J.J. Abrams opted to re-introduce time travel to splinter the Star Trek universe into an alternate timeline, thereby satisfying both longtime fans and newbies alike. The inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime ensured that the original series remained canon, and the “Kelvin timeline” effectively re-energized the series for another round of films led by a charming cast of gifted performers.
2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Jonathan Frakes had long played the role of William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so the actor and director easily took the reins on this second of four films featuring the show’s cast. Though it gave hope to fans that this era of the franchise might yield several more satisfying adventures, First Contact sadly emerged as the only one that demonstrated Star Trek at its finest.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
What can be said about this iconic bit of sci-fi cinema that hasn’t already been covered? From Ricardo Montalban’s turn as the devious Khan (a role he reprised from the original television series) to its heart-wrenching finale, The Wrath of Khan easily remains not only the best Star Trek film to date but a cinematic landmark that can be just as cherished even by non-fans of the franchise. It’s simply that good.
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