While browsing the internet for Star Trek lists, I’ve come across many articles with unofficial rankings for all thirteen films. To me, this practice of lumping the TOS, TNG, and modern Star Trek movies together seems completely absurd. Why bother comparing films that don’t technically belong to the same series? For this reason, I’ve decided to create my own rankings for the six feature films inspired by the original show—my personal favorite of the three movie series.
I’ve also never bought into the “odd/even-numbered curse” of the Star Trek movie franchise, so my rankings might seem a tad unconventional compared to similar lists. Here are my thoughts on Star Trek I-VI:
6) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
When Spock’s half-brother Sybok hijacks the Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk and his crew travel to the center of the galaxy in search of God. Upon arriving at the Great Barrier, Sybok and his followers encounter a magnificent being in need of a starship.
The Final Frontier contains all the elements of a classic Star Trek outing: a spirit of adventure, a conflict involving Klingons, and a strong sense of camaraderie among the original crew members. Unfortunately, this offering is marred by bad special effects, illogical sci-fi aspects, and cringe-worthy jokes that come at the expense of the main characters. In addition to its many technical flaws, The Final Frontier fails to include what could have been the greatest twist ending in Star Trek history: to reveal Gary Mitchell—a former Starfleet officer with phenomenal ESP abilities—as the godlike entity residing at the Great Barrier.
5) Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Resuming command of the Enterprise for the first time since her historic five-year mission, Admiral Kirk and his original crew—now accompanied by Captain Decker and Lieutenant Ilia—investigate an extraordinary alien force heading toward Earth. Upon entering the enormous energy cloud, Spock establishes contact with the V’ger mechanism through a Vulcan mind meld.
For combining Gene Roddenberry’s humanist vision with a grand scale, The Motion Picture deserves praise from Star Trek enthusiasts. Nevertheless, the inaugural Star Trek film may evoke criticism for its drawn-out pacing, dated special effects, and lack of chemistry among the original cast members. By emulating the visual style and narrative structure of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Motion Picture also lacks the originality of other Star Trek movies.
4) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
After a cataclysmic event, the Klingons are forced to make peace with the Federation. Resentful over the death of his son David, Captain Kirk struggles to set aside his bigotry and complete the diplomatic mission that awaits him.
Coupling Cold War commentary with a compelling murder mystery, this offering bids a fond farewell to the original series crew members. Similar to The Final Frontier, however, The Undiscovered Country adopts a campy approach to humor, causing Chekov, Uhura, and other characters to appear buffoonish during key moments of the story. Also problematic is the main villain of this film—a Klingon warrior named General Chang, whose heavy use of Shakespeare dialogue seems a tad incongruous within the Star Trek universe.
3) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
When a giant space probe begins evaporating the oceans of Earth, the Enterprise crew members travel back in time to save the planet. Upon arriving in 1986, Admiral Kirk and his fellow officers struggle to navigate the “alien” world of San Francisco.
Featuring social commentary in a literal fish-out-of-water scenario, The Voyage Home recaptures the fun, adventurous tone of the original series. This offering should especially be praised for its iconic humor, which, in contrast to The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, encourages the audience to laugh with the characters instead of laughing at them. The dated pop culture references contained in The Voyage Home may, however, fail to resonate with modern viewers.
2) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
After the death of Spock, Admiral Kirk steals the decommissioned Enterprise and returns to the Genesis Planet with Dr. McCoy—now in possession of Spock’s katra. Meanwhile, an evil Klingon commander named Kruge attempts to steal the secret of Genesis.
Despite a number of egregious plot holes (for example, why does Kirk go back to Genesis before learning of Spock’s resurrection?), The Search for Spock embodies the tone of an epic space opera. The third Star Trek movie installment should also be commended for its themes of friendship, heroism, and self-sacrifice—core values of the original series. Other highlights include a poignant self-destruct sequence, an intense showdown on the Genesis Planet, and a menacing Klingon played by Christopher Lloyd—much in contrast to General Chang, whose cartoon villainy often borders on the absurd.
1) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Fifteen years after the events of “Space Seed,” Khan Noonien Singh—a genetically augmented warrior prince from the 20th century—escapes permanent exile on Ceti Alpha V. While on a quest for vengeance, Khan steals the Genesis Torpedo—a terraforming device with powerful destructive properties—and plans the ultimate destruction of Admiral Kirk.
The quintessential Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan offers a clever twist on a classic episode of the original series. In addition to its rousing action sequences, this film benefits from a realistic villain, an important life lesson, and a heartfelt performance from William Shatner—often criticized for his “hammy” antics. Given its lasting appeal to sci-fi buffs and casual viewers alike, The Wrath of Khan earns its reputation as the greatest Star Trek feature of all time.
What do you think are the best Star Trek movies of the original series era? Share your own rankings in the comment section.
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