A couple years ago, I went on Netflix rampage, watching every episode of every Star Trek series (even the animated series) in consecutive order. It was a crazy thing to do, and it took me well over a year to complete it.
With Into Darkness just about finishing up its theater run, I thought it would be fun to rank the films. I also took a little inspiration from my friend Diane’s FoliosNFlicks post on the franchise. I don’t think many will find my list that surprising, and I’m sure some people will disagree with me on certain points. That’s fine. Those are always fun conversations.
So, here they are, from worst to best.
#12) Final Frontier
I’m sure most people are with me on this. I ‘ve tried giving this movie second chances over the years, but it’s just so hard to enjoy this one as a whole. It had certain character moments that were pretty great, but the tone was inconsistent, the premise of “The Great Barrier” was silly and hard to justify given what we know of the universe, and the Vulcan half brother who is essentially the Wayne Coyne of Star Trek was unwelcome—unlike Coyne himself, who is always welcome.
I put this low on the list just because I couldn’t justify moving it any higher, but I will say that it’s not without it’s charm. There’s just not enough there to sustain a film. It would have been a decent hour-long TNG episode, but the attempt to stretch it makes the whole thing suffer. At least the cast looked like it was having fun. That’s gotta count for something.
You could flip this with Insurrection on the list, but at least a little bit of interesting things happen in this one. The problem, I think is the first half of the movie does a decent job of developing a couple interesting threads, and then the second half devolves just kind of casts that aside with a poorly justified space battle. It just feels like someone tried to turn the Khan knob up, and because of that Data’s death at the end—which I was fine with as a concept—just seem’s a little too much like Spock’s. It’s sad that this was the TNG cast’s final appearance, as this just reminds me how cheated they got on the big screen.
Tonally I think this movie strikes a lot of the right notes, and the Picard/Kirk horse ride is pretty fun as far as alleged iconic moments go. Data and Geordi are basically relegated to comic relief duties, but I have to admit that some of those wonderfully awful jokes still stick with me today. I never regret watching this one, but I’ll probably watch one of the others first.
#8) Search for Spock
What a frustrating movie. A lot of the really classic elements of Star Trek are at play here—the two-movie story of the Genesis planet was pretty good, very true to the spirit of the series, one could say. The Christopher Lloyd-led Klingons are just inept and kind of silly, but I suppose they serve their role. Generally I think this one is better than it gets credit for, though even for me it appears in the bottom half of my rankings. Of all the destroyed Enterprises to follow, this one still seems to ring the truest.
#7) Star Trek Into Darkness
I’ve only seen this once so far, but I get the sense that the more I watch Into Darkness, the more moments I’ll spot that don’t hold up to scrutiny. There is some sloppy storytelling here, and some awful moments of exposition that just don’t flow naturally out of the action. I liked Cumberbatch’s villain, and I don’t mind that it’s Khan, but it almost feels like this could have been any bad guy, as much of the character’s intrigue—i.e. his origin and discovery—is glossed over as a footnote. But I like the new cast, and they had some great moments in this one. I would just be nice to actually see them explore space a little bit in this new series. Both of the new ones keep things pretty close to Earth. I want some trekking in my Star Trek.
#6) The Undiscovered Country
This was that good last time around the block that Final Frontier wanted to be, but wasn’t. It pushed that universe toward the Next Generation-era peace with the Klingons, and the political conspiracy plot worked well for the story. I was the perfect age when this movie came out too, so it figures prominently in my memories as a ten-year-old. Otherwise I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one, otherwise. It’s not the best in the series, but it’s one of the best constructed.
#5) The Voyage Home
How can you watch this movie and not just revel in how wonderfully eighties it is? Everyone makes fun of the whole “save the whales” thing, but it was a great excuse to change pace after the previous movies and show another side of the series. I know some people think this is the reason Star Trek has kind of run the time travel thing into the ground since this movie, and maybe that’s true. But it worked here. Plus, it was a smart move to change the pace a little bit, especially considering that Search for Spock was hardly universally loved.
#4) Motion Picture
This might be my little moment of contrarianism, but I got to see this about a year or so ago for the first time in probably fifteen years, and it was a lot better than I remembered it. The uniforms are terrible, of course, and it has some silly moments, but it’s a great sci-fi mystery, and an interesting exploration on the nature of intelligence, knowledge seeking, and dangerously benign intentions. One criticism is that the pacing is too slow, but I just don’t find that to be a problem in this particular instance. It creates a pretty chilly mood—echoing the centuries-old “character” of V’ger.
#3) Star Trek (2009)
Like Into Darkness, this has some things that don’t hold up particularly well, or, ahem, logically, and sometimes you would just like to stop and get your bearings a little better before moving to the next setpiece. But sometimes exhilarating is fun, and I thought it was pretty great the way they were able to carve out their own little universe without destroying or sidestepping established cannon. Still though, I hope the third one, assuming it gets made, gives them a chance to do a little more actual sci-fing, so to speak.
#2) First Contact
Just good all around. Thank god the TNG crew got one really good movie—one of the best. Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher don’t have too much to do in this one, which is kind of a trend in these movies, which is too bad. But otherwise, all elements of this story work well together. Again, another time travel piece that bothers some people, but I’m only going to complain about such things if they’re poorly done. This wasn’t, and by having the Borg assimilating the Enterprise while in orbit, we kind of get to have our sci-fi cake and eat it, too.
#1) Wrath of Khan
This is a pretty universally-held belief, and in this case I find it hard to go against the grain for any reason. It’s got some great moments of tensions—It really terrified me as a kid, and it has just enough story and reason for being that everything makes sense, but the story is also lean, leaving plenty of room for some of the most iconic character moments of the original crew.
[UPDATE]: I just found this other Trek List on IGN. How do you think mine compares?
What do you think? Agree with me? What’s your list look like?