Editor’s note: Brian Byrne, Greg Elwell, and Mat DeKinder are all versed (not well-versed mind you) in the Star Trek Universe. Between the three of them, they have seen (almost) all the movies and can tell the difference between a Klingon and a Romulan. This pretty much makes them the most qualified staff members to rank the 11 “Star Trek” films from worst to best.
Mat: I’ll go ahead and establish my limited “Star Trek” bona fides. I’ve sat through complete episodes from all the series, albeit some more than others. I hardly watched “Deep Space Nine” and only dropped in on “Voyager” because of the hotness of Six of Nine (Editor’s note: mistake intentional, I think). I even watched an entire ill-advised season of “Enterprise” because of my love of Scott Bakula.
Brian: I will see your lack of credibility, and raise you at least two unseen films, possibly more. I’ve seen maybe 15%–20% of the original series, the first three seasons or so of “The Next Generation,” and probably 4.2 of the 9 films. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of reading the Internet, it’s that lack of knowledge about even basic facts is the last thing that should keep anyone from expressing his opinion.
Greg: Brian, I couldn’t possibly agree with you more. I’ve been shooting my mouth off online about subjects with which I am not even glancingly familiar since 1999 and it’s only ever worked out for the best. For instance, I’ve seen all of some of the movies, some of some of the movies and actively avoided others. Also, the TV stuff? Uh… I probably would not pass a written exam.
- “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”
Mat: This was Shatner’s only directorial effort and you can see why. Man was this thing lousy. You had Spock’s crazy half-brother who takes everybody to find God and it turns out to be a giant floating head that would have left the Wizard of Oz unimpressed. Just plain bad.
Brian: The one where Shatner meets God! I love this one for its crappiness; and because I saw it in the theater when it came out, in 1989, and have thus forgotten the pain of watching it. My other favorite thing about it is that its Wikipedia plot summary ends, “… and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy resume their vacation at Yosemite.”
Greg: Nope. I almost watched it so I could better understand a Futurama episode that referenced it, but then I remembered that I could not do that and I’d still be OK.
- “Star Trek: Generations”
Mat: I must confess I never saw this one, mostly because I heard how terrible it was. I’m going to assume there’s lots of Shatner phoning it in.
Brian: Dude, you’ve seen enough Shatner to know that Shatner phoning it in is indistinguishable from Shatner giving it 100%. The man has one speed, and that speed is SHATNER. I believe he’s riding horses around some verdant pan-dimensional time warp when Picard finds him and enlists his help to save a planet from Malcolm McDowell. It’s some pretty quality Shatner all in all.
Greg: I saw part of it and kept thinking, “Wait, why can’t they fly the ship? And why are these old Captains mad at each other? And why am I watching this again?”
- “Star Trek: Insurrection”
Mat: I actually thought I hadn’t seen this one either then I realized that this was the one with F. Murray Abraham in it. I think the fact that he’s pretty much all I remember about this movie is a bad sign.
Brian: F. Murray Abraham and the fact that I remember referring to it as “Star Trek: Big Erection” for several years are the only two notable parts of this film for me; that, and the fact that I didn’t see it.
Greg: I thought this was just a video game. No, really.
- “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”
Mat: So the entire point of this movie was to undo Spock’s dramatic death at the end of “Wrath of Kahn.” Lame. Although we do get some quality DeForest Kelley moments as he has to play a Spock-possessed Dr. McCoy. Comedy gold.
Brian: I do love the idea of McCoy having to share a body with Spock, and I have no doubt that was the highlight of the film. Oddly enough, Leonard Nimoy directed this one himself, which makes me wonder why the searching took so long.
Greg: I’m pretty sure I saw this one in the theater with my mom’s Trek-obsessed best friend, so I’m betting I loved it at the time. Right now, I’d rather watch “Superman III” again. Talk about your comedy (fool’s) gold.
- “Star Trek: Nemesis”
Mat: This one is notable because Data dies (but not really), a super young Tom Hardy shows up as Picard’s clone and because it pretty much killed the franchise (until J.J. Abrams came along) ensuring that most of the cast of “The Next Generation” would never work in movies again. That said; a movie featuring Bane facing off against Professor X has to count for something, right?
Wikipedia plot summary highlight: Contains the phrase “Counselor Troi is mentally attacked by Shinzon while she is making love to Commander Riker.”
Greg: Cheers for casting young Tom Hardy as crazy/evil young Picard. Jeers for the part where they tried to tell a coherent story but ended up making this movie, instead.
- “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”
Mat: Gets some points for being the first in the franchise, but I remember seeing this movie as a kid all high on “Star Wars” and being booooooooooored to tears. I remember the payoff had something to do with the Voyager space probe and that it was so, so long. In fact, it was so long I might still be watching it.
Brian: This is one of many notable Trek films I missed out on, and happily, from what I can tell. As is the case with so much ’70s and ’80s pop culture, I learned most of what I know about this film from”Mad” magazine’s parody of it. Apparently, Kirk comes out of retirement to command a hopped-up new Enterprise but like, strips out the transmission or something and for the rest of the movie, it only goes like 25mph. Also, there’s this bald woman? Who’s a robot? But it turns out the missing Voyager spacecraft has turned into a roving sentient life form that’s now kind of depressed because it’s learned everything in the universe? Look at me; I’ve already gone too long with this. I’m inspired by the film itself.
Greg: I think “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” gets better with age. My age. Because when I was a kid, that slow, lumbering beast of a movie took forever and nothing seemed to happen and I figured maybe I’ll just do my homework. That’s what it used to be like.
Now I see that they were taking their time, telling a story and soaking up all the space on the big screen that they’d never had access to before. Does this forgive having to watch Stephen Collins (of “7th Heaven” fame) try to act? No. But I don’t mind an atmospheric sci-fi movie.
I’ll watch this one nostalgically. Or have it on while I do some laundry and until “Diggstown” comes on Cinemax.
5: “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”
Mat: Now we’re getting into some movies that were actually entertaining! This was the original cast’s swan song and they went out in style in a movie that clipped along, had some good character moments, and a decent supporting cast that included Christopher Plummer as a Klingon and Kim Cattrall as a hot Vulcan.
Brian: I remember seeing this and thinking, “Wow, this is way better than the time Shatner met God.” Also, “Hey, it’s Christian Slater!” Cubes are gleamed, even in space.
4: “Star Trek: First Contact”
Mat: Easily the best of the “Next Generation” movies. The Picard/Borg stuff is great and I’m always a sucker for time travel as the crew goes back to lend a hand to a steampunk James Cromwell who invented the warp drive out of some tin cans and spare flux capacitors he had laying around. I have willingly watched this movie more than once.
Brian: Totally agree. You’ve got Picard going all Ahab on the Borg; you’ve got irritable James Cromwell, which is the best kind of James Cromwell unless he’s dealing with pigs; and you’ve got some heroic Data moments. I frequently do not change the channel when I find this movie on TV.
Greg: I kind of feel bad for the Klingons, because this movie proved that the Borg are (is?), by far, the best Star Trek bad guys. Sorry, race of angry forehead wrinklers, these guys in a cube are actually creepy and scary and I wouldn’t try to play their faces like an old-timey washboard.
3: “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”
Mat: This was the “Star Trek” movie for everybody. They came back to our time, to save the whales! Come on, what’s not to love? Scotty tries to get an Apple II e to work by talking into the mouse, Kirk insults cabbies with the immortal “Double dumbass on you!” put-down and Spock has to spend half the movie in a robe and headband looking like he just got done working out at the Cobra Kai dojo.
Brian: It’s got whales, Mat! WHALES! Agreed, there is nothing not to love. I feel strangely protective of all the “wah-WAAAAAAAAH” gags about them being from THE FUTURE! Like my kid is making them, or something. This was actually the first Trek movie I saw, so I’m sure that’s got something to do with it. Anyway though, Spock! Whales! Klingon Bird-of-Prey! Wacky ‘80s people in San Francisco! Brilliant.
Greg: Um. Pass.
- “Star Trek”
Mat: Abrams turned the whole thing on its ear by recasting the original crew while leaving their beloved characteristics in place, putting them in a movie where stuff actually happens, and then there were the lens flares, my God the lens flares. Perhaps what I loved the most about the “Trek” reboot is how blatantly Abrams dismisses the continuity demanded by the world’s most anal-retentive fan base with the whole “alternate timeline” cheat. He Kobayashi Maru-ed the whole franchise! Genius!
Brian: I totally loved that about it too: The movie refused to apologize for doing what it had to do, which was take some (all of the) liberties. And Shatner help me, but this was orders of magnitude more entertaining than any of the original Trek films. Though I do roll my eyes pretty far back every time I see the Young Kirk Breakin’ the Law scenes. We GET it. You’re a rebel. Thank you, drive around.
Greg: Here’s what was great and weird about the reboot, to me: the original cast started out old. The TV show was on a decade before the movies started. The crew had RETIRED in the first film. Trek was never young, which made the physical stuff painful and hilarious to watch. Now we’ve got a young cast, an able director and you can tell more intense stories because there are no avenues shut down by the age of the cast.
- “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn”
Mat: I think this one wins because the degree of difficulty was higher since it worked with and around the limitations of the original series. You’ve got those creepy ear bugs that scared the hell out of me as a kid, the entire cast at the top of their game, and a shirtless Ricardo Montalban leaving no scenery unchewed. Plus it features Shatner’s greatest moment as an actor.
How could we possibly deny Bill this?
Greg: You know what’s great about this movie, aside from EVERYTHING? It’s that Khan was a bad guy on the TV show. This was previously established continuity rearing its bristly grey head in the movies. As a comic book nerd, that makes me extremely happy. My only issue was that Khan was so crazy, I don’t even get why he’s trying to kill Kirk. Or what he plans to do with the Genesis Device. Look, sorry the planet you were on turned crappy. Let’s get you a new one.
Brian: I have nothing to add, except: