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Featured: Anticipating Star Trek Beyond

Featured: Anticipating Star Trek Beyond

For decades, Star Trek has allowed us to boldly go where no one has gone before. Sometimes those were great and wondrous experiences, other times…well, not so much. Now, I wouldn’t call myself the biggest Star Trek fan; I never grew up with either television show (or one of the many spinoff shows), but I have seen a few episodes and can certainly see the appeal. But the films, those I have seen, and both the lore and social commentary (in its truest sci-fi form) have always been a fascinating one for me. It is safe to say, I am a bit of a fan of the films, and am always excited when a new Star Trek film is announced.

So in preparation for Star Trek Beyond this weekend, I’ve decided to look back on all twelve Star Trek films and rank them from worst to best, reliving both the pains and the prospers. And keep in mind, this is my subjective and personal opinion, not an objective one, so if I upset any Trekkies or Trekkers, you know where to find me.

And even though it pains me not to do so, I will not be including Galaxy Quest (even though I could certainly argue that it is a Star Trek film). Because let’s face it, if we were including Galaxy Quest, it would be one of the best. So with that said, let’s boldly go!


  1. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

In truth, Insurrection is not really a terrible film; it has an interesting story, worthy themes, and an incredibly solid villain played by F. Murray Abraham. But it also plays like an extended version of a boring Next Generation television episode, and as a result becomes such a forgettable slog. At a brisk 103 minutes, it feels twice as long, and is incredibly inconsistent in its tone. While other Star Trek films are objectively worse, none are as forgettable as Insurrection.


  1. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Nemesis is objectively a bad film, and arguably worse than Insurrection. But Nemesis does at least take chances, and even in its failures has a few fascinations. Seeing a young Tom Hardy as the villainous Shinzon (a “Picard clone” of sorts) was both strange and silly, in the best yet worst ways. And Data’s sacrificial action at the end was fairly ballsy (despite its obvious mirroring of The Wrath of Khan). But Nemesis ultimately becomes a murky dirge, a complete miscalculation, and evidence the saga was really beginning to run out of gas.


  1. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Sometimes a movie is so bad you just have to see it, just so you can fathom that it was actually made.  The Final Frontier is widely considered the worst of the series, and objectively speaking it is; with Shatner himself in the director’s chair, the film replaces all its worthy “Trekkie” themes with pure selfish ego, centering on a preachy story about meeting an alien claiming to be God. It honestly doesn’t get any worse than this one, but its awfulness is so ridiculous that I just can’t put it at the bottom spot.


  1. Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Generations finds itself mostly saved by goodhearted nostalgia; seeing both Picard and Kirk onscreen together was a thing of beauty in its own way (despite Kirk’s nearly embarrassing finale). Where Generations falls apart is in its horrendous balancing of tone, and delivers some of the worst “funny” bits of the franchise. Although, having a villain played by the great Malcom McDowell was a slight added charm. As a result, Generations is simply just another entry in the franchise, nothing more or nothing less.


  1. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

The Undiscovered Country sees the return of Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer, and to many this one is considered one of the best films in the franchise. I can see why many feel this way; it recaptures what objectively made some of its earlier films so great, features a heartfelt sendoff to our original cast, and is very thematically relevant without being too on the nose, as it parallels the at-the-time Cold War conflict between the U.S. and Russia. My issue with the film is that I just never found the Klingon Empire (in this film specifically) all that interesting, and always saw them as rather dull and lifeless; even with a great actor like Christopher Plummer at the helm, it never reaches the heights of the better Trek villains (though, not really sure you can call them villains in this one, which does add to its social charm). As a result, the film just feels like a smaller entry, and one I don’t necessarily come back to as often. Nevertheless, the film is well paced and keeps your attention using its “who done it” mystery structure, and that fitting farewell is full of heart.  Not to mention Kirk’s infamous “Let them die” moment is quite riveting.


  1. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Into Darkness is almost interchangeable with my ranking of The Undiscovered Country, but Into Darkness just edges out for me in pure exhilaration and fun. But everything it has in pure joy, it loses in what is arguably one of the most bloated scripts of the entire franchise. The truth is, Into Darkness has no idea what it wants to be, and instead chooses to be too much; it is a fun new adventure, a festival of Trekkie Easter Eggs, and a brief remake of The Wrath of Khan (seriously, they need to stop doing this). As a result, it is the messiest of the Trek films, one whose messiness even renders Cumberbatch into a nearly useless villain (I wonder how much of this can be attributed to co-writer Damon Lindelof). But returning director J.J Abrams still understands these newly realized characters, and both the action and humor is so on point that you can’t help but still have fun with this more than solid entry.


  1. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

In some ways The Search for Spock has become a rather divisive film in the franchise, some who really appreciate it for embracing its fascinating weirdness and others who find it rather dull and undoing. I tend to fall on both ends of that spectrum, but can’t deny that when the film is good, it’s incredible. The best moments revolve around the exploration of the new alien world of the “Genesis Planet”, formed at the end of The Wrath of Khan. And one cannot forget the wonderful stealing of the Enterprise scene, and Kirk’s own sacrifice to the Enterprise itself, a powerful act with poignant nostalgia. But the “resurrection” of Spock’s soul and the Klingon villains (including a pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd) bog the film down at times, creating a sometimes disjointed experience. Not to mention, it essentially undoes one of the best character deaths in science fiction, but in a truly oddball way which deserves a slight bit of credit. It’s one of those films where the good moments mostly outweigh the bad, and as a result I find it a slightly underrated film in the franchise.


  1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Okay I’ll admit, I’m a defender of this film. And to be honest, this is where I would start calling the Star Trek films great. Yes, it is incredibly slow, self-indulgent in its visuals, and sometimes hard to get through (it is nicknamed “The Motionless Picture” after all). But in all its bland imperfections, I find this to be the most fascinating film in the franchise, and for mostly good reasons. Like the original series, The Motion Picture is thematically all about human discovery, especially through the eyes of old age, further reflected in what director Robert Wise and crew were attempting to do in its filmmaking. The vibrant and colorful effects not only create a sense of wonder as to what is truly out there, but it also juxtaposes the bland and colorless day-to-day view of Starfleet (it is a job after all), and its plodding pace makes for a sense of methodical contemplation; it has much more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky’s Solaris than anything else. Sure, a lot of these visuals don’t hold up anymore, but those that do I still find myself lingering on with absolute wonder. Plus, it’s an added charm seeing the entire Enterprise crew getting back together. Not to mention, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is arguably the best of the entire franchise.


  1. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

First Contact is widely considered the definitive Next Generation film, and I have to agree. Unlike Generations and Insurrection, First Contact utilizes its film budget accordingly, creating a pulpy, thrilling, and exhilarating thrill ride; it almost plays out like a sci-fi horror film at times. Not to mention, it gives us one of the Enterprise crew’s most threatening adversaries in the Borg, whose Borg Queen (Alice Krige) is truly frightening. First Contact also starts off with a literal bang, and a risky one, in which the Borg actually win and destroy Earth (now that is daring). And speaking of “bang”, First Contact surprisingly holds up very well visually, which was exciting to see. This is the film where Picard and his Next Generation crew really gel and come together, it’s just too bad the following films couldn’t follow suite.


  1. Star Trek (2009)

This is the film that gives me the incentive to make this list today. After Nemesis, it was clear that Star Trek had boldly came and went, until J.J. Abrams gave us what I consider to be one of the finest reboots in modern cinema. With modern visual splendor, a wonderful sense of fun and charm, and a brilliant new cast, Star Trek completely resurrected the franchise. Easily the most action-packed film in the saga (it almost plays like Star Wars instead of Star Trek), the film was also a divider amongst the most loyal Trekkies, who say the film was not true to Star Trek. While they may be right, that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. On top of that, the film’s unique approach to an alternate timeline allowed this film to act as both a sequel and a reboot for the franchise (until Into Darkness came and got too caught up in fan service). Yes, there are some script issues, narrative contrivances, and a villain played by Eric Bana who just isn’t given enough to do, but all that is replaced by genuine heart, drama, and excitement, with an ultimate desire to see even more of these new films with this new cast. Great work Abrams.


  1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

It’s no question; The Voyage Home is ludicrous, on the nose, and downright silly. But it knows it. As a result, it is easily the most joyful Star Trek film ever made, and the most unique. This is the film where Kirk and his crew travel back in time to save the humpback whales, who have since gone extinct in the 23rd Century, and only the whales can communicate with a strange alien probe that is threatening Earth. Yes, that is really its plot. And for a movie about whales, it’s ironic that this is one of my all-time favorite “fish out of water” entertainments (yes, I realize whales are actually mammals). Watching Kirk and his crew navigate through 1980’s San Francisco makes for not just the most hilarious moments of the franchise, but of any science fiction film, and continues in the Star Trek tradition of addressing contemporary social issues. Leonard Nimoy’s direction is so playful, and as Spock he nearly steals the show (“What do they mean by Exact Change?”). Plus, the relationship that forms between Kirk and Gillian is purely charming. Sure, its allusions to the then Saves the Whales campaign is quite obvious, but credit must be given to a blockbuster film willing to address social commentary like this in such a positive way. Plus, it’s just so damn fun!


  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

What else could it be? Not only is The Wrath of Khan objectively the best and most important Star Trek film, it’s one of my favorite sci-fi adventures of all time. Working on a much smaller budget than its predecessor The Motion Picture, director Nicholas Meyer makes use of its lighter visual splendor in favor of character, story, drama, and thematic heartbreak. The Motion Picture only briefly touched on the notions of old age, but The Wrath of Khan embodies it fully; Kirk constantly questions his purpose, and soon realizes his flaws in choosing to always cheat death rather than face it. Khan himself (arguably the best Trek villain played by the great Ricardo Montalban, returning from his appearance in the episode “Space Seed”), is an understandably multi-dimensional villain, one whose anger and hatred for Kirk is actually earned. He represents the mistakes of Kirk’s past, and Kirk’s inability to face death properly, and only Spock’s sacrifice at the end can give Kirk the spiritual rebirth he needs. As a result, The Wrath of Khan is one of the best science fiction movies made about old age and sacrifice, and it remains untouched. Lump in the joy, humor, heart, and action that makes Star Trek what it truly is, and it becomes the best in the franchise.

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  1. Film Music Central

    It’s interesting that you compare Insurrection to an extended episode of the Next Generation television series, because that’s the criticism that’s usually levelled at Generations

    • InSession Film

      Yeah I’ve heard that comparison to Generations as well, and do think
      there is validity in that criticism. What makes Insurrection feel even
      more like an extended episode have mostly to do with aesthetics; it just
      feels so much smaller and under quality, especially visually, but
      Generations is not far behind in that department either. – Brendan