Everyone remembers Kirk’s classic TV series moments on Star Trek: his battle with the Gorn, his irresistible charm with women, his fighting style (especially when he uses his legs to kick away his enemy and then flip himself back up), and the twinkle in his eye when he says he’s doing one thing, but planning another.
What we’re exploring here, however, is big screen Kirk; we’re looking at all of his best moments in the movies, which includes both William Shatner and the new Kirk, Chris Pine. Both actors have embraced Kirk in all of his glory, whether he’s furious, delighted, amused, cocky, or perplexed. He’s a larger-than-life character, which is why there’s an abundance of showy, entertaining Kirk moments on the big screen, whether he’s just beginning his journey into space or nearing its bittersweet end. We’ve narrowed the list down quite a bit; no doubt you’ll let us know which ones we missed. These are Captain Kirk’s 16 Best Movie Moments.
16. “What Does God Need With A Starship?”
Sometimes you can get a great moment out of a substandard movie, in this case, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Fans will argue over the camping scene and whether it was charming or annoying, but the movie itself is a hard sell, with Spock’s human half brother Sybok (played by an oddly chosen Laurence Luckinbill, although he does give it his all) converting everybody to his particular brand of fanaticism by getting them in touch with their pain. “I need my pain!” says our intrepid Captain, with his trademark passion.
When they fly through the barrier to meet God, or rather, the entity that Sybok is insisting is God, he’s just what your average white American expects him to look like: an old white man with a flowing beard and a huge head. When he asks Sybok to help him cross the barrier in the Enterprise, Kirk knows it’s time to step up. He almost raises his hand, as if he’s in a classroom.
“What does God need with a starship?” he asks. McCoy is appalled. Kirk pushes it, raising his finger up. “What does God need with a starship?” he asks again. It’s the same thing everyone in the audience is thinking, and he says it exactly the way we would, for the win. (And no, God is not amused.)
15. “Admirals Don’t Fly, Do They”
Near the beginning of Star Trek Beyond, Kirk has a conversation with Commodore Paris about a possible promotion to Vice Admiral, a job that will keep him in one place instead of running around the galaxy. We all know how much Shatner’s Kirk regretted his promotion, and want to shout out, “Don’t do it!” but it was a pretty safe bet that he’d change his mind. He did.
He did. At the end of the movie, Kirk is back with Commodore Paris, and the ordeal he’s been through, instead of adding to his voyage fatigue, has rejuvenated him. He knows why he matters, and why Starfleet matters, and the idea of sitting at a desk on a space station has lost its appeal. When Paris offers him the position, he gets a familiar Kirk-twinkle in his eye. “Admirals don’t fly, do they?” he asks her. She admits that they don’t. “Where’s the fun in that?” he says.
14. “We love Italian”
The obvious choice from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a fun, fish-out-of-water time travel movie, is when Kirk yells “Double dumb ass on you!” at an irate driver, but we went for something else. The main story line of the this one may be that Earth is in danger of being destroyed and needs extinct whales to save it, but once the crew travels back to the 1980s, the movie is mostly about having fun.
When Dr. Gillian Taylor is perplexed by Kirk and Spock‘s outfits, language, and general behavior, Kirk decides that the best way to explain it to her is over dinner. She thinks about it, and her curiosity gets the best of her. She relents. “You guys like Italian?” she asks.
Kirk looks at Spock, Spock looks at Kirk. They go back and forth with their yesses and nos in a bit of an old school comedy routine, and then Kirk takes command.“Yes. I love Italian and so do you.” Spock accepts the order, and gives his final answer to the question that mystified him so. “Yes.” And off they go.
13. “I’ll Do Anything You Want, Just Let Them Live”
This heroic moment from Star Trek Into Darkness really strengthens that tie between Chris Pine’s incarnation of the character and William Shatner’s.
When he finds out that his enemy isn’t Khan—yet—but that it’s actually a Starfleet Admiral who is supposed to be on his side, it still takes him a while to understand just how far Admiral Marcus is willing to go. Marcus beams his daughter back from the Enterprise, to get her out of harm’s way, and that’s when Kirk realizes the rest of the crew is in for it.
There’s the fun Kirk, who likes to take risks and make wisecracks and handle himself in a bit of a reckless way, but here he reminds us that he’s more than that. He steps up to the heavy burden of command, and tells Admiral Marcus that he and he alone is responsible for the actions of his crew. He tells Marcus he will do anything he wants if he lets the crew live. He means every word.
Marcus isn’t having it. “That’s a hell of an apology. But if it’s any consolation, I was never going to spare your crew.”
12. Kirk Admits He Hates Klingons
One of the central philosophies in Star Trek is that it takes place in a world where humans have already worked out our differences, united as a planet, wiped out hunger and poverty, and have learned to embrace diversity in all of its combinations. So it’s a brave moment for Kirk in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when he admits to Spock that he harbors deep anger against the entire Klingon race. He’s tasked with a diplomatic mission that will put them on his ship and make him responsible for their safety, thanks to Spock’s interference, and it’s the last thing he wants to do. He’s furious with Spock for setting the whole thing up.“How could you vouch for me?” he asks. “That’s arrogant presumption.” Them’s fighting words for these two, who haven’t been in conflict like this before, at least not in the Prime universe.
One Klingon killed Kirk’s son, and he blames them all for it, and admits it. Shatner plays it beautifully, knowing he’s not supposed to think what he does, knowing he thinks it anyway, and aware that he still has one final mission to carry out. In the end, Kirk and crew save the Klingons after all, or at least the right ones, and find closure in their very last movie together as a united group, but it was a struggle to get there, and this conversation shows us that the tactical challenges were no less difficult than the internal ones, and can be mirrored in all of us.
11. Kirk Dies
In an homage to Spock’s legendary death scene in The Wrath of Khan, the Kelvin universe Star Trek: Into Darkness explores the question “What if Kirk had sacrificed himself instead of Spock?” What starts out as a tribute becomes a powerful scene all by itself, as Kirk reveals that he is, after all, afraid of dying. Kirk has been accused of cheating death in both universes, and this time, he knows his luck has run out. “This is what you would have done,” he tells Spock, and we know it’s true, because Spock already did it.
Then he admits he’s scared, which is too much for Spock, and the two men are crying together, and realizing the strength and importance of their friendship at the same time. Although Spock’s outcry “Khaaaaan!” isn’t as powerful as Shatner’s original, the death of Kirk is every bit as moving and tearjerking as the movie to which it is a tribute.
10. “Captain, Is There Something Wrong With Your Chair?”
At the beginning of Star Trek Generations, Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are on board the Enterprise for a press event, as the first new captain of it since Kirk takes charge. Captain Harriman hardly seems like the best man to take on the legacy, and not only because he’s played by Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Dude, this is so much more expensive than your father’s car.)
They’re supposed to take a “quick run around the block,” but they pick up a distress call, and Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov watch from the sidelines as a slightly helpless Harriman tries to handle it without benefit of all of their equipment; the tractor beam hasn’t even been installed yet. As Harriman struggles, Kirk squirms and twitches, paralyzed by the conflict of wanting to take over and knowing he’s not supposed to. At this point, it’s still being played for laughs. “Captain, is there something wrong with your chair?” Scotty asks him.
9. Kirk Pretends He’s Not Going To Steal The Enterprise
This is a short scene but a good one from The Search for Spock. Kirk has determined two important facts: one, the Genesis planet may be the place that can save Spock’s body; and two, his consciousness (katra) lives on in Dr. McCoy. He brings this information to Admiral Morrow, Commander of Starfleet, who has already told him that the Enterprise is to be decommissioned, and asks to take it out for one last go. Morrow is clear: only the science team is allowed on Genesis, and the ship is not in shape for another journey.
There’s a moment here that’s pure James Kirk, when he realizes that he’s not going to change the Admiral’s mind. You can almost see the cogs in his brain turning as he shifts his tone. “I hear you,” he says with just the right level of smile. “I had to try.” This tricks Morrow, but it doesn’t trick us. A minute later Kirk meets up with Sulu and Chekov, who want to know if he had any luck getting his ship back.
8. Kirk Wears His Glasses In Front Of Khan And Saavik
Five minutes earlier, Kirk didn’t even know Khan was still alive, let alone that he’d been harboring a vendetta for decades, waiting for his chance at revenge. Now Khan has fired on the Enterprise before they could get their shields up, and they’ve been crippled. He wants all the data on Genesis, or he’ll destroy them. Kirk asks for more time, and Khan ungenerously gives him sixty seconds. Damn.
But Kirk, as always, has a plan up his sneaky little sleeve. He has to put on a bit of a show, since Khan can see him through the viewscreen, but as he leans over a panel he explains his real strategy to Saavik and crew: he’s finding the prefix code that will give him control of Reliant, the Federation ship Khan has stolen.
And in the midst of danger and cleverness and secret plans, what does our brave Captain do? He takes out a delicate, little pair of reading glasses and perches them on the end of his nose. He squints through them, finds the right code, and punches them in. Reliant’s shields go down, and the Enterprise fires. He’s saved the ship again, thanks to some by-the-book knowledge and a pair of granny glasses.
7. Kirk Saves Jaylah
Jaylah‘s already saved various members of the Enterprise crew by now, so isn’t it about time someone jumped in to save her? And jump, he does.
Star Trek Beyond was a lot of fun, but one of its less credible choices included Kirk finding a working motorcyle on an abandoned ship. Still, it came in handy, when it was time to rescue the crew. Kirk provided a distraction by combining it with Jaylah’s technology to make it look like there were multiple Kirks on multiple motorcycles, and the crew got away safely. In the end, Jaylah was left to face the man who’d killed her father, and it looked like her worst fears were coming true.
Since she already saved Scotty, Kirk, Chekov, and pretty much everyone else, Kirk refuses to leave her behind. He jumps off the motorcyle as it’s leaping through the air, gets thrown towards her, and grabs her arms just as the transporter beam activates. It’s a fun little stunt that adds some emotional depth, as in that moment, Jaylah has become a part of the team, and they won’t leave her behind.
6. The Captains Make An Omelette
Here’s what’s so great about this scene. Throughout this entire movie, Star Trek Generations, we’ve been waiting for Kirk and Picard to meet. The trailer showed it, all the hype was about it, it was the biggest thing to happen to Star Trek in years. Then, finally, it happens, the moment we’ve been anticipating since the first promos came out, and what does Kirk do? He makes an omelette.
It’s fantastic! How can you not love that James Kirk is so good, so practiced at making omelettes, that he cracks the egg with one hand? That’s a total chef move. He cracks, he whisks, he asks Picard for some dill (!), then makes Picard whisk while he’s getting something out of the cupboard.
5. Kirk Agrees To Help Picard
Another gem of a Kirk-Picard moment from Generations. The omelette has been made and delivered, so a newly domesticated Captain Kirk goes horseback riding. We know William Shatner loves almost nothing more than horses, he’s clearly an expert rider, and we know that Picard, who once went back to the Enterprise just for a saddle, is not going to hesitate to follow him.
So now we’re on a level playing field, no more cooking, and Kirk has just discovered that life without an adrenaline rush holds no thrill for him. He warns Picard never to retire, never to step out of the Captain’s chair, and then he says, “I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim?” Of course they are! We wouldn’t have it any other way. And history is made. They do battle, save the day, Kirk gets his death scene, and peace is restored to the universe.
4. Spock’s Funeral
Another gem from Wrath of Khan, and a scene permanently embedded in the memories of pretty much every Star Trek fan in the world. Before they jettison Spock’s coffin tube out to the Genesis planet, the crew gathers for their last farewell. They’re all silent, and Kirk, who is grieving more than anyone else, must make the speech, for he is their leader.
The beauty of this moment is how he has to force the words out. There’s some great writing here, as he offers tribute to his best friend and comrade, but it’s also about Shatner’s delivery, as he makes every word look like a struggle. He is the Captain, and his job is to provide the strength the rest of his crew needs. He can’t burst out crying at a moment like this, but he’s on the edge of it the whole time, and when he spits out that line,“He was the most… human” the emotion just catches him. In a movie full of big emotional scenes, it packs one of the biggest punches.
3. Kirk Cries at Pike’s Death
Star Trek fans have a lot of issues with the JJ Abrams films, and particularly, especially, enormously, with Into Darkness, but it’s full of great little moments, mostly due to to the cast. This is one of them.
There’s been a battle, and Christopher Pike, who’s been Kirk’s mentor, supporter, and inspiration, dies. Spock is with him at his moment of death, and then Kirk comes running up and sees what he doesn’t want to believe is real. But it is. There are no words here, because Kirk and Spock don’t need them; they are both in shock and in pain. And Kirk cries.
It’s a beautiful, emotional, key scene for this character who mastered Jim Kirk’s bluster perfectly from the get-go in 2009’s Star Trek, but now shows us that he is capable of so much more. He gives us Kirk’s depth and his loneliness, his sense of loss because of his father and for the man who stepped in to fill that role for him. He shows that a Captain doesn’t lose his strength when he gives in to sorrow, that life and death matters, and that no matter how far he goes into space or what adventures he has, he is, and always shall be, deeply human.
2. David Marcus Dies
Star Trek giveth, and Star Trek taketh away. In The Wrath of Khan, Kirk gets a son, David Marcus, and in The Search For Spock, he loses him.
David, Saavik, and a young, evolving Spock are down on the Genesis planet, held hostage by Klingons who want Genesis. To prove he’s serious, the Klingon commander (Christopher Lloyd) tells Kirk he’s going to kill one of the hostages. As an audience, we are almost expecting it to be Saavik. She doesn’t deserve it, but the other choices are Spock and Kirk’s son, so it seems as if it’s going to be a last-minute rescue or a farewell to Robin Curtis, who was replacing Kirstie Alley and was therefore, somehow, less essential.
But David does exactly what his father would do; he jumps in to save the others. There’s a struggle, but then he’s killed, rather brutally, and Saavik delivers the bad news to his father.
The shock of it sends Jim Kirk reeling. The physical movement he makes here, where he falls back, is so natural and unexpected, and so deeply enveloped in sorrow that you feel the loss right along with him. We’ve never seen Kirk falter like that before, and it’s unforgettable.
There’s no question – this has to be number one. It was tempting to put it at #15, just to get it out of the way, but this is the most loved, most parodied, most imitated, most memed, most memorable moment in all of Star Trek movie history, Kirk or no Kirk. Say what you will about William Shatner, sometimes the guy just delivers in a way no one else can.
Kirk has been trying to bait Khan, to get him down to the Genesis planet so he can take him on, but Khan is too smart for that, and tells Kirk, with relish, that he’s leaving him behind, “…marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet.”
Then he says, “Buried alive,” a couple of times, in a dramatic whisper, for emphasis.
So that’s why Kirk has to one-up him. Not only does he give us this awesome facial expression while he yells, we get to hear it echo in space, above the dead planet, as Kirk realizes Khan has slipped his grasp. An instant classic.