Star Trek has captivated countless fans throughout its many series. Often using sci-fi to tackle complex social issues, the series has managed to create a plethora of memorable and emotional moments that have stuck with viewers long after the episodes had run their course.
However, this impressive connection between the shows and their fans would have been impossible without incredible characters, particularly those that fall into the lauded position of captain.
Every Star Trek series has given us a wonderful captain to lead beloved crews on countless adventures through the cosmos, or even through the heart of battle, and it’s no surprise that it’s the captain character that many would consider their favorite.
Alas, not every captain in Star Trek is worthy of praise. In fact, there’s a sizable chunk of captains who almost sully the very essence of what it means to command a starship.
In our list, we’re going to be counting down the very best of what Starfleet has to offer in terms of leaders, spanning not only the television shows, but movies, video games and comics, too.
On the other end of the coin, we’re going to be discussing the bottom of the barrel in terms of so-called leaders. While some of them merely reflect the headline of not deserving their title, others are outright awful in terms of their horrific and amoral decision-making.
Here are The 13 Most Amazing Star Trek Captains (And 12 Who Should've Never Had Command).
25 Amazing: Nog
As the first Ferengi to ever enlist in Starfleet, Nog transitioned from an obnoxious nuisance on Deep Space Nine to a responsible leader. “The Visitor”, an episode dealing with an alternate future, features Nog as a captain, but Star Trek Online has showed that this is Nog’s destiny regardless of the timeline.
In truth, Nog rests so low on the list of the most amazing captains simply because we don’t have much first-hand knowledge of his adventures.
However, we do know that no matter the timeline, he is a well-respected leader.
24 Never Should’ve Had Command: Keogh
Keogh almost doesn’t belong on this list. He’s not an imbecile and he doesn’t have bad traits - in fact, Captain Keogh was an extremely competent captain, perhaps even one of the best. So why is he here?
With the USS Odyssey, Keogh’s mission was to rescue Sisko from the Gamma Quadrant, where he had been captured by the still-unknown Jem’Hadar. Despite being outgunned by the Jem’Hadar, Keogh holds fast waiting for Sisko, dooming the thousands aboard his ship.
While his last stand is admirable, and successfully saved Sisko and crew, his sacrifice seems almost needless as “the needs of the many” should outweigh the needs of the few.
23 Amazing: Geordi La Forge
Geordi La Forge is a fan-favorite from Star Trek: The Next Generation thanks to not only his iconic, VISOR-wearing look, but also his depth as a character. According to Star Trek Online, Geordi returned to Starfleet and became the captain of the USS Challenger, with Nog serving as his chief engineer (before his own ascent to the rank of captain.)
Like with Nog, there isn’t much solid information to go no regarding his captaincy, but simply by considering what we already know of Geordi, it makes sense that his cool temperament and extensive knowledge easily make him a great leader.
22 Never Should’ve Had Command: George Kirk
Thor may be the God of Thunder, but he’s not a great captain. To be fair, though, upon his “promotion” to Captain in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, George wasn’t exactly dealt a good hand.
The USS Kelvin, already in on its last legs, was up against a force it could not possibly contend with, so George opted to ram it into the enemy vessel.
While it can be argued that this was the best course of action, we also want to make it clear that George is nearly the least undeserving of his title on this list. He was simply dealt a bad hand and did what he could. It just wasn’t enough.
21 Amazing: Worf
Worf never became a captain, at least not officially, but we had to mention him anyway. From his uptight debut on the Next Generation, where nearly every plan he had was tossed aside by Captain Picard, to Deep Space Nine, where he was finally cut loose to destroy his enemies (and get married in the process), Worf is yet another beloved fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why.
Worf’s heritage and tactical knowledge gave him an easily identifiable advantage when it came to commanding of the USS Defiant against the Borg, and he clearly had no problem rallying an enthusiastic crew.
20 Never Should’ve Had Command: Clark Terrell
Much like George Kirk, Clark Terrell was dealt a bad hand. While considered “strong” by Chekov, Terrell became involved the questionable Genesis Project, and foolishly investigated the world of Ceti Alpha VI, which was a major faux pas that put the evil Khan’s plans into motion.
To be fair, Terrell did redeem himself by resisting the Ceti eels and disintegrating himself, but he really shouldn’t have gotten involved with both the Genesis Project, careless exploration, and eventual plot by Khan in the first place. Besides, we much prefer actor Paul Winfield as Dathon in “Darmok” anyway.
19 Amazing: Data
Yet another Star Trek: The Next Generation character who is held in the highest of regards, this android’s extensive knowledge, reaction speeds and surprisingly endearing personality made him a perfect candidate to the captaincy, and that’s exactly what the comic, Star Trek: Countdown, shows us.
As captain of the Enterprise-E, Data demonstrates exceptional tact and restraint, but he also maintains his trademark curiosity, which he seamlessly incorporates into his deft leadership style.
Though we don’t get to see too much of Data as a captain, what we do see is enough to convince he belongs on this list.
18 Never Should’ve Had Command: Richard Robau
In all honesty, there’s only very little information about the captaincy of Richard Robau aboard the USS Kelvin. Even so, there’s enough head-scratching moments there to make a genuinely bad impression of the guy.
When Nero’s Narada emerged from a black hole 153 years in the past, Robau and the Kelvin investigated were immediately attacked. Robau then headed over to the Narada to negotiate, but was eliminated by Nero in a fit of anger. This all seems okay at first glance, but even with a destroyed warp drive, there was certainly a better option than going into a clearly hostile vessel.
17 Amazing: Gabriel Lorca
In all honesty, we debated the inclusion of Gabriel Lorca on this list. No, it’s not because of Star Trek: Discovery’s extremely polarizing reception, but rather the quality of Lorca’s character. On the surface, he appears to be a seasoned leader and trustworthy captain, but in reality, he was an agent of the villainous Mirror Universe.
Abusing his power, fostering alliances, and creating friendships with the sole-intent of warping them to his own ambitions, Lorca was a dangerous man, but his tactical genius and exceptional decision-making defined him as a great captain, whether we like it or not.
16 Never Should’ve Had Command: Marcus Alexander
Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the worst Trek movies to ever exist, as it is filled to the brim with wasted potential, misguided direction, and enormously ham-fisted attempts to ape the far superior Wrath of Khan.
Marcus Alexander was actually far beyond the rank of captain as a Fleet Admiral, but his command of the painfully named Vengeance is enough to put him on this list.
An all-around awful person, Marcus was a warmonger, attempted to enslave Khan into designing weapons and ships for his future war, and then tried to eliminate everyone on the Enterprise so they couldn’t reveal the truth.
15 Amazing: Hikaru Sulu
Hikaru Sulu, master helmsmen of Kirk’s Enterprise, served as a skilled and reliable crew member for the original adventures of Star Trek series, and even quite a few movies. Eventually, he would receive the promotion to captain and take command of the USS Excelsior. While he ran a tight, disciplined ship, his neverending loyalty to his crew was unmatched.
Perhaps most critically, Sulu’s captaincy (and the Excelsior) played a part in the historic Khitomer Conference, which only further cemented this excellent Captain’s important role in the realm of the Star Trek franchise.
14 Never Should’ve Had Command: Nero
Nero was the Romulan captain of the former-mining vessel Narada. A perpetually angry man, Nero’s time-space disruption and destruction of the Kelvin created the entire alternate timeline that the most recent Star Trek movies have been part of.
It’s beyond us, however, that someone as lame as Nero could possibly be respected enough by his crew for them to willingly follow his lead. Nero gives out bad idea after bad idea, and doesn’t do much else but angrily gurgle and scream like a child. Sure, he’s not a Starfleet captain, but he’s still a captain - and an awful one, at that.
13 Amazing: Morgan Bateson
Morgan Bateson is an oddity on this list and also to the world of Star Trek. While time travel is certainly one of the most used tropes in nearly every season of every series in the franchise, Bateson is one of the few characters lost in time that continued to operate in the timeline he found himself trapped.
Captain of the USS Bozeman, Bateson really didn’t do much that was historic or critical in the full scheme of things, but what he failed to do in terms of importance, he made up for with honor and reliability.
This made him a captain you’d want to serve under.
12 Never Should’ve Had Command: Phillipa Georgiou
Phillipa Georgiou from Star Trek: Discovery was a short-lived character, but even in that small amount of time, she made more than enough questionable decisions as a captain to be considered for this list.
Whether it was attempting to abduct a Klingon, going against her own instincts and investigating mysterious phenomena, starting a long, bloody and entirely avoidable war or even putting herself (and thousands of others) into their graves, Georgiou has a lengthy list of failures that make us question her promotion to the captaincy in the first place.
11 Amazing: William T. Riker
This jazz-loving, trombone-playing, bearded First Officer William T. Riker finally accepted a promotion to Captain after years of refusing all command offers. Due to his excellent diplomacy skills and all manner of experiences, peaceful or otherwise, aboard the Enterprise, Riker was well-groomed and well-honed for superior command responsibilities.
As the Captain of the Titan, Will went on his own series of exciting adventures, but it was the alternate future where he became an admiral that really captivates our interest. His ascension to admiralty in a future, apocalyptic war with the Klingons proves his mettle as a leader.
10 Never Should’ve Had Command: Edward Jellico
Edward Jellico is a bit of an outlier on this list. Instead of making horrible decisions that endangered the lives of thousands, or just being a plain moron, Jellico actually knew what he was doing. If we were to describe Jellico as eloquently as possible, it would be “colossal jerk who everyone hates.” The guy is pugnacious, demands respect (instead of earning it) and, frankly, forces his elitist pride to get under the skin of just about everyone under his command.
While he did successfully save Picard from the Cardassians, he didn’t make any friends doing it.
It’s hard to follow a leader when you hate them, no matter how successful they are.
9 Amazing: Kathryn Janeway
Captain Kathryn Janeway didn’t have an easy time at the helm of the Voyager. After the ship was accidentally flung thousands of light years away into the heart of the Delta Quadrant, Janeway needed to maintain an iron grip of her crew and on their dwindling morale. Faced with the immense threat of the Borg, among others, it’s remarkable that she was able to lead the Voyager and its crew to a victorious return.
It’s that stalwart leadership that ranks Janeway among the top five of our list. Thrown into an impossible situation, never giving up, and then successfully returning home is a truly admirable chain of events.
8 Never Should’ve Had Command: John Harriman
Poor Captain John Harriman. The would-be captain of the latest (at the time) Enterprise, he quickly found himself overpowered and bowing to James T. Kirk in the opening of Star Trek: Generations.
It’s not just this immediate relinquishing of command in the face of a challenge, either, but also the clear display of utter ineptitude at not only running a starship and commanding a crew. In short, despite inexplicably being given the most famous ship in the entirety of Starfleet, John Harriman still had no business being a captain.
7 Amazing: Jonathan Archer
While Star Trek: Enterprise receives very little love when compared to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the original series, it doesn’t mean that Captain Archer wasn’t a superb captain, because he absolutely was.
Tasked with the burden of pioneering what would eventually become the Starfleet we know and love, Archer faced every new friend, challenge, and threat the best he could, without ever backing down.
Sure, he still had his negative moments, but with being responsible for such an incredible charge, we really can’t complain too much.
6 Never Should’ve Had Command: Matt Decker
When you’re a starship captain, you’re responsible for the lives of hundreds to thousands of crewmen, who all look to you for guidance, support, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, keeping them safe. Matt Decker failed every single last one of these requirements.
In the original series, Captain Decker and his ship were on a survey mission when he decided to not only beam down red shirts, but his entire crew. Moments later, they were destroyed by the titular “Doomsday Machine.” Upon being rescued by the Enterprise, Decker tries to seize control and have the ship ram into the dreaded machine, but then opts to hop into a shuttlecraft and crash into the device himself.
5 Amazing: James T. Kirk
What can we say about James T. Kirk that hasn’t been said already? Equal parts charismatic diplomat, fiery captain, respected leader, and ladiesman, Kirk was the key to many of Starfleet’s successes.
Often compared to a reckless cowboy for his improvisations and rule-bending (or breaking), Kirk showed his crew that deviating from the expected course to do what’s right is a valuable trait, and this rubbed off on just about everyone who served under his command. Sure, he may not be the model Starfleet captain, but that certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the best.
4 Never Should’ve Had Command: Khan
For a genetically engineered superhuman and stunning genius, Khan is an embarrassingly awful captain. Sure, he’s not a member of Starfleet, but he did command the USS Reliant in battle against the Enterprise. He also failed miserably.
Outsmarted by the genetically inferior Kirk and his equally inferior crew, and outgunned by a practically crippled Enterprise, Khan’s superiority appeared as nothing more than joke.
Khan, for all his power and all of his intelligence, somehow never took the time to fully understand the ship he had stolen and plunged into battle, leading to a defeat that a worthy captain might have escaped from.
3 Amazing: Jean Luc Picard
Jean Luc Picard has not only saved countless worlds and civilizations, but the universe itself. That’s certainly worthy of having near the top of our list, but its who he is as a person that really matters.
Devoted to knowledge and understanding, Picard’s diplomatic solutions and his logical approach to nearly every situation is something that so many others (in not only Star Trek, but our own world) could learn from. He’s also unafraid to fall back on his skilled team, whom he trusts implicitly. With immense poise, a caring demeanor, and a genuine desire to do good, Jean Luc is an ideal leader.
2 Never Should’ve Had Command: Beverly Picard
While compiling the list of the most amazing captains, the thought occurred to us that quite of few confirmed Trek captains seem to have been the title on nothing more than a whim or perhaps to please fans. Beverly Picard is, sadly, one of those.
Appearing in the future timeline within The Next Generation’s finale, Beverly Picard, ex-wife of Jean Luc, is the captain of medical ship USS Pasteur. While we suppose this makes sense in some way, we’re not sure how her admittedly incredible medical skills would transition to captaincy, and we don’t really buy it.
1 Amazing: Benjamin Sisko
Vexed, bellicose, and war criminal - these three words can easily describe Captain Sisko, but so can honorable, compassionate, and fatherly. Indeed, it’s the combination of each and every one of Captain Sisko’s traits that create the most human and most amazing captain to ever grace Star Trek.
Sisko’s incredible love for his son and his never-ending compassion for his crew made him a true leader, but so did his ability to tell hard truths or stand defiant in the face of defeat (from both the outside and within.) Sisko felt like everything and everyone in the war was on his shoulders, and instead of letting that scare him, he took full responsibility, like a true captain.
What do you think? Who do you think is Star Trek's best (and worst) captain? Let us know in the comments!