Just as the Star Trek TV series have gone through a bunch of different phases, eras, and Enterprise crews, so have the movies. The first batch starred the cast of The Original Series, the second batch starred the cast of The Next Generation, and the most recent films have been set in what J.J. Abrams has called “the Kelvin Timeline.”
Some of these movies have been great, considered to be classics of science fiction cinema, while others have left a lot to be desired, failing to live up to the legendary Star Trek name. Some have been certified a high “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, while others have been slapped with the dreaded “rotten” label. Here is Every Star Trek Movie, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes Score.
A Star Trek movie where the crew of the Enterprise is confronted by God could’ve been something truly spectacular. It could’ve been a sci-fi movie for the ages, reflecting on the future of humanity, the validity of religion, and the human need to find life’s greater meaning. Seeing everyone’s reactions to hard evidence of the existence of God could’ve produced breathtaking performances.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, a botch job that was unsurprisingly awarded the franchise’s lowest score by Rotten Tomatoes. The worst thing about the film is that it doesn’t stay true to the characters – Spock and Bones would never, ever betray Kirk!
Aside from the novelty of seeing a pre-fame Tom Hardy as a clone of Picard created by the Romulans, Star Trek: Nemesis is a pretty dreadful movie. The focus here seems to be more on action, whereas Star Trek’s strength has always been providing thought-provoking, philosophical musings about space travel and human discovery, punctuated by action scenes. With just action, it feels hollow.
It was so bad that it failed at the box office and a sequel to follow it up was canned. The Star Trek canon has entirely ignored Nemesis until this year, when CBS All Access’ Picard-focused spin-off series will finally acknowledge the events of the movie and show their aftermath.
Talk about getting off to a bad start. Star Trek: The Motion Picture kicks off what would become a long-running film series by falling into all the trappings of a movie adaptation of a TV show – it feels like an extended episode of the series, rather than a movie, and it fails to take its characters and their arcs to the next level with the extra runtime allowed by a feature film to explore them.
To top it all off, there’s basically no action; the plot is conveyed almost entirely through dialogue (dialogue that seems to have been hashed together from random notes jotted down in a writers’ room) and the big villain is an alien cloud, and you can’t exactly punch a cloud or shoot a cloud.
Just like The Original Series’ cast’s first foray onto the big screen was a bitter disappointment, so was The Next Generation’s cast’s. A movie in which, through a time vortex, James T. Kirk is able to team up with Jean-Luc Picard to take on a threat that neither of them could handle alone might sound amazing on paper, but in practice, it’s just another missed opportunity.
The plot of a Star Trek movie – and, indeed, any episode of one of the TV shows worth its salt – needs to be lively and exciting, and tragically, the plot of Generations is bland and boring, trotting along at a snail’s pace. The sad thing is, fans really wanted it to be good, so the disappointment was even more crushing.
Somewhere in the middle is a pretty accurate ranking for Insurrection. It’s an agreeable movie: it doesn’t slap Trekkies in the face like some of the worst Star Trek movies (looking at you, The Final Frontier), but at the same time, it doesn’t go above and beyond like the best ones do.
The plot is a little generic and the script has sort of a designed-by-committee vibe, but Patrick Stewart is as great as ever in the role of Picard (proof that, no matter how his new CBS All Access spin-off turns out, there will still be something to enjoy if Stewart brings his A-game). On the whole, this movie falls into the “good, not great” category.
It made sense to bring Spock back to life, since he’s one of the most popular characters in the series, and it didn’t ruin the emotion of his death scene in The Wrath of Khan, because bringing him back from the dead – stealing the Enterprise, heading to Vulcan, getting Spock’s spirit out of Bones’ head – is difficult enough that it doesn’t feel like a retcon.
The threequel has strong religious themes and lofty, ambitious takes on the subjects of life, death, and rebirth, while the action sequences are well-paced to allow for plenty of character moments. The Search for Spock is far from a perfect movie, but it’s also far from a bad one.
After the harrowing disappointment of The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country felt like a refreshing return to form, with the right balance of action sequences, character moments, and thoughtful commentary to make it a Star Trek outing to remember.
In it, a Klingon politician is assassinated and Kirk is blamed, leading to a healthy combination of political allegories and thrilling set pieces. And on top of being an intriguing story and a more than decent movie in its own right, The Undiscovered Country offers a bittersweet send-off for the cast of The Original Series, before the line-up of The Next Generation would take over the film series.
There were a few franchises in the wake of The Dark Knight’s success that got a darker reboot or sequel, and a lot of them really didn’t suit that tone. Fantastic Four was one of them; Star Trek was another. Star Trek has always been defined by its social commentary (using future settings to discuss present-day issues), and this sequel honors that by tackling the subject of terrorism.
However, the earlier Star Trek material was never this on-the-nose in its commentary, and this one never says anything deeper or smarter than “Terrorism is bad!” Plus, fans could see the Khan twist coming from a mile away.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Enterprise crew returns to Earth when an alien probe attempts to contact humpback whales, then travels back in time upon realizing that humpback whales have gone extinct – it carries an important message, like all great Star Trek stories: an environmentalist one.
It takes the crew of the Enterprise out of the futuristic settings that match their futuristic costumes and gadgets and transplants them into contemporary San Francisco, a bland and unusually familiar location, and as crazy as it sounds, it actually works spectacularly as a fish-out-of-water comedy. Leonard Nimoy directed this one, so there’s a personal touch with the actors (his co-stars) that no other director would be able to achieve.
A refreshing return to a lighter tone with J.J. Abrams out of the director’s chair and off in a galaxy far, far away, Star Trek Beyond has all the bright colors and humor a Trekkie could want. As the Enterprise is destroyed and the crew is split up, stranded and left to their own devices, this threequel feels like a big-budget episode of the old series.
But it’s not an episode of a TV show; it’s a movie. So, its narrative needs to have more heft and scope than that, which leaves this one feeling a little thin and shallow. Still, with a script by self-professed Trekkies Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, it’s true to the characters and it could be a lot worse.
There’s a new trend in popular culture where, if fans respond negatively to a movie, the producers will listen to them, learn the right lessons, and deliver a sequel that makes all the necessary improvements (well, they will if they’re smart). We’ve seen it particularly in the MCU: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok etc.
Decades ago, the Star Trek producers did the same thing. They knocked it out of the park with their first sequel, The Wrath of Khan, a vast improvement over The Motion Picture, which many fans were bitterly disappointed with. Alfred Hitchcock once said that a movie is only as good as its villain, and Khan is an all-time great sci-fi bad guy.
Just as The Wrath of Khan redeemed how lame the original cast’s first movie was, First Contact redeemed the TNG cast’s much-despised big-screen debut Generations. The best Original Series films were directed by Leonard Nimoy (discounting the one terrible one directed by William Shatner), so it made sense that TNG’s first great movie was also helmed by a cast member: Jonathan Frakes, in his directorial debut.
The worst Star Trek movies don’t feel like movies at all; they feel like extra-long TV episodes. Thankfully, First Contact has its sights set higher than that, and better yet, delivered on its ambitions with the Enterprise crew’s cinematic fight against the mighty Borg.
J.J. Abrams breathed new life into the stagnant Star Trek film franchise (and defined the term “reboot”) with his big-budget 2009 spectacle. Everything about the reboot worked: the weaving of old storylines with new ones, introducing The Original Series as events from an alternate reality, and recreating iconic locations like the bridge of the Enterprise with slicker visuals than the ‘60s series would allow, without losing any of its timeless charm.
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto nailed the roles of Kirk and Spock, and their palpable chemistry anchored the whole movie with a heart as big as its blockbuster price-tag.