Which Star Trek series is the best one of all? Star Trek is one of pop culture's most enduring franchises and has been a staple of television since The Original Series was created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966. In fact, every decade since has had at least one new Star Trek series on the air, with the franchise reaching its peak (and oversaturation) in the 1990s when Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager were all broadcast.
Star Trek: The Original Series spawned an animated series and five live-action spinoffs (so far) consisting of both sequels and prequels, encompassing hundreds of hours of television, as well as 13 Star Trek movies. Since the franchise has been around for 53 years, Star Trek has multiple generations of fans who were brought to the future by various different series or films. Star Trek has also encompassed every kind of sci-fi story, from cerebral time travel adventures to complex political allegories to high-octane space adventure. Every Star Trek series is someone's favorite and every fan wants different things from Star Trek, but at its core, fans are drawn to its optimistic vision of the future and Star Trek's multitude of endearing characters, whether its the brave starship captains like James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, and Katherine Janeway or intriguing aliens like the half-Vulcan Spock, the Ferengi Quark, or the Kelpien Saru.
From 2005-2017, the Star Trek franchise experienced a lull with no new TV series on the air until the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. Today, Star Trek is on the cusp on a thrilling new expansion with the creation of the Star Trek Global Franchise Group, which will oversee the creation of several new Star Trek series in different genres. In a few years' time, ranking the many different Star Trek series will become even more challenging, but for now, here is our ranking of seven existing Star Trek shows to date.
7. Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series aired on NBC for 2 seasons spanning 22 half-hour episodes from 1973 to 1974. Executive produced by Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana, The Animated Series was, at the time, considered to be the fourth season of Star Trek and won an Emmy in 1975 for Outstanding Entertainment - Children's Series. It featured the voices of the original Star Trek actors except for Walter Koenig, who later became the first actor to write an episode of the animated series. Koenig's Pavel Chekov was replaced by two new alien characters, Lieutenant Ares (voiced by James Doohan) and Lieutenant M'Ress (voiced by Majel Barrett).
The Animated Series featured multiple sequels to popular Star Trek episodes such as "More Tribbles, More Troubles", which followed up the events of "The Trouble With Tribbles" and saw the return of Cyrano Jones, and "Yesteryear", in which Spock used the Guardian of Forever from "City on the Edge of Forever" to travel back to his own past. The Animated Series also introduced technology like a holodeck on the Enterprise, which was called the "rec room" and was similar to the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was also in The Animated Series that James T. Kirk's middle name was revealed as "Tiberius".
The Animated Series was removed from canon at the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1 due to issues with the renegotiated Star Trek rights, but aspects of TAS have been referenced throughout the many Star Trek series. Overall, Star Trek: The Animated Series has been little-seen by most fans but is available on Netflix.
6. Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Enterprise (originally titled simply Enterprise for its first two seasons) aired for four seasons from 2001-2005 on the UPN network. The prequel series was set in the 22nd century and chronicled the voyages of the first Starship Enterprise, the NX-01, commanded by Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula). Its main cast was a reshuffling of the classic Star Trek ensemble, with Archer supported by a female Vulcan First Officer, T'Pol (Jolene Blalock), and his best friend and Chief Engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer), as well as the Debobulan Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), and Communications Officer Hoshi Sato (Linda Park). Enterprise also broke Star Trek tradition with its opening credits set to the pop song "Where My Heart Will Take Me" performed by Russell Watson.
The first two seasons of Enterprise were the familiar stand-alone stories of the starship's crew exploring space. Once the series was retitled Star Trek: Enterprise in season 3, however, the network ordered changes to make the series more action-packed and serialized, with a macro story involving a Temporal Cold War and a race called the Xindi. Enterprise was also a more sexualized Star Trek series, which banked heavily on Jolene Blalock's sex appeal as T'Pol and Tucker entered a romantic relationship. The prequel series also drew complaints about its updated visual effects, which made it look technologically superior to Star Trek: The Original Series set a century later (an issue Star Trek: Discovery would later encounter). Star Trek: Enterprise's low ratings saw it canceled after just four seasons.
While many of Enterprise's stories felt like retreads that were done better by the prior series, there were bright spots, like its innovative Mirror Universe episodes. Unfortunately, Enterprise is also remembered for its infamous series finale, "These Are The Voyages", which starred TNG's Commander Riker and Counselor Troi where the cast of Enterprise appeared as holodeck versions of themselves.
5. Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Voyager aired for seven seasons from 1995-2001 as the flagship series of the UPN Network and broke new ground as the first Star Trek series with a female lead, Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway. The concept of Star Trek: Voyager mixed Star Trek with Lost in Space; Janeway's starship, the U.S.S. Voyager, would be lost in the unexplored Delta Quadrant, which allowed the series to introduce new aliens like the Kazon, the Hirogen, and Species 8472. Eventually, the Borg became the primary villains of the series and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a Borg returned to her humanity, became a popular member of the crew. Several episodes in the latter half of the series centered around Seven of Nine, whose skintight catsuit uniform brought a new kind of sex appeal to Star Trek.
Because the U.S.S. Voyager was stranded 75 years from home, it allowed the series to break from tradition and have Janeway sometimes ignore Starfleet protocol in order to survive in enemy space. In its early seasons, Star Trek: Voyager innovated the concept of a mixed crew of Starfleet Officers and Maquis rebels, where Chakotay (Robert Beltran) became First Officer and B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), a half-human/half-Klingon, became Chief Engineer. In addition, the starship's Chief Medical Officer was a hologram called The Doctor (Robert Picardo), and a Talaxian named Neelix (Ethan Phillips) became the ship's chef. Despite being stranded in unknown space, several other Star Trek characters like Q (John de Lancie) and famous actors (including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) guest starred in the series. The starship returned to Earth in the series finale, "Endgame", and Captain Janeway later appeared as Admiral Janeway in Star Trek: Nemesis.
Star Trek: Voyager's legacy created numerous new fans, especially girls and women who became enamored with the Star Trek franchise thanks to Janeway, Seven, and the strong female characters in its ensemble.
4. Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery, the first new series in 12 years, launched in 2017 as the flagship series of the CBS All Access streaming service. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek: Discovery was controversial from its inception down to being a prequel set a decade before the 23rd-century voyages of James T. Kirk's Starship Enterprise. Star Trek: Discovery's eye-popping, feature film-quality visual effects angered fans with its divergences from established canon and its redesign of the Klingons was immediately disliked. And while Discovery's revolutionary lead character, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), is the first African-American woman to headline a Star Trek series, many choices with her character angered die-hards; she was the heretofore unheard-of adopted daughter of Sarek (James Frain) and sister of Spock (Ethan Peck), and, infamously, Starfleet's first mutineer who started the Klingon War.
And yet it worked. The heavily-serialized Star Trek: Discovery became the most popular streaming show in the world in season 2 by bringing aboard Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, the commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise before Kirk. Through Pike, the prequel series strengthened its roots in Star Trek canon before breaking the series away entirely and time traveling the U.S.S. Discovery and its crew to the 32nd century for Star Trek: Discovery season 3. The series also created memorable characters like the Kelpien First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who is in a same-sex relationship with Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), the effervescent Ensign Sylvia Tilly (May Wiseman), and the villainous Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) from the Mirror Universe.
While the series remains divisive, Star Trek: Discovery's thrilling, breakneck stories and complex character relationships have revitalized the franchise for the Peak TV era, and its success has opened the door for planned spinoffs about Jean-Luc Picard (starring Patrick Stewart), Section 31, as well as Star Trek comedies and animated series.
3. Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Trek: The Original Series aired for only three seasons on NBC from 1966-1969 but it found new popularity in syndication during the 1970s, which led to the actors returning for six successful feature films about Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise. Created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek stars the iconic William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, and DeForrest Kelley as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Though a TV series very much of its era, Roddenberry insisted on a multiracial crew to show how far humanity has come in the future, and he fought the network for the alien Spock to be a lead character. The Original Series also hired notable science fiction novelists to write episodes; the acknowledged series-best episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever", was written by the late Harlan Ellison.
While its visual effects are cheesy and primitive by modern TV standards, and The Original Series produced several bad episodes when its budget was reduced in season 3 due to low ratings, Star Trek's best episodes are still hailed as among the finest of the entire franchise: "Space Seed" introduced Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), the charismatic villain who later starred in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; Spock's planet Vulcan was seen in "Amok Time"; and his father Sarek (Mark Lenard) was introduced in "Journey to Babel". The Original Series also introduced time travel in "Tomorrow is Yesterday", the Klingons in "Errand of Mercy", and the Romulans in "Balance of Terror".
Star Trek: The Original Series continues to stand the test of time and is the inspirational foundation the entire franchise was built upon. It was also successfully rebooted by J.J. Abrams into three Star Trek feature films starring Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock from 2009-2016.
2. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which aired for seven seasons from 1993-1999, was a revolutionary Star Trek series that truly took the franchise in bold new directions. Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller, DS9 was the first Star Trek series not set on a starship, but rather a space station, which guarded the planet Bajor and its wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. Deep Space Nine starred Avery Brooks as Commander (promoted to Captain in season 3) Benjamin Sisko, the first African-American lead of a Star Trek series. Sisko was also a father raising his teenaged son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) aboard the station. Along with its mix of Bajoran and Starfleet Officers, DS9 emphasized its eclectic ensemble cast, including Quark (Armin Shimmerman) and his extended Ferengi family, Odo (Rene Auberjonois) the changeling station security chief, and Garak (Andrew Robinson), a Cardassian spy living aboard the station. In season 4, Star Trek: The Next Generation's Worf (Michael Dorn) joined the series, which helped boost the spinoff's popularity among Star Trek fans.
Thanks to showrunner Ira Steven Behr, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the first serialized Star Trek series and it unflinchingly tackled heavy themes like love, death, religion, the Cardassian occupation of Bajor by the series villain Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), and the Dominion War, which altered the balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant. Among Deep Space 9's greatest episodes are "Trials and Tribble-ations", when the DS9 crew time traveled to the 23rd century to meet Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, "Far Beyond the Stars", where Sisko dreamed himself to be a 1950s sci-fi writer, and "In the Pale Moonlight", where Sisko manipulated the Romulans into entering the Dominion War. Considered the Emissary of the Prophets by the Bajorans, Sisko was revealed to be half-Prophet himself and he eventually left linear time as a non-corporeal being in the series finale "What We Leave Behind". Yet, DS9 also enjoyed levity thanks to comedic Ferengi episodes, Sisko's obsession with baseball, and the introduction of Vic Fontaine, a 1960's holographic Las Vegas lounge singer who would become the crew's confidant.
Overall, the risks Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took enriched Star Trek and made it a deeper, more fascinating universe than ever before.
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation aired in syndication for seven seasons from 1987-1994 and it is, all told, the finest example of Star Trek that defines what the franchise is and can be. Created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek: The Next Generation was set in the 24th century and starred Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D. Like The Original Series, TNG was an hourlong, episodic series (with the occasional two-part episode), but it was wildly more successful during its run, regularly ranking as the number one syndicated program. Since it was set nearly a hundred years after Kirk's voyages, TNG boasted new technology such as communicator badges and the Enterprise-D's holodeck, though actors from The Original Series also appeared on the show including DeForrest Kelley's Bones McCoy, James Doohan's Scotty, and Leonard Nimoy's Spock.
While it had a creatively rocky start in its first two seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation soon found its creative footing and featured some of the greatest episodes of Star Trek ever, such as the Borg two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds", the Picard-centric "The Inner Light", the time loop thriller "Cause and Effect", and the series finale "All Good Things", which was seen by 30 million viewers. The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, including the android Data (Brent Spiner), the Klingon Worf, and Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) have become as beloved and iconic as The Original Series actors, and they went on to star in four TNG feature films. Though the Enterprise-D encountered its share of cosmic beings like the omnipotent Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation compellingly expanded the Star Trek universe, delving into complex Klingon politics and history, introducing the Ferengi, Cardassians, and Bajorians, and, of course, the Borg, who are perhaps the franchise's greatest villains.
While Kirk started it all, Jean-Luc Picard is arguably the most beloved Star Trek captain and, at its best, Star Trek: The Next Generation encompasses everything fans love most about Star Trek.