Forty-three years, six TV series, 10 feature films, numerous video games and hundreds of novels later, Star Trek is still with us. Director J.J. Abrams’ film, opening Friday, is an origins story, in which the young Kirk and Spock meet, fight, bond and eventually take over the running of the Enterprise. Not surprisingly, fans have been salivating over the imminent arrival of Star Trek for at least a Vulcan year.
Not that everything Trek has been a wild success. The films, in particular, have been a wildly mixed bag of sci-fi fun and ponderous, futuristic philosophizing. Here are some of the best and worst…
Star Trek — The Motion Picture (1979). The first film in the series is grandiose and deadly dull. Full of talk, talk, talk, it satisfied avid Trekkers who were dying to see the Enterprise crew on the big screen, but was just a big bag of gas for non-fans. Still, it managed to gross a very healthy $82 million in 1979 money, which got the series off to a roaring financial start.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). Upset that Leonard Nimoy (Spock) had directed two successful Trek flicks (III and IV), William Shatner (Kirk) decided to take a shot behind the camera. Bad move. This tale of a madman who takes over a distant planet is both dramatically uneven and too cute for its own good.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Not so much bad as overly familiar. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) faces an evil clone of himself, and, well, we’ve seen it all before.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Buoyed enormously by Ricardo Montalban’s scenery-chewing turn as the title villain, this is considered by many to be the best of all the Trek films. It’s not (see below), but it sure is great pulp fun.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). A thoroughly entertaining and often very funny time-travel flick in which the Enterprise crew goes back to 20th century San Francisco to save Earth of the future. Lots of fun is had when it appears that Vulcan Spock’s weird looks fit right in with the hippie-dippy gestalt of the Bay Area.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996). The best of them all features Picard fighting the evil half-human, half-machine Borg, with Alice Krige totally sexy—and creepy—as the Borg Queen. Added pleasure comes from James Cromwell as the drunken, rock ‘n’ roll-lovin’ inventor of faster-than-light drive.