From Thinking Steaks to TITANic Mistakes: The ‘Star Trek’ Films They Almost Made

It’s a matter of Hollywood lore that the even numbered Star Trek episodes are the best. The odd numbered entries, on the other hand, range from also-rans to space holders to complete wastes of time, no matter who was at the helm.

You laugh, but the first film was directed by the guy who brought us The Sound of Music and West Side Story. Who better to deliver a… “Space Opera”? While 2009’s Star Trek reboot (the 11th theatrical film) seemed to disprove this theory, it remains to be seen whether Star Trek into Darkness will completely invert the trend.

Love or hate the odd (or even… even) numbered Star Treks, you’ve got to see what Trek creators almost produced, instead. Some of these attempted films even make the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier look like a better movie. Sound impossible? Set your Phasers on FUN and see for yourself!

1. Star Trek: The Cattlemen (1973)

Four years after the cancellation of the “Original Series”, Star Trek was already starting to show the new life that would eventually lead to its franchise resurrection, given the right vehicle. Comic strips on both sides of the Atlantic were telling new stories based on the original five year mission and conventions everywhere showed fans chomping at the bit. Knowing the iron was hot enough to strike, Gene Roddenberry approached Paramount with this pitch for the first Trek feature film. You may question the… taste… of this proposal.

What was it about?

Based on the original Star Trek pitch to NBC, specifically in a proposed episode synopsis called “A Question of Cannibalism”, the proposed Roddenberry-penned feature reads like a vegan’s worst nightmare. The Starfleet crew was to encounter a race of “cow-like creatures” being raised and slaughtered by ranchers for food and the profitable meat and leather empire surrounding this industry. The catch is that the “cattle” is an intelligent species that raises the title “question”.

Why was it never made?

Surprisingly, Paramount was actually keen on making the “thinking steak story” into a movie and this was almost our first foray into big screen Star Trek. Fortunately, Producer Herb Solow indicated the script needed heavy rewrites because “it did not foreshadow an enjoyable night at the movies” (especially for those who had already eaten hamburgers on the way to the theatre). It was actually Roddenberry who turned off the grill on this feast. Dissatisfied with Paramount’s offer for screenwriting pay, “The Great Bird” walked away from the negotiating table. Paramount wasn’t willing to wait till the cows came home (and they feared fan backlash if they made the film without Trek‘s creator) so they let the project quietly die.

What got made instead?

Star Trek the Animated Series started in 1973 and lasted two seasons but beyond that there wasn’t much meat on the bones of Star Trek for a while. Still, at least we avoided a first Trek that would inspire the phrase “You want FRIES with that?” at the box office.

2. Star Trek: Planet of the Titans (1976 -1977)

Unlike The Cattlemen, Planet of the Titans (also known as Planet of Titans) went beyond the pitch stage, past negotiations and straight on into pre-production. With the syndicated ratings for Star Trek proving franchise potential, Paramount gave Roddenberry millions to develop a new script, but it was Chris Bryant and Allan Scott’s script that Paramount greenlit.

Directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Wise were considered for the director’s chair before Philip Kaufman (who would later direct Leonard “Spock” Nimoy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) sat down. James Bond’s production designer Ken Adam and Star Wars‘ conceptual genius Ralph McQuarrie even contributed concept artwork for the film to be. Clearly this one was launching at way more than merely “impulse power”.

What was it about?

If the title doesn’t clue you in, this space journey was to feature the original crew (on their newly refitted and now triangular Enterprise) seeking out the home world of the mythical Titans. Kirk and company then have to face off with both the Klingons and a new race called the Cygnans in a battle that sends them through a black hole and back in time to primitive Earth. Thus, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are actually revealed to be the Titans themselves. The sequel could have been called “Planet of Contrivances”, if it had gotten that far.

Why was it never made?

But that never happened, so we never got to hear DeForest Kelley say “Damn it, Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a TITAN!” Why not, especially when so much work had been done?

The Bryant/ Scott script was rejected, which put the re-write pen into Kaufman’s hands. Kaufman’s concept refocused the script on a less-Titanic match between Spock and a Klingon (whom Kaufman wanted uber-famous Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to portray). Ultimately the budget ballooned to over ten million dollars, and Paramount pulled the positronic plug for good.

What got made instead?

Paramount’s focus shifted to the proposed TV spinoff, to be entitled Star Trek: Phase II (which ultimately led to Star Trek: The Motion Picture). In addition, Ralph McQuarrie fans have noticed more than a little resemblance between the triangular refit of the Enterprise and the ultimate design for Star Wars‘ Imperial cruisers known as “Star Destroyers” (which McQuarrie also did concept work on). If this similarity is no coincidence, take note that decades later on UPN’s Star Trek: Enterprise, spherical planet destroying spacecraft that resembled the “Death Star” more than a lot debuted, so we’ll call it even.

3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture II (1979 – 1980)

Ultimately the success of that same Star Wars film helped shift Paramount’s gears from the television-based Star Trek: Phase II to the big-screen epic Star Trek: The Motion Picture which more closely resembled Roddenberry’s (semi-) original idea “The God Thing”, than it did Titans. It was a success at the box office, but fans and critics considered the film to be somewhat slow and plodding.

The Guardian of Forever

What was it about?

Remember “The Guardian of Forever”, that groovy, psychedelically glowing rock structure from the Original Series that sent Kirk, Spock and (a quite insane) McCoy way back in time? In this proposed second feature, the Klingons get ahold of it and use it to go back in time and prevent President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. The Enterprise crew then have to go back in time to repair the corrupted timeline… and thus, kill Kennedy.

Following the Klingons’ logic in this case is almost as difficult as following Roddenberry’s own. Wasn’t Kennedy the President who insisted we go to the moon before the end of the 1960s, thus laying the groundwork for the future of Starfleet? While only Paramount insiders who have read the original treatment truly know how this worked, irrationally (unless Kennedy was a secret Klingon spy), JFK’s survival ensures a future where the Klingons are the dominant military force in the galaxy… somehow. If the Klingon Empire truly wanted to go back in time to prevent a travesty and ensure their own longevity, perhaps they should have stepped in to prevent the cancellation of Star Trek instead. The thought of Captain Kirk walking around with a “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Nixon” button is too much to bear.

Why was it never made?

You mean besides the fact that the concept of our interstellar heroes theoretically beaming to “the grassy knoll” to wipe out one of our most beloved presidents being in even worse taste than that whole “Cattlemen” debacle? Roddenberry’s constant meddling and rewrite demands were blamed for Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s eventual budget which hit $46 million (remember the previous film was shelved largely for hitting the $10 million mark). Paramount wanted Roddenberry’s control over the franchise like they wanted Tabasco sauce on their ice cream, so Uncle Gene was “kicked upstairs” to the largely ceremonial position of “Executive Consultant”.

What got made instead?

Harve Bennett (a Paramount Television producer) was brought in to produce the next Star Trek film in the hope that he could make a big screen feature on a small screen budget. Like Roddenberry’s never-made sequel, Bennett brought in a major icon from the original series and explored what would later be known as The Wrath of Khan (or, more accurately, “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!”).

More Terrors We Were Mercifully Spared

4. Star Trek IV [The Eddie Murphy Vehicle] (1985 – 1986)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan started what came to be known (after the fact) as the “Star Trek Trilogy”. Leonard Nimoy decided not to play Spock anymore, hence Spock’s death. Then he was enticed back to the role with the chance to direct Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which was also a success. Thus a fourth film was greenlit, and this time they actually did decide on the “Time Travel” idea that had been shelved at least twice before.

What was it about?

So far, that sounds like the Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home we eventually got, right? Well, except for the fact that originally William Shatner wasn’t going to appear in the film, but Eddie Murphy was. Nimoy (already tapped to direct again) approached Beverly Hills Cop scribe Daniel Petrie, Jr. (largely because Nimoy and Bennett wanted a lighter-hearted movie than the last two). This, in turn, brought Murphy (a Star Trek fan and enormous star at that time) into negotiations for a leading role, which might have brought in a new fan base. On the other hand, it might have become a cruel joke, like Superman III‘s rewire into a Richard Pryor vehicle.

Why was it never made?

Petrie wasn’t on the project for long and the subsequent script by writers Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes featured Murphy as something of a nutty professor and whale enthusiast. Surprisingly, Eddie Murphy was the voice of reason on this one and backed out because he wanted to either play a Starfleet officer or an alien of some kind. After his exit, Paramount rejected the screenplay.

What got made instead?

Wrath of Khan writer/ director Nicholas Meyer was brought in to finish the script, which already saw Murphy’s character morphed into the female Gillian Taylor character and the Voyage Home that we know and love came to be. Meanwhile Eddie Murphy moved on to make The Golden Child, instead. Later he got his chance to play a nutty professor in… The Nutty Professor.

5. Star Trek: The First Adventure (1989 – 1990)

To give credit (or blame) where credit is due, this idea for a “Prequel” to Star Trek has a much longer history than the pre-production on the 2009 Star Trek film and even farther back than the 1989 pre-production on what was to be Star Trek: The First Adventure. In fact, the first suggestions of the idea of the original crew meeting at Starfleet Academy came from Gene Roddenberry himself, speaking at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1968 (before the original Star Trek had been cancelled). Bennett later came up with (or borrowed) the same concept as an early idea for Star Trek IV (before the Eddie Murphy talk started).

The idea was dusted off again after IV before William Shatner was lured back to the franchise with a pay raise and chance to direct Star Trek V, then Bennett lobbied for its production heavily until he was overruled in favor of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

What was it about?

Bennett and his co-writer David Loughery described their script as “Top Gun in Outer Space” (as opposed to Roddenberry’s original “Wagon Train to the Stars”) with additional inspiration coming from The Santa Fe Trail (1940). It would have started with Dr. McCoy giving a speech at Starfleet Academy graduation, which causes him to flash back to his own Academy days. The flashback centers around Iowa farm boy Jim Kirk who defies his brother Sam and joins Starfleet Academy right around the time that Spock is leaving Vulcan for “redder” pastures. There they meet as rivals and become friends along with the older cadet Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy and others from the crew we grew to love.

The script featured Kirk’s father George as a space pilot who was missing and presumed dead and McCoy joining Starfleet after a major (albeit different) family trauma. Both of these elements landed in the 2009 film. The subplot of Kirk cheating on a Starfleet exam is even explored here.

Why was it never made?

As you can see, in many ways, this film did get made and was released in 2009, although The First Adventure had a vastly different plot aside from these similarities. Racial prejudice and slavery (leading to an open battle with an alien named Kalibar) were heavy influences on the plot, which took place before the proverbial “Great Enlightenment”. However, these dark themes and power-grabs on alien worlds weren’t the detriment that a regime change at Paramount Pictures was to this prequel project.

Paramount executives had an eye toward Trek‘s 25 year anniversary in 1991 and instead of rebooting the franchise they opted for, in Bennett’s words, “something more conventional”. In addition, Roddenberry and the original cast (who could see unemployment around the corner with their recasting) rallied against Bennett’s plans.

Possibly most damning was the angry response from Star Trek fans. According to Loughery, the leaked misinformation led fans to believe that this was to be a cross between Police Academy and The Jetsons. According to Bennett, Paramount still wanted to make the film but allowed only a year and a half for the making. Bennett balked and walked.

What got made instead?

Pavel Chekov actor Walter Koenig’s script, tentatively titled “Star Trek: In Flanders Fields”, was considered and rejected (possibly because in his script almost everybody dies… including Chekov). Bennett was offered $1.5 million to make one more film with the original cast, but he refused (wanting only his “Starfleet Academy” film) and left.

After the critical and commercial disappointment that was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Paramount was wary of allowing its legacy to remain as the actual “Final” Trek. Ultimately, The Wrath of Khan‘s Nicholas Meyer was lured back one last time to write and helm Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which remains a critical and fan favorite. Eighteen years later, Star Trek (2009) debuted with the original series characters, a new cast and many of the ideas that originated in The First Adventure.

6. Star Trek: IMAX (1997)

After Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) gave computer generated imagery a shot in the liquid metal arm, Sci-Fi in general took a quantum leap forward. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films included a large amount of CGI and TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 – 1999) was eschewing models in favor of CGI effects. Both Star Trek: Voyager and hit science fiction rival Babylon 5 (both beginning in 1995) used all CGI effects. Paramount took note and began to plan a giant-screen showcase for the beauty of these unified 1s and 0s.

What was it about?

The writing and producing duties for this IMAX feature went to Roddenberry’s successor as the Star Trek producer (starting with The Next Generation), Rick Berman. Berman worked with writer Hans Tobeason to create a 40 minute, CGI heavy 3-D film with “a lot of new characters” and starring The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine‘s Colm Meaney. Rumors suggested that characters from all (then) four series would appear including David Warner reprising his Star Trek VI role of Chancellor Gorkon.

Why was it never made?

For a time, stories continued to run about Star Trek: IMAX. Ian Spelling’s syndicated “Sci-Fi” column, TV Guide, Star Trek Communicator and Variety all ran stories on the film-to-be. In an announcement for the 2009 film’s IMAX release mentioned that the previous IMAX attempt “never got out of development.” In a March 2002 interview, Rick Berman said that there were some plans for converting Star Trek VI into IMAX but that the previously hyped Star Trek: IMAX was “on a very, very back burner.”

What got made instead?

Star Trek: IMAX was never intended to be a “numbered” entry into the movie series, but a stand-alone companion piece. Star Trek: Insurrection (then known as “Star Trek 9” in pre-production) had already been scheduled and had a December 1998 release.

On the front burner at the time of Berman’s “back burner” interview were the TV prequel Star Trek: Enterprise (which had debuted in 2001) and the big screen Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Both of these were ultimate disappointments and were the last Star Trek franchises successfully made on Berman’s watch.

7. Star Trek: The Beginning (2005)

What the hell? Another prequel? Yes, Enterprise and Nemesis weren’t the last Star Trek projects attempted on Berman’s watch. Star Trek: The Beginning, as the name might imply, was to be yet another prequel, separate from The First Adventure and bridging the gap between Enterprise and the original Star Trek.

What was it about?

According to writer Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers), this “big and epic” prequel would have started a few years after the end of Enterprise and would have focused on the events that led to the creation of the United Federation of Planets, including the merging of Starfleet with the spacefaring military known as “The United Earth Stellar Navy” and the fabled story arc of the Earth-Romulan war.

The main character of what Jendresen envisioned as a trilogy, was to be UESN star pilot Tiberius Chase (ancestor of James Tiberius Kirk). A few characters from Enterprise were to be referenced by name (with Jeffrey Combs’ Andorian Commander Shran actually appearing) and several setups for canonical Star Trek events to come were hinted.

Why was it never made?

On the other hand, this dark, war-oriented thriller didn’t have the adventurous feel of traditional Star Trek films. Unlike the only other prequel to date, there were no classic Star Trek characters in the film and no ship named Enterprise to latch onto.

The real “End” of The Beginning, however, was yet another Paramount regime change when (in 2005) Gail Berman (no relation) was named President of Paramount Pictures. Almost immediately plans for the prequel began to fall apart.

Rick Berman began to speak to the press about Paramount’s lukewarm interest in the script (which had been greenlit under the previous administration). Soon after, Paramount announced the planned 11th film was to be completely cancelled. It looked like The Beginning was to be the end of Star Trek before it got started and ironically it took a Berman to oust a Berman.

What got made instead?

In 2006, pre-production began on the animated Star Trek: Final Frontier, another project to feature a “Captain Chase” who fought Romulans (this time in a post-Next Generation continuity). Once plans for this show were scrapped the first rumblings of the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek prequel began to be heard.

When the film debuted in 2009 to commercial success and critical acclaim, however, this 11th film proved to be more of a Next Generation sequel than a prequel. The elder Spock was chased by a team of renegade Romulans into the past, creating an alternate timeline (in which Abrams and his writer/ producer buddy Damon Lindelof no longer needed to worry about “Continuity”).

Eventually they meet with a recast crew of the original Enterprise, who make the movie and the new timeline their own. Although many of the elements from Bennett’s First Adventure ended up in Abrams’ film, there were no characters named “Chase”.

And thus we never witnessed Chase chasing the Romulans. Nor did we experience a “breathtaking”, yet episode-long 3D CGI IMAX multigenerational theatrical film. We only got a glimpse, not even an eyeful, of the original crew’s Starfleet Academy years. Dreams of seeing Eddie Murphy giving his laugh to Spock were dashed on the whale barnacles. Mister Sulu was not to be the replacement for Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby in any motion picture (to date, but hopefully ever). Doctor McCoy was sorely denied adding his country surliness to the pantheon of deities in Greek Mythology. And last, but not least, Star Trek fans never got the chance to hear a stunned Uhura say the potentially classic line “Where’s the Beef?”

While many of these abandoned films range from the distasteful to the shocking, we’ll just have to see what Abrams comes up with in Star Trek into Darkness. If its an IMAX feature centering around an intelligent cow named Chase that speaks in Eddie Murphy’s “Donkey” voice, with Titanic magical powers that allow him to travel back in time to Mister Scott’s Starfleet Academy days, I’m giving up on Star Trek forever. As McCoy would put it, “Damn it, Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a veterinarian. You’re on your own with the talking cows.”