(1982, 113 minutes)
There might be some that are miffed that we skipped over 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which has the most direct link to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who, in the late 1970s, had been trying to develop a new TV series titled Star Trek Phase Two. Canceled in lieu of the movie, the script for Star Trek: The Movie was based on Roddenberry's outline for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase Two where a long-lost NASA probe is found returning to Earth having gained sentience. Add in a bald, alien woman (Persis Khambatta's Ilia) and a competing Enterprise Captain (Stephen Collins' Decker) that Kirk (William Shatner) quickly demotes, and you get Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and over two hours of your life back).
So, instead, let's focus on The Wrath of Khan, which goes back to the original series to bring in an iconic villain in Khan Noonien Singh, played by a silver-haired, chisel-chested Ricardo Montalban, who had also played a less exotic version of the character in a 1967 episode of the original series titles "Space Seed". At the end of that episode, Khan and his fellow genetically-altered supermen are exiled by Kirk to the planet Ceta Alpha V. In Wrath of Khan, Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig) and his USS Reliant Captain Clark Terrell (Paul Winfield) beam down to what they think is Ceti Alpha IV only to find out that that planet exploded, leaving Ceti Alpha V in its orbit. Using Ceti eels, Khan takes control of Chekhov and Terrell, using them as bait to kill Kirk while seizing control of the Reliant and stealing the Genesis device, manned by Kirk's old flame Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and Kirk's son David (Merritt Butrick).
Despite never seeing Khan and Kirk in the same room (something that reportedly bothered Montalban, likely because there was a swordfight between the two characters that was cut during production), the cat-and-mouse games of Wrath of Khan were effective enough to herald the movie as a classic. It is often described as "the perfect Star Trek movie," even if it saw the death of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the process, though the next movie, 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, would be dedicated to Spock's re-genesis (thank you, thank you, we'll be here all week.).
Khan was also vital to the movie series for bringing writer-director Nicholas Meyer to the franchise. Meyer wasn't a Star Trek fan, but was nonetheless hired to combine three different scripts into what would become Wrath of Khan and did so in only 12 days. Besides also directing Khan, Meyer would continue to help shepherd the franchise for years to come, co-writing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and writing and directing Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
(1991, 109 minutes)
"What you want is irrelevant; what you have chosen is at hand."
After the abysmal critical and box office failure of 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Meyer was again called upon to produce another successful installment of the Star Trek franchise with yet another limited budget and just in time for Star Trek's 25th anniversary. To do so, Meyer turned to the one of the oldest villains in Star Trek history: Klingons.
In The Undiscovered Country, a Klingon moon explodes, putting their Empire in danger. Facing extinction, the Klingons try for peace, a prospect Kirk doesn't like after losing his son to a Klingon in The Search for Spock. Of course, Kirk and the Enterprise are tasked with bringing Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to peace negotiations, but instead Gorkon is killed and Kirk is framed for his murder.
Created in reference to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Undiscovered Country was the final movie to feature the original cast together. Star Trek: The Next Generation was already on TV, and the next Star Trek movie, Star Trek Generations, would see Kirk hand over the movie franchise to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) — and lose his life in less-than-thrilling fashion — with only Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Koenig) returning from the original cast for a brief appearance.
While The Undiscovered Country was a critical and box office success, not everyone was happy about the movie, namely Gene Roddenberry. The aspects of bigotry did not please Roddenberry, who died shortly before the movie's premiere, and the Star Trek creator and Meyer butted heads about the movie's script, with Roddenberry's concerns mostly being ignored. "If I’m interpreting him correctly and if I’m believing what he said, Mr. Roddenberry really believed in the perfectability of man, of humans, and I have yet to see the evidence for this," Meyer explained in 2011 of his rift with Roddenberry, which he ultimately regretted. "So VI is a film in which the crew of the Enterprise has all kinds of prejudice, racial prejudice, vis-a-vis the Klingons. And some of their remarks, including how they all look alike and what they smell like, and all the xenophobic things which we grappled with — that was all deeply offensive to him because he thought there isn’t going to be that. In fact, in his original Star Trek concept, there wasn’t any conflict. So he always had problems with writers who were trying to write conflict, because that’s what drama is, so he was very distressed with the world of the Enterprise — the kind of ‘music’ I was writing."
(1996, 111 minutes)
"Resistance is futile."
While the original Star Trek had Klingons, The Next Generation had the Borg, a race of various species turned into a collective of cybernetic organisms that force victims to assimilate to their "hive mind." With the Next Generation cast finally able to make a movie that didn't feature any of the original series' cast, the decision was made to include the Borg, who first appeared in the second season of The Next Generation and, at one point, had assimilated Picard on a two-part episode called "The Best of Both Worlds."
"I would say that The Borg are the greatest nemesis (no pun intended) of all things Star Trek," said director Jonathan Frakes (who also played Commander Riker) to SFTV in 2009. "It made Star Trek now not only an action-adventure movie but made it a horror movie as well. The scariest movies are the ones that get inside your head and the idea of being assimilated from the inside of the brain is terrifying for kids of all ages."
First Contact became one of the highest-grossing entries in the Star Trek franchise, and by far the most successful of the Next Generation movies. It straddled both Picard's obsession with destroying the Borg as well as the rest of the Enterprise crew landing on Earth to help warp drive creator Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) — a character that originally debuted in the original Star Trek series — stay on task with making the first warp drive test, which ultimately led to humans meeting their first alien race.
Two more Next Generation movies followed First Contact: 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection and 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. Both were met with mixed responses, while Nemesis was a financial disaster and was the last movie to feature the Next Generation cast.
(2009, 126 minutes)
"I sure hope you know what you're doing."
With Nemesis ending the movie franchise for the Next Generation cast and the cancellation of the Star Trek: Enterprise series in 2005, Paramount Pictures began work on a new Star Trek movie to keep the rights from reverting to CBS, who had plans to make yet another Star Trek series. Studio president Gail Berman hired Mission: Impossible III screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to come up with ideas for a new movie and brought in J.J. Abrams to produce the movie, though Abrams would eventually direct the movie as well.
Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman literally ripped a whole through the original Star Trek series timeline, subsequently rebooting the franchise while also allowing them license to do what they wanted with the characters of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quino) and the rest of the Enterprise crew. "When they asked me to be involved with Star Trek, I realized it was an opportunity to do everything I love in one movie," Abrams admitted in 2009.
The result was the most successful Star Trek movie to date, with a new, younger crew fighting and learning about each other, with a Spock that dates Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the original Spock (Nimoy) intervening to help the alternate timeline Enterprise crew get along enough to take down a vengeful Romulan (Eric Bana). Talk of a sequel was instantaneous, with the franchise now firmly back on track (for now).