This weekend I was in Las Vegas for the annual Creation Star Trek convention; I'll have more to say about that in a longer article, but first I wanted to share with you one of the highlights of my trip: the ordering of Star Trek movies from best to worst.
A lot of the panels at this con are pretty tedious, but Jordan Hoffman's One Trek Mind Live panels are joys, where Hoffman gets the fans involved in a debate about some aspect of the Trek universe. The last thing I did in Vegas was attend the panel where Jordan and a hundred Trek fans - many in costume - argued about the proper listing order of all the Trek films. The decisions weren't unanimous; there were many boos and cries of anger from the crowd, with Jordan acting as the intermediary, trying to find a common ground. I'll get more into how the panel worked when I write up the whole weekend. In the meantime, here's the list we arrived at (and I say we because by the end I was sitting towards the front of the room screaming my brains out).
13. Star Trek Into Darkness
The most controversial spots were the bottom two. A vocal contingent wanted Star Trek Into Darkness listed last, but a large group insisted this honor belonged to the dismal Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. I agree with how the list turned out; while The Final Frontier is almost literally unwatchable (I turned it off halfway through the last two times I tried on Blu), it's at the very least original. Star Trek Into Darkness is a bad movie made badly that is also bad Star Trek and, worst of all, a cheap rehash of better things.
12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
A painful experience indeed. What's crazy about this movie is that it looks so good on paper: Spock's half brother is a religious fanatic who hijacks the Enterprise to find God... and actually finds Him! What a prototypically Star Trek story idea. It's just executed so dismally, a complete bore with terrible comedy bits (Scotty hitting his head) and a ludicrous finale. It's a baffling follow-up to The Voyage Home, a movie that managed to engage the mainstream as well as Trekkies.
11. Star Trek Insurrection
This film is often dinged as a long episode of the show, which only begins to cover how uninteresting it is. It's just a bore - like most Next Generation episodes, of course - and even the hardcore Trek fans mostly dismiss it with a shrug. Sure, you get F. Murray Abraham but you also get... well, you also get whatever else is going on in this slow slog about a planet that harbors the secret to eternal youth. Anybody who thinks Star Trek Into Darkness' idea of Starfleet as bad guys is new should check this one out.
10. Star Trek Nemesis
I have to admit I was shocked to see this place so high. I thought for sure it would be wrasslin' with Into Darkness and The Final Frontier for the bottom spot. I didn't expect Insurrection to be considered worse; this was a TNG-heavy audience, and I thought they lapped up boring stories where people stand around and talk at each other for an hour. Nemesis might have earned some goodwill by having Tom Hardy, before he was Tom Hardy, or maybe it's the death of Data.
9. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
One of the most contentious moments of the evening. There was a loud contingent who thought this was the worst Trek movie (the old Star Trek The Motionless Picture title joke came up) while others - including Jordan - fought valiantly. The most wonderful defense came from an Australian woman who explained that for Trek fans who watched the original series when it first aired the 70s were largely a Trek-free decade for them. They didn't have VHS or streaming to rewatch episodes and had to make do with syndicated reruns. Getting a movie was amazing to them, and as she put it, 'having the ability to spend ten minutes staring at the Starship Enterprise was heaven.' You can't argue with that emotion. You can, however, admit the movie is 45 minutes too long.
8. Star Trek Generations
This is the point where you begin to realize that most of the Next Generation movies ended up in the bottom half of this list. There's no question, I think, that the TNG crew just didn't have the movie magic that the original series crew had. This one was an attempt to bridge the two crews, but in the end the bridge fell on the old crew. Literally. Generations is the movie where Malcolm McDowell kills Captain Kirk, a terrible moment in Trek history. It isn't that Kirk dies, it's how Kirk dies - lamely, at the hands of a lame villain, while guest-starring in someone else's movie. The crowd couldn't whip up much enthusiasm for this one.
7. Galaxy Quest
You may have noticed this list began at 13 and that there are, to date, only 12 Star Trek films. That's because Galaxy Quest made the cut. Not only did Galaxy Quest make the cut, it was listed at NUMBER TWO early in the proceedings. And what's more, Mike and Denise Okuda - the graphic designers who created the GUI on all TNG era ships - lobbied for it to be considered the best film in the franchise. These are people who started working on Trek with The Voyage Home! The film's inclusion was met with largely happy replies, although one guy seemed offended it was listed at all. Eventually the film dropped from the second spot to nestle right here, dividing the halves of the list, coming right between the movies people like and the rest of them.
6. Star Trek (2009)
I don't want to talk too much about the Abrams films here because that's something I want to explore in my larger convention piece, but I will say this: Star Trek Into Darkness was met with boos when it was mentioned, and one guy took the mic to say these reboots shouldn't even be considered for a list of Star Trek movies. That the initial reboot film made the cut into the top half is saying a lot for the film's likability.
5. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
This is a weird one. Is Search For Spock actually a good movie? I don't know that I can answer that, but I can say that it's a great Trek movie. Yeah, it's a little low-rent, but the stakes are high, the action is personal and it's part of a larger story that forms a trilogy of classic Trek films. I love Search For Spock, but I don't know that I would ever just pop this movie in and watch it on its own. So does that mean it made it this high - top five - because it's part of the trilogy, or does it really belong here? This is a great topic of discussion. Also a good topic: Teen Spock's first Pon Farr.
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Jordan thought this would come in number two, but I assured him that wouldn't be the case. I think the harder you're into Trek fandom the more 'The One With Whales' irks. It's really the JJ Abrams movie of the original series - light, fluffy, popular. This film sparked a conversation after the panel similar to my thoughts on Search For Spock - is this really a good movie? I think it is, with the caveat that it's a good movie if you know the characters. And not in a heavy, nerdy way but simply in a 'That one is the Russian guy and that one is Doctor Spock' sort of way. This is a great hangout film, and it's made great by the fact that these characters were having adventures for decades. Taking everything down a notch and having fun is a totally refreshing way to approach a fourth film in a franchise.
3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
This one, I think, also took Jordan by surprise. I've seen the groundswell of love for this one growing over the years, though. It's become more mythologized lately because Nicholas Meyer has been hitting the fan circuit. It's the capper to the original series movies, and it sends the crew off on a nice note. And it's probably the best Klingon-centric film, and Klingons remain a big force in Trek fandom. I don't know that I would go as high as 3, though - the fact that Saavik isn't in this movie and that her role is taken over by new character Valaris really undermines EVERYTHING for me. It's one of the worst decisions in the history of Trek movies; having Saavik be the traitor after four movies would have had a real wallop.
2. Star Trek: First Contact
I knew this would be second. It made a strong run at first, in fact. This is the only watchable Next Generation movie, so of course that fan base will cling to it and elevate it well beyond its true quality. Plus it's got a lot of action, which was pretty rare in this franchise until the reboot. I don't know that I would place it so high (maybe it needs to be rewatched), but I understand why it ended up here.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Of course. The top spot stayed empty for a long time during the panel, since everybody assumed this would end up there. And rightly so: this isn't just the best Star Trek movie, it's one of the best science fiction movies ever made. There were some attempts at the top spot - Galaxy Quest, as per Mike Okuda, and First Contact. One guy ironically offered up Star Trek into Darkness, giving the argument 'It's got boobs in it - what else do you want?' but there was never a question. Wrath of Khan is - and probably always will be - the pinnacle of cinematic Trek.