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The Best 3 Star Trek Movies (That Expanded The Franchise)

Posted by Sean Mahannah on

Since its network television debut in 1966, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon. The show itself was conceived during an era of space exploration, and its initial popularity was shared by those who would become the first to walk on the moon. With the commercial success of Star Wars in 1977, studio executives were convinced of the profitability of science fiction, and they set the wheels rolling on one of the most successful film franchises in history.

The 3 Best Star Trek Movies That Expanded The Franchise

The Star Trek movies can be broken up into three groups. There are six original series films released between 1979 and 1991, that featured the cast from the original television show aboard the famous U.S.S Enterprise. Then came the four Next Generation films released between 1994 and 2002. These are based on the television series led by Patrick Stewart, which some consider to be the definitive realization of Gene Roddenberry's original concept. Finally, there are the three reboot films released between 2009 and 2016 (Featuring all new actors in the original iconic rolls.) that effectively rebooted the whole franchise. In fact, were it not for these movies, the Star Trek that we have today would not exist.

Every era of Star Trek films has its strengths and weaknesses. No matter what era you pick from, there are always plenty of examples of superior filmmaking, great storytelling, and technological innovation. All the films are treasured by die-hard Star Trek fans, but it's the films with cross-over potential that help ensure the enduring popularity of the franchise. The three Star Trek movies that we selected for this list are the ones that expanded the borders of the franchise and ensured decades of future projects.

1. Star Trek (2009)

It's hard to recall the skepticism that surrounded the release of JJ Abrams's reboot back in 2009. The Next Generation had shown that Star Trek fans were willing to follow the adventures of a new cast of characters. Still, the temptation to provide a new look at characters like Kirk and Spock ultimately won out.

Star Trek featured Chris Pine as James T. Kirk and even had an appearance from a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth. With a focus on modern visual effects and a commitment to exciting action sequences, Star Trek was a box office smash. Although there were some polarizing elements introduced in the reboot, such as the alternative timeline, the film has been generally well accepted and has prompted two sequels with more in the works. Although Star Trek is currently the best of the reboot movies, there is the palpable hope that the best of this series is yet to come.

Reboot Honorable Mention: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek fans felt trepidation about the alternative timeline concept introduced in Star Trek, and some of their fears were realized in Into Darkness. The film centers on the conflict between Captain Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. (Trek fans will recall that Khan was one of the Enterprise's fiercest foes that was in the original series episode "Space Seed." He later re-appeared in Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.) Even though it was a box office hit, Into Darkness probably contained too many callbacks for a franchise that should be focused on breaking new ground.

However, the action sequences are first-rate, and the strategic cat-and-mouse game that unfolds between Kirk and Khan is both exciting and fun to watch. Khan and Kirk's space dive sequence that involves both malfunctioning technology and mutual cooperation is one of the best moments of cinema magic in the whole franchise. The resurrection element introduced at the end comes off as a bit too convenient, but overall Into Darkness is a fine film with plenty of crossover appeal.

2. First Contact (1996)

After launching to the big screen with the production-troubled and mediocre Star Trek: Generations in 1994,  Star Trek: First Contact provided the definitive big-screen iteration of the Next Generation crew that fans were waiting for. Patrick Stewart gives a classic performance that almost evokes Captain Ahab as Picard thwarts the sinister plans of the Borg. With a time travel element as well as a fantastic hand to hand battle on the underside of the Enterprise, First Contact is one of the greatest space adventures ever filmed.

Next Generation Honorable Mention: Insurrection (1998)

The Next Generation has always had more of an emphasis on cerebral concepts than other entries in the series. Insurrection involves Picard's involvement with a group of apparently immortal individuals that Starfleet has scheduled for relocation. The most gripping elements of this thoughtful entry come in moments of quiet conversation where Patrick Stewart again proves himself to be an actor of significance.

While it doesn't have the emphasis on special effects wizardry that you find in some other Star Trek adventures, Insurrection contains moments that you'll find yourself reflecting on long after your original viewing of the film. One of the calling cards of great science fiction is the ability to plant and cultivate an appreciation of fantastic thoughts and concepts that are in conflict with our common, mundane reality. Insurrection succeeds in this objective.

3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Khan remains the best villain of the franchise, and his initial screen appearance, as portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, was the backbone of the very first Star Trek megahit. After the lukewarm reception of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, the producers went back to the drawing board and revitalized the series with more dynamic uniforms, action, and drama.

To this day, The Wrath of Khan represents an interesting character study on madness and obsession and reveals just as much about Captain Kirk as it does its titular character. With quality action scenes that are among the first to make a realistic effort to explore the strategic requirements of warfare in three-dimensional space, The Wrath of Khan announced the arrival of Star Trek as a Hollywood force to be reckoned with.

Original Series Honorable Mention: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

With three somber predecessors, Star Trek IV gave the franchise a jumpstart by adding a comic element. There is something delightful about watching Kirk, Bones, and Spock navigate the late 20th-century American landscape in a mostly lighthearted, fish-out-of-water adventure. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek IV both has affection for the original characters and is not afraid to poke a bit of fun at them.

Of all the Star Trek films, Star Trek IV is perhaps the most likely to find an audience among individuals who express a dislike for science fiction. In a way, that makes Star Trek IV a bridge film useful for cultivating an appreciation of the Star Trek universe.

Where No Franchise Has Gone Before

Star Trek movies represent a thoughtful franchise that has always managed to embrace both big ideas and big action. The series came along as our nation was still gripped by enthusiasm and celebration over our success in the space race and has continued to provide a message of hope through evolving times.

The best Star Trek movies are the ones that appeal to both fans and non-fans and help ensure the franchise will continue to entertain us for the foreseeable futureFor more fun discussions on Star Trek movies, check out Mahannah's Sci-Fi Universe.

 

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