It’s not easy being a new Star Trek movie.
Not only does any new film have to initiate new viewers who don’t know jack about Star Trek, it also has to keep famously fickle Trekkies happy, too. From convoluted continuity, to needing a scope that is both wildly appealing and relatively congruent with the source material; the formula for making a “good” Star Trek movie seems fairly impossible.
Bear in mind: we’re not even talking about the acting or the special effects. Just analyzing the thematic cores of Star Trek films, while comparing them against the various TV shows, gets extremely complicated and philosophically contentious really fast. With all of this in mind, is it fair to compare Star Trek Beyond to all the other Trek movies? Nope. But we’re doing it anyway. Here’s how Beyond fares when pitted against all twelve Star Trek movies that have come before. (Light spoilers for Beyond ahead.)
The Motion Picture
The 1979 very first cinematic entry into the Star Trek canon was directed by Robert Wise, who was most famous for directing The Sound of Music. The verdict? While there’s some classic science fiction pondering in this movie, you should probably watch The Sound of Music instead. Because Star Trek Beyond is funny, and exciting, it’s a better movie than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The only way you’d think differently is from a purist standpoint, because The Motion Picture boasted the original actors and because its score, by Jerry Goldsmith, is excellent. Still, Beyond wins this round.
The Wrath of Khan
Come on. No way. Not only is the best Star Trek movie period, it’s also just a great movie. Perfect parts nostalgia for the original series and a brave attempt to do something new and dramatic with its characters, this is a straight-up science fiction classic. It’s not even fair to pit any Star Trek movie against The Wrath. In fact, this would work with other franchises, too. Is The Force Awakens better than The Wrath of Khan. Nope. Beyond loses this one.
The Search for Spock
Though seems in vogue to dislike Star Trek III: The Search for Spock recently, there’s a lot to like about this movie, including Kirk stealing the Enterprise and then blowing it up rocks. Bones is really funny in this one, and the whole heist-movie feel too it is pretty great. Analogously, Beyond is also the third entry in its own rebooted Star Trek movie order, and also destroys the Enterprise. This is a very close call, and there’s a temptation to just call a draw here. But, because Beyond is a better movie on its own terms, it’s a better movie all the way around. Beyond wins by a small margin.
The Voyage Home
Again. This isn’t even fair. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is perhaps the strangest Star Trek movie of all time because, yes it really is about them going back in time and saving the whales. It’s also written as a comedy and wonderful throughout. Any movie where Spock swims in his underwear to mind-meld with a whale is going to beat pretty much any other movie. Beyond loses.
The Final Frontier
Easy win for Beyond here. Though certain kinds of fans (me) like to defend this movie, it’s messiness is undeniable. It’s entertainment value as a piece of science fiction escapism is also highly questionable. The campfire scenes are great, but they’re not enough. Beyond wins easily.
The Undiscovered Country
Director Nicholas Meyer has often (correctly) be credited with saving Star Trek when he did The Wrath of Khan. This movie isn’t as good as The Wrath, but with its fall-of-communist-Russia allegories, this one is way smarter than you might think at first glance. The original cast is over-the-hill and that’s actually what makes this movie great. Better than Beyond for sure.
Oh bummer. Captain Picard is crying and then gets his ass-kicked by Malcolm McDowell, who then kills Captain Kirk via funky fake time-travel. Hardcore Trekkies may love it, but Whoopie Goldberg didn’t even want her name on this movie even though she was totally in it. Beyond definitely wins.
This was the Wrath of Khan for The Next Generation cast. An exciting science fiction movie which did the cyborg collective of the Borg cinematic justice and then some. Nostalgic Star Trek stuff helped turn this mostly dark film into an upbeat feel-good movie. An amazing mix of a mainstream feel that is also a great Star Trek film. People like this one for a reason. Though Beyond has a lot in common with First Contact, it’s not quite as good. Mostly because the new movie lacks Patrick Stewart.
Ha. Easy win for Beyond here. Look, everyone’s favorite android, Mr. Data, is singing show tunes right here. Data’s knowledge of musical theatre is a pivotal thing in this scene. You might argue the crazy Beastie Boys stuff in Beyond is similar, but whatever. Any day of the week you’d rather watch Beyond than Insurrection. Though, it is a bit strange that both films feature really good actors (F. Murray Abraham and Idris Elba, respectively) in alien makeup and playing characters who have secret identities.
Before it was cool to like Tom Hardy, he played a young clone of Captain Picard. On paper, that sounds awesome. It wasn’t. At all. Beyond wins easily.
‘Star Trek’ (2009)
J.J. Abrams achieved the impossible with this film back in 2009. Containing a ton of fan service, boasting a genuinely charming cast, and feeling new throughout, this movie might be the director’s best film. Sure, some of the logistics of the plot will make your head hurt if you think about it too hard. There’s also an argument to made against the action-over-substance vibe here, but for the purposes of making Star Trek movies fight, don’t worry about it. This movie is better than Beyond, and not just because it made Beyond possible.
Ugh. There’s so much to like in Star Trek Into Darkness if you were to watch individual scenes. But taken as a whole, this movie is a dark, weird, twisted mess. Khan’s blood (which Bones injected into a Tribble) saves Kirk’s life in the end. And to think it all began with this sweet kiss from Uhura on Spock’s space helmet. Even the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch can’t save this one. Beyond easily beats Into Darkness.
Star Trek Beyond wins seven out of 12 match-ups with other Star Trek movies. In theory, this makes it a slightly above-average Star Trek movie. Now where does Beyond actually rank in “just okay” Star Trek movies? Well, that depends. If the top-five slots (in no particular order) belong to The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, The Voyage Home, Star Trek(2009), and The Undiscovered Country, you could make a strong case for Beyond being the sixth best Star Trek movie of all time.
And, considering the no-win scenario it’s up against, that’s not bad at all.