The Star Trek franchise has, against all odds, survived the test of time and been a consistently enormous media juggernaut for decades. From the struggles of The Original Series, whose low-budget charm and optimism saved it from cancellation twice, to the new movies whose special effects, tight writing, and energetic cast allow it to stand against Star Wars and Fast and the Furious. Hundreds of actors have been cast in the various shows, movies, and video games, over the years and many of them have taken vague and bizarre character breakdowns and audition scripts that must have seemed absolutely incomprehensible out of context, and woven them into characters that have garnered ravenous love from a fan base that is quick to turn on those it feels don't "get it."
Then there are the characters we don't remember as fondly, or at all. For a series that has always teetered on the brink of cancellation, suffering from writer's strikes, producer mismanagement and interferences, cast disruption, and the march of time, not everyone gets it right. This article is a celebration of Star Trek, from the grand, the fun, and the heartbreaking, to the hokey, the lame, and the cringey.
A small note: as someone who has been on both sides of the camera, I didn't want to write something that would slam any one particular element of a weak performance. This won't be a "Worst actors ever" list. I try to make deference to the difficulties of shooting something as esoteric as Star Trek. So, again, this is not a condemnation of a hard-working actor who booked a recurring role on a major TV series, then ended up being underwhelming. Beloved or not: all of these people did their jobs!
30 Saved: Chris Pine (Captain Kirk)
Relax, Original Series purists, I'm not saying Pine is better than Shatner- I'm a huge Shatner fan and I believe his ability to take ridiculous situations seriously is a major credit to him as an actor. This is an article about casting, after all, and I think the decision to cast Chris Pine as Kirk was a pretty major gamble for Paramount that absolutely paid off. When Star Trek was in pre-production, I and most people probably knew Pine as Lindsay Lohan's ex-boyfriend.
"The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective."
Turns out, this charming, handsome, confident young man, was perfect to play a younger, energetic James T Kirk. I absolutely love the behind the scenes footage of Pine and Quinto running through the sets of the Enterprise with director JJ Abrams yelling "Go go go!" Pine captures Kirk's journey through the trilogy brilliantly and has become one of Hollywood's most watchable leading men.
29 Ruined: The Rock (The Champion)
We all love Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, arguably the most successful wrestler-to-movie-star transition ever made. While The Rock is content with being a pure, thousand-watt movie star. (As opposed to Dave Bautista who is smoothly becoming a reliable character actor). Early on in this transition, The Rock guest starred as The Champion where the half-man, half-brick wall professional wrestler played… a half-alien, half-brick wall professional wrestler.
"Blood, Sweat, and Respect. First Two You Give, Last One You Earn"
Yeah, so there wasn't much of a stretch casting Dwayne as an alien gladiator. Generally seen as a stunt by the network UPN, who was looking for a crossover with WWF Smackdown, where The Rock was at the height of his popularity. Unlike Seven of Nine, The Rock's addition to the cast was short lived and not very popular.
28 Saved: Colm Meaney (Miles O'Brien)
I absolutely love Miles O'Brien and I still can't believe the opportunities the writers kept giving him in Next Generation, all the way to making him a lead on Deep Space Nine. As a blue-collar worker on the Enterprise, O'Brien gives us a unique perspective on the Star Trek world, one that DS9 would explore even further. I think this expanding of O'Brien's character is due entirely to Colm Meaney's performance.
"Don't worry about being a star. Just worry about being a working actor. Just keep working."
Meany was a reliable character actor in his native Ireland for a long time before landing Star Trek, which must have seemed like a pretty cushy job: cash in those American TV cheques while standing behind a console once a week. As the show dove deeper into its considerable bench, Meany was gradually given richer acting challenges which he met every time.
27 Ruined: Anthony Montgomery (Mayweather)
Travis Mayweather is one of several examples of a good idea for a character that stays as one and is never developed beyond a basic pitch. Mayweather, the helmsman of the NX-01 Enterprise, was born in space on a long-haul cargo ship his parents were crew members on. This, somehow, gave him the knowledge and ability to fly just about any type of spacecraft, which I guess makes sense as long as you don't think about it too much.
"I couldn't call a place home unless it came with a pair of warp nacelles."
Mayweather is played by Anthony Montgomery, who does his best with the little amount of material he's given. He injects a certain amount of excitement and naivety into the character, but weak writing and the inconsistent tone of Enterprise make don't do him any favors.
26 Saved: Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Yeah so Deep Space Nine is gonna come up on this list a lot, so brace yourself and if you're not familiar with the show, get on it. DS9 was maligned in its day, especially due to its rocky first season and similarities to Babylon 5. (Which is also great, FYI). The show really found its footing in season 2 and Andrew Robinson Garak is a major reason for that.
"Oh, it's just Garak. Plain, simple Garak"
Robinson, likely best known for his dual starring role in the original Hellraiser, plays an unassuming Cardassian tailor who is more than he appears. Garak represents some of the show's complex politics, as a disgraced former Cardassian intelligence agent living on station that has been reclaimed by the people he worked to oppress, his loyalties are murky and complex. Robinson plays Garak with an affability that belies his skills as a spy- and the deep pain he feels at being an exile.
25 Ruined: Robert Beltran (Chakotay)
On paper, the idea of Chakotay is a really good one: a Native American Maquis rebel who is forced to work alongside Starfleet officers after Voyager is stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay was an opportunity to show that the Maquis weren't all bad after they had been used as a secondary antagonist through most of the mid-seasons of Deep Space Nine. Unfortunately, Voyager's unwillingness to fully explore the potential of the inter-crew tension drains Chakotay of his drive.
"My people taught me a man does not own land."
The other big issue with Chakotay is part of his character breakdown: He's 'Native American.' He's not Iroquois or Cherokee, he's just a generic amalgam of noble savage stereotypes which undermine not only his character but the inclusivity of Star Trek as a whole. Actor Robert Beltran does his best but never really had a chance, a common theme for Voyager's underwritten supporting cast.
24 Saved: Michael Dorn (Worf)
Is Worf the most developed character in the entire Star Trek franchise? I certainly think so, especially since his character has been expanded beyond the show into multimedia properties like books and even the surprisingly excellent Star Trek Online. Worf could easily have been a cheap nod to the original series: "See how different our show is? In this one, the Klingons are the good guys!" Worf doesn't have much to do in the first season, admittedly, but once he becomes chief of security he essentially forms the entire basis of Klingon society moving forward.
"The business doesn't know who I am."
Dorn is given an opportunity few actors get: to play a character over the course of many years, two TV series, and several films. His performance is surprising, instinctual rage barely restrained by his sense of honor and duty constantly warring with his human parents' values of family and kindness.
23 Ruined: Garrett Wang (Kim)
Harry Kim suffers from the same underwritten "gee whiz" syndrome as fellow "youngest guy on the crew" characters Travis Mayweather and Wesley Crusher. Created as a foil to Tom Paris, Kim never really becomes anything other than the crew's moral compass, something the show consistently struggles with in its inconsistent characterization of Captain Janeway and the generally weak arguments it provides Chakotay. See, even in his own topic I have trouble coming up with enough things to say about Harry Kim. I couldn't even find a quote that he said:
"Mr. Kim... at ease, before you sprain something."
See? Despite being a bridge officer for seven years and being on Voyager's senior staff, he doesn't even get promoted to Lieutenant. The show struggles to give him anything useful to do, other than fall in love with women who are way out of his league.
22 Saved: James Doohan (Scotty)
Star Trek, commonly referred to as The Original Series, has been iconic for so long it's easy to forget what a gamble it was at the time. So many of what James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols had to do was so completely new and abstract it really is a credit to the actors and writers that it works as well as it does. Doohan's cries of "She cannae take any more!" aren't repeated out of mockery but out of love.
"...what you see in Scotty is 99% James Doohan and 1% accent."
You have to admire the man's enthusiasm once you think about his circumstances: he's often completely alone in his scenes, yelling into a wall-mounted radio in front of a big red set-piece. For an actor to bring so much emotion to lines that are basically nonsense is admirable.
21 Ruined: Ethan Phillips (Neelix)
Sometimes Voyager feels like it should have been a movie. Maybe this is due to series showrunner Ronald D Moore leaving the project after Producers wouldn't let him explore the full potential of the series. (Which he would later do brilliantly with Battlestar Galactica). Neelix is a good example of this: he's definitely useful in the pilot but then what does he do? Ostensibly he's a guide but, by his own admission, he stops being useful pretty early on and anyway, isn't the whole point of Voyager to inject new life in Star Trek by putting them in unfamiliar territory?
"Without a doubt, he's the most versatile member of our crew."
Chakotay says that about Neelix and I think he might be being sarcastic. Neelix gets shoved in the galley where he should serve the same role as Guinan but, unfortunately, keeps getting pushed into the spotlight of many episodes.
20 Saved: Simon Pegg (Scotty)
As much as Doohan was able to create a beloved character out of nearly thin air, Simon Pegg did the same with a character who had been reduced to parody. Pegg is living the nerd's dream: after starring in the BBC show Spaced where he essentially played himself, a socially awkward nerd navigating his early twenties in London, his ongoing partnerships with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost allowed him to land roles he had only dreamed of.
"Holy $&*# I'm in Star Trek!"
His absolute glee at being in Star Trek is a delight and he is famously modest: in an interview, he once waved off how successful he was becoming in Hollywood saying "It's not like I'm going to be in Mission: Impossible 3." He was, though, and then parlayed a memorable but minor part into a lead role. His line in Ghost Protocol sums it up pretty well: "Crazy, right?"
19 Ruined: Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko)
Jake Sisko does eventually become a really interesting character and adds a lot to the emotional makeup of the cast of Deep Space Nine but, like the show on a whole, it takes a few years to get there. Again, I don't think this is the actor's fault: Cirroc Lofton and Aron Eisenberg, who plays his buddy Rom, don't have much to do in the first few seasons and, as they get older, eventually grow into important characters.
However, Deep Space Nine is about a war and Nog, joining Starfleet and returning to the crew, has a lot more to offer the story than Jake who... wants to be a writer. The son of the commanding officer becoming a journalist is really interesting, especially in the series that takes a hard look at the dark side of the Federation, but the show never really does anything with it.
18 Saved: Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway)
While The Next Generation had played it safe with its casting of British actor Patrick Stewart, Deep Space Nine had made a small gamble in the casting of African American actor Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko. While Star Trek fans tend to be open-minded as far as diversity goes, there was still some concern that fans wouldn't be accepting of a female Captain.
"You can't just walk away from your responsibilities because you made a mistake."
Mulgrew's performance in the pilot of Voyager, one of its best episodes, put fears to rest. She is capable and strong but also has a tremendous empathy that Stewart and Brooks took a few years to bring out. Mulgrew also plays into Janeway's science background, bringing a genuine curiosity to the role that was definitely missing in Deep Space Nine.
17 Ruined: Zachary Quinto (Spock)
While I generally think the new movies do a really good job recreating and expanding on the relationships of the classic characters, I'm always a little underwhelmed by Zachary Quinto's Spock. I can't point to one specific thing that fails in the new Spock. Quinto's portrayal is fine, his sense of humor comes through in a way that most actors playing Vulcans struggle with, and the added dimension of him having a relationship with Uhura is interesting although underdeveloped.
Something about Quinto's Spock just feels kind of flat to me. I think he's a fine actor and he plays off of Pine's Kirk really well. It might be that, despite all the successes of the new movies, he's just not Leonard Nimoy. Watching the older episodes, it's really amazing how much appeal Nimoy brings to a character that really shouldn't have any.
16 Saved: DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy)
DeForest Kelley had always wanted to be a doctor. After studying to be a singer and serving as a crewmember in a bomber in WW2. After being spotted in a Navy training video by a casting director, he was encouraged to move to Hollywood where he racked up a respectable career in smaller productions and had a few really cool gigs, one of which was singing alongside Bob Hope. Like most of Star Trek's future cast, he mostly appeared in Westerns in the 50s and 60s.
"I have no aspiration whatsoever to be the next great leading man."
Due to Trek's rocky production history, Kelley was passed over twice for the role of the Doctor on board, before finally being cast for the third (!) pilot The Corbomite Maneuver in 1966.
15 Ruined: Idris Elba (Krall)
I went to see Star Trek Beyond with two good friends of mine specifically because it was the one with Idris Elba in it. To be clear: I wanted to see it because it was the new Star Trek movie and it was directed by Justin Lin, the man who had turned The Fast and the Furious from bargain-bin DVD garbage to the biggest action franchise of all time.
"I would never be fearful of any character."
And then they made him look like a dragon. Elba's natural physical menace and his Shakespearean understanding of overwrought bad guy dialogue are a perfect fit for a Star Trek villain, especially following Cumberbatch's Khan in Into Darkness. Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond falls into the same trap that a lot of ensemble action movies do: they just have too many characters to make their villains interesting.
14 Saved: Karl Urban (Dr McCoy)
Before Trek, most people probably associated New Zealand actor Karl Urban as Eomer from The Lord of the Rings, where his incredible scowl served him well as the king of the horse-warriors, the Rohirrim. After a number of years playing forgettable tough guys in bad movies like Chronicles of Riddick and DOOM, Urban developed that scowl into a great character with his update to Leonard McCoy.
"Nothing beats a great smile."
As a fan of Urban, I was pretty stoked to hear he'd come on board the new movies but he absolutely rocks my world as McCoy. His sense of humor blends perfectly with his dedication to the stakes and energy of the new films while never descending into self-parody. Urban can do more with a raised eyebrow and pursed lips than most actors can do with a whole monologue.
13 Ruined: Diana Muldaur (Dr. Pulaski)
When Gates McFadden left The Next Generation due to creative differences with some of the producers at Paramount, Roddenberry wrote that Dr. Crusher was being promoted rather than being eliminated, allowing her to return later on in the show. Maybe this is why her replacement, Dr. Pulaski, never really fit in with the show: she was always designed as a temporary replacement.
And it's too bad because Pulaski is an interesting wrench in the gears of the Enterprise-D crew: a cynical older woman who is suspicious of Data and isn't afraid to stand up to Picard. Contrasted with Troi, who the show didn't know how to write for yet, Pulaski is a welcome dose of non-nurturing female energy. It wouldn't last: McFadden would return to the show in season 3 and Pulaski would appear in occasional guest roles.
12 Saved: Brent Spiner (Data)
Possibly one of the most impactful castings in the history of the franchise, Brent Spiner's portrayal as Data went from being the essential comic relief of the series to one of the most famous characters in science fiction. Spiner had done a few movies and guest starred in a couple of tv shows, including Cheers and Night Court, when he was cast as Data.
"My own personal favorite Cher song is the unforgettable Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves."
Spiner found a depth of emotion and humor in Data that is really unbelievable to watch develop over the course of the show's seven seasons and then in the films, especially Generations and First Contact. His history as a classical actor must have a lot to do with this and it's no surprise that he and Stewart would have such amazing chemistry.
11 Ruined: James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Okay, I've been very favorable towards DS9 but it's time to be real: the show wasn't perfect and two factors: a rough first season and the rigors of a 24-episode season order, led to some weak episodes and even weak characters. Holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine is one of them.
"Trust me, he's no ordinary hologram."
Star Trek has always struggled with its holodeck. While it's an interesting addition to the series' technology, episodes that revolve entirely around it never really work out. EIther the stakes or too low or the technology's limitation are ill-defined: too big mistakes in writing sci-fi. Played by talented singer James Darren, there isn't anything wrong with Vic Fontaine and, as an occasionally appearing tertiary character popping up to give Miles and Bashir advice, he'd be fine. It's when they try to expand his character beyond the holosuite that things get interesting.
10 Saved: Michelle Yeoh (Captain Georgiou)
Think about the great action stars of Asian cinema for a second. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Chow-Yun Fat. While Hong Kong and Japanese cinema is still quite behind Hollywood in terms of gender parity in roles, Michelle Yeoh has established herself as a titan of action cinemas, holding her own against Fat and Chan in classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Supercop.
"I have been presented with roles which demand not just a physical ability but mental discipline as well."
Unlike her action movie co-stars, Yeoh has successfully and beautifully transitioned into more mainstream drama. I first saw Yeoh in a non-active role in Danny Boyle's Sunshine and was really impressed with her emotional depth. Her role as Phillippa Georgiou in Discovery is the absolute highlight of the new series.
9 Ruined: Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Here's another example of DS9 over-expanding its supporting cast. Keiko, introduced as Miles O'Brien's girlfriend, added another dimension to the working class Starfleet officer. She even got a big part in some later TNG episodes, giving birth under duress in Ten Forward and being transformed into a younger version of herself along with Picard, Guinan, and Ensign Ro.
I don't take any issue with Rosalind Chao's work as Keiko O'Brien, I think she does the best with what material the writers give her, especially in DS9. She falls into a common trap for spouses of main characters: what I call the Cop Widow Trope. This is the classic woman who is always annoyed with her husband for working too hard and never being at home.
8 Saved: Ricardo Montalban (Khan)
While he is now most remembered for his role as Kahn in Star Trek, Montalban's casting in the 60s was a bit of a coup for The Original Series. Although only appearing in a single episode of the first season, Montalban's portrayal of Kahn made such an impression on fans and crew alike that they made a whole movie about him. Think about how popular a character has to be to have an entire film made out of a single episode guest spot. Actually, two, when you think about it: Into Darkness is a remake of a movie based on a character who has less than an hour of screen time.
"My father taught me that only through self-discipline can you achieve freedom."
Montalban would go on to star in the immensely popular series Fantasy Island and would work consistently into his eighties.
7 Ruined: Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher)
Be honest: how many of you clicked on this article just to see how far Wil was on it? Yes, Wesley Crusher is annoying and should never have been made such a major character. Yes, Wil Wheaton's performance is one-note and irritating. (Close your mouth, Wil!) Yes, Wesley's best episode has more to do with how good an actor Ashley Judd is than anything he does.
"Shut up Wesley!"
Credit where it's due, though, Wil Wheaton has turned a much-maligned character into one heck of a career. Wheaton, despite being despised by a lot of "fans" who think they know Star Trek better than he does, has shaped his geek cred into a nerd empire comprised of podcasts, websites, youtube channels, and public appearances. Say what you will about the acting ability of a teenager on a sci-fi tv show in the nineties, but don't rag on a guy who's become a leader of a community who used to not be able to stand him.
6 Saved: Nana Visitor (Kira)
Kira Nerys was immediately unique among Star Trek lead characters: her and Deep Space Nine security chief Odo were the first main characters who were not members of Starfleet. Most characters in The Next Generation were essentially blank slates, their most important stories were told over the course of the series. Kira believed her story was more or less finished at the beginning of DS9, having overthrown Bajor's Cardassian oppressors in her teens. Kira is a tough woman in a franchise known for characters who are pretty accommodating.
"Now I'm going to put my eyelashes on and stretch my legs out and do a show."
Visitor is, like a lot of the best actors on this list, primarily a stage actor. She appeared on Broadway at a young age and went on to do lots of small parts on television until booking DS9 in the early nineties.
5 Ruined: Marina Sirtis (Troi)
I'll get right out in front of this: I think Deanna Troi grows into one of the most interesting characters on Next Generation. In the hands of an actor less capable and confident than Marina Sirtis, I don't think this would have happened. Sirtis was definitely cast because she looks good: she's put into tight jumpsuit after tight jumpsuit and, even after her character has developed beyond her one-dimensional beginning, a low-cut dress. Sirtis though, she just owns her character, even when she's given less than nothing to do.
While sci-fi is full of actors playing psychics squinting their eyes and grabbing their temples in pain, Sirtis really nails the otherworldly sense of calm that a being with extreme empathy would possess. Her job alone, as ship's psychiatrist, is brilliant and not even the other Star Trek series have done anything with that idea. TNG struggled with finding anything for its women to do other than fall in love, Sirtis took this weakness and turned it into a strength.
4 Saved: Jeri Ryan (Seven Of Nine)
In 1997, Voyager was in trouble. While its initial premise was an intriguing return to the core principles of Star Trek after the controversial shift to the static location and serialized storytelling of Deep Space Nine, the show had failed to find its feet. The showrunners decided to explore a possibility that had always hung over the heads of the Voyager crew: that their position in the Delta Quadrant would eventually force them into contact with the Borg.
"I get to pretend I'm flying into space, and hang out with my friends. That's what I do for a living."
Ryan's casting was seen as a stunt with the media, unfortunately, focusing on her looks and not her ability as an actor. Ryan's talent and the unique opportunity to explore the Borg allowed the writers to push her and the show in new directions and I think her casting saved Voyager.
3 Ruined: Kate Mulgrew (Janeway)
I know, I have Mulgrew as a casting win earlier on the list. Bear with me: for all my faults with Voyager, the worst is how they handled Captain Janeway. Kirk, Picard, & Sisko, were complex characters who could still be distilled into simple binary traits. Janeway can't. One episode she is calm, kind, and confident, the next she's cruel, arrogant, and reckless. The lack of a strong character to play her off, a Spoke to her Kirk, makes the inconsistency of her writing even worse. As Captain, both the character and the actor are the anchors that ground the show.
I don't think this is entirely Mulgrew's fault, though she has said in interviews she was going through some rough personal times when the show was in production. It's indicative of the turmoil in Star Trek at the time that Janeway is such a weak character half the time, a problem that would consistently plague Voyager and, later, Enterprise.
2 Saved - Patrick Stewart - Picard
I mean, of course. I intentionally left Shatner and Nimoy off this list because what else needs to be said about them? However, Stewart's addition to The Next Generation is, in my opinion, the only reason we still have Star Trek today. Reviving Star Trek on television, while the original crew was still making movies, seems like a good idea now but setting it almost a hundred years after the original series is a big gamble.
"Violence is never ever a choice that a man should make."
The decision to essentially flip the Kirk/Spock dynamic: having the captain be the cold, logical one led to TNG feeling a bit soulless. Stewart has even said he didn't take the show seriously and only accepted the role to cash a cheque between theatre gigs.
1 Ruined: Eric Menyuk (The Traveler)
Okay so I've been very careful to be fair to the actors on the 'ruined' side of this list but I'm not a saint. Sometimes an actor just does a bad job and who knows why that is. Eric Menyuk's The Traveler, an inexplicable recurring character in TNG who eventually steals Wesley Crusher, falls into all the traps of bad sci-fi acting.
"There is no specific 'place' I wish to go."
Breathy, annoying voice? Check. Soft, unfocused eyes? Check. Weightless screen presence? Check. Inability to make us understand his technobabble nonsense dialogue? Big ol' check, buddy. I'm bored just thinking about this character and Menyuk just doesn't do anything. Think about the great guest stars on Star Trek: Your Gowron's and your Damar's. Think about how much they brought to characters with almost zero dimension. The Traveler just ends up being this weird, grey, mushy mass.