Despite the widespread success of the original Star Trek series and the celebrated follow-up, The Next Generation, the stories surrounding the creation of the in-canon films is a very winding road. For starters, the films began trickling out of Paramount’s back-lot once they saw that there was a demand for intelligent science fiction storytelling. Many fans are quick to point out that, despite best intentions on the part of the filmmakers, the Star Trek films have been inconsistent in their quality.
Aptly named ‘The Curse’ by many fans, this phenomenon saw nearly each odd-numbered Star Trek film dip severely in quality. The even-numbered ones are considered the highlights of the series across both the original cast and that of TNG. With that being said, the film to really buck the trend was J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek, a soft reboot of the original series (and the eleventh film). Curiously, the two follow-ups were a major disappointment to fans to the point that it’s been nine years since the last decent Star Trek film.
Now, ‘The Curse’ is not a golden rule by any means, but it does provide us with a decent measuring stick at which to weight the films against one another. However, two notable exceptions include Generations (the 7th) and Nemesis (the 10th), which have merits in both camps.
The following list focuses on things you may not have known about the odd and underappreciated Star Trek films.
27 Star Wars Made The Motion Picture
The films began their run as a response to the boom of science fiction in the late 70s. This is in no small part due to the release of Star Wars. After years of being dormant and dead from broadcast TV, Star Trek resurfaced with the now-cult-classic, The Motion Picture.
The film was made and shot in a similar vein to 2001: A Space Odyssey as opposed to Star Wars.
This is because the filmmakers wanted to ground the storytelling as the Original Series had done: predominantly in hard science fiction. This high-concept approach led to the most artistically striking Star Trek media to date with several long glory shots of the Enterprise in space dock and in general. Grounding it in reality, the film was largely successful in capturing the essence of 2001, while also creating an atmosphere from which to build on in the follow-up film.
25 Nemesis Destroyed Tom Hardy
Already being prone to substance issues prior to his casting of Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, Tom Hardy had a difficult time with the failure of the movie. It was believed by many critics that this new up-and-comer would be propelled to A-list status for his villainous role in Star Trek.
After months of arduous preparation for the role and principal photography had wrapped, Hardy was in a good state of mind, believing this film would take him places.
Unfortunately for the acclaimed actor, the film premiered to a lukewarm reception, as did reviews on his performance. Hardy spiraled back into substance issues and the film is ultimately remembered as a poor effort to conclude a film series and cast storylines. Fortunately for Hardy, he found his big breaks many years later in Bronson.
23 Edward James Olmos Kruge
Looking back on Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, can you believe that the original casting choice was not Christopher Lloyd? It turns out director Leonard Nimoy believed he had already found the perfect Commander Kruge in Edward James Olmos. Nimoy believed Olmos would fit the part in every single way. However, the studio disagreed stating his size was an issue and Nimoy and the Executives were at odds about the persona of the main villain.
Eventually, the Executives pushed for another actor, leaving Olmos with several auditions and no job.
Nimoy, meanwhile, was finally able to convince the executives on his second choice in Christopher Lloyd, who performed the character memorably. Later on, Olmos got a lead role in the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot and the recognition he deserved as a space ship commander.
22 Uhura's Inappropriate Joke
Remember that scene where Uhura appears as a dancer to lure away some enemies in Star Trek: The Final Frontier? As it turns out, that was a joke proposition from screenwriter David Loughery in the writer’s room. It was a hokey idea to spice things up on screen in this otherwise flat film.
It turns out that the producers heard the idea and loved it so much that it was included as part of the final film.
This is something that definitely wouldn’t pass by today’s standards, so it begs the question: at which point are the producer’s pandering to the audience, knowing that the script isn’t that great. If a writer’s room casual joke makes it into the film, what does that say about the state of production for the film itself?
21 Joystick = Manual Control
During Star Trek: Insurrection, Riker takes manual control of the Enterprise in order to outmaneuver enemy ships. To do so, a slot on the helm station opens to reveal a joystick. It’s oddly out of place for such a modern starship. This is because it isn’t actually aligned with futuristic technology at all – it’s a current-day PC joystick. This small nod to modern flight-sims is cool, but it looks so out of place anyone even familiar with a joystick would have no problem noticing it. Of course, Riker uses it like a pro and is able to successfully navigate the harsh nebula and a really awesome space combat sequence, so there isn’t much to complain about. Seeing the recognizable joystick, as fun as it is, breaks some immersion from the film, but also adds a rather fun feeling to the tense moment.
20 First Cast Member To Direct Star Trek
There is now a legion of Star Trek cast members who have had the privilege to direct an episode (or several episodes) of Star Trek across its various series. Did you know that that the first cast member to begins this now legendary trend was Leonard Nimoy? It’s true. He was the first cast member to direct anything with Star Trek in the title with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Since then, Nimoy, William Shatner, and Jonathan Frakes have directed several TV episodes and a couple of films.
Other Star Trek TV actors have even directed episodes of series they weren’t cast in. The most recent example is Jonathan Frakes directing the tenth episode of Star Trek: Discovery, which fans see as a turning point for the better for that particular series.
19 The Long Khan
When the trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness was released, everyone assumed immediately that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a new take on Khan Noonien Singh. Despite swearing the notion as completely ridiculous and claiming Cumberbatch was an original character named John Harrison, many fans doubted J.J. Abrams.
The fans were right and they weren’t too keen on how little their theories were given.
The problem with swearing off fan speculation is that it lifts their hopes to believe that there is a more original plot in the film. When people found out that Cumberbatch was Khan, the film suffered for it and quickly became an exercise in tedium. We had already seen The Wrath of Khan. It’s an excellent movie, and Into Darkness doesn’t hold a candle to it.
18 Wil Wheaton Excluded
Do you remember Riker and Troi’s wedding in Star Trek: Nemesis? It was a delightful celebration where Data sings “Blue Skies” and Worf gets drunk on Romulan Ale. They even gave Whoopi Goldberg a well-deserved cameo. Most of the cast are present…but there is one character you can sort-of see in the wide shots of the film who never even got his close-up: Wesley Crusher. If you look at the wide shots of the wedding party during Picard’s speech, you can see Wesley next to Dr. Crusher (in the above photo, he's on the far left).
Even going by the DVD deleted scenes, there are several instances that Wil Weaton got his close-ups and dialogue.
Where was this in the final film? It never made it. The film was trimmed down in several places, but aside from those couple of wide-shots, it’s as if Wil Wheaton didn’t even make it to set.
17 Insurrection's Recycled Teaser
When films are promoted, they typically get three major trailers: a short teaser with a good stinger on it, and two longer trailers that give much more context to the story. There is so much of an art form to it that there are dedicated websites that showcase trailers and analyze them. The original teaser for Star Trek: Insurrection was mostly a cop-out as it was nearly entirely comprised of recycled footage from both Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. It features a shot of phase-rifles being picked up and shots inside the Enterprise…before it was destroyed in Generations. The obvious reasoning behind this is that principal photography had just begun and there was little usable footage from the final film at that point.
16 Driving The Final Frontier
During the production of The Final Frontier, there was a union-worker’s strike that would have impeded the efforts of the production. To ensure it stayed on schedule and on budget, Paramount hired non-union workers (typically a big no-no when closing a union deal) to drive actors to and from the location. In an effort to avoid the picketers from destroying their vehicles, theses non-union drivers had to take crew to the locations under the cover of darkness in very early mornings. Fortunately, there was no major incident that resulted from this decision. Director William Shatner didn’t seem to mind as long as they stayed on budget, which is easy if you don’t have to pay union rates to a whole department of a fairly large film crew.
15 A 13-Day Plot Hole
In Star Trek: Into Darkness, both the Enterprise and the Vengeance come out of warp near the moon and begin to free-fall towards the Earth. Of course, this is something that is entirely possible, but the film estimates that a loss of orbit between the Moon and the Earth takes mere minutes.
This is essential to the dramatic timing of the film and ultimately results in Kirk’s would-be sacrifice.
Of course, in reality, there would be no tension because the time it would take to fall from the Moon to the Earth is no a matter of minutes, but a matter of days…13 days and 6 hours to be exact. Because of how thorough Star Trek has always been on being relatively close to scientific alignment, the entire climax of Into Darkness simply doesn’t work.
14 The Motion Picture cancelled Phase II
During the 1970s, Gene Roddenberry kept trying to get his sequel series to Star Trek, Phase II developed for television. He had been having trouble for a while and had even gone on to produce Star Trek: The Animated Series, which rounded out the fourth and fifth years of the Original Series’ Five-year mission. Despite it having the same cast (with the exception of Walter Koenig), The Animated Series was second to the intention of doing a proper sequel series to the 60s classic. After the release of Star Wars, Paramount stalled the development of Star Trek: Phase II in order to produce the Motion Picture that reunited the Enterprise’s crew. After the success of first film, it spawned five sequels and even a second series, The Next Generation, eight years later. From 1987 to 2005, there wasn’t a single year without Star Trek on air.
13 Nemesis Killed 5th TNG Film
Did you know that Star Trek: Nemesis wasn’t always intended to be the final mission of the Next Generation’s cast? There was originally supposed be a follow-up film that saw Data reborn in the body of B-4 and would have combined the casts of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager together for the first time. However, this ensemble end-of-an-era story never took off. Many believe it was because Paramount forced Nemesis to go head-to-head with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The final edit of the film was also shortened so that it would be more inviting to moviegoers who didn’t want to watch a 3-hour fantasy epic. This cutting-room decision ultimately ripped much of the character-building soul of the Nemesis script. Fortunately for DVD owners, the lengthy deleted scenes remained on the home-release.
12 Beyond's Underwhelming Villain
Idris Elba is perhaps one of the most charismatic and memorable acting talents today. Unfortunately for him, those talents are ultimately wasted on his performance as Krall, the mutated captain of the U.S.S. Franklin. The film keeps setting him up as a major villain who has a powerful bioweapon, but he doesn’t get to act too much in the film. Most of the time, he has a very complex set of makeup that is restrictive for his dense emotional pallet.
Krall always feels like a threat, but never as credible or as immediate as the Borg.
His motivations are unremarkably two-dimensional and make him a very boring villain for the bland stranded-on-a-planet story the film boasts. Bioweapons, like the people who choose to use them, can be quite scary, but take his weapons away, and the idea of Krall falls into disarray.
11 The Search For Better Security
After a number of thefts from the set of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Paramount found it prudent to heighten security on the film’s sequel. William Shatner is famously quoted for comparing the set’s security protocols to Paramount’s real-life Mission: Impossible. On a typical film set, there is usually some level of security, but Search For Spock added a deeper layer than many before it. All members of the cast were required to have Photo ID badges. There were also special codes for specific areas. Curiously, many of these procedures are now considered commonplace with many scripts being printed on red paper so that they can’t be photocopied and secure areas for all of the props. If this is what high-security sets were like for the 1984 film, imagine the scrutiny and detail set protocol is for a Marvel or Star Wars film!
10 Khambatta's Robotic Acting
When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, it was celebrated for breathing new life into the nearly defunct Star Trek brand. It had an intelligent story, cutting-edge effects, and a conflict worthy of theatrical presentation. Unfortunately, some of its acting suffered and none was more noticeably awkward than that of Persis Khambatta. Granted, Khambatta played Lt. Ilia a short time before her character is abducted and replaced by a robotic replica that is a probe of “V’Ger”. The probe that Ilia plays is very one-note and her performance doesn’t give her character much room for development. It all feels stiff. Maybe that was the direction she was given, but it would have been better to give her a more pronounced development than have her talk as if she were a robot for the film.
9 The Striking Frontier
The biggest story to make its way out of the writers’ room for The Final Frontier wasn’t actually the script itself, but rather, the ongoing writers’ strike at the time. The film was rushed into production in late 1988 to keep the momentum alive from Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home. Unfortunately, the strike cut right into pre-production and the whole film was delayed because of it.
On top of that, Leonard Nimoy began working on another project, which further delayed the film’s principal photography
As a direct result of this strike and the now diminished special effects budget, the climax of the film was cut down from its originally intended ending to what we got: a campy (pun intended) story with as many jokes and fun times as one could fist a shake at.
8 The Nemesis Director
Of all the nightmares from behind-the-scenes filming on Star Trek films, nothing is more upsetting than when a close-knit cast is broken by the will of a terrible director. Jonathan Frakes was locked out of creative meetings for Nemesis and, after having made two successful Star Trek films, was replaced by Stuart Baird, an editor who hated the series in general. Baird often referred to LeVar Burton as “Leverne” and fought hard for his directions over what the cast felt was best for the characters they’d been playing for years. This was far from a fond farewell for the cast and it ultimately led to a film that divided audiences and Star Trek fans. Baird’s complete disinterest in Star Trek is further proof that franchise films should truly only be made by fans of that franchise who are willing to respect the source material.
7 Star Trek: Heart Of Insurrection
The original script treatment for Star Trek: Insurrection was called Stardust and was written by Michael Pillar (and discovered publicly after his death). It involved Picard needing to go into the Romulan Neutral Zone to find and return his old friend, Hugh Duffy to the Federation. It also involved a “Fountain of Youth” planet like in the final version of the film.
This original idea seems much more in line with the themes of the chain of command that The Next Generation regularly dealt with.
It also takes many cues from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, yet makes it an original story in the same vein to both Apocalypse Now and Spec Ops: The Line. Of course the only two elements that carried over from Pillar’s treatment were Picard going against the Federation and the Fountain of Youth planet.
6 Beyond Substance
Star Trek: Beyond brings a lot of stylistic charisma under the helm of new-to-the-franchise director Justin Lin, who had previously done a lot of work on the Fast & Furious films. Unfortunately, when one has a bland script with few hints of sci-fi intrigue, the director has to step up the spectacle of the film or risk losing sales. Beyond does its best to address the lackluster plot by dazzling audiences with its destruction of the Enterprise and then the destruction of the enemy swarm with Beastie Boys. The rest of the film exists predominantly on a planet that imbues Star Trek with as much action as possible to keep average movie-goers happy and focused on the screen rather than checking their watches wondering how long the film it. For all interested, it’s 122 minutes.
5 LOST Into Darkness
After the curse-breaking success of Star Trek in 2009, Damon Lindelof (co-creator of LOST) moved from Executive Producer role to screenwriter along with long-time collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who both wrote the first film. As many screenwriters will tell you, more writers typically makes for a better film. Into Darkness is an exception to the rule and, rather than creating an original story, they decided to do an alternative take on a classic story involving Star Trek villain Khan.
Many ideas and even a couple of scenes are pulled directly from the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
It took three writers to recycle an old movie in a franchise that had a modern spark to it. In making this decision, which was noted to be Lindelof’s, the series is still attempting to course-correct with a fourth film currently in development hell.
4 Beyond Safe
While many enjoyed a change of pace from the mess and re-hashing of better movies that was Star Trek: Into Darkness, there was something uncomfortable about Beyond. The film presented the Enterprise answering a distress call that led them into a trap and, inevitably, the loss of their ship. It yet-again re-iterated the notion that the crew is a family and not simply a group of co-workers. As fresh as this novel idea is on paper, the biggest oversight writer Simon Pegg made on this film is that the ‘stranded on a planet’ story is one of the most overdrawn and utterly uninspired science fiction tropes ever. It’s been done so many times, it’s complete irony that the film is titled “Beyond” at all. Star Trek: Playing it Safe is a far more accurate title for this bland venture into the final frontier.
3 Relying On Cast Familiarity
When it comes to Star Trek: The Final Frontier, the film is remembered for two main things: the one where the Enterprise tries to find God and the one where they go camping. The camping scenes aren’t too short either. They’re supposed to be on leave following the events of The Voyage Home and are enjoying some much-need R&R.
All of these scenes and even the situations that arise in the film play on the audience’s knowledge of the relationships of the main cast.
We get to see Kirk and Bones sing songs around a campfire, encouraging Spock to join in. The entire film suffers from poor pacing and the best part of it is the banter and ways it expands its characters. That said, it’s still the one where space travelers go camping and then try to find God. You decide if it’s good.
2 Tasteless Exposition
Do you remember that scene from Star Trek: Into Darkness where Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus is giving Kirk a speech about opening a torpedo on a nearby planetoid because it’s safer that way? No? How about that scene where she asks Kirk to turn around and she starts changing into a new outfit, Kirk turns around and sees her in her underwear? Would you believe that’s the same scene? The expository dialogue may have gone unnoticed by viewers in lieu of the cleavage shot. Unsurprisingly, this dialogue could have been used in any number of situations the crew of the enterprise find themselves in. The use of the scene appears to be nothing more than a childish gimmick to spice up exposition. Despite the writers and director having apologized for the scene, it still begs the question why it was added in the first place.
1 Nimoy Had All The Cards
One thing that was abundantly clear to Nimoy was that he was in an exceptional position to return as Spock following the character’s death in The Wrath of Khan. He held all the cards and decided that he would return on the condition that he could expand his artistic horizons and direct the third Trek film. While Paramount was not keen on the idea, they inevitably relented when it was clear that Nimoy had all the leverage on the situation. Nimoy went on to direct not only the aptly named Search for Spock, but also Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is regarded as a fan-favorite to this day. Nimoy, meanwhile, garnered the respect of becoming the most successful Trek star-turned-director ever and the most respected pointy-eared bastard in the galaxy.