We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
This week sees the release of Star Trek into Darkness, the newest entry in the Star Trek film series featuring the rebooted alternative timeline. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise crew must stop a powerful galactic terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) from presumably destroying the Earth. Is he Gary Mitchell? Is he the rumored alternative version of Khan? Or is he just some pissed off former Starfleet officer out for revenge? Since the trailers absolutely refuse to dish out any specific details on the film I guess we’ll see tomorrow.
Being a huge fan of the films, I figured it was time to put together some of the best moments thus far in series. Some are humorous while some are more emotional but the main factor linking them all together is that every single one of them is totally badass. Looking back at the films, I’ve realized that although most of the Next Generation films are not good and the odd numbered Original Series flicks are serviceable at best (except The Final Frontier, screw that movie), each movie has at least a few classic scenes that make fans proud. Only time will tell whether Star Trek into Darkness can deliver anything on par to what you see on this list, if anyone has the ability, it’s J.J. Abrams.
Real quick to mention, this list obviously spoils a good number of the Star Trek movies, many of which are 25 years old or older. Quit your crying and go watch them. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Here are the Top 7 Star Trek Movie Moments.
7. Spock Mind Melding with a Whale in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Recap: After going renegade to find and save Spock, Captain Kirk and what's left of the Enterprise crew prepare to return home in an old Klingon Bird-of-Prey to stand trial for stealing and destroying the Enterprise. During the journey back, they discover a mysterious probe sending out a looping distress signal causing catastrophic weather problems for Earth. A newly regenerated Spock identifies the signal as one that matches the now extinct humpback whales of the late 20th century Earth. The crew determines that in order to save Earth, they must go back in time to 1986 to capture a whale that will answer the mysterious signal. Seriously, they go back in time to save the whales. Yup. You heard me.
Reason: The moment speaks for itself as being one of the more goofy sequences in Star Trek cinematic history. As the team prepares their spaceship for whale transportation, Spock seeks the approval of the animal through his signature Vulcan mind meld technique in hopes of avoiding the mistakes of the near future. Luckily the whale complies and our heroes save the world.
The Voyage Home is so preposterous at a conceptual level that it's a miracle that the film works at all and yet it's one of the most sweet, heartfelt and downright funny films of the series. It's certainly a film made of smaller moments such as Kirk attempting to adjust his speech to the lingo of the period with “Well, a double dumbass on you!” Chekov's repeated struggles with the word “vessel,” or the hilarious moment where Scotty attempts to speak to a computer through a mouse. Director Leonard Nimoy takes a typical fish out of water story and makes the most out of it by making the film a character based comedy with wildly unique results. It's fun and delightfully weird in a way that might appeal to your mom or your wacky aunt.
6. Captains Kirk and Picard Finally Meet in Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Recap: Captain Kirk, now retired from Starfleet, attends the maiden voyage of the new Enterprise-B spaceship only to intercept a destructive energy ribbon that damages the ship. Kirk manages to save the ship but goes missing in the process presumably lost in the energy ribbon. Some years later, Captain Picard and his crew aboard the Enterprise-D encounter an evil doctor out to find the same energy ribbon and enter it no matter the cost. Can Picard and Kirk work together to stop the madman? Spoiler: I think they can.
Reason: For some Trek fans this is the moment of moments. What they had all been waiting for. Who was the better captain? Picard or Kirk? What would happen if they had to work together? The result is a pretty incredible series of events that has both captains working together to save the day. Whether Generations itself is worth a damn is debatable but the meeting of the captains is of such legendary importance and anticipation that it could have easily been a bust and yet it worked. Most of the praise must go to William Shatner and Patrick Stewart. Their surprising chemistry works so well that, if not for the tragic ending, future encounters might be worth the effort. If only a moment this great had happened in a better film, imagine the possibilities.
5. The Destruction of the Enterprise in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Recap: Captain Kirk discovers that Spock might be alive after the end of the previous installment. Doctor McCoy's mind holds the key to Spock's survival and the crew disobeys orders by stealing the Enterprise to get Spock's body back to his home planet of Vulcan. Along the way a band of Klingons, hell bent on retrieving the Genesis device, attempts to stop the Enterprise from completing its mission.
Reason: I feel like The Search for Spock is in some ways one of the most forgotten entries in the Star Trek film series. It's in the middle of a three film arc dealing with the Genesis device and the resurrection of Spock bookended by the best of the series (Khan) and the funniest of the series (Voyage Home). It's a tough spot but the movie has some absolutely huge moments that impact the rest of the series in ways even the previously mentioned films do not.
Although it's about Spock, Kirk has a huge emotional arc dealing with the deaths of those closest to him. Beginning with his best friend in the previous movie to facing the death of his son at the hands of the Klingons and finally the eventual destruction of the Enterprise. By the time the ending hits, Kirk has been through the works and must evacuate the remainder of his crew off the Enterprise and onto the Klingon Bird-of-Prey ultimately luring the aggressive Klingon force onto a self destructing Enterprise. It's a big moment showcasing the leadership and tactics of Kirk while also forcing him to face death in a more personal way than ever before.
4. Picard's Ahab Speech in Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Recap: The Borg are back and this time they want to conquer humanity by using time travel to enslave the past thereby changing the future. The Next Generation crew travel back in time to prevent a small contingent of Borg from taking over Earth in the 21st century. Picard must face his greatest enemy aboard his own starship and prevent the timeline change.
Reason: Every time I watch First Contact, Picard’s hulk out gets me. It’s a powerfully eloquent speech that highlights his long, complicated history with the Borg. They are his white whale and he will stop at nothing to prevent them from taking the ship even if that means its eventual demise at the hands of the Borg. Stewart deliciously chews the scene in typical Shakespearean fashion by taking the opportunity to really push the reserved Picard to his emotional limits.
Most fans will remember lines such as “The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!” and “I will make them pay for what they’ve done.” But the moment when he throws his rifle into a glass case filled with model spaceships is what gets me the most. It shows in one motion the emotional damage the Borg have wrecked on the universe and for a second you begin to understand his rage filled quest. You want to see him succeed despite everyone telling him it can’t be done. In that moment he becomes Ahab.
3. USS Kelvin Battle from Star Trek (2009)
Recap: In this reboot of the film franchise, we follow a young James T. Kirk as he struggles to succeed in Starfleet while slowly bringing the original series crew together to battle a vengeful Romulan named Nero from the future. Due to the use of time travel and the events of the film, an alternative timeline is created where important changes occur such as the death of Kirk’s father.
Reason: Right off the bat, director J.J. Abrams proves the 2009 Star Trek reboot isn’t the same series you know and love. Sure, the characters are there but the structure of the film lends itself to something a bit different, a bit more action adventure in space with more emphasis on spectacle than thoughtful science fiction. He couldn’t have picked a better way to start off a new era of Star Trek than with a huge space battle between the USS Kelvin and Nero’s ship, the Narada.
When the captain of the Kelvin is killed during combat, George Kirk takes the reigns and saves hundreds of lives through a daring evacuation attempt that leaves his future son James T. Kirk fatherless. The battle is a visual marvel, a mess of phasers and space torpedos, red mixing with green with ships being slowly blown to bits. It’s all muscle but with a mack truck of emotion thrown in. Perhaps the most emotional moment in the film happens when George Kirk must name his newborn son while also saying goodbye as he rams the Kelvin straight into the heart of the Narada. It’s the performance of a young Chris Hemsworth (Thor) that sells the whole situation. His George Kirk is strong, calm and confident but also a family man, one whose decision making rests not in fame but in the survival of his family and crew. It’s a completely selfless act that informs his son’s life over the next 25 years. By the way it’s OK to get emotional, even grown men cry.
2. Khaaaaaaan! from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Recap: An enemy from the past is out for revenge on the Original Series Enterprise crew through weaponizing an advanced Federation sponsored terraforming device. Kirk and Khan are at it again except this time it’s personal. It’s always personal.
Reason: The most famous moment from perhaps the most well known and acclaimed Star Trek movie is actually more clever than the imitators might realize. Is it hilarious? Yeah, of course. Is it the most scene chewing Shatner moment of all scene chewing Shatner moments? Definitely. Is it actually an awesomely clever piece of acting that showcases the tactical genius of Kirk? 1000 times yes.
Khan maroons Kirk on a dead planet much like what Kirk had done to Khan in the Original Series episode “Space Seed.” In a fit of rage, Kirk screams Khan’s name leading the genetically enhanced maniac to think he had finally won the day. What most people forget is that Shatner is deliberately playing Kirk over the top so that Khan is convinced that he is victorious. In reality it’s a brilliant fake out when Kirk reveals that the Enterprise was near the planet and ready to pick up the marooned crew to head after Khan before he’s able to get away. What follows is the amazing Mutara Nebula starship battle in the vein of old school submarine warfare. Shatner’s performance is frequently mocked or dismissed as over the top but in reality it’s a pretty incredible piece of acting that truly demonstrates how smart Captain James T. Kirk really is.
1. Spock’s Death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982)
Recap: The Mutara Nebula battle with Khan’s Reliant has effectively disabled the Enterprise’s warp drive capabilities. With no hope of escaping the Nebula before the Genesis device explodes, Spock risks his life by entering the warp core chamber in an effort to restore the drive and save the crew. The radiation proves to be too much and he dies protecting his best friend.
Reason: Out of all of these amazing cinematic moments, this is the one that never fails to bring me to tears. To fans, Kirk and Spock were like two peas in a pod. They are best friends despite their differences and over the many television series seasons developed a legendary relationship that most people, even non-Trek fans, recognize and understand. It all culminates in what is perhaps one of the ballsiest and most emotional endings in science fiction history. As Spock leans against the glass warp drive wall, blinded from the radiation and barely able to speak he shares one final moment with Kirk. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” With that line, one of the most famous bromances is solidified.
It’s Spock’s big moment in the entire series. He makes good on the quote “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” and he does so in about the most heroic way possible. For my money, the moment is one of the most powerful in all of science fiction history and will be tough to top. Now of course this is completely undone in the following film, where the Enterprise crew steal a ship and go looking for Spock’s body in an attempt to resurrect him but the fact remains that The Wrath of Khan is so well constructed that the death still hits really hard when it happens.