If you don't watch the Star Trek movies in order, you'll blow a hole in the space time continuum... or that's what Scotty tells us anyway.
Few film franchises have lasted as long as Star Trek. Through five decades and three different crews, the Star Trek films have saved more than a few worlds (and the whales), traveling through time more than once to do it. With them being set in so many different time periods, their actual chronological order might get a little confusing. No need to fret as this is the proper order… in linear time, anyway. On a quantum level is a whole other thing.
While this article deals how to watch the Star Trek movies in order, we’ve also put together our Star Trek movies ranked, worst to best article to help guide you through the best and worst that Star Trek has to offer.
And if this guide puts you in the mood for a Star Trek marathon, our Star Trek streaming guide is here to show you where to watch the movies and shows online.
Star Trek: Prime Timeline
The first thing you need to know about the Star Trek films is that while they travel back and forth in time, they also diverge into two (for now) different timelines. The films of the original crew (well, the first iteration of them, anyway – more on that later) are all in what is known as the Prime Timeline.
Within the Prime Timeline, the movies are then split between The Original Series movies and The Next Generation movies.
The Original Series movies
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Release date: December 8, 1979
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
This is the film that brought the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise to the big screen. An energy cloud is making its way toward Earth, destroying everything in its path. Kirk and crew intercept it and discover an ancient NASA probe at the heart of the cloud. Voyager – known as V’ger now – encountered a planet of living machines, learned all it could, and returned home to report its findings, only to find no one who knew how to answer. It’s a slow-paced film, and the costumes are about as 70s as they come, but there’s classic Star Trek at the heart of this film.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Release date: June 4, 1982
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban
Ask a Star Trek fan what the best Star Trek movie is and more often than not, you’ll get Khan as your answer. A sequel to the events of the “Space Seed” episode of The Original Series, Khan is a retelling of Moby Dick with Khan throwing reason to the wind as he hunts his nemesis, James T. Kirk. Montalban delivers a pitch-perfect performance, giving us a Khan with charisma and obsession in equal parts.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Release date: June 1, 1984
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
Spock might have died in The Wrath of Khan, but this third entry set up the premise for his return, with the creation of the Genesis planet. Essentially a heist movie in reverse, Search for Spock has the crew defying orders from Starfleet in an attempt to reunite Spock’s consciousness with his newly-rejuvenated body. It’s not a great movie, but it does include two very important events: the rebirth of Spock and the death of Kirk’s son at the hands of the Klingons. That’ll be important a few flicks from now.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Release date: November 26, 1986
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Catherine Hicks
If Star Trek fans don’t say Khan is the best Star Trek movie, odds are very high they say Voyage Home is. It’s a funny film where the mission isn’t destruction, but creation – or more accurately, repairing the devastating effects of humankind’s ecological short-sightedness.
A probe arrives at Earth, knocking out the power of everything in its path as it looks for someone to respond to its message (yeah, it happens a lot). This time, however, the intended recipient is the long-extinct blue whale. To save Earth, Kirk and co. go back in time to 1980s San Francisco to snag some blue whales. The eco-messaging isn’t exactly subtle, but it doesn’t get in the way of a highly enjoyable movie.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Release date: June 9, 1989
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
A writers’ strike and Shatner’s directorial skills (or lack thereof) doomed this film before a single scene was shot. The core plot is actually pretty good: Spock’s half-brother hijacks the Enterprise so that he can meet God, which he believes to be… himself. Some Star Trek fans have an odd fondness for this movie, as it showcases the camaraderie of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy when they’re off-duty.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Release date: December 6, 1991
- Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Plummer
Right, so if that Star Trek fan you’ve been talking to doesn’t choose either Khan or Voyage Home as the best Star Trek movie ever, they almost certainly name Undiscovered Country (and if they don’t, they have highly questionable taste, frankly). The Klingon moon of Praxis explodes, putting the entire Klingon race at risk. The Enterprise hosts a diplomatic entourage of Klingons, much to Kirk’s discomfort.
Remember how Klingons murdered Kirk’s son? Well, he certainly hasn’t forgotten. Kirk’s lingering rage makes him the perfect patsy for the murder of the Klingon Chancellor, sending him and McCoy to a prison planet and setting the stage for war. Christopher Plummer is perfection as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon general with no taste for peace.
The Next Generation movies
Star Trek: Generations
- Release date: November 18, 1994
- Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner
And thus the torch is passed from the crew of The Original Series to that of The Next Generation. It’s a bit of a fumble, to be honest, but they all did their best to get Kirk and Picard into the same film and have it make sense. Malcolm McDowell plays Soran, a scientist who will stop at nothing to control the Nexus, a giant space rainbow that exists outside of space-time.
Soran lost his family when his home world was destroyed and he wants to re-join them (or at least an illusion of them) in the Nexus. He’s not so much a villain as a tragic figure, but the Nexus makes a meeting between Kirk and Picard possible. Not all that sensible, but possible.
Star Trek: First Contact
- Release date: November 22, 1996
- Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Alice Krige
Okay, no, for real, if your Star Trek pal didn’t pick Khan or Voyage Home or… oh, nevermind. Cueing off the iconic two-part episode “Best of Both Worlds,” in which Picard is assimilated by the Borg, First Contact sees the collective traveling back in time in order to disrupt First Contact, the day Earth’s first foray into space attracted the attention of the Vulcans, kicking off the events that would eventually lead to Starfleet’s victory over the Borg. The Borg Queen torments Picard with visions of the past and tempts Data with humanity, going so far as to give him some human skin.
The fight with the Borg aboard the Enterprise is thrilling, and the work on the surface to get first contact back on track is fun. Plus, there’s just nothing like Patrick Stewart turning it up to 11 as he lashes out at the enemy that haunts his dreams.
Star Trek: Insurrection
- Release date: December 11, 1998
- Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, F. Murray Abraham
Essentially an episode inflated for the big screen, Insurrection is about the Federation conspiring to displace a planet’s population in order to harvest the planet’s unique resource – super healing metaphasic particles. In addition to the rejuvenating natural resource, the Ba’ku also have access to exceptional technology, which they shun in favor of a more simple lifestyle.
Data malfunctions, the villains are Federation allies (and former Ba’ku!), Picard gets to knock boots with a local – Insurrection is the very definition of “fine.” Chronologically, Insurrection is relevant for rekindling the romance between Riker and Troi, but not much else.
Star Trek: Nemesis
- Release date: December 13, 2002
- Cast: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Tom Hardy
Before he mumbled his way into our hearts as Bane, Tom Hardy was Shinzon, a clone of Picard the Romulans created in an eventually abandoned attempt to infiltrate Starfleet. Shinzon is dying, and all that will save him is a transfusion of Picard’s blood. Unfortunately, Shinzon also happens to be a megalomaniac who happens to want to destroy all life on Earth and maybe a few other planets, too, if he’s feeling saucy.
Nemesis is notable mostly for killing Data with a noble sacrifice, only to resurrect him moments later in a duplicate body found earlier by the Enterprise crew.
Star Trek: Kelvin Timeline
The last of the Prime Timeline movies failed to impress at the box office, so it was a few years before anyone tried to bring the Enterprise back to the big screen. Rather than lean on any of the TV crews, this new slate of movies would serve as a reboot, welcoming new audiences while honoring long-time fans. Welcome to the Kelvin Timeline. (For all the ins and outs, check out our Star Trek: Kelvin Timeline explained article).
- Release date: May 8, 2009
- Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban
Back to the beginning! Star Trek introduces us to James T. Kirk, Spock, and “Bones” McCoy as they meet and join the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Though the plot is a relatively straightforward affair of a Romulan named Nero trying to destroy the Earth. His anger borne out of grief, what matters most is how it all came to be. In the future, Spock – the Prime Timeline version – tries to save Romulus from being destroyed by a supernova, but fails. Both his ship and Nero’s are kicked back in time, setting off a chain of events that diverge from the original, “true” timeline.
The name “Kelvin” refers to the U.S.S. Kelvin, the ship heroically captained by Kirk’s father, which is destroyed in the opening moments of the movie.
Star Trek Into Darkness
- Release date: May 16, 2013
- Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
The benefit of the Kelvin Timeline is that it not only allows Star Trek to explore canon material – such as Khan (he of the Wrath) – but to do something completely new with it. Khan features heavily in Into Darkness, but he has no beef with Kirk. Instead, a Starfleet Admiral is threatening the lives of Khan’s crew, forcing them to craft weapons of mass destruction.
Khan inevitably eludes captivity and strikes out against Starfleet, killing Captain Pike (and a bunch of others) in the process. Kirk and company eventually take Khan down, but not before Kirk sacrifices himself to save his crew. Don’t worry, these things don’t last in either Star Trek timeline, as Kirk gets better moments later thanks to *checks notes* Khan's super blood.
Star Trek Beyond
- Release date: July 22, 2016
- Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba
Beyond leans into the camaraderie of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy now that they’ve had some time together, much to the movie’s benefit. The Enterprise is lured to Altamid under false pretenses, leading to much of the crew being marooned on the planet. The architect of the deception was Krall, who wants an opportunity to return to a galaxy where war is the order of the day.
Beyond is a significant point in the timeline for two reasons. First, it sadly marked the death of Spock Prime due to the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Second, it culminates in the Enterprise embarking on the five-year-mission that started everything back in 1966.