The 5 Best (and 8 Worst) Star Trek Movie Villains

My list of personal favorite major villains from the thirteen Star Trek feature films, in order from least to most favorite.

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I recently uploaded a Top 10 list of some movies that mean something to me. This inspired me to revisit a post I had written back in 2013 and update it just a bit. So, here is my list of personal favorite [major] villains from all thirteen Star Trek feature films, in order from least to most favorite. First up is the worst villain from the nearly worst movie, Khan (the stupid one).

13. Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), Star Trek Into Darkness

It’s not that Cumberbatch is a bad actor; it’s the fact that Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof are awful writers, and J. J. Abrams is a terrible director. The not-clever-at-all idea to use Khan in the second movie again is lazy, and having the plot being everything that happened in the superior The Wrath of Khan, almost word for word, but this time, Kirk and Khan meet and punch each other, then Spock and Khan meet and punch each other on a flying train, but then, plot twist, Spock has to save Kirk from behind a glass wall. Except Kirk doesn’t die. And there’s no Genesis planet. And this movies sucks. Just a pale imitation of a much better movie.

12. Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Not a slap in the face to actor Luckinbill, but the writing for the character was rather tepid and the idea of Spock having an “evil” half-brother is lame. I think the movie would have actually been rather interesting had it not been set in the Star Trek universe, but as a Star Trek movie, even canon doesn’t acknowledge its existence.

11. Nero (Eric Bana), Star Trek

There’s a lot of villains in the Star Trek universe whose motivation is paralleled by Melville’s Captain Ahab and his quest for vengeance against a certain white whale. Nero was the least developed, and least interesting of them all.

10. Krall (Idris Elba), Star Trek Beyond

It’s not that Elba is a bad actor, or that Simon Pegg is a bad writer, or that Justin Lin is an incompetent director. They’re not. But, ultimately, after two terrible Abrams movies, Star Trek Beyond is a good try, but too late, and fairly forgettable. Also, this concludes our Star Trek movie villains who were also in Marvel movies. And what is it with Star Trek villain names and the letter K?

9. Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell), Star Trek: Generations

Not really a bad guy, Soran just wanted to return to paradise and was so tired of trying that he didn’t care who had to die for that to happen. McDowell is great, but his misanthropic antics came in a vast fifth place to all the other shenanigans going on between the other characters (the script seemed to think Data’s cat was more interesting). In the end, Soran was more of a slight nuisance than a great villain.

8. Ad’har Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham), Star Trek: Insurrection

Some nice, evil moments from Abraham as the sadistic (and tragic) Ru’afo who wanted to pull the magic carpet out from under Aladdin and ride it himself. Both parts revenge and jealousy-driven, Ru’afo could have been a great villain but was hurt by not being developed enough to feel sorry for, a humanity that the character needed for depth; a humanity later shown between his lieutenant, Gallatin, who is forgiven by his mother.

7. Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy), Star Trek: Nemesis

Even with the borishness of underdeveloped villains, there is such as thing as over development and that’s what Shinzon ultimately suffers from. The writers tried too hard to give Picard his equal in evil; his nemesis — says so right in the title — but despite some excellent work by one of my favorite actors to bring us a rich and ultimately flawed (in a good way) character, we’re given someone that we have to think about too much and, as such, we can never full appreciate the character and let him be what any good villain should be: fun.

6. Borg Queen (Alice Krige), Star Trek: First Contact

The exact opposite of Shinzon, Krige’s villain is fun in all the right spots. From her grand entrance to her gruesome demise, the Borg Queen oozed smart, sexy and sinister in one finely crafted skin-tight latex package. The Queen was the devil, for all intents and purposes, and her use of lust and greed to lure poor Data into a twisted affair is just pure evil, and very well done. It’s too bad the movie itself is nothing more than dumb action schlock, which ultimately renders a sexy, and nearly interesting, Borg Queen actually quite boring. She winds up being much less interesting or scary as the next movie villain.

5. V’ger, Star Trek: The Motion Picture

That’s right; the big cloud from the big first movie is a more intriguing antagonist — in my opinion — than any of the villains from the alternate timeline movies or the Next Gen ones. In the end, the big cloud, and the gigantic ship lurking within, was actually the ancient Voyager 6 probe, having achieved sentience, returning home to Earth. It sets up some very expensive-for-1979 special effects sequences giving realization to some very heavy-for-any-year science fiction notions of humanity and love and whatever else the movie is about. It’s very much on the edge of soft sci-fi trying to be hard sci-fi, and sometimes it’s brilliant, but usually it’s so dry it’s a bit boring. But, boring in a good movie is fine. That’s called slow burn. I like this the older I get. It makes me care about what’s happening since I’ve grown to like the characters near the end. My overall opinion of Star Trek: The Motion Picture has improved over the years, but it’s nowhere near as much fun as the next four films.

4. The Probe, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

That’s right! The big black space sausage is a better villain than V’ger, and more interesting than the sexy OG Borg Queen. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is frankly the best of all thirteen movies — in my opinion — due to it’s charm, sense of humor, and the plot taking seriously the very real threat of man hunting animals to extinction, namely humpback whales. Something that winds up biting humanity in the ass one day in the 24th century. The idea that this probe has presumably just dropped by from some distant sun to say hello to it’s old whale friends (who have been long extinct on Earth), and whose search for them is literally destroying all life on the planet, is brilliant. It’s a solid plot device for the crew of the now destroyed Enterprise to slingshot around the sun to travel back through time in an effort to repopulate the species. It’s very intelligent, it’s classy, and it’s the best movie. All just an excuse to have Kirk and company waltzing through the streets of 1986 San Francisco saying “double dumb-ass on you!” Cinema gold. I love that giant black space sausage. It’s so friendly.

3. Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

I love Kruge. Not only is he played with absolute demonic glee by funnyman Christopher Lloyd whose only previous work had been the sitcom Taxi, but Kruge thought the rest of the Klingon Empire was run by a bunch of bureaucratic wimps and decided to take on the entire Federation all by himself. Then he murders his hot Klingon lover because she knew too much, and had Kirk’s son killed just to prove he was “sincere” about being an evil badass. Then when a gunner gets a lucky shot and blows up an enemy ship when he wanted prisoners, Kruge whips out his pistol and incinerates the dude right there in front of everyone, and then calls the dead guy an “animal”. Kruge had the tenacity to attempt a sneak attack on the Enterprise which, he admits, outnumbered him 10 to 1. Later, Kruge totally didn’t care about dying in battle with Kirk on the erupting Genesis planet, and he had a badass evil dog pet that he loved more than anything. He also gives Kirk the chance to give him one of the best deaths in any movie, ever: Kirk yelling “I…have HAD…enough of…YOU!” as he kicks Kruge in the face until he falls backward to his fiery death, immolated in molten hot magma.

2. General Chang (Christopher Plummer), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Having Christopher Plummer play a Shakespearean-sized villain next to Shatner’s Shakespearean-sized Kirk was brilliant. Brilliantly written, cast and directed, Chang not only shared the same motif with Kirk as a larger-than-life celebrity hero of his respective culture, he also quoted actual Shakespeare in a tactless battle of wits as he showered the Enterprise in cannon fire from an invisible warship. “In space, all warriors are cold warriors” he reminds Kirk with schoolboy giddiness. Chang wanted to mess up Kirk right there at the dinner table, but couldn’t because he had bigger and meaner things in the works, like conspiring with Federation and Romulan agents the complete destruction of the Federation by forcing the Klingon Empire into galactic war. Chang gets Kirk arrested and out of the picture, completely humiliating the Federation into doing anything the Klingons wanted. This dude had it comin’, Beverly Hills Cop-style, with a banana shoved up his tailpipe. And by tailpipe I mean his cloaked Bird of Prey’s exhaust port. And by banana I mean a heat-seeking photon torpedo.

And, of course, number one is…

1. Khan (Ricardo Montalban), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

What can I say? Have you ever heard the Klingon proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold? It is, as Khan correctly points out, very cold in space. As far as Ahabs and white whales go, Khan was the Moby Dickest. A one-time prince of the world, beaten back and sent off into the vast wilds of space in cryo freeze to go be some other planet’s problem, Khan is found decades later by the sweet, trusting Enterprise and Khan begins his reign of terror again by taking over the ship and lovin’ all the hot lady crew peeps whilst Captain James “The Greener The Better” Kirk watched. But, ah!, a battle of wits ensues and both Kirk and Khan are so badass that they can’t out-badass the other. So they call a truce: Khan gives Kirk his ship back and Khan gets his own planet and the pick of the hot Enterprise nurses. Khan, obviously given the sweetest deal, shakes hands with Kirk as the captain promises to check up on him from time to time.

Well guess what? By the time we get to Star Trek II, Kirk didn’t do a thing for Khan! While Kirk was gallivanting around the stars getting promoted, Khan’s neighboring planet exploded and shifted the way his planet spins, causing the whole thing to become a desolate, bleak, inhospitable desert world that would make Dune look like a Caribbean beach resort.

When some Starfleet science flunkies decide to investigate Khan’s solar system for a crappy planet to play with their new toy upon, Khan takes over their ship, slaughters the crew and turns the toy into a weapon that could destroy everyone, everywhere. But he only wants one thing: to kill the man who betrayed and caused the death of his crew and his beloved wife: the pick of the hottie nurses. What a waste. Even his mates tell him, “dude you’ve saved us and proven how badass you are. You don’t need to kill Kirk” and Khan’s like, “hey, man, I’ll burn the universe looking for this guy”. And when he finally catches up to Kirk he doesn’t even kill him, he toys with him more, leaving him stranded on some lifeless asteroid somewhere. “I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet… buried alive! Buried aliiiiiiiiiive…!”

Khan would have won but as Spock pointed out, he was inexperienced behind the wheel of a starship and his blood lust for Kirk ultimately blinded him to the bitter end. The parallels between Khan and Ahab are completely opaque as he quotes from Moby Dick his last words: “To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!”

Brilliantly conceived, written, directed and performed, Khan was the penultimate performance of the late Ricardo Montalban and one of the greatest movie villains ever portrayed. They don’t get better than Khan in Star Trek. Some get close (Chang), some try too hard (Shinzon) and others miss the mark completely (Nero), but there is only one best Star Trek villain: and that is saved for Ricardo Montalban’s Khan. Not that other one.

By Jason R. Johnston

Jason is an award-winning cinematographer, and director of commercials, branding films, native content, music videos, documentaries, and narrative films. As a full-time freelancer, he can be hired to DP or direct almost any project you have in mind. He is based in Sparta, Tennessee, and ready to travel for any gig.

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