Star Trek: The Next Generation was a television phenomenon. Twenty years (and a century) on from The Original Series’ five-year mission, it’s the show that transformed Star Trek into a multi-series behemoth and templated a path to immortality other shows could follow.
The Next Generation’s success owed a lot to not trying to repeat its predecessor’s winning and much-parodied formula. The original series had the charming trio of Kirk, Bones, and Spock. Their balanced exchanges were at the heart of the show’s drama as they represented practicality, compassion, logic, or, under some readings, provided the complete unit of id, ego, and superego.
Like most Star Trek series, The Next Generation took a while to find its star legs. But under the watchful eye of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, The Next Generation embraced the future where humanity had moved further from war. It was a kinder, explorative show that presented a flagship of diplomacy, packed with families alongside officers of Starfleet under the command of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. We got to know the crew of the USS Enterprise-D over seven years as they saved the universe, tackled their demons, fell in love, and played poker. It was an expansive and progressive update of the franchise The Original Series trio started.
Before Star Trek: Deep Space Nine helped create the modern arc series, The Next Generation left us with one of the most endearing ensembles in TV history. Their friendship shone on screen and off. The cast famously remained close, and it’s no wonder they returned decades on to continue the story in Star Trek: Picard. In between, it was a rite of passage for the crew to jump to the silver screen.
The original crew of the Enterprise bowed out on the big screen with the brilliant whodunnit Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991 when The Next Generation was arguably at its TV peak. Picard and crew followed their predecessors into movie theaters at the end of its seven-year run in 1994.
Here’s our ranking of the complete feature film adventures of The Next Generation.
4. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
“A generation’s final journey begins,” ran the tagline, but fortunately, it didn’t end that way. The weight of talent behind Nemesis was promising. Legendary action editor Stuart Baird stepped behind the camera to direct while Gladiator, Skyfall, and Penny Dreadful writer John Logan provided the script. It remains one of the best-written Star Trek movies, but the great dialogue wasn’t enough.
Nemesis picked up its cue from Star Trek VI, this time destabilizing the quadrant as the Romulan Empire fell to a coup involving the Empire’s suppressed Remans. The plot brings Picard face to face with himself — a younger clone brilliantly cast as Tom Hardy, the new leader of the unpredictable Romulans.
Seriously, all the talk of the echo’s victory over the voice as Stewart and Hardy face-off is superb, but Nemesis is headed to a cold and lonely place far removed from the fun and camaraderie of the TV show. The show’s blunt handling of characters aging (Frakes versus Ron Perlman’s Reman Viceroy is a slog-fest) isn’t the only way it fumbles the legacy of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It also mines some uncomfortably dark places, making it a strange place to leave the popular crew.
3. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Generations was a glorified television movie carried along on the fan-pleasing meeting of the two major Star Trek series. It’s the movie closest to The Next Generation’s TV incarnation, unsurprisingly, as it was filmed back-to-back with the show’s seventh season.
In this generational mash-up, a mysterious space-time anomaly called the Nexus that fuses dreams and time leads Picard to discover the fate of the long-lost legendary Captain Kirk. The captains may not be peas in a pod, but they join forces to save a solar system threatened by the deranged plot of Malcolm McDowell’s Soran, a scientist attempting to return to the Nexus.
One bittersweet highlight was the epic destruction of the Enterprise-D. Finally taken out by Klingons, the iconic ship at least earned one of the most prolonged destruction sequences in the franchise’s history. “All hands, brace for impact.”
2. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Insurrection was a deliberate change of pace after the action of First Contact and is unfairly judged to have backfired. The franchise had tackled conspiracy before, but this good-natured fable on immortality couldn’t challenge the previous film’s action spectacle with its twisty space politics.
The movie has the Enterprise crew uncover an insidious scheme on a peaceful planet inhabited by the Ba’ku. When Data goes rogue and breaks the Prime Directive, altering the sub-warp culture to the Federation’s existence, it sets off a domino effect that leads straight to the top of Starfleet.
Jonathan Frakes’ second and final time helming a Star Trek feature let the story quietly get on with the job. From its action set-pieces to moments of quiet reflection, Insurrection is potentially Star Trek’s most-rounded movie.
1. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
First Contact had mighty shoes to fill. Generations had gone down better than The Original Series’ first attempt on the big screen, but every second film must confront the specter of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That legendary movie isn’t just one of the greatest science-fiction action films ever made, but the feature that irrevocably shaped Star Trek as a more militaristic franchise than the 1960s adventures of Kirk and co ever suggested.
First Contact didn’t have Khan, but it had a fan-pleasing alternative: the Borg. That devastating race of malevolent cybernetic assimilators was destined for the screen, but The Next Generation’s greatest invention also set another bar. The jaw-dropping cliffhanger of the series’ two-parter The Best of Both Worlds remains one of TV’s greatest-ever moments.
Thrillingly, First Contact took on both challenges and delivered in spades under the confident direction of Jonathan Frakes, AKA Commander Riker. It’s incredible what the movie packs into its first 10 minutes after a Borg attack on the solar system ends with the Enterprise crew thrown back in time to the 21st century. It’s even more incredible that it keeps delivering, with set-piece after set-piece taking the action to the shiny new Enterprise-E’s lower decks and outer hull.
In First Contact, the crew must ensure history stays on track when the Borg attempts to disrupt humanity’s first warp flight, delaying first contact with the Vulcans and endangering the birth of the Federation that would stop the Borg in their tracks centuries in the future. Time travel and a seemingly impossible walking virus enemy threat — Star Trek at its best.