From left to right: 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,' 'Star Trek' (2009), and 'Star Trek: First Contact'

Trek Boldly With Our Guide To Watching the ‘Star Trek’ Movies

We’ve had almost 60 years of Star Trek now, and with 13 movies (and counting?) it can be hard to work out the right order to watch them in. It helps that the early movies are numbered, but only if you want to watch them in release order rather than in universe chronology—and once you get out of The Original Series era, even that advantage goes away. Here’s our ultimate guide to watching the Star Trek movies, both ways!

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Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in Star Trek
(Paramount Pictures)

Release Order

Watching the Star Trek movies in the order in which they were released is recommended for first time viewers, simply to avoid the confusion of receiving plot elements out of order. We start with the TOS films and work our way through to the Kelvin timeline reboots. Easy.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Kirk, now an Admiral, commandeers the Enterprise to investigate a powerful alien entity traveling inside an energy cloud that poses a serious threat to all life in the galaxy. After losing various members of the crew to the alien, it turns out to be the returning Voyager 6 probe, now sentient after its travels and looking to merge with a human to complete its mission.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Kirk and Spock separated by glass and Spock gives him the vulcan salute in 'Wrath of Khan'
(Paramount Pictures)

No good deed goes unpunished, and Kirk’s decision (TOS: “Space Seed”) to spare Khan and his followers—by leaving them to settle on an uninhabited planet—backfires spectacularly in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Seeking vengeance, Khan attempts to capture the Genesis Device—experimental technology that can produce new worlds out of dead matter through an explosive process, which can also be used as a weapon. Be warned: Spock dies in this one, and it’s emotionally devastating even though we all know it doesn’t last.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk discovers that Spock’s katra (something like a soul) is inside McCoy, and that both katra and body are needed to properly lay Spock to rest on Vulcan. So Kirk and the crew steal the Enterprise to reunite them. But because Spock’s casket landed on the new planet created by the Genesis Device, his body has been de-aged and resurrected, rapidly aging toward adulthood—but without a mind. However, Klingons are also after the planet and the Genesis Device, so the crew of the Enterprise will have to do battle with them to complete their mission.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV is also commonly referred to as the “one with the whales.” After an alien probe induces catastrophic effects on the earth’s atmosphere, Spock discovers that the probe is attempting to communicate via the call of the now extinct humpback whale. In order to find and bring some of the whales back, and thereby save the planet, the Enterprise performs a “slingshot maneuver” around the sun to travel back to a time before the whales died out. When they arrive in 1986, Kirk and Spock locate a pair of whales that are about to be released from captivity and try to persuade the biologist in charge of their care to hand them over, while Uhura and Chekov raid a nuclear-equipped aircraft carrier to restore the Enterprise’s power so they can return home.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

In Star Trek V, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy’s camping trip is cut short when Spock’s half-brother Sybok takes a group of diplomats hostage and the crew of the Enterprise is sent to rescue them. It turns out to be a trap, as Sybok needed a starship to find God at the center of the universe, and he uses his Vulcan abilities to persuade the crew to help him. Pursued by a glory-seeking Klingon Captain and his warship, they reach and break through the energy barrier that Sybok believes houses God on the other side, and meet a powerful alien entity who certainly claims to be God but doesn’t have anyone’s best interests at heart.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

George Takei as Captain Sulu in 'Star Trek': An older Japanese man in a red and white Starfleet uniform drinks tea from a white tea cup.
(Paramount Pictures)

The destruction of Qo’noS’ moon forces the Klingons into peace talks with the Federation in Star Trek VI. Despite Kirk’s long standing grudge against Klingons (one of them killed his son), the Enterprise is sent to collect their Chancellor, Gorkon, and bring him to Earth to negotiate a treaty. On the way there, however, Gorkon is murdered, and Kirk and McCoy are framed as the killers and sent to a penal colony on an ice planet. The crew of the Enterprise goes rogue to rescue them, expose the real assassins, and foil the conspiracy that threatens the peace talks.

Star Trek: Generations

Star Trek: Generations begins with Picard, having just learned of the death of his brother and nephew, receiving a distress call from an observatory. When he takes the Enterprise to check it out, they discover that the scientist in charge, Dr. Soran, is trying to destroy stars to summon a massive energy ribbon that contains another dimension. Called the Nexus, the dimension creates alternative realities based on your deepest desires. Attempts to stop Soran fail, and both he and Picard are transported inside the Nexus, where Picard discovers Captain Kirk—who was sucked inside the Nexus at the beginning of the movie—and the two work together to defeat Dr. Soran.

Star Trek: First Contact

Alice Krige as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact
(Paramount Pictures)

In an attempt to conquer Earth, the Borg create a temporal vortex to send a ship back in time and take over the planet before humanity demonstrated warp capabilities, thereby preventing first contact and the formation of the Federation—hence the title, First Contact. The Enterprise follows the Borg ship through the time vortex, seeking out Zefram Cochrane to ensure his test flight goes ahead as planned, thus preserving the correct timeline, all while fighting off a Borg invasion. Meanwhile, the Borg queen has kidnapped Data, and Picard has to work through his own Borg-related trauma while attempting to rescue him.

Star Trek: Insurrection

In Star Trek: Insurrection, Data malfunctions while observing what appear to be pre-warp people, leading the Enterprise to discover that not only is this untrue (they merely choose to live that way), but that the Federation is collaborating with a group called the Son’a to forcefully relocate them so the planet’s rejuvenating properties can be harvested. Picard defies orders to allow this to go on, citing the Prime Directive, and the Enterprise assists the planet’s inhabitants in defending themselves and their way of life.

Star Trek: Nemesis

Star Trek: Nemesis sees Picard on a diplomatic mission to Romulus, where he discovers that the new Romulan leader is a younger clone of himself. Named Shinzon, he was originally created to act as a spy within the Federation, but the project was scrapped and the young clone was left in a prison colony on Remus, where he launched his climb to the top of the Empire. Shinzon requires a transfusion of Picard’s blood to reverse the ill effects of the cloning process that are killing him, so he kidnaps Picard and heads for Earth with a thalaron radiation-emitting weapon, which he intends to use to wipe out all life on the planet.

Star Trek

Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the 2009 'Star Trek' film: A young white man with cuts and bruises on his face stares intently into a dark haired man's face.
(Paramount Pictures)

The first of the alternate timeline films, Star Trek reboots the series with a vengeance-seeking Romulan who travels back in time, altering the past. Kirk, having lost his father as a baby, grows up to be a very different person. Though he’s constantly getting into trouble, Kirk is invited to join the academy anyway by Captain Pike, who sees his potential. Just when Kirk is on the verge of expulsion, the same Romulan reappears, continuing to seek his vengeance, and Kirk stows away on the Enterprise, determined to go into the field with the other cadets.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness is a reboot of The Wrath of Khan that proposes a very different backstory for Khan and Kirk’s relationship. Sent to chase after a Starfleet agent who blew up the Section 31 headquarters and killed several senior officers (including Pike), Kirk and the Enterprise crew discover there’s something else going on. The agent is actually Khan, pressed into service by Admiral Marcus, who is holding the rest of Khan’s people hostage and is trying to kill them and everyone else who knows what’s going on.

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond poster featuring Karl Urban as Leonard "Bones" McCoy

In Star Trek Beyond, the Enterprise is ambushed and many of its crew captured by a man named Krall. The bulk of the ship is destroyed, while the saucer section crashes onto the planet below. It turns out Krall is a pre-Federation soldier whose life was extended by the technology of the planet’s inhabitants, and who believes the Federation abandoned him and his crew there to die. Intent on revenge, Krall is seeking the missing piece of an ancient bioweapon. When he finds it, the movie becomes a race to stop Krall from reaching Earth and setting it off.

Chronological Order

I wouldn’t recommend watching the Star Trek movies in chronological order unless you’ve already watched all of them through at least once. Otherwise, you’re going to spend half the time confused as to what’s going on and the rest realizing you’ve already spoiled yourself on the major plots.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

The Voyage Home is the earliest the crew travels back in time, to 1986. However, they change the past, altering rather than preserving the timeline, so it’s debatable as to whether the fourth film actually goes here or if it follows The Search for Spock instead.

Star Trek: First Contact

First Contact Day Vulcan Star Trek

By traveling back to ensure First Contact goes ahead as planned, the crew of the Enterprise ensure the timeline remains unchanged, enabling everything that happens in the other movies to proceed.

Star Trek

This is where you switch to watching the Kelvin-verse movies, because Nero’s alteration to the timeline starts long before the events of the original Star Trek movie took place.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch and Karl Urban in Star Trek: Into Darkness (Paramount)
(Paramount Pictures)

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Time to revert to the original continuity, even though the events of this movie (and the ones after) don’t follow the last three you’ve watched.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek: Generations

Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Nemesis

The USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E hovers near Earth
(Paramount)

If you actually give this watch order a try, let us know how it goes and whether it makes for an enjoyable experience!

(featured image:


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Author
Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.