Star Trek is a pop culture franchise that just won’t quit. Now over five decades into its existence, it has outgrown its humble beginnings as a low-budget sci-fi show with a loyal cult following, and into a true cultural juggernaut. Who doesn’t know the phrases “beam me up” or “ live long and prosper?” It’s ingrained in our collective psyche. And the franchise is going stronger than ever, with several shows currently airing. But of all these new series, and the many that came before, which one is the cream of the crop? It’s time to evaluate each of the eleven series set in the Final Frontier from the past 55 years. Here’s our ranking of every Star Trek series, from worst to best.
11. Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
Yes, it’s at the bottom, but I’d never say this is a bad series. There are some smart sci-fi scripts spread throughout the show’s two-season run, notably the time-travel episode “Yesteryear,” which gave us a glimpse into Spock’s childhood. But the animation was really limited due to budget constraints, and the voice actors didn’t even record together (and it shows). We give it points for keeping the Trek flames burning in the long decade between the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it still ranks last. If only because there’s simply not enough of it.
10. Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020-Present)
We’re now three seasons into the first animated Trek show since the ’70s, and also the first overtly comedic sh o w in the franchise’s history. Lower Decks centers around a second-tier starship’s junior crew, and so far, it has gained quite a cult following. The mix of irreverent humor and lovable characters has made it very endearing. It’s also very faithful to Star Trek lore (if not Star Trek storytelling sensibilities.) But the show is ultimately too fluffy to place any higher. That could change down the line of course. But for now, the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos is near the bottom. They’re probably used to it.
9. Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)
This is the fourth and last Star Trek series of the Rick Berman era. The show ran on UPN for four seasons, making it the shortest run of the modern Trek series (so far). Despite a winning cast lead by Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer, this prequel show to the original Trek felt stuck in the television tropes of the prior decade. It didn’t really even feel like a true Star Trek prequel until the show’s wonderful fourth and final season. But that season’s not enough to save the show’s legacy as a whole. Also, the theme song was pretty cringe-worthy and out of place for a Star Trek series.
8. Star Trek: Picard (2020-Present)
This live-action series saw the return of Sir Patrick Stewart as the (now retired) Jean-Luc Picard. Although the series started out promisingly, its plot about a race of artificial lifeforms was ultimately way too similar to Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner, both of which did the same story, but better. It also showed the once-Utopian world of the 24th century as a place now filled with bitter, broken people, which was a bummer. Stewart is fantastic as always, and his inner journey helped the show remain very watchable. But the promise of a full TNG cast reunion in the third and final season could push this series much higher.
7. Star Trek: Discovery (2017-Present)
Star Trek: Discovery is the franchise’s current “flagship show.” Four seasons in, the show is definitely a mixed bag. On the pro side: the cast—headed by Sonequa Martin-Green—is truly fantastic, and it has the best production value of any Trek to date. But like too much modern Trek, it often feels like it’s cribbing from other (more popular) franchises. Its prequel timeline/continuity was also handled messily from the get-go.
The series’ first two seasons are set about a decade before the original series. But in season three, the show went way past where any Trek has gone before, by jumping 1,000 years into the future. This was ultimately a good thing, as the journey past the prequel timeline and into an unknown future gave the show a much-needed shot in the arm. And season four further improved upon the third. Maybe with time, Discovery will move up higher on this list.
6. Star Trek: Prodigy (2021-Present)
Star Trek: Prodigy is the first animated all-ages Star Trek series since the 1973 Saturday morning cartoon show. Because of this, many fans dismissed it offhand before it ever aired. But Prodigy, about a group of misfit kids who commandeer a prototype Federations starship, the Protostar, in the far reaches of space, turned out to be absolutely delightful. And very true to the core, exploratory spirit of the franchise.
The camaraderie between the main cast of kids is always heartwarming, and this series has more ties to greater franchise lore than most other modern Trek shows. Of course, the addition of Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway, both the “training hologram” version, and the actual Admiral Janeway, that’s just the cherry on top. One of the best modern Star Trek shows, “kid’s show” or not.
5. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022-Present)
It almost feels like cheating, putting a show with just one season behind it so high on this list. But so far, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best Trek series of the modern streaming era. It also has had the best first season of any Trek since the original series. Technically a prequel to the original show, SNW fulfills the promise of that first unaired pilot episode “The Cage,” by focusing on Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his Number One (Rebecca Romijn). Of course, young Spock is there too, played by Ethan Peck. Together, they’ve created a new trio of instantly likable headliners.
SNW returns to the “one and done” story format of classic Trek, but gives it all a modern sheen. The color scheme and ship designs may be retro, but it’s never done in a dismissive, kitschy way. In many ways, SNW reminds us why the original format of the show, about a crew of diverse people engaged in pure exploration and diplomacy, is still the best way to go. The characters are great, the actors are great, the writing is great. So we only expect SNW to climb further up this chart as more seasons roll in, assuming they don’t drop the ball.
4. Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Let’s get this out of the way: Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway was a great Captain, and the rest of the cast was terrific as well. But this series never fully lived up to its premise. It was supposedly about a Federation starship lost in space, years from home. A ship with a crew made up of former enemies, now forced to work together. But you’d almost never know it watching the show, which often felt like a series desperately trying to capture the glory of the TNG years.
Many episodes of Voyager, especially in the first few seasons, felt very familiar to those that had aired just a couple of years earlier on The Next Generation. However, enough episodes scattered throughout are indeed quite terrific, but there really should be more of those for a series that lasted seven seasons. We’re glad the legacy of Voyager lives on with Seven of Nine on Picard, and with Janeway as a principal character on Prodigy.
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
This show had everything going against it when it premiered in 1987. How does one follow up on something as iconic as the original Star Trek? And with all new characters and a new starship Enterprise? Well, after a very wobbly first two seasons, the show found its footing in season three. It then became a true standout sci-fi series with dozens of classic episodes. Seasons three through seven are, in many ways, as good as this franchise gets.
Patrick Stewart is arguably the best actor ever to sit in the Captain’s chair, and the characters of Picard, Data, Worf, and the rest have all become pop culture icons. It also has one of the best series finales of any show ever. TNG represented Star Trek at its peak mainstream popularity, and no show before or since has matched its ratings power. The only reason this doesn’t rank slightly higher is that the first two seasons really are kind of a mess, and lower the value ever so slightly.
2. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Much like TNG before it, Deep Space Nine took about two seasons to find its footing. This despite always showcasing a stellar cast, headlined by Avery Brooks, playing the first African-American lead in a Star Trek show. But man oh man, despite the rough start, when it finally did click, it became one of the most ambitious science-fiction series ever produced for television. It did serialized, complex genre storytelling a good decade before that became the norm.
DS9 dealt with themes of religion and war and politics among the usual Star Trek tropes. Not one character was the same at the end of this series as they were at the start of it. The same can’t be said for most other shows on this list, even the best ones. It also expanded and deepened our understanding of the many different species introduced in previous Trek shows. Plus it gave us the franchise’s best villains in Gul Dukat, and later, the Dominion. This is one Trek series that broke the mold.
1. Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
Without Gene Roddenberry’s original series, there simply is no Star Trek franchise, period. It created the template that eight of the series that followed it picked up on. The original series was ground zero for modern nerd fandom, and it made pop culture icons of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock. But beyond all that enduring cultural legacy, the character dynamic of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy remains one of the greatest ever seen in popular entertainment.
Looking back, we can see that Star Trek’s first season was nearly flawless, with almost thirty amazing episodes written by legends of the science-fiction genre. Season two is great as well, and season three is…well, it is less so. Regardless of that wonky last season though, the iconic nature of Star Trek: The Original Series, which spawned six feature films and a 21st century reboot of the characters, still wins hands down. Forget the dated music, visual effects, and occasionally cheesy acting. When it was at its best, you just couldn’t beat the original series.
Featured Image: CBS
Originally published in 2019.