Captain's Blog pt. 39: Who is the Best Trek Movie Villain?

One of the pleasures of getting through overviews is to develop lists in their wake. And although I have yet to blog-up Star Trek: Lens Flare aka Star Trek (2009,) I'm going to go ahead and give you the Dog Star Omnibus Star Trek Villains From Worst to Best countdown while the movies are all fresh in mind.

Not everyone likes to know how these lists come together, so feel free to skip this. But if you're like me and can't respect a list without knowing its evaluative criteria, here we go:

(on a C- to A+ scale, with 1 point awarded for C- and up to 9 for A+.)
1st score: Threat (How credible is the danger or obstacle posed to our protagonists?)
2nd score: Performance or Screen Presence (Self-explanatory.)
3rd score: Thematic Effectiveness (Are they there just to complicate things for our protagonists, or does their presence in the script serve a point?)

Let's get to it. As with the Best of NextGen list, I've made my arguments elsewhere so I'll keep my remarks to a minimum.

19. Starfleet from The Undiscovered Country 
( C- / C- / C )

Just awful. 'Nuff said.
18. Lursa and B’Etor from Generations 
( C / C- / C- )

Just as awful as #19, but slightly less offensive.
17. God from The Final Frontier 
( C- / C+ / C- )

I offer this as counterpoint to God's bad showing in this silly film:

Incidentally, this would have been way, way cooler.

16. Soran from Generations 
( C+ / C+ / C- )

Malcolm McDowell's abundance of pride at landing this part has always puzzled me. "I've been going around town absolutely delighted I got the chance to deliver a boilerplate performance in a terrible film that took a huge dump on an amazing legacy."
 15. Sybok from The Final Frontier 
( C / B / C- )

Sybok's "threat" score is compromised by the script not justifying what we see him accomplish. For what it's worth, Mr. Luckinbill gives an acceptable performance; I've always kind of felt bad for him. There wasn't much to work with.
14. The Klingons from The Final Frontier 
( C+ / B- / C- )

These Klingons are some of the worst examples of "villains who are there just to complicate the a-story rather than act as counterpoint to it." But all things considered, Todd Bryant and Spice Williams are the wrong folks to blame; they did the best they could with thankless roles.
13. The Viceroy from Nemesis 
( C / B / C ) 

Ditto for Ron Perlman, who can do no wrong. The Viceroy is a pointless character who muddles an already-muddled script. But, not as bad as all the above, mainly just because it's Perlman.
12. Chang from The Undiscovered Country 
( B / B- / C- )

Christopher Plummer's hamtastic performance at least has the virtue of being kind of entertaining, even if his character/ dialogue is atrocious.
11. Shinzon from Nemesis 
( C+ / B- / B- )

As with Sybok, Shinzon's "threat" score is pulled down by the script not justifying what we see him accomplish. Otherwise, it's not a bad performance, just a terribly conceived character.
10. Dougherty from Insurrection 
( C- / B / A- )

I personally quite enjoy Zerbe's performance in Insurrection, but he comes in tenth place by virtue of being less offensive than all the above vs. someone I care ultimately all that much about. He plays the "type," i.e. the morally compromised higher-up, with more nuance than say Paul Reiser in Aliens. (Or any comparable type in any James Cameron film, for that matter.)
9. Nero from Lens Flare 
(A- / B- / C+ )

Nero is another poorly-conceived character with little depth, but Eric Bana at least goes over the top enough with it for it to be entertaining. For the science-fantasy space adventure film that is Lens Flare, he's entirely appropriate. I don't understand why he starts calling Spock "Spogggghhh" at the end, though.
8. Ru’afo from Insurrection 
( C / A / A- )

F. Murray Abraham is fantastic in this role. The film has its problems, as does his character's place within them, but he's menacing and intense and makes the most of his screentime.
7. Probe from The Voyage Home 
( A+ / B- / A )

I could probably go to a "C" for screen presence/ performance here, as I just can't stand the visual design of the probe, but I tried to grade solely on impact of the "character" on screen. Which is undoubtedly effective. Still, couldn't go much higher than a "B-" for a giant space turd, now could I?
6. Khan from Into Darkness 
( B / A / B+ )

It's tougher to evaluate Into Darkness as I only saw it the one time before it left my local, but Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job. Different timeline, different Khan. Much left unsaid/ undone. Could fall or rise dramatically in the rankings depending on what they do with him.
5. Admiral Marcus from Into Darkness 
( B / A / A- )

Whereas Admiral Marcus probably won't. I can't say he's one of my absolute favorite villains, but I couldn't in good conscience rank him any less. Does he pose a believable threat? At least a "B," I'd say. Does Peter Weller bring it? Peter Weller always brings it. Does Admiral Marcus as a character fit the thematic structure of the film? Absolutely. So, here he is, number five, set to kill.
4. Kruge (and friends) from The Search for Spock 
( A- / A / B ) 

Christopher Lloyd (aka Walter Koenig's one-time best pal back in their Neighborhood Playhouse days) is the unsung baddie of the Trekverse. He absolutely kills it as Kruge. Moreover, it's easy to understand what motivates him and even to sympathize to some degree.
3. The Borg from First Contact 
 ( A+ / A+ / A )

 Pretty self-evident.

2. Khan from The Wrath of Khan 
( A / A+ / A+ ) 

Really, Montalban's Khan is Number One, I just discovered something interesting (below) by grading these the way that I did. But by any rational reckoning, Khan is the villian numero one of the Trekverse. I doubt we'll ever see another villain namechecked in the title, unless they do a straight-up remake of this with Cumberbatch somewhere down the road.
1. V’Ger from The Motion Picture 
( A+ / A+ / A+ )


Is the threat V'ger poses greater than all the other villains combined? Is its screen presence anything less than overwhelming and mega-awesome? Does it get more thematically emblematic than V'ger? Yes, no, and no. A+s down the line.  

Such are my rankings, both humble and true.
Rend them to pieces, then mend them with glue.


  1. Not a bad list at all. I like you using 'threat' as one of your criteria. While I wanted to quibble on some of the ratings, really critically looking at threat slotted them about exactly where you put them. Well-played, sir, well-played.


  2. Interesting list, and I think the top three would identical on my own.

    I'd place the Voyage Home probe at number 4 on mine for a few reasons:
    One, it's physically very close to Rama of Arthur Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, and Rama is one of the great mystery objects of science fiction.
    Two, the probe is also a great unsolved mystery of the Trek universe, which I like a lot. We sort of know the intelligence behind it is likely whale-like, and also likely related to whales, whether ancestral to or descended from them. But that's about it. Somewhere out there is an intelligence that is not only vastly more advanced than any other race we've seen in Trek, it also seems to not even notice when some of the most advanced people in the Trek universe is trying to communicate with it. That kind of thing fills me with a sense of wonder, and a bit of awe. They're the Trek equivalent of Babylon 5's "First Ones."
    Three, I also like the "blow-hole" on it, which, if you think about it, becomes even more whale-like when you flip the perspective upside-down and think of the probe as being "under" the Earth rather than "above" it. Not the most insightful observation, I know, but I dig it for how it plays with the notion of three-dimensional orientation, and seems to allude to the way the Space Shuttle would always look "upside-down" when shown orbiting the planet.

    1. "Would be identical to my own" is what I meant in the first line.

      "it also seems to not even notice when some of the most advanced people in the Trek universe are trying to communicate with it" is another corrected sentence from above.

    2. I'd also meant to apply your criteria to what I wrote.

      Threat: The whaleship seems to pose an existential threat to humanity second only to V'Ger.

      Screen Presence: Simple and imposing, the ship is massive and implacable. The way it shrugs off all of Starfleet like a whale takes no heed of gulls when it breaches adds to the menace. And it's a menace unlike most others in Trek; humanity is essentially a nuisance, if it is even really noticed at all. This adds up to a big presence, looming in the mind even when not on camera.

      Thematic Effectiveness: The universe is vast and ultimately unknowable. For all its advancement in the Trek universe, humanity still has a lot to learn. And, sometimes, the past that is ignored or forgotten can come back to haunt us in a big way. That applies to the first three movies, as well as TOS Trek in general.

    3. Threatwise, I agree. A+.

      Screen presence-wise: It's not bad, it just looks like a giant piece of crap. With a testicle hanging from it. Visually, it's just a little distracting. I do like looking at it like a blowhole/ space-whale, and I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it had it been designed to resemble a whale. But... still. Tough to overcome. Maybe just for me. But it's not really a dealbreaker for me, just explaining my grade.

      Theme-wise: it fits perfectly. I give it an "A" instead of an "A+" only because I enjoy the way V'ger fits into the character dynamics of TMP a tad more.

  3. I've said before that the Trek movies succeeded spectacularly when casting the villains. They weren't always utilized correctly but even the Bond movies can't boast an A-list actor everytime out of the gate. I should qualify that statement by saying I consider an actor to be A-list based on their ability, not always by their rbox office draw. Perlman and Weller are perfect examples of this. Two amazing actors who by rights should be headlining big budget movies all the time.

    I hesitate to put the Federation President alongside the others you listed for STVI. He was not complicit in the plot, and was in fact a target of the assassins. Plus he was played by Kurtwood Smith, who always gives a great performance. ("I work for Dick Jones! DICK JONES!") Ugh, Llursa and B'Etor. As bad as Generations was at least they weren't the main villains. That would have brought the whole movie down. I'm glad they're dead.

    1. Ah, that's a good point re: the Federation Prez. Objection sustained. I think I just felt the need to ridicule his visual design one last time.

      Clarence Boddicker is perhaps the greatest cinematic villain of the 80s. Back in the answering machine days, I liked to amuse myself by taping selected dialogue from him as my voice greeting. My favorite was "WHAT??? WHAT DO YOU WANT???!" That kept the telemarketers on their toes, as well as confused friends and family.

  4. A very interesting list. I'm not entirely sure what to think of it, in some ways. For example, I have a difficult time thinking of V'Ger as a villain; I'm not sure V'Ger understood its situation sufficiently for its motivations to be considered villainous.

    But I'm happy to see The Motion Picture get some love one way or another, and I'm also happy to see The Undiscovered Country once again come in dead last. Screw that movie!

    1. Also a logical objection. I kept V'ger because really the true antagonist of TMP is "lack of self-realization." Or neurosis, or psychological hang-up/ split-self, etc. V'ger is just a cosmic stand-in.

      BUT - it did kill a good amount of folks and was poised to wipe out Earth, sympathetically or no. So, in the end, I let body count be the deciding factor.

      Plus it just surprised the heck out of me to add up my scores and see V'ger beat Khan! I was tickled by that, so had to include it.

    2. I can roll with that.

      I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I would have placed Lursa and B'Etor a good bit higher. I think it may solely be that I kinda like Klingon boobs. This is not to my credit in any way.

  5. I agree with this list and yet am disappointed with a few selections. Not by your rankings but by the obvious things you brought up. In particular Shinzon, here is a character that if created 5-8 years prior could have been a 2 movie villain maybe more. Perfect idea it is Picard's Klingon issue or his Kahn. The tried for so many years to give Picard his arch nemesis and everyone thought it was the Borg. Problem is when they brought the Borg forward they changed the idea of one mind collective and decided "hey let's just throw a hot chick in a makeup chair for 12 hours a day and make her the lead Borg"...like as if there was one. Not to mention the fact that whole Borg idea was crushed with I AM BORG with how to kill them so they had to change...errr I mean adapt to one mind I guess or they could have just bought a better firewall for their server. Shinzon was the difference or at least could have been. He was Picard, shit I was about call for a DNA check for Stewart after the movie, but alas this movie came out when Franks wanted out and Stewart wanted out and even Burton wanted out so they could not have written him into more than 120 minutes of forced action followed by 10 minutes of improbable resolution. Its a damn shame cause he could have been and probably have been the greatest villain in STNG history with his disturbingly superior ship (by the way the Romulans don't shit without us knowing about how much corn was in it....HOW THE HELL DID THEY BUILD THAT MONSTER???! But I digress, He should have been number 1 or maybe number 3 or 4 but either way the script got in the way.

    1. So what you're saying is that if he hadn't sucked he would have been awesome?

  6. Long story short yes...his performance and threat had nothing to do with his poor score and everything to do with the "Let's wrap this up" mentality the end of the movie had.

    1. I agree Shinzon could have been so, so much better. B4, too. Within the ashes of Nemesis is a great film, unrealized, to be sure.