From Roddenberry To Abrams And 'Beyond': A History Of The Star Trek Movies

Star Trek Beyond, the latest Star Trek film, goes into wide release Friday. Reviews so far have been positive, according to Metacritic.

Questions still remain about its box office potential. However, this is nothing new for the long-running series, which will be celebrating 50 years this fall. Star Trek has struggled with studio expectations from day one.

So, in the light of the new Star Trek Beyond, let's take a (brief) look back at the vast history of Star Trek at the movies.

Following network conflicts with series creator Gene Roddenberry and failing ratings, the original Star Trek television series was canceled in 1969. Enough episodes had been made, however, to allow the show to enter reruns. It was there, especially following the moon landing and a revived interest in space, that the show then began to bloom.

As recently chronicled in Time, an audience began to appear. The first Star Trek convention would be held in 1972. The first space shuttle (seen in the featured image [from 1976] at the top of the page), would be named Enterprise by popular acclaim. Years after the show had been canceled, it suddenly had a growing cult following. Then everything changed.

In 1977, the cinematic powerhouse of Star Wars burst onto the scene, and every studio scrambled to find a way to be a part of it. Paramount Studios realized it had the rights to Star Trek and began work on a film. Rushed into theaters to fulfill a studio-guaranteed release date of December 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture suffered from poor editing and very slow pacing. It was still enough of a financial success to keep Paramount interested.

William Shatner shows off a poster for the first Star Trek movie at a 2005 convention.
Looking back: William Shatner shows off a poster for the first Star Trek movie (from 1979) at a 2005 convention. [Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]Trouble with Gene Roddenberry during the making of The Motion Picture, along with its poor reviews, led to his being removed from the decision-making process on future films, essentially becoming an exile from his own creation.

Brought in to replace him was TV veteran Harve Bennett and upstart director Nicholas Meyer. Neither had any prior connection to Star Trek. Together, they created one of the most popular films in the entire history of the series. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan received wide critical acclaim and performed well at the box office.

Let's warp ahead a few years. The Star Trek movie series, under the care of Bennett, Meyer, and others (including Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy) thrives. In 1986, the 20th anniversary year for the series, Star Trek IV becomes the highest grossing film yet in the franchise. Paramount considers launching a new television show to ride the wave of success. Gene Roddenberry learns of their plans and sees a way back into the phenomena he helped start.
Star Trek: The Next Generation launches in 1987, under Roddenberry's control. After a shaky start, it becomes a television cult classic, just like the original, but with greater ratings viability. Roddenberry would not live to see it through, passing away in 1991. It runs for seven years, ending in 1994.

One reason the series ended was to allow the cast to make feature films. Their first, Star Trek Generations, was a dual-headliner of the original series' William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Next Generation's Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, bringing both characters together for a passing of the torch.

Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data) took on the Borg in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact
Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data) took on the Borg in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact. [Photo by Getty Images]Star Trek: First Contact was released in 1996, celebrating 30 years of the enduring Star Trek name. This entry saw the Next Generation crew (in their first solo movie) combating the Borg, one of the strongest foes from their television series.

Tom Hardy attends the premiere of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002. This was to be the last Star Trek film for 7 years.
Tom Hardy attends the premiere of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002. This was to be the last Star Trek film for 7 years. [Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images]This film was followed by Star Trek: Insurrection and 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. Nearly 16 years (1986-2002) of virtually uninterrupted success would be a boon for any undertaking of any kind, let alone something as fickle as the entertainment business. It had come to a turning point. Sadly, Nemesis was generally disliked by fans of the franchise and did little to attract new viewers. The poor performance of the movie put the future of Star Trek films on hold.

The premiere of the 2009 reboot of Star Trek.
The cast of JJ Abrams' 2009 reboot of Star Trek attends the world premiere of the film. [Photo by Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images]As early as 2006, however, things were underway again. JJ Abrams, hot off the success of Mission: Impossible III, was drafted by Paramount studios to find a new way to revive the stagnant series. The decision was made to reboot the original television series, introducing a younger version of the characters than had been previously seen on the big screen. Simply titled Star Trek, the movie was released in 2009 to both good reviews and successful box office. Star Trek had returned.

A poster for 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in the rebooted series.
Star Trek Into Darkness was the second film in the rebooted JJ Abrams series. [Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]It would not be Star Trek if there weren't bumps in the road. 2013 saw the first sequel in the rebooted series, Star Trek Into Darkness. It borrowed elements from its sequel predecessor of sorts, Stat Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, bringing back the character of Khan and ideas from that movie. Some fans viewed it more as riffing rather than homage, and it did not perform as well critically as the 2009 entry, but still did well overall.
That brings us to now, on the eve of Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in the rebooted series. It will be the 13th film since this movie series began nearly 40 years ago, and 50 years since the very first Star Trek television episodes began beaming into our homes. There has already been an announcement made of another sequel yet to come, although that may depend on the success of Star Trek Beyond. What the future holds is uncertain, but one thing remains clear – there is little in the galaxy of entertainment that can match the longevity of Star Trek.

[Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images]