Star Trek currently has 13 movies to its name, and all but one of them have a big bad.* Some of these villains are great, while others are… not so great. Today, we cover the six main villains that are the worst, starting with the least terrible and counting down to find out which Star Trek baddie is the very worst.
6. Sybok: The Final Frontier
Star Trek V is generally considered one of the worst – if not the worst – films in the franchise, so I was surprised when its villain ended up as the least bad entry on this list. Don’t worry, though, there’s still plenty wrong with Sybok: most immediately, his plan and the powers he uses to accomplish it.
If it’s been a while since your last film rewatch, Sybok wants to take a starship to the center of the galaxy and meet God. This is the one and only time in the Star Trek universe where acquiring a ship is presented as a major problem. If the Pakleds and Space Hippies can manage it, I suspect Sybok could find himself a warp-capable shuttle somewhere.
Instead, he decides to steal the Enterprise using a very inconsistent set of mental powers. Sometimes his abilities behave like mind control, directly overriding the victim’s free will. In other cases, we see that major characters can simply choose not to be affected. Sure. Even with the most generous interpretation of Sybok’s powers, he should still have failed several times, as his plan to take over the Enterprise is half-baked at best. It requires him to mind meld with the entire crew, one at a time. If he weren’t protected by authorial contrivance, that would give them plenty of chances to stop him.
More fundamental to the story, Sybok’s beliefs feel super random. The movie does nothing to set up why he believes God lives at the center of the galaxy; he just announces that’s where they’re going about halfway into the film. Instead of an exciting or tense moment, it leaves you wondering if this is a reference to some Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) episode you haven’t seen. It’s not, for the record. Then, when Sybok’s God turns out to be an evil alien, the twist is meaningless. We had no reason to think God would be there at all, so this is just another bit of trivia for Memory Alpha.
What saves Sybok from falling lower on the list is primarily Laurence Luckinbill’s performance. He sells the idea of a charismatic cult leader, even when the script isn’t giving him any help. Despite that, I think this villain would have been better suited to a single episode rather than a feature-length film, as he just isn’t that deep or interesting. Maybe if the Enterprise had started near the center of the galaxy, with Sybok on board as a visiting scientist, there would have been time to establish his beliefs before he took over the ship.
5. Khan: Into Darkness
Were I the type of critic to hold a grudge, I’d have put Reboot Kahn last simply because of the incredibly obnoxious marketing around him. That’s right – I still remember how the film’s publicity campaign swore up and down that the mystery villain wasn’t Khan, even though we all knew it was Khan, and then it was “revealed” to be Khan. What a waste of everyone’s time.
But still, let’s take the high road and examine this villain based on his merits, or rather his lack thereof. In this timeline, Khan is thawed out by an evil admiral and then coerced into developing new ships and weapons for Starfleet. I get that Khan is genetically engineered to be super smart, but that still sounds very silly. As a warlord from the 1990s,* he’s centuries out of date. Plus, previous iterations of Khan showed that his genius was in strategy and tactics, not naval architecture. This is theoretically the same person, so I don’t know why he’d have different expertise.
From a logistics perspective, Khan’s plan also doesn’t make any sense. He’s trying to get revenge on the evil admiral who coerced him and held his crew hostage. Fair enough. But then he mows down a roomful of Starfleet brass, and somehow misses the one guy he was actually aiming at. Then Khan heads off to Klingon space, which is exactly what the evil admiral wants, as it provides an excuse for war. This is so conspicuous that I expected a reveal that the two of them were working together, but no, it’s just bad plotting.
Khan also starts the movie with an equation that lets him transport seemingly anywhere in the galaxy, which he naturally uses once and then forgets about. Great.
The main saving grace of Khan’s plan is that we don’t see as much of it as we do for the other villains on this list, as Khan spends a good chunk of the film as a mysterious, offscreen bad guy. There’s less time to consider the inconsistencies, which helps when a character’s plan makes no sense.
A bigger problem for Khan is that he has no motivation to fight the good guys. His goals are to free his crew and get revenge on an evil admiral. Once he’s done those things, there’s no conflict in the plot. Khan could just leave in this evil-looking spaceship he stole from the admiral, but instead he decides to blow Kirk up because… I guess he knows the movie isn’t over yet. Khan’s certainly not a nice person, but his evil is supposed to be calculated, not random and pointless.
Into Darkness desperately wants there to be a big grudge between Kirk and Khan like there is in Wrath of Khan, but it’s not there. The actors do their best, but you can’t forget that these are characters who’ve never met before. Khan even has a big moment when he reveals his name like it’s supposed to mean something. It’s more embarrassing than anything else – like a minor celebrity insisting you must have heard of them.
4. Nero: Star Trek 2009
The first and only Romulan to serve as the big bad in a Trek movie, Nero starts the film off in decent shape. That’s mostly because we don’t know anything about him. Mystery is often a villain’s best friend, and that’s certainly the case for Nero. All we see is that he has a huge ship made of spines and hatred, which is decently scary when it emerges from a black hole. Unfortunately, the more we learn about Nero, the worse he gets.
Unlike the previous entries, this villain is meant to be sympathetic, despite his plan to blow up multiple Federation worlds and their inhabitants. He’s out for revenge, motivated by the loss of his own planet in the future, where his wife and child were tragically fridged.* But wait, you say, what could the Federation have to do with that? Even in the most grimdark versions of Star Trek, the Federation doesn’t go around demolishing planets.
The answer is that in the future, the Federation – and Spock, specifically – tried to save Romulus from the natural disaster that threatened it, but the help arrived too late. That might have worked as Nero’s motivation if the Federation had an obligation that it failed to meet, but that’s not the case. Instead, the Federation went out of its way to help a sworn enemy. The only justification for Nero’s hatred is that he’s a real jerk, which negates any sympathy he might have.
Despite these problems, we get several scenes where Nero angsts about his fridged family and how, really, the Federation is just as bad as he is. Few things are more tiresome than a villain who thinks they’re sympathetic when they aren’t, and all the angsting does is make us wish Nero would get on with his plan already. Nero’s motivation is so bad that a tie-in comic tried to fix it by establishing that the Vulcan government specifically held back technology that could have saved Romulus until it was too late. That might have helped if it was actually in the movie. Even then, the most obvious thing for Nero to do with his time-traveling ship is stop the destruction of Romulus in the first place, something he seems to have no interest in.
The only problem worse than Nero’s total lack of sympathy is that once he actually starts talking, his threat level goes out the window. While his ship might be intimidating, Nero himself is not. It starts when Nero’s first words to the good guys are “Hi, Christopher, I’m Nero.” The line sounds more like a new coworker at the office than a blockbuster villain, and it makes him hard to take seriously. It can work for villains to be casual, but they still need to establish some menace first. Nero just seems like he has no idea what he’s doing.
That impression is reinforced by Nero’s command style. He’s surprised that Federation reinforcements show up, and he seems confused that a Starfleet captain doesn’t just give him classified defense codes. Unlike most nonthreatening villains, I think this was actually done on purpose, as Nero was supposedly a mining captain before traveling back in time. But that doesn’t change the problem: for most of the movie, it seems like the bad guy has no idea what he’s doing. It also raises questions about Nero’s ship that previously no one was asking. No matter how much technology advances in the next century, it seems unlikely that a mining ship would be so powerful in a fight.
3. Shinzon: Nemesis
At first glance, Shinzon shares many of Nero’s problems. This TNG villain also depends on his big spaceship to be threatening, but it somehow makes less sense than the spiny mining ship of death from the future. Instead of all that temporal nonsense, Shinzon has the Scimitar, an uber-ship that was somehow built by enslaved miners without their Romulan overlords catching wind of it. I guess mining is another trait that Nero and Shinzon share, for some reason.
Shinzon also has the false sympathy angle going. Despite being human, he leads the Remans, an alien species enslaved by the Romulans. As victims of slavery, the Remans seem like they should be sympathetic, except that they’re all evil space orcs. If that weren’t enough, the one Reman who gets lines and screen time helps Shinzon become a mind-rapist. Pro tip: if you want your villains to be sympathetic, don’t make them space orcs or mind-rapists, and definitely don’t do both at the same time.
The first way Shinzon differs from Nero is that the former doesn’t even benefit from being mysterious. There’s no sign of him for about 20% of the film, and when he does show up, he immediately exposits his entire life story. This includes being a clone of Captain Picard. I think that’s supposed to give the hero and villain an emotional connection, as Shinzon once insists that he’s living in Picard’s shadow, even though the two of them are nothing alike and have very different career paths. The only effect of this clone storyline is that Shinzon needs a “transfusion” of DNA from Picard to live. That might have generated some conflict if Picard had a reason not to give his DNA, but Shinzon wants to attack the Federation regardless of whether or not he gets it, so even that doesn’t matter.
Speaking of which, why does Shinzon want to attack the Federation? The only explanation in the film is that he’s being pressured by his Romulan allies, but they could simply attack the Federation without him if they wanted to. And if Shinzon really was being pressured into a war he didn’t want, surely he’d try to do something about it? The best explanation is that he resents humans due to his background as a clone of Picard, but why that would lead to genocidal hatred isn’t explored.
Shinzon’s personality is less that of a powerful warlord and more of an awkward teenager. He seems really insecure, and when he does edgy stuff like cut his hand to provide a DNA sample, it comes across as trying too hard. He also shouts and whines when things don’t go his way, adding to his immaturity. But easily Shinzon’s weirdest moment is when he sets up his own comeback.
During an argument with a Romulan officer, Shinzon says, “Spend eighteen hours every day under the lash of a Romulan guard and you’ll soon understand patience.” That sounds like a decent comeback to the previous line, “You really must learn patience,” until you realize that Shinzon said both lines. He really wanted to use his backstory as a denouement, but no one was giving him an opening, so he just made one himself. I guess the sheer dedication could be admirable, but only if the exchange weren’t so silly.
2. Ru’afo: Insurrection
Every villain on this list is subpar, but until now, they’ve at least been memorable. Whether it’s Shinzon setting up his own comebacks or Khan revealing his name to people who don’t know him, there’s always something to remember them by. Ru’afo doesn’t even have that much. The most you can say about him is that he’s definitely in the movie.
I don’t know if it’s the makeup, direction, or acting choices, but Ru’afo just doesn’t have much presence in this film. I think the makeup is supposed to make him look gross and scary, but it only succeeds in looking vaguely silly. It’s not memorable either, as every member of Ru’afo’s species has the same makeup, making them harder to tell apart. Ru’afo’s not from the future, he’s not genetically engineered or gifted with unusual powers, and he’s not even a clone. He’s just some guy in charge of a species that is, according to the movie, mostly concerned with interstellar drug dealing.
Ru’afo’s only memorable moment is when he randomly screams after an unexpected complication in his plan: an emotion that comes from nowhere and then disappears.
In fairness to Ru’afo, he actually starts off with the best motivation on this list. He wants to harvest some antiaging radiation from a nearby planet so he can make antiaging drugs and sell them for cold hard cash. He doesn’t care that the extraction process will wipe out the planet’s low-tech population. That’s not terribly exciting, but at least you can understand it. A profit motive beats weird clone jealousy every time.
Unfortunately, the straightforward villainy doesn’t last. As the end approaches, we get a big reveal: Ru’afo and his people are originally from the planet they want to harvest. We’re told that they tried to take over the planet’s pacifist society, and when they somehow failed, they were exiled. By pacifists. I’m guessing this is another attempt at making a sympathetic villain. Don’t you feel bad for Ru’afo now that you know he was somehow exiled from his home by mean pacifists? Or maybe this is supposed to make Ru’afo more evil, since he’s actually killing his own people rather than random strangers. Either way, all it actually does is raise a bunch of questions that the movie isn’t interested in answering.
A final nail in Ru’afo’s villain coffin is that he’s somehow the least threatening villain on his list. He leads a group of spaceborn drug dealers, or as the film calls them, “petty thugs.” By this point in the timeline, Picard and his officers have faced down the Federation’s greatest enemies, from scheming Romulans to the relentless Borg. The good guys are flying Starfleet’s most advanced warship, making it feel like a battle between the US Navy and a bunch of cartel goons. When the Enterprise struggles against Ru’afo’s ships, the scenes aren’t tense, they’re just confusing.
1. Krall: Beyond
Hang on, does the most recent Star Trek film even have a villain? I remember a swarm of drone ships that attacked the Enterprise and made the good guys crash on an alien planet, but wasn’t that it?
Oh right, Krall was there, somehow more forgettable than even Ru’afo. That’s a major accomplishment, considering that Krall is played by none other than Idris Elba, a forceful presence if ever there was one. At first, I thought the problem was that he doesn’t appear onscreen much, but he actually shows up early and often.
After some rewatching, I think Krall’s supreme forgetableness is caused by a number of factors. First, there’s his appearance and makeup. He looks like a generic alien of the week from one of the TV shows, not the big bad of a $185 million movie. The makeup likely makes emoting more difficult, which explains his stiff affect. His voice is stiff as well. I don’t know if that was an intentional choice or if it was caused by teeth prosthetics, but either way, this is not one of Elba’s better performances.
Another factor is how aimless Krall’s presence feels. He’s around for most of the movie, so he isn’t mysterious. But at the same time, we have no idea what he’s trying to accomplish or what’s driving him until near the end. It’s clear that someone is fighting our heroes, but there’s little indication as to why. Krall and his minions could easily be swapped out for mindless robots, and most of their role in the movie would be unchanged.
Then we finally do learn more about Krall, and it only makes things worse. His plan is to blow up a big Starfleet base nearby, and to do that he needs part of a super weapon that Kirk just happens to have. Sure, except that he already has a swarm of invincible drone ships, so why does he need the super weapon? No one knows, but like Ru’afo before him, Krall also has a Secret Sympathetic Backstory(™).
You see, he’s actually a human named Balthazar* M. Edison from the Enterprise-era MACO marines, and he’s angry that the Federation doesn’t fight wars anymore, apparently. I already hate this, as it inevitably ignites the inane “is Starfleet a military” argument, but it gets worse. After his ship crashed, Edison decided Starfleet had given up on him and his crew. Then when he found some alien tech, he used it to turn into a weird vampire-alien instead of, you know, returning to the Federation.
At this point, we’re supposed to believe that Krall wants to kill millions of Federation citizens because he’s mad that Starfleet made peace with aliens who killed millions of Federation citizens. Not only does nothing about this make any sense, but it’s hard to remember because the aliens he’s mad about* aren’t even in the movie. His motivation is such nonsense that it slides off long-term memory like water off a duck’s back.
As a final insult, his drone fleet is destroyed by the good guys turning up the volume on their Beastie Boys playlist. That might fit in a campy TOS episode, or even one of the later show’s attempts at comedy. But in an epic movie that wants you to seriously consider the ethics of war and peace, it’s a grating incongruity.
Star Trek Beyond really is better if you imagine Kirk and his crew are fighting mindless robots; at least then there’s no convoluted backstory to keep track of.
These villains are in a real race to the bottom. You could probably make a good argument for shuffling this list into whatever configuration you want, possibly based on which movie you’ve seen most recently. Nevertheless, rank them I have. That means it’s time for me to cook up a best-villains list for the other six.* Perhaps some of them will even be… good? We can only hope!
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