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'Fascinating': Mr. Spock's 11 most memorable Star Trek movie moments, ranked
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
We've already gone through our favorite Spock moments from Star Trek on television, but now it's time for us to warp over to the big screen. Leonard Nimoy continued his remarkable performance as the character for all six of the movies that featured the original Star Trek cast, and he also helped to bridge the gap to the Kelvin timeline starting with the 2009 Star Trek film.
We're going to focus on Nimoy again (no shade to Zachary Quinto), and though we originally intended to only run through seven entries, that was truly a no-win scenario in this case. We bumped it up to eleven. We also consulted the ship's computer about rituals involved with "camping out."
Nimoy remained the heart of the franchise when it made the jump to feature films. It's time to look at our choices for Mr. Spock's eleven best movie moments. Please... not in front of the Klingons.
11. Star Trek (2009) - "Thrusters on full"
Nimoy's "Spock Prime" was the tether that connected the Kelvin timeline films to everything else. That tether functioned on a storytelling level, but it also worked in terms of emotional grounding. Having Nimoy involved, in the 2009 film in particular, gave gravitas to everything.
His scenes with Kirk (Chris Pine) are all fantastic, but his final scene with his Kelvin counterpart (Zachary Quinto) stands out. As he says, "Put aside logic. Do what feels right." Spock telling himself to put logic aside, and then talking about feelings? This old Vulcan may have finally accepted the human half of himself. As the new Enterprise departs, Nimoy's Spock says to himself, "thrusters on full" as the entire cycle of adventure begins again. He's remembering how things go, but also giving his blessing. The crew is together. Things will be different, but all will be well.
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - "This Simple Feeling"
Spock begins Trek's first big screen jaunt on Vulcan, where he is about to finish the ritual of Kolinahr. He would be purged of all emotions. The looming threat of V'Ger interrupts this process, and before long he ends up back on the Enterprise. After an attempted mind meld with the V'Ger entity (coming up on this list soon), he has a realization in sickbay.
V'Ger is cold, barren, and utterly without emotion. As he holds the hand of Kirk (William Shatner), Spock says, "this simple feeling" is beyond V'Ger's comprehension. "Is this all there is?" is what V'Ger is continually asking. V'Ger has vast amounts of knowledge, but that's all.
It's a scene of emotional breakthrough for Spock, as he realizes that he should never have tried to do the thing that he began this movie doing. He knows what V'Ger truly is, and he doesn't want to be like that. It's his most emotional moment in a movie where he is mostly stoic and cold. Nimoy is finally allowed to bring a hint of warmth back in, and the result is masterful.
9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) - "Your name... is Jim"
Even if you already knew that Spock lived and that his death in the previous movie would not be permanent, this is an amazing moment. The titular "search" had been on for this entire movie, and right at the end, he's back. Thank Surak, he's back.
He doesn't have it all together yet, which is understandable. His dead body was regrown at an accelerated rate on an unstable planet, and his consciousness was just put back in his head after being safeguarded in the mind of Dr. McCoy (DeForrest Kelley). He starts to say his final lines from the previous film as his memory comes back to him, and then... he recognizes his best friend.
"Jim. Your name... is Jim." It may take some time to retrain his Vulcan mind, but this scene argues that if Spock has this much intact, then he'll be fine. McCoy taps his own head and smiles, and everyone surrounds Spock. If we weren't already overjoyed by this return, Spock cocks an eyebrow in famous fashion. The adventure continues.
8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - Mind Meld with V'Ger
More than any other Trek movie, the first one makes us afraid of space. The scene where Spock takes it on himself to strap into a space suit and rocket into the V'Ger entity with barely any protection at all makes us really afraid of space.
It's a heroic and brave thing to do, but that's not why he does it. He has to figure everything out, so he proceeds to do so in the most logical fashion. Fear isn't logical, so never once do you get the feeling that Spock is afraid.
Nimoy deploys clinical precision as Spock takes this hellish and prolonged trip into the unknown. We're uneasy the entire time, shouting for him to get back on the ship. As if going out into the big crazy cloud machine wasn't enough, Spock attempts a mind meld with it. It mostly works, and the information gained from this mind meld proves pivotal for both the crew and Spock.
7. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - Spock's Chat With Valeris
Spock is on his final mission on the Enterprise as a member of it's crew. He shares a scene with Valeris (Kim Cattrall) before everything in this underrated sequel goes sideways for Kirk and company. It is during this sobering moment that Spock reveals that his intention is for Valeris to be his successor.
This is one of many brilliant Spock scenes in a movie that is full of them; this compelling beat especially stands out thanks to Nimoy's line reading of: "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris. Not the end." Once again, Spock realizes (and tells someone else) that it's not always all about logic.
Beginnings and endings are among the film's load-bearing thematic columns, which clearly hold up this scene. Whether it's a painting in Spock's quarters that reminds him of the the fact that "all things end," Valeris bringing up the political turning point the Federation faces with the end of the Klingon-Federation war in sight, Spock knows that he himself is at a turning point.
This scene also plays differently the second time you watch the movie. If you already know that Valeris (spoiler warning for 30-year-old movie) is a traitor and co-conspirator in the plot to sabotage the pending peace talks, then you almost get the hint that she may try to recruit Spock over to her cabal hellbent on extending the war because without it, they are not prepared to face the end of all they have ever known. He'd never go for it anyway, but Cattrall seems like she's ready to go out on a giant limb when she brings up politics. Spock doesn't let her get remotely close to a proposition. He uses it as a teaching moment, and, unfortunately, she proves to be completely unworthy of his attention.
6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - Spock and Kirk's Last Fireside Chat
The other "Spock-in-a-robe" scene from this movie, but this time Spock sports his white robe from Voyage Home while having a very somber conversation in his quarters with Kirk. Both of them have let more than a couple balls drop during the course of this mission, and a lot of it had to do with their respective prejudice. Kirk was blinded by past trauma, and Spock didn't realize the truth about Valeris. They both get the job done better than anyone else could, but Spock muses that getting older is the potential culprit for their shortcomings on this most important mission.
"Could it be that the two of us, you and I, have grown so old, that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?" It's one of our favorite Trek lines of all time, and as some of us get older ourselves, it's one that we may (or may not) repeat with surprising regularity. That Spock, of all characters, is the one asking this? Logic is once again defied.
5. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - Going Campin'
Say what you want about this maligned sequel (and people definitely do), the character beats between the trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy are among the movie's few winning attributes. Yes, even the much-derided camping scene.
When all three of these veterans are together on screen, magic happens. This movie is full of beats featuring the trio in that classic, TOS mold — and Kirk (as usual) is often stuck between Spock and McCoy going at it. (For example: McCoy liked Spock better before he died.)
The campfire scene contains the following line from Spock: "I have little choice but to sample your beans." He also prepares to toast a "marshmellon" because he read up on camping before leaving the ship. He ruins a round of singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" because he tries to grasp the meaning of the lyrics, and that just pushes McCoy over the edge.
The kicker comes once the trio retires to their sleeping bags around the campfire, which officially makes this the best campfire ever and one that we really want to be at. Spock is still thinking about the song, and he tells Kirk, "Life is not a dream."
After a long beat, Kirk tells his friend to go to sleep.
4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - Spock Volunteers Kirk for a Mission
It's rare for Kirk and Spock to have a big argument. But that's exactly where Star Trek VI kicks off, with our favorite characters' friendship at odds as a peace treaty between their greatest enemy threatens to tear them and the Federation apart.
Spock has "personally vouched" for Kirk when it comes to the mission they're about to go on, and it is a mission made all the more difficult for Kirk given his personal history with the Klingons and the emotional trauma they infected on him when one of them killed his son. Spock arrogantly presumes that Kirk, like Spock, can see past this understandable bias and proceed with running point for this historical opportunity. But Spock did not properly take into account Kirk's feelings on the matter, which is why the two end their briefing room scene at odds and with nothing but tension and a conference room table between them.
An upset and disappointed Kirk tells Spock, "you should have trusted me," and the look on Spock's face speaks volumes. The strain on the two's relationship has arguably never been higher than at this point, especially when Spock implores his friend to help the dying Klingons and Kirk hisses: "Let them die." It's a brilliant, character-defining moment for both characters, but it's Spock's expressions during this tense exchange that prove most critical for the character. For one of the first times in our long history with Spock, he has errored. And the fate of the galaxy may suffer the consequences.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - "The Needs of the Many"
It would be easy for the second Trek movie to reign supreme atop any list about any Trek topic, because Wrath of Khan is one hell of a gem-covered Swiss watch. (What a hot take, tell your friends.) But Spock's brief, but poignant (and highly quotable) encounter with Kirk early on in the film comes in just shy of Khan's crowning achievement for our favorite green-blooded science officer.
Spock, now Captain of the Enterprise, begins his captaincy with Admiral Kirk at his side for a "little training cruise." When trouble starts brewing on Regula I, Kirk is forced to take command of the vessel. But first, he must visit his friend and inform him of the decision. There, in Spock's quarters, Nimoy proceeds to deliver one of the most iconic Trek lines of all time.
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," he says, before giving full command over to Kirk. He has no ego to bruise. This one line not only becomes a driving theme of the film, it also becomes a staple of future Trek outings. Movies and television episodes went on to continually explore the central tenet of this line. They may not always quote Spock directly, but the ethics of Spock's own solution to the trolley problem are at the foundation of Trek itself. It makes perfect sense that it was Nimoy's Spock that gave life to that foundation.
2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) - The Entire Movie
We're only allowed to do this once, and yeah, we're going to do it with this one. Just take it easy! Dr. Nichols has offered to take us around the plant personally! You were at Berkeley? We were not.
Spock is alive, but he's not quite himself. The whale-saving '80s escapades of this hit film help Spock find himself once again. Before we get there though, wow, do we have one "whale" of a time.
Saying to hell with any kind of temporal edict when it comes to improvised time travel methods, Spock just up and gives the Vulcan nerve pinch to a punk on the bus who won't turn his boombox down. Everyone claps. Before this, we had the glory of Nimoy's delivery of, "What does it mean, exact change?"
There's also Spock and Kirk's hilarious debate about whether or not Spock likes Italian food, and there's the truck-stopping way Nimoy says, "Gracie is pregnant." The real reason that we have to just give the whole movie one entry here, though, is because if we didn't... it would be a list of scenes where Spock tries to curse.
His continuing quest to master "colorful metaphors" is one of our favorite things to ever exist. He isn't very good at it ("the hell I can't", "the hell she did"). And in one very comical moment, Kirk must inform his friend that he doesn't quite have knack for cussing. Spock replies, "I see." This is about as upset or confounded with disappointment as Spock can get, and Nimoy sells the scene perfectly.
Before the crew travels back to their own time, however, Spock manages to swear correctly. He's also experienced enough by the movie's end to stand with his shipmates at their court martial (even though he hasn't been accused of anything), and to relay a message to his mother, finally answering a question that perplexed him at the start of the movie. The computer had asked him, "How do you feel?"
His response: "Tell her... I feel fine."
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - Spock's No-Win Scenario
There's no way around it. Our favorite Spock moment in the movies was always going to be this one.
The "no-win" scenario is another of the film's profound themes, the payoff of which comes through Spock's death and sacrifice. By the end of Khan, the Enterprise is caught in a real Kobayashi Maru scenario, and Spock puts his "needs of the many" ethos into action by exposing himself to fatal radiation to save the ship and his friends. He's never taken the Kobayashi Maru test, but he beats the no-win scenario without cheating it. But the victory is bittersweet, especially for Kirk, who is forced to watch his dying friend deliver his last words from behind inches of safety glass.
Kirk's heart breaks when a hoarse Spock utters: "I have been, and always shall be, your friend," he says. Then our hearts break, too, when Spock struggles to raise his burnt hand for one last Vulcan salute before he dies. He dies before a man who made a career out of cheating death, and now, for the first time, Kirk must really face it.
Kirk's first major scene in the movie, he tells cadet that: "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." He has no idea how his words will come back to haunt him in this moment, almost as if this is Spock's final lesson for his best friend to learn. It does not matter if you know Spock will be resurrected soon after, his death — and the grief that results from it among his comrades — hits bone-deep every single time.