The fan film community is a vibrant, inspired galaxy of amateur filmmakers who, like many pro filmmakers today, focus their creative energies on iconic fictional universes. Fan films cover all franchises and properties, with some of the most elaborate productions riffing on major properties like Batman, X-Men, Transformers, and beyond.
The Star Trek fan film universe is a little more complex than other creative properties, as CBS and Paramount licensing have now clamped down and enacted a new list of legal guidelines for fan films marching forward. Their main rules are that no fan film set in Star Trek territory can be longer than 15 minutes or consist of more than two episodes, cannot contain the name Star Trek in its title, must utilize only amateur actors not associated with any previous Star Trek production, and are limited to $50,000 in funding goals.
Many filmmakers are intentionally violating these policies and taking the risk of being sued or receiving a serious cease-and-desist order, and we won't target them in this post.
Instead, let's provide an honest ranking of the best approved works either grandfathered in or standalone shorts not part of a continuing web series. Beam in to vote for your faves, and may these 11 Star Trek films live long and prosper.
Chance Encounter (2017)
Romantic pursuits, young love amid the stars, and exploring one's options under the watchful eye of the universe are featured in this well-done short. Directed by Gary O'Brien, Chance Encounter uses all original characters amid a melodramatic, sometimes overly-sentimental time-traveling tale set within the Star Trek boundaries and patterned after the more humanistic episodes of The Next Generation.
Starship Grissom (2016)
Although this is part of an educational series, it gets added to our list due to the unique concept of using Star Trek as an in-class study tool to get kids interested in science and astronomy. The TOS-inspired shorts are written by a collection of teachers from Highland East Junior High in Moore, Oklahoma. This is the premiere episode titled "Planet L-197" and follows the discovery of an M-class world with a rocky surface and possibly liquid oceans, a supernova, and a black hole.
Star Trek: Deception (2013)
Directed by Leo Tierney, this impressive British film centers around a pair of Starfleet officers, Commander Stoven and Lieutenant Miller, flying the USS Thames, a Danube Class Runabout, transporting a most-wanted Klingon prisoner to a detention camp, only to be attacked by a stealthy Klingon Bird of Prey. High praise goes to its use of a single simple story adorned with colorful digital effects to produce a very pleasing short with high production values that doesn't try to overreach.
Chasing The Infinite Sky (2016)
Catch that horizon and take a voyage on the USS Albatross in this wildly impressive short that is more a collection of CGI tests than an actual narrative. However, the splendor of the sumptuous visuals will make you forget all that and in seconds you'll be swept away by the Adobe magic of Albert Martinez and Ricardo Elliott.
Needs of the Many (2015)
Taking its title from a line in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, this basic UK production uses two characters, Harriet Fettis as Elisabeth and Aaron Jay as Ben, both trapped in separate sections of an ailing starship drifting toward a minefield. Directed by Aaron Vanderkley, the tone and shot choice are compelling for an amateur short and the screenplay is tight, exhibiting some genuine emotion and suspense.
Spotlighting some superb SFX by Snake Force Pictures, Survivors moves with a brisk pace, and displays an exceptional amount of love for the Star Trek tapestry, especially the post-Deep Space Nine era. There's a cool use of an antique phaser while telling the tale of a Captain and his Vulcan science officer who battle angry aliens on a planet surface after their ship is bombarded. Directed by Matthew Lee Blackburn, it's a satisfying, self-contained story that exhibits the best of what a fan film hopes to be.
The Derelict (2017)
Another excellent short by UK filmmaker Aaron Vanderkley, with Starfleet officers exploring an abandoned cargo vessel, the North Star, after it's found drifting helplessly in deep space. Vanderkley's first fan film was "Needs of the Many," also found on this list, and this short exhibits a better sense of dramatic structure and acting abilities have been amped up a bit. It features a familiar plot of a deranged survivor trying to take over a starship but it flows well and entertains.
Directed by David Whitney, Raven is a phenomenal effort by Starfleet Studios, centering around the USS Prometheus, a beautiful new piece of technology designed to go up against a Borg cube and search for the lost Voyager. Head into the plasma storm and encounter the genetically-altered weapon called Raven. A capable cast, interesting set design integrated with CGI effects, and an ambitious scope place this entry in the top tier.
Aurora: Here's Mudd In your I (2016)
I love the inventive freshness of this CGI mini-film! Sure, it appears quaint when applied to multi-million dollar animated efforts from Hollywood but remember these are amateur productions made with little money but lots of time, love, and spirit. The story focuses on the cargo vessel Aurora and its two female officers, Kara and T'ling and the shenanigans of the interstellar jester, Harry Mudd. The gender-bending angle is especially topical and the attention to detail and infusion of sharp humor makes this a serious contender. Watch it twice to pick up all the subtle Easter eggs.
Star Trek: Horizon (2016)
A sterling example of what a grandfathered-in feature-length fan film with little to no money behind it and a dedicated cast and small crew can accomplish. Directed by Tommy Kraft and completed over a three-year period, this 104-minute beauty was actually filmed in the director's basement on a budget of $28,000. This lavish production occurs during the Romulan Wars of the Star Trek: Enterprise era on the USS Discovery and it's astonishingly good for its minuscule budget.
Digital Ghost (2000)
Here's an oldie but goodie from Germany, made 17 years ago. Sure, the CGI is a bit rusty by more modern standards, but I love its attempt at authenticity. Climb aboard the fully automated High Class prototype starship for a doomed ride through an asteroid field toward the Perigon Sector under the command of a computerized control system named Roxanne, where a ship in apparent distress awaits. Understands the importance of story and pacing perfectly and, though the senior citizen of the bunch, grabs the gold!