Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
Sir Patrick Stewart is a decorated, venerated, classically-trained actor of stage and screen. For years, he was the moral center of the X-Men films as Charles Xavier. However, he is probably always going to be most associated with a certain Starfleet captain from the 24th century.
Nearly two decades after last playing Jean-Luc Picard, Stewart returns to the role for the new Picard series on CBS All Access. In honor of the show's launch, why not rank the four Star Trek movies he made from the mid-'90s to the early 21st century? One word of warning, though: as great as the character is — and as much as we love Star Trek: The Next Generation — the Picard films are… well, a really mixed bag.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
This commercial dud isn't the embarrassment that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was, but it nonetheless suggested that the Star Trek brain trust had, once again, run out of ideas. Nemesis has a decent hook — the evil Shinzon is a clone of our heroic Picard — but the life-or-death stakes feel oddly uninvolving. (It's kinda fun to watch future star Tom Hardy do a Patrick Stewart impression as Shinzon, though.)
Even though Nemesis is really lackluster, Stewart is always a compelling presence as the brainy, resourceful Captain. But the actor had clearly moved on, as he was already in the midst of his next big franchise, the X-Men series.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
The ultimate in fan fiction before that was a term we all regularly used (and before it basically came to dominate American popular culture), this is the movie when Kirk and Picard, the two dominant figures of Star Trek lore, finally got to work together.
Generations plays more like an "event" than a movie at times — the old crew gets the short shrift (which is why Leonard Nimoy declined to be involved at all), and it doesn’t feel all that different from the TV show. But if you want Kirk and Picard together… you get Kirk and Picard together.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
One of the franchise's big-idea movies — where the plot is really an excuse to deal with real-world issues — Insurrection finds the Enterprise crew coming to the aid of a peaceful civilization in which the citizens can't grow old. The movie wants to be an indictment of humanity's troublesome tendency to fight over natural resources — to displace the powerless in order to harvest their assets — but the story's political undertones aren't helped by a generally subpar execution.
For Stewart, though, Insurrection gave his character a chance to get some action, falling for a local beauty. "In the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard only had sex twice," the actor said at the time. "His predecessor, Kirk, was a regular Casanova. He had a babe in every galaxy. I personally like to think Picard had a very active sex life. I can't believe the captain just read Shakespeare up there in his room all those years."
We love this quote because it sounds like the bit Stewart did in Extras.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The first film the Next Generation cast had to itself was a terrific kickoff, with the crew heading back in time to the mid-21st century to stop the Borg before it can take over the universe. (Originally they were going to go back to the European Renaissance. That would have been a very different movie!) Stewart's gravitas goes a long way here, and he has a certain Ahab-esque obsession that approaches levels of darkness we haven't always seen in Star Trek films. We all love William Shatner, but he could never do this.
Sadly, it was all downhill for Picard on the big screen after this.