If you’ve just learned about the Star Trek universe and want to watch all of the series and movies within the franchise, you will want to start at the very beginning to understand what is happening and the references made in later series or movies. While you might be tempted to start with the Original Series, you will miss critical information based on later shows. What is the right order to watch all of Star Trek?
There are two timelines: the Prime timeline and the Kelvin timeline. Begin with the Prime timeline, as this is where the Original Series started. Begin with the movie “First Contact” to understand how space exploration began, then watch Enterprise to see the continuing voyages.
While it all seems confusing right now, you will understand how to watch the entire Star Trek franchise after you read the article. Let’s dig in!
A Brief Explanation of the Order
While most advice is to start with the series “Enterprise,” that doesn’t explain how Earth ended up in space, or how the Vulcans became involved as consultants on Earth in the pursuit of space travel. The movie “First Contact” answers those questions, and though it involves the Next Generation crew, it shows how the first warp ship got the Vulcans’ attention and how humans become space-faring.
The order given here puts the movie first, as it gives you a background to the Enterprise series and helps you understand what happened. While it is a time travel movie, it starts you at the very beginning. But there are two separate timelines you need to be aware of.
The Prime Timeline
Gene Roddenberry started the Prime timeline with the Original Series. The movies and series are based on this timeline, and it follows the work of Kirk, Spock, and Picard through the years. The Kelvin timeline is not part of this article, and will only focus on the Prime timeline.
The Kelvin Timeline
In 2009, J.J. Abrams created a Star Trek reboot that explored the idea of an alternate timeline, otherwise known as the Kelvin timeline. The movies, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), and Star Trek: Beyond (2016), explore the world where the Romulan Nero went back in time to destroy the first Starfleet ship he met, which was the USS Kelvin.
In 2387, the Romulan sun was about to go supernova, which would destroy an entire quadrant. Spock took this on and promised the Romulans that he could stop it from happening.
Spock tried halting the supernova with red matter but failed, leaving Romulus destroyed. Nero was so angry that he attacked Spock’s ship, the Narada. During the attack, both ships were pulled into the black hole left by the supernova and were sent back in time.
Nero was not aware that the Narada went back in time, but he attacked the first Starfleet vessel, which happened to be the ship that James Kirk’s father served on and killed him.
Before this event happened, the timeline traveled the same path as the Prime timeline. That one event skewed the original timeline to create an alternate reality. Many things were altered, including the technology, but the events stayed mostly similar, including Khan.
Star Trek: First Contact (2063) (2373)
The Next Generation crew are on the new Enterprise-E. A distress signal from the Federation alerts the crew that the Borg made it to the Alpha quadrant to assimilate Earth.
Picard tells his crew that they cannot help fight because of his prior involvement with the Borg. The crew argues that this is why they should be at the forefront of the battle.
Later, Counselor Troi tells Picard that the battle with the Borg started. Picard and Riker come out to the bridge and listen to the ships’ various transmissions trying to take down the cube. Once he heard enough, he asked the crew what they should do–go against their orders and fight, or stay where they are.
Commander Data says, “If I were human, I believe I would say ‘to hell with our orders.’” Then they make their way to the Alpha quadrant.
Since Picard has experience with Borg ships, he orders all other ships to fire on a non-critical system, which destroys the cube. As the cube explodes, they notice a sphere leave and open up a time anomaly. Picard orders the Enterprise to follow the sphere after they realize the Borg assimilated Earth of the past.
They are pulled in the stream with the sphere and end up in the 21st century–April 4, 2063, to be exact–one day before Zephram Cochrane was to fly his warp ship.
The Enterprise crew assists Cochrane in his original mission to keep the timeline preserved.
Star Trek: Enterprise (2151-2161)
Star Trek Enterprise continues where First Contact left off–humans meeting Vulcans for the first time. The series shows how the Vulcans became consultants to humans in constructing warp-capable ships and interacting with other species.
While the Vulcans thought they were doing a decent service, humans often resented this and felt that they could have been further along in their development had it not been for the Vulcans holding them back.
The series explored the Earth-Romulan war, the tensions with the Klingons, how the United Federation of Planets came to be, and the Vulcan-Andorian alliance’s development. The series ran four seasons before it was canceled, but it did clear up things that the Original Series alluded to.
Star Trek: Discovery (2255-?)
Discovery first debuted in 2017, making it the next to the last series developed in the Prime timeline. This series’s events take place ten years before the Original Series and explain why the war between the Klingons and the Federation ignited after over 100 years of tense peace between the two sides.
It also highlights the life of Spock’s foster sister, Micheal Burnham. Spock grew up with a foster sister that his parents took in after the Klingons killed her parents on a Federation outpost. Micheal grew up with Amanda and Sarek, learning the Vulcan ways while suppressing her human emotions.
Discovery attempts to explain why Spock never spoke of this sister in other series. Micheal said horrible things to Spock when they were children about his heritage and how he would never fit in on Vulcan or Earth because of it. But she only said that to keep him safe from Vulcan extremists while she ran away.
At the end of the second season, the Discovery crew jumps 900 years into the future, leaving Captain Pike to command the Enterprise until Captain Kirk takes over.
Star Trek: The Original Series (2265-2269)
The series that started it all, The Original Series (TOS), explores the world of James Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew in the “five-year mission to explore the universe, seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Since this was the first series of a new fictional world, no one knew what to expect.
The series introduced Vulcans, Andorians, Tellerites, and Klingons. It also showed how alien influences could disrupt a primitive culture’s development and create problems that they would not otherwise have, demonstrating the need for their Prime Directive that prohibited their interference in pre-warp societies.
Star Trek Continues (Fan Fiction)
Most fan fiction is best left to a franchise’s sidelines due to their non-canonical events and stories. Star Trek Continues, however, is a cut above the rest of Star Trek fan fiction and was even approved as canon by Gene Roddenberry’s son.
The series was conceived and produced by Vic Mignogna, who also plays James Kirk in the series. They made use of the same studio and set that TOS was filmed on, and care was put into every single detail to make it appear the same as TOS in every way.
It attempted to explain why starships in later series had a counselor and a chief of security, and what happened in the last year of their five-year mission. The series tied up loose ends that TOS left, and explains how Kirk became an Admiral, and why Spock left Starfleet for several years.
It is recommended that you include this fanfiction series in your watchlist because it will answer certain questions that The Next Generation fails to answer. The episodes are also free to watch, as the project was a labor of love for Vic, as he was a fan of TOS and was honored to create the series for other fans.
Star Trek: The Animated Series (2269-2270)
Soon after TOS went off the air, the Star Trek writers worked with professional science fiction writers and Filmation to create Star Trek: The Animated Series. The Animated Series was an attempt to answer some of the questions that TOS left open and appeal to younger viewers.
Some of the episodes were continuations of TOS episodes, such as “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and the Mudd episodes. Other episodes outlined new technologies such as a recreation room that utilized a holographic suite, or an “aqua-shuttle.”
Many of the episodes kept the original actors to voice the characters, except Chekov’s character, due to budgetary constraints. However, the actor that played Chekov wrote one episode of the series.
Because the ratings were low, it only lasted one and a half seasons.
Original Star Trek Movies (2273-2293)
Though The Original Series had low ratings when it first aired, it gained enough popularity to produce movies for the big screen. Studio executives wanted nothing to do with Star Trek movies initially, but after a bit of convincing, they decided to move ahead with the Motion Picture.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the very first cinematic project of the Star Trek universe, and it bombed. While they tried to play with the special effects and show the space stations for the first time, it wasn’t enough to save the film from bad ratings.
The story begins with a large entity traveling across the galaxy, killing or vaporizing everything in its path. Admiral Kirk boards the redesigned Enterprise to give it an inspection before it goes out on another mission. Captain Decker is in command and thinks Kirk is there as a “top brass sendoff,” not realizing that the Admiral is there to command the ship.
Once they get going, Kirk briefs the crew about this entity that they will intercept, and hopefully, stop before it kills anyone else. Captain Decker is temporarily demoted to Science Officer in Spock’s absence, much to his disappointment and irritation.
Meanwhile, Spock realizes that something is calling to him in space and refuses to complete the Kolinahr ritual. He gets a lift to the Enterprise to figure out what the entity is.
In the end, they find out that this entity is V’Ger, or Voyager, a probe sent from Earth in the late 20th century. It had amassed so much knowledge, and it was ready to transmit its information to the creator.
The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan continues the story started in TOS episode, “Space Seed,” left off. It starts with Commander Chekov on the starship “Reliant” looking for a suitable planet that Dr. Carol Marcus could use to test their new Genesis device. The device allows a dead planet to be terra-formed into a new planet for whatever life “we see fit to deposit on it.”
As the Reliant crew goes to what they think is Ceti Alpha VI, Chekov notices the “Botany Bay” on one of the walls of a shelter on the planet. He suddenly remembers who that is and tries getting the captain to leave. When they go out the door, they are met by several people who push them back inside the shelter. It turns out to be Khan and his people that were left on Ceti Alpha V.
It is determined that Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after they were left on Ceti Alpha V, and Khan was angry and wanted revenge on Kirk. He hijacked the Reliant and went in search of Kirk.
Khan took revenge on everyone except Kirk, because “like a poor marksman, you keep missing the mark!” Eventually, after several battles between the Reliant and the Enterprise, Khan has one last trick up his sleeve before he dies. He sets the Genesis device to explode, and in 4 minutes, everything in the system will be dead or dying.
Spock saves the Enterprise in the most extreme sacrifice. At his funeral, they jettison his body into space, which lands on the Genesis planet.
The Search for Spock
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock picks up where the last movie left off, as Sarek tasks Kirk to bring both Spock and McCoy to Vulcan to release them both of Spocks’ Katra, or the essence of who he was in life. But in the Enterprise’s absence, the Mutara sector became off-limits, and only certain science vessels were allowed in that region of space.
Kirk, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura work together to bring Bones and Spock back to Vulcan. However, on the way, the Klingon commander Kruge bought the secrets of the Genesis device and wanted to exploit the technology for the glory of the Empire. He got to the planet first and destroyed the science vessel Grissom that Kirk’s son David, and Lieutenant Saavik served on.
By the time Kirk got to the area, he had realized that there was trouble. When the Klingons wanted to board the Enterprise, Kirk and crew escaped to the planet and blew up the ship, along with the Klingons.
They found Spock alive, and once they got rid of most of the Klingons, including Kruge, they made their way to Vulcan in a Klingon ship.
The Voyage Home
The third movie in a series of movies, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, finds the Enterprise crew still on Vulcan after saving Spock. They decided they must go back to Earth to face the consequences of their actions. Once the Klingon ship was ready to go, Spock boarded the ship to testify at the crews’ trial.
But once they get close to Earth, a planetary distress call from Earth reaches their ship. An alien probe is cutting off all life support and power to Earth and her space docks and is disrupting the planet itself.
The Enterprise crew realizes that the sound the probe makes is the same sung by humpback whales, extinct in the 22nd century but still alive in the 20th century. They go back in time, snatch a couple of whales and water, and go back to their time to help repopulate the species and, hopefully, save Earth.
The Final Frontier
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier introduces the audience to Spock’s half-brother, Sybok. Sybok believes that he found the Vulcan equivalent to the Garden of Eden on the other side of the Great Barrier and steals the Enterprise-A to get there. Along the way, he helps people release their pain from past trauma, which enables him to get people to do what he wants them to do.
But, when they cross the great barrier and get to the planet, Sybok realizes his mistake. “God” isn’t the “real God” and takes it upon himself to wrestle and kill the alien that deceived him.
The movie was not as popular as the previous three movies due to the storyline.
The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country explains how the cold war between the Klingons and the Federation ended. Praxis, the Klingon moon responsible for Kronos’ energy output, blew up, leaving Kronos with about 50 Earth years of life left. If left to their own devices, they would be dead soon.
So Chancellor Gorkon brought up his idea to reconcile with the Federation and appealed to Ambassador Spock to create peace. But many in the Federation, and the Klingon Empire, didn’t believe that the Klingons should be admitted to the Federation. The idea was so repulsive to some people that they were willing to frame Captain Kirk for sabotage to keep the cold war alive.
The Klingons arrested Bones and Kirk for Chancellor Gorkon’s murder and were sentenced to life on Rura Penthe, the Klingon penal asteroid.
But this was not to be, and the peace conference was held on Khitomer as planned, which was the start of the Klingon-Federation alliance.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (2364-2370)
The Next Generation continued where the movies left off with the Enterprise-D. Instead of being given a five-year mission, the crew has an “ongoing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
The series showed several new advances in technology, such as a new holodeck, food replicators, and other things that TOS never had. The new crew was under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
They met the Q entity who loved torturing the Enterprise crew and introduced them to the Borg. The series lasted for seven seasons.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2369-2375)
Deep Space Nine was a spinoff series from The Next Generation. It centered around an outlier Bajoran space station previously occupied by the Cardassians. Commander Benjamin Sisko commanded the station that was located near the only stable wormhole in the galaxy. The wormhole was a gateway from the Alpha quadrant to the Beta quadrant and was the site of the war with the Dominion.
It lasted seven seasons and overlapped with The Next Generation and Voyager in the timeline.
Star Trek: Voyager (2371-2378)
Star Trek: Voyager tells the story of a starship that gets pulled into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker to search for a “suitable replacement” to care for the Ocampa. But because Captain Janeway didn’t want to let the array fall into the hands of Ocampan enemies, she destroyed the array.
They spend the next seven years working on ways to get home, coming across many different species and anomalies. Eventually, they get home using the Borg conduit leading to the Alpha quadrant.
The Next Generation Movies
The Next Generation crew appeared in four movies, one of which showed how Earth’s space exploration started.
Star Trek: Generations connects Captain Kirk and Captain Picard in a way that has them working against a common enemy–Soran. Soran was intent on destroying a star so that he could enter into the Nexus, which is a place of pure joy. However, in destroying the star, Soran would destroy entire civilizations. Captain Picard could not allow that, and while in the Nexus, he persuades Captain Kirk to come with him and help make a difference.
The Enterprise-D was destroyed by a Klingon ship.
Star Trek: Insurrection tells the story of the Federation working with the Son’a to get the benefits of the Ba’ku homeworld amidst the Briar patch. But as the Enterprise-E investigates further, they realize that the Son’a planned to transport the Ba’ku to another planet without their knowledge to take the metaphasic particles of the outer rings to create a “fountain of youth” that would provide medical benefits for people of the Federation.
But Picard and crew found out that the Son’a were children of the Ba’ku over a century ago who were expelled because of wanting to go off-world. They came back to kill their elders.
In Star Trek: Nemesis, the clone of Picard shows up to tell him about how he came to be. He grew up on Remus, which was a mining planet. He grew up with the same issues that Picard has, but because of the temporal RNA he was sequenced with, his body was breaking down that much quicker.
In the end, Data sacrifices himself to save the captain and the Enterprise crew.
The latest series within the franchise, Picard picks up 20 years after Nemesis and tries to explain the Kelvin timeline a bit more. He helped evacuate the Romulan homeworld before the sun went supernova, but was not completely successful. After that happened, he left Starfleet due to how they didn’t approve of his plans.
Synthetic life forms were banned after they attacked the Mars colony, but one found Picard right before being killed. That synthetic life form was a descendant from Data’s matrix. The rest of the season focuses on finding the twin synth before she was killed as well.
Well, there you have it–all the Star Trek series, movies, and even a fanfiction series to watch. Once you’ve watched all of these programs, feel free to go back and watch the Kelvin timeline movies to see how it is different from the Prime timeline shows.
Star Trek shows often were a vague commentary on real-life issues, such as racism, homophobia, misogyny, and economic disparities. The franchise shows how humans overcame these issues, but then encountered several species on other planets that were still in the process of overcoming the issues and their strong dislike of any new thoughts. If you liked this post then you should check out our Star Wars Watch Order post
- Looper: The Star Trek Kelvin Timeline Explained
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: First Contact
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Picard
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Voyager
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Enterprise
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Discovery
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: The Original Series
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek Generations
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: Insurrection
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek Nemesis
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Memory Alpha: Star Trek: The Animated Series
- Star Trek Continues: About Us