Star Trek: Every Captain, Ranked From Worst To Best
Have you ever double-fisted a Gorn in the back? Been heralded as a god-whisperer? Have you ever named your dog “Porthos”? If not, then you’ve probably never been a starship captain, or at least not a memorable one. The same can’t be said for the brave men and women below. These are the captains of the Starship Enterprise (and a few other less awesome ships). Some are diplomats, some are fighters, some are heroes, some like water polo. Each has their own distinct style of captaining their crew, and all have played a major role in the events of Star Trek. However, of these talented leaders, who is the greatest?
Ever since Star Trek first debuted in 1966, it has amassed a large and loyal following. Seven series, over 700 episodes, thirteen feature films, dozens of games, and hundreds of novels have provided no shortage of things for Trekkies to argue over. However, the greatest debate of them all is probably who the best captain of them all is.
What follows is our take on that debate, starting with a look at some of the worst captains in Trek history for fun. We’ll then rank all those assigned to command the Enterprise and see where the other more memorable captains of the franchise fit in.
With that said, let’s see who was boldest in going where no one has gone before. Here is Every Star Trek Captain, Ranked From Worst To Best.
15. MATT DECKER
Captain Matt Decker nearly wiped out two starship crews in a single swoop and managed to look plastered the entire time he was doing it. On a routine survey mission, he beams his entire crew down to a planet that just so happens to be in the warpath of a planet killing doomsday machine– a tragedy that could have been easily avoided by merely looking out the window.
Sadly, left as the sole survivor onboard the USS Constellation, Decker has nothing to keep him company but his epic face scruffle and all-consuming desire for revenge. That’s when the Enterprise shows up and gives him a second chance to be awful.
After boarding the Enterprise, Captain Decker quickly tries to take command by pulling an ole switcher-a-roo and sending Kirk to the empty Constellation. Because the crew of the Enterprise are lemmings, they follow Decker’s orders to plow head first into the machine. Luckily, Kirk sets things right before everyone dies a horrible death and relieves Decker. Determined as ever to kill something, Decker then steals a shuttlecraft and pilots it on a kamikaze mission into the doomsday machine, thus ending his disastrous career.
14. PHILLIPA GEORGIOU
Our time with her may have been brief, but Michelle Yeoh made the most of her appearance as captain of the USS Shenzhou. She said a lot of wise things, showed a certain knack for drawing shapes in the sand, and took a Vulcan nerve pinch like a boss. Yet, sadly ,she lost her life and the lives of over 8,000 thanks to some truly heinous decisions– namely listening to Michael Burnam.
Captain Georgiou, and the Federation, would have been a lot better off is she had just trusted her gut and not gone snooping around random space fluctuations. Of course, following her gut wasn’t all that great an idea either.
Georgiou’s plan to kidnap the Klingon rising star T’Kuvma in an effort to delegitimize his cause was as foolish as it was a bad idea. Not only did it fail miserably, ending in her senseless death, but it helped turn him into a martyr and fuel an intergalactic war. If only she had listened to Saru more.
13. JOHN HARRIMAN
If a slice of plain white toast was turned into a human and made captain of a starship, it would look like John Harriman. How he got to be in charge of the coolest ship in Starfleet is beyond us, yet there we were watching him boss around James T. Kirk at the start of Star Trek: Generations aboard the USS Enterprise-B.
Captain Harriman will go down in history as the guy who was kind of in charge of the ship that pooped James T. Kirk out into space. While it wasn’t his fault– Harriman didn’t technically do anything bad while captain– he didn’t do anything all that great either. We can’t call him the worst captain in history, but we can definitely call him a bad captain with confidence.
12. EDWARD JELLICO
The thing about Matt Decker is that he was an idiot. He really didn’t know what he was doing and had no business being a captain. Much like Phillipa Georgiou, Decker’s heart was in the right place. However, the same cannot be said of Edward Jellico.
After Picard is captured on a secret Cardassian light counting mission in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command”, Edward Jellico is put in charge of Enterprise-D. For those who don’t know, Jellico is a militaristic man who fires Riker for insubordination, demands his presence be heralded every time he enters a room, and orders Counselor Troi to stop showing so much cleavage.
Jellico is pretty much reviled by fans as being one of the most awful characters of the franchise, despite the fact that he successfully rescued Picard and made fools out of the Cardassians in the end. Ultimately, Jellico made one major error: he wasn’t Jean-Luc Picard, and that’s just something we can never forgive.
11. JAMES KIRK (KELVIN TIMELINE)
All the traits are there: a lack of respect for authority, a willingness to risk the lives of his entire crew on a whim, and fine bone structure. However, the James T. Kirk of J.J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek reboot is a far cry from the same captain as the one William Shatner made famous. This is why they rank separately, especially given the fact that they exist in two distinct universes.
Chris Pine’s captain was shaped by the untimely death of his father, which the original never had to endure, making him even more reckless than his alternate self. All and all, Kelvin Kirk is too fresh on the scene to get a true feel for his captaining chops.
He certainly has the bravado and motorcycle riding skills, but his decision-making has been less strategic and more “let’s show this primitive species what our massive spaceship looks like.” While that might make for an entertaining film, it’s not befitting of a Starfleet captain. Punch a few Gorns in the face, and then we’ll talk.
10. CHRISTOPHER PIKE
In the Star Trek: The Original Series pilot, Captain Christopher Pike was in charge of the USS Enterprise before Kirk took the helm. In his first and only on-screen adventure, he gets captured by a bunch of bulbous brained telepathic Talosians who try to force him to have wanton sex without a lot of woman. Surprisingly, Pike hated this idea and threatened to blow them all up.
Captain Pike’s star shined bright for one glorious moment, showing as much fortitude and brilliance as any captain that would follow (not counting that one unfortunate incident on Rigel VIII). Sadly, he would later end up confined to a wheel chair due to gamma radiation exposure, but he appeared one last time calling upon the help of Spock to return him to the Talosians so that he could finally take them up on their offer.
Behind the scenes, Pike’s actor, Jeffry Hunter, opted out of the TV series after the pilot aired and was replaced by Shatner, ensuring his place in history as the guy who paved the way for the guy who would make Star Trek a household name. Not t0o shabby.
9. RACHEL GARRETT
Sometimes we never know how big of an impact we actually have. Take Rachel Garrett, captain of the USS Enterprise-C, for example. While responding to a distress call from a Klingon outpost in the year 2344, the Enterprise-C is attacked by Romulan Warbirds. During the ensuing battle, a weapons discharge creates a temporal rift. Badly damaged, the Enterprise drifts though the rift and ends up in the year 2366, creating an alternate universe in the process.
In this new timeline, the Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire, Natasha Yar is alive and turtlenecks become standard issue for all Starfleet officers. One thing leads to another, and Garrett gets a chunk of metal lodged into her head and dies, but not before making the righteous decision to go back through the rift to set things right and get blown up by the Romulans.
The Enterpise-C’s honorable sacrifice in defense of a Klingon outpost avoids intergalactic war and saves millions– it also lowered the neck lines of uniforms everywhere. The future thanks you, Captain Rachel Garrett.
8. HIKARU SULU
Hikaru Sulu spent enough time behind the helm of the USS Enterprise watching Kirk operate to know exactly what not to do as a captain. That’s why it was not surprising that, when he finally got his own commission leading the USS Excelsior, he took what he learned and became an epic captain.
Originally assigned on a incredibly boring three-year mission to catalogue gaseous planetary anomalies in the Beta Quadrant, Captain Sulu eventually got fed up, violated Starfleet orders, and led a brazen rescue operation of McCoy and Kirk in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
He then helped blow up a prototype Klingon Bird of Prey threatening to destroy intergalactic peace to kingdom come. Later, he starred in his own series of audio dramas called Captain Sulu Adventuresthat few fans remember. That said, he was one of the more memorable characters of the series, and while he may have been an easygoing helmsman aboard the USS Enterprise, Sulu was a no-nonsense captain of Excelsior.
7. WILLIAM RIKER
The man who never found a beard he couldn’t trim, a chair he couldn’t step over, or a robe his chest hair couldn’t burst forth from. That’s right, we’re talking about William Thomas Riker. There is a reason why he’s called Number One. Whether as a first officer or captain, the galaxy was a far better place with Riker floating around it.
It’s doubtful anyone aspired to sit in the captain’s chair more than Riker. Which is why, when finally he got there, he made the most of the opportunity. His first chance came during “The Best of Both Worlds” after Picard got Borgified and Riker led the destruction of their cube.
Next, he commanded the USS Excalibur during the Klingon Civil War. He also captained the Enterprise-D on two other occasions– when Picard was turned into a child and during its final battle in Star Trek: Generations. Afterwards, he earned a permanent position as captain of the USS Titan. While we never saw the Titan in action on-screen, according to non-canon literature it was awesome. With Captain Will Riker leading the charge, we believe it.
Although, Spock is best remembered as the Enterprise’s first officer under Kirk, some of his greatest feats occurred while holding the rank of captain. Sometime after the trippy ’70s-inspired events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Spock was promoted to captain and assigned to training cadets on Enterprise.
Khan then reappeared and tried to blow everyone up, and Captain Spock sacrificed himself to save the ship and crew. These heroics were honored by loading his dead corpse into a torpedo and firing it at a planet.
Miraculously, Spock survived and went back to being Kirk’s first officer. He then took a quick break to learn “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and inexplicably became a captain again. In his second go, he masterminded the Klingon and Federation alliance, bringing peace and stability to the Alpha Quadrant for the first time in over two hundred years. No big deal. He then went back in time, helped erase all that good stuff from happening, and kicked back on New Vulcan for the rest of his days like the pointy eared boss that he was.
5. BENJAMIN SISKO
Benjamin Sisko was Captain of the USS Defiant, Emissary of the Prophets, father to Jake, and a guy who held a lot of baseballs. Throughout his time on Deep Space Nine, Benjamin Sisko filled a lot of roles.
He probably had the biggest arc of any other Star Trek captain, going from a lonely widower overseeing the assimilation of a foreign space station where everyone hated one another to hanging out in a wormhole for the rest of his life after finding out he was half-god. Throughout the series he adeptly handled any number of situations on DS9, diffused political tensions on nearby Bajor, and acted as the front line of defense in the Dominion War.
Requiring a diplomatic skill far greater than his colleagues, Sisko combined an erratic mess of calm reserve and unbridled fury, which he used to better the lives of those around him. Unless you count that one time when he acted like a complete lunatic and destroyed an entire planet due to a need for revenge.
So yeah, sure, he did a lot un-captain things, but that’s what made him such an interesting captain. Plus, he punched Q in the face.
4. JONATHAN ARCHER
John Archer gets a bit of a bad rap. He was the very first Enterprise captain and the first person to head a warp-capable starship. Not to mention the fact that he wrote the book on deep space exploration for humankind. Yet despite his many ground breaking achievements aboard Enterprise NX-01, Scott Bakula’s character is arguably the least popular captain of the series.
A lot of this is due to his understandable naivety and inexperience– no one really liked Star Trek: Enterprise either. However, while he may not have been the most inspiring leader or had the most commanding presence, he did stop an alien superweapon from destroying Earth and had a pretty awesome pet Beagle.
Calling Jonathan Archer the greatest Star Trek captain of all-time is a bit of a, shall we say, quantum leap, but you don’t end up being elected the first president of the Federation of Planets if you don’t have the right stuff. This basically makes him the George Washington of Star Trek.
3. KATHRYN JANEWAY
Of all the captains, Kathryn Janeway is definitely the most resourceful. Stranded 70,000 light years from Federation space, she brought together the most boring crew in history to overcome whatever crazy things the Delta Quadrant threw their way– be it Species 8472, time manipulating genocidal warlords, or Neelix.
As the first and only major female captain of the series, Janeway’s courage, strength, and resolve are right up there with any of her counterparts. In fact, she faced far more direr circumstances then they ever faced.
Steadfast in upholding Federation standards, Captain Janeway was committed to the ideology of Starfleet more than any other. While that did not necessarily always make her the most popular captain, it does speak of her character, which was one of the major reasons why the USS Voyager made it home safely. All that while she was circumnavigating the Borg and occasionally getting sexually harassed by Q.
2. JAMES KIRK (PRIME TIMELINE)
There would be no Star Trek without James Tiberius Kirk. He is easily the most famous captain and is arguably the most likable. Roguishly charming, he is a cunning tactician and fearsome brawler– there are few situations that Kirk couldn’t think, fight, or sleep his way out of. Can you imagine Picard tricking an entire race of space Indians into thinking he was a god and then impregnating their priestess? We didn’t think so.
Kirk definitely had his flaws, such as his total disregard for the Prime Directive, women, whales, and space dieties. He was also a terrible father and treated half the galaxy’s aliens like dirt.
However, he did have style. Also, don’t forget that he brokered peace with the Klingons despite the fact that they murdered his son. He also invented the Corbomite Manuever, fought alongside Abraham Lincoln, and once sweet talked a computer into blowing itself up.
You can’t deny the amazing skills on a resumé like that, even if almost everything he accomplished was thanks to the background influences of Spock. Regardless, Captain James T. Kirk is an undeniable legend.
1. JEAN LUC-PICARD
Compared to Jean Luc-Picard everyone else just looks like they’re playing captain. He, on the other hand, was the very essence of a captain. Inspiring, courageous, loyal, and wise, Picard embodied the best aspects of the other captains listed here, without any of their issues, faults, or ineptitudes.
Sure, he provoked Q into revealing humankind to the Borg, which ultimately ended up causing the deaths of millions, but that’s neither here nor there. Just think of all the amazing things that this man accomplished.
He made drinking Earl Grey tea cool. He was also a self-taught Vulcan nerve pincher and defeated a Klingon in a swear-off. He even survived getting stabbed in the heart by a Nausicaan. Heck, the children of Enterprise held a yearly celebration in his honor. He respected authority but wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and in turn he was able to earn the loyalty of his crew. He challenged those around him on the USS Enterprise-D and always took the time to make the right decisions. If ever there was a man, woman or Vulcan deserving to be called captain, its was Jean Luc-Picard.
Also, he didn’t eject Wesley Crusher from an airlock. It doesn’t get anymore impressive than that.