5 Best Star Trek Captains From Every Series And Movie 

These are the best captains Starfleet has ever seen.

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

star trek captain

Star Trek is the Paramount franchise that helped make “captain” a term fans speak of in reverent tones. Characters like Picard and Kirk aren’t just compelling fictional characters, but they are aspirational figures who help fervent fans dream of making our own world better and exploring those strange, new worlds to make the galaxy a safer place for everyone. There have been so many captains across the various series and movies that it’s difficult to pick the best ones, but we took a crack at it: here is our definitive ranking of Star Trek captains across the entirety of the franchise.

5. Christopher Pike

star trek anson mount

No Star Trek captain in franchise history has gotten a bigger makeover than Christopher Pike. As veteran fans know, Pike was the captain in the original Star Trek pilot from Gene Roddenberry, and we wouldn’t get William Shatner in the big chair until the series got the nearly unprecedented chance to deliver a second (and much better) pilot episode. Pike himself wasn’t very impressive in the first pilot, alternating between looking bored and barking out hilariously retrograde lines about how he “can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge.”

Fortunately, the Star Trek franchise kept returning to show us more of this captain, including future appearances in The Original Series as well as the Star Trek reboot movies. But Pike didn’t really hit his stride until Anson Mount began to play the character on Strange New Worlds. There, we see Pike as the full package: he balances clever diplomacy and kickass action, he’s both a generous lover and an accomplished chef, and best of all, he might just have the best hair in Star Trek history.

4. Kathryn Janeway

star trek captain

To this day, there are fans that debate whether Kathryn Janeway was one of the best Star Trek captains or one of the worst. The topsy-turvy seasons of Voyager sometimes made her seem erratic, especially because the series ends with her future self violating the Prime Directive and traveling to the past to create a better future. If she was willing to violate Starfleet regulations in such a hilariously blatant way back in the pilot, then the U.S.S. Voyager wouldn’t have gotten stuck in the Delta Quadrant to begin with.

The final episode of that show confirmed that Captain Janeway’s future self made the right call. In addition to getting her crew home sooner, future Janeway also managed to infect the Borg, and decades later, we find out that the infection was so thorough that all that is really left of the original Collective is one broken ship and its broken queen. Love her or hate her, Janeway effectively wiped out perhaps the most dangerous alien race in the entire galaxy, and balanced against the trillions of lives she likely saved, we think the Prime Directive can and should be tossed out of the airlock.

3. James T. Kirk

star trek captain

Come on: you didn’t really think you’d read a roundup of the best Star Trek captains and not see James T. Kirk on this list, did you? In fact, we can practically hear angry fans typing comments about how he should be our top pick. But Kirk is right in the middle because he is flawed but brilliant, which also happens to be what makes him such a compelling character.

In Star Trek: The Original Series, Captain Kirk always manages to get the upper hand, and his unique brand of cowboy diplomacy was perfect for the frontiers which he both explored and protected. But Kirk really gets fleshed out by the movies, which showcase his fears about getting older and obsolete even as we see the fatal consequences of his earlier adventures with villains such as Khan Noonien Singh. Kirk even gets a wonderful arc where he must overcome his racist feelings against the Klingons (they killed his boy, after all) in order to save their entire race, showcasing the triumph of Starfleet idealism over cynical fear and xenophobia.

2. Jean-Luc Picard

star trek captain

Look, we can already hear you Star Trek fans typing, and here’s the deal: the Picard we saw at the end of The Next Generation would have been at the top of the captain list. But the unfortunate Next Generation movies tried to transform Picard into a bland action hero (especially in First Contact), and the Picard series showcased some ugly failures on his part. In addition to diplomatic, romantic, and career failings, there was the utterly insane season 1 development of Picard that showed he was cool with Starfleet having a slave race of androids (something he once vehemently argued against when legally defending Data).

With all that being said, we’d take a flawed Picard over most other Star Trek captains on any given day. At his best, he was a wise leader who always stepped up to defend his crew, and his many powerful speeches throughout The Next Generation helped to do the impossible: make philosophy and intellectual debate look interesting and exciting. And at the end of the day, Patrick Stewart’s gentle baritone delivery of each line serves as chicken soup for even the most troubled fans’ souls.

1. Benjamin Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko may be an unconventional choice for best Star Trek captain, but he earned this honor for being perhaps the greatest embodiment of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. Back when Star Trek: The Motion Picture moved the franchise to the big screen, the marketing tagline for the film was that “the human adventure is just beginning.” And as for Sisko, it would be fair to say that Deep Space Nine was largely about his attempts to hold onto his humanity even as he becomes a reluctant messiah to an entire planet and later discovers his biological mother is an alien who lives in the Bajoran wormhole.

In The Original Series, characters that are given divine status and abilities almost immediately abuse them (just go ask Kirk, who had to kill his best friend Gary Mitchell once he developed godlike powers). But with Sisko, we see a man who is always worried about abusing his newfound position and who devotes himself to guarding Bajor with the same paternal ferocity he devotes himself to protecting his son. By the end of the series, Sisko has vanished from the material world to join the Prophets in the wormhole, bringing the franchise full circle: at the very end of his series and possibly his corporeal life, this Star Trek captain’s inhuman adventure is just beginning.