Star Trek’s Best Film Was Forced To Change Its Title Because Of Star Wars

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan got its name because the original title was too similar to a competing Star Wars movie.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

There’s an adage that says only the even-numbered Star Trek films are any good. While that might not hold after the tenth Star Trek film, Star Trek: Nemesis, became the second-worst-rated film in the entire series, it sure was true in the case of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. However, as Screenrant points out, the iconic movie’s title had to go through multiple changes, partly to avoid running afoul of the newest Star Wars movie.

With the mixed reception plaguing 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Paramount wanted the second Star Trek film to have an attention-grabbing title that would put fans’ butts into seats. Director Nicholas Meyer’s original pick, Star Trek II: The Undiscovered Country, didn’t pass muster, so Paramount changed the name to The Vengence of Khan. Paramount stuck to its guns when Meyer objected, but when word got out that the next Star Wars movie would be called Revenge of the Jedi, they changed the film’s name to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

This new name still seemed too pulpy for Meyer (who would recycle the name The Undiscovered Country when directing Star Trek VI), but the name Wrath of Khan seemed to work well for the film. It promised a more action-focused plot and revealed the return of a popular villain from the original series. It delivered on both of those promises, and the film is still celebrated today by Star Trek fans. 

While Star Trek: The Motion Picture still ended up making more money than Wrath of Khan, the sequel was made on almost a quarter of the budget, meaning the film had a higher return for Paramount. Also, after the first film was met with ambivalence, the future of the Star Trek Franchise was left in jeopardy. The enthusiastic response to Wrath of Khan changed that, leading the way for 11 more films, 10 more TV series, dozens of video games, and countless other Star Trek-branded media, attractions, and merchandise.

star trek wrath of khan

Of course, George Lucas eventually switched out the word “Revenge” with “Return” in his upcoming film, meaning that the second Star Trek film didn’t have to change its name to Wrath of Khan, to begin with. However, with Wrath of Khan being such an iconic name, it’s hard to imagine a universe where the film was named something else. While a movie by any other name would be just as great, Vengence of Khan doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Regardless, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is remembered as one of the best Star Trek films of all time. Its title has been ingrained in our cultural memory, its tragic closing scene still packs a punch, and people can’t get enough of that close-up of William Shatner angrily yelling “Khan!” While we may not know whether the next J.J. Abrams Star Trek film will ever come to fruition, Wrath of Khan secured the longevity of the franchise, which will doubtlessly keep chugging along for years to come.