The Motion Picture Wasn’t Supposed To Be Star Trek’s First Movie, It Was Planet Of The Titans

The first Trek movie was going to be Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, until that was turned into a TV show, and then THAT was turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

By Michileen Martin | Published

star trek: planet of the titans

As the intro song to Star Trek: Enterprise says, when it came to bringing Star Trek: The Motion Picture to the big screen it was, “a long road/Getting from there to here.” Before the 1979 movie went into production, it was going to be a TV series, and before that, an entirely different movie was planned. Going into pre-production in 1976, the ultimately unmade film was Star Trek: Planet of the Titans.

The first film treatment came courtesy of the writing team of Chris Bryant and Allan Scott who had previously collaborated on projects like the 1970 UK comedy The Man Who Had Power Over Women and the 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now. True to its title, the film would have seen the crew of the Enterprise visit the homeworld of the mythical Titans, as well as clashing with their old enemies, the Klingons.

Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, as it was written by Bryant and Scott, would have opened with the Enterprise rushing to the rescue of the U.S.S. DaVinci as remembered by ForgottenTrek. The DaVinci itself would be lost, though the heroes would manage to rescue some survivors. Before the Enterprise could get back to safety, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is struck by some kind of electromagnetic shock and disappears.

Stepping in to command the ship, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) brings the Enterprise back to Federation space and three years later, the Enterprise returns with a new Captain: Gregory Westlake. To their shock, the crew finds the titular planet — which is being pulled into a black hole — in the same spot where Kirk disappeared.

Star Trek: The God Thing
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Spock finds Kirk on the surface of the planet, and the Star Trek icon confirms it’s the mythical Planet of the Titans; however the planet is now controlled by the Cygnans, who wiped out the Titans. The heroes are forced to deal with not only the threat of the Cygnans and the planet’s inevitable descent into a black hole, but with the Klingons who also want to lay claim to the world.

Doing the unthinkable, Star Trek’s Enterprise follows the Planet of the Titans into the black hole, only for the ship to wind up orbiting Earth in the Old Stone Age. On Earth, the Enterprise crew teaches the ancient humans of the world how to create fire, and in doing so, the heroes essentially become the Titans. In ancient Greek myth, it’s the Titan known as Prometheus who gives humanity the secret to creating fire; an act the gods punish him harshly for.

If it had been made Star Trek: Planet of the Titans wouldn’t have been the first time Trek writers tied the origins of ancient myth to space. Early in the second season of the original series came “Who Mourns for Adonais?” in which the heroes meet a powerful alien being who claims to be the basis for the ancient Greek god Apollo.

As Den of Geek‘s chronicling of the story recalls, Bryant’s and Scott’s script for Star Trek: Planet of the Titans was ultimately rejected, in part because many of the executives and other creatives involved couldn’t agree on the kind of movie they wanted. One particularly big bone of contention was reportedly that the screenwriters wanted to kill off most of the original Enterprise crew (not counting Kirk and Spock), which was an idea Gene Roddenberry was adamantly against.

star trek william shatner
James Doohan, William Shatner, and Walter Koenig in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Philip Kaufman — who would go on to write and direct 1983’s The Right Stuff — had been tapped to direct Planet of the Titans — and he took a stab at reworking the script. His version of the story focused more on Spock and his face-off with his Klingon counterpart, who would have been played by the late Toshiro Mifune (Yojimbo). Unfortunately, Paramount still canceled the film, and many believe one of the major factors was the release of Star Wars.

With Star Wars hitting theaters in 1977, Paramount reportedly felt the studio had missed the proverbial boat. Rather than release another big space epic, it switched focus to the revival TV series with the working title Star Trek: Phase II. Just like Star Trek: Planet of the Titans, the revival series suffered its own uphill battles.

Eventually, Paramount switched directions back to a theatrical release, and the pilot for Phase II — “In Thy Image” — was reworked and became Star Trek: The Motion Picture.