Despite being set in space, "Star Trek" takes its heritage from naval adventure stories, and death is always a certainty on such dangerous voyages. In its ongoing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations the crew of the Enterprise has faced the grim reaper on many occasions, despite Kirk and Picard's best efforts to avoid a Kobayashi Maru scenario.
Since at least one major character probably gives up the ghost in "Star Trek Into Darkness," we thought we'd count down the most memorable moments among the eleven previous big screen Treks when crew members and baddies alike bit the dust… hard.
1. Spock, 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' (1982)
This has been, and always shall be, the most earth-shattering death in the entire "Star Trek" canon. What makes it the greatest? Gravitas. Spock and Kirk's relationship is at the core of everything. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner carry that unmanufactured camaraderie into the scene, along with their eternal conflict of cold logic vs. human instinct. When these two friends stare at each other through radiation shielding, the pointy-eared Vulcan having sacrificed himself to save the ship, Kirk must face death for the first time. His valedictory speech at Spock's funeral is the final gut punch: "Of all the souls I have encountered, his was the most… human." *NERD TEARS*
2. David Marcus, 'Star Trek III: The Search For Spock' (1984)
Although we, as an audience, only discovered that David (the late Merritt Butrick) was Kirk's son, like, less than a movie ago, he bites the dust here, albeit valiantly. When Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) orders that one of his prisoners on the planet Genesis be killed, David prevents Spock from getting stabbed by some Klingon prick, making the ultimate sacrifice. Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis) breaks the heartbreaking news to Kirk. In a reportedly accidental ad-lib, Shatner falls off his captain's chair, expressing Kirk's shock, loss and uncharacteristic helplessness. "Klingon bastards, you killed my son!" For all the crap Shatner gets as a repeat offender scenery chewer, he handles this scene with the sensitivity and grace of a true pro.
3. General Chang, 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' (1991)
When William Shatner was a young understudy in the '50s taking over Christopher Plummer's role as Henry V at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, he probably never imagined he'd be torpedoing Plummer in a movie nearly forty years later. Plummer fought hard with the studio to crack a new Klingon look, and his bald south seas pirate getup surely did the trick, as General Chang proved to be Kirk's most devious adversary since Khan. That made it all the more satisfying when Dr. McCoy and Spock's specially modified torpedo finds Chang's cloaked ship. Plummer's famous last words are, ironically, Shakespeare's: "To be… or not… to be…"
4. Commander Kruge, 'Star Trek III: The Search For Spock' (1984)
Christopher Lloyd has had such a monumentally eclectic career, whether he's playing a loony scientist in "Back to the Future," a loony cabbie on the show "Taxi," or a loony toon in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," but to play a renegade Klingon in "Search for Spock" Lloyd channeled a side we hadn't seen: Cold, calculated evil. Of course he orders the death of David, so Kruge has to pay, and the mano-a-mano between he and Kirk is as pummeling as you'd want it to be. Even though Kirk shows mercy as Kruge dangles off the cliff on a crumbling Genesis, the proud Klingon makes one last pyrrhic jab, causing Shatner to kick his dirty teeth in and utter "I (*kick*)… have had (*kick*)… enough of YOU!" (*kick, fall into lava, DEAD*).
5. George Kirk, 'Star Trek' (2009)
J.J. Abrams wanted to kick his franchise reboot off with a bang, so why not have Kirk's birth occur simultaneously with his father's death? Okay. This event skews the timeline of the series into its current layman-friendly iteration, and it helps that the mighty Chris Hemsworth was able to make George Kirk the kind of hotshot heroic archetype little Jimmy could strive towards once he enlists in Starfleet twenty-some years later. Ramming the U.S.S. Kelvin right into the Romulan squid ship took brass cojones, and earned the event a major place in history, as exemplified by a whole memorial museum seen behind Benedict Cumberbatch in "Into Darkness."
6. Captain James T. Kirk, 'Star Trek Generations' (1994)
Okay, so a lot of Trekkies do NOT dig this final curtain for perhaps the numero uno space hero of all-time. How can you blame them, since Kirk basically slips off a bridge like a loser? What? However, a lot of folks miss the metaphoric significance of this, since you could argue it represents a bridge between the original cast and the "Next Generation." When that bridge collapses and Kirk dies, it allows Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard the opportunity to literally bury Kirk and finally be his own man. Too bad it only led to three more sub-par films. As Shatner says, perhaps forseeing future installments: "It was fun… oh my."
7. Ilia and Willard Decker, 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' (1979)
Probably the series' trippiest death scene –this was the '70s after all- it has the demoted new captain of the Enterprise Will Decker (Stephen Collins) merging with his old Deltan girlfriend Ilia (Persis Khambatta) via the mystical light powers of space probe Vger. Huh? Yeah. Collins' hair billows upwards like its being blow dried, and sparkly stars transform he and Ilia into a pure being of some kind, but in terms of their being people they're basically dead. It looks like something Jim Jones would describe to get his followers to drink the Kool-Aid, and for that reason alone it makes the cut.
8. Chancellor Gorkon, 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' (1991)
The assassination of Klingon leader Gorkon (David Warner) on the eve of intergalactic peace talks gets the conspiracy plot of this final voyage for the original cast going with an added enhancement: CGI space blood. Pink floating globules of fluid squirting out of Klingons in Zero-G looked pretty rad in 1991, and still kinda does today. It was a clever sequence concocted by director Nicholas Meyer, and Warner plays perhaps the most sympathetic Klingon we'd seen onscreen… until Worf, that is. The scene where Bones tries unsuccessfully to revive him through CPR is genuinely moving and icky.
9. Data, 'Star Trek: Nemesis' (2002)
In unquestionably the crummiest "Trek" outing ever, Picard faces off against an ugly clone of himself named Shinzon (played by the handsome Tom Hardy) who threatens to spray Earth with this green stuff that'll melt people. Boring. Picard ices Sh**zon via impaling, but it's everyone's favorite wacky cyborg Data who saves the day, transports Picard back aboard Enterprise 1701-E and shoots the green glowing goo so it blows up. This sacrifice has special significance to actor Brent Spiner since he co-wrote the screenplay, undercutting the death by having them conveniently find Data's brother, but the crew's remembrance/toast of Data is touching.
10. Spock's Mom, 'Star Trek' (2009)
In J.J. Abrams' in-your-face "Star Trek" universe it's not dramatic enough to simply have Spock's mom killed, but ALL OF VULCAN has to die. Damn, dude! Chill with the holocausts already! To add insult to serious injury, Spock (Zachary Quinto) watches his human mother Amanda (Winona Ryder) perish as the ground crumbles beneath her just before she can be beamed up. DUUUUUUDE. What really makes this whole scenario fascinating is how much they had to make up Ryder (age 41) to smooth over the age disparity with Quinto (age 35). Now THAT'S a time warp.