Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1981)

(L-R) Nanci Rogers, Ricardo Montalban and Laura Banks in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Paramount.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a return to the Star Trek universe after the cancellation of the beloved TV series, was fine. It’s a little slow and short on action, and got mixed reviews, but at least our old friends were back.

But Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, is magnificent. It’s truly scary — Chekov and Terrell and the eel larvae in their ears? Egads — and the stakes are high. Khan — making a welcome return from the series — is a foreboding, vicious villain with a legitimate axe to grind after the killing of his wife, which he of course blames on Captain Kirk.

Then the kicker — Spock dies! He dies in a way that feels irreversible, and actually stays dead awhile. (Not too long, of course: Star Trek needs him.) The death gives Wrath of Khan gravity and real stakes. Star Trek is beloved by intellectuals, but this one is sensationally emotional — and an obvious choice on any list of movie sequels better than the originals.

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