Why The Quentin Tarantino Star Trek Movie Never Got Made

Once upon a time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino had a "Star Trek" film in the works. It was likely going to be an R-rated story set in the universe that started back in 1966 with the original "Star Trek" series, and many fans were curious to see what a darker voice like Tarantino's could bring to a franchise that has so far stayed firmly on the PG side of things. As of the time of writing, though it looks like Tarantino's "Star Trek" movie is dead, Jim.

Back in 2017, Deadline reported that a new film in the franchise was a possibility, with Tarantino coming up with the story and possibly directing, and J.J. Abrams producing. The article said the duo were waiting for a script before a deal was made, but that sources had them setting up a writers room in anticipation of the project. 

At that time, Tarantino was working on casting "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood." Tarantino has frequently said that he would only direct 10 films, and "Once" was his ninth (he considers "Kill Bill Vol. 1" and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" to be a single movie). Had he directed "Star Trek," that would have made his tenth film part of a franchise, not an original story, which didn't seem like a very Tarantino thing to do. And it seems like Tarantino's loss of interest in directing was the nail in the coffin for a "Star Trek" movie that would have apparently been "'Pulp Fiction' ... in space!"

What might have been

So what was the Tarantino "Star Trek" film going to be about? While it didn't get particularly far along in development, we do have some tantalizing bits of information about the plot. Mark L. Smith ("The Revenant") was set to pen the script from an idea of Tarantino's, according to Variety, and spoke in 2021 to Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast (via TrekMovie.com) about what they'd been working on.

Smith said that he met up with Tarantino about the film, where the filmmaker read out an "awesome cool gangster scene" he wrote. Later, they watched some gangster films together, and started "talking about how it would bleed into what we wanted to do." He mentioned that Kirk and "all the characters" were in the script idea, and that there was "a little time travel" involved. Smith also said, "it's hard-R [rated] and it's violent."

Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the newer "Star Trek" films, was recently asked about the script by Total Film, and said that Tarantino had pitched an outline for his movie to J.J. Abrams' production company, Bad Robot. "[Tarantino] described his vision to J.J. and everyone got excited," Pegg recalled, adding:

"The idea is certainly exciting. I was a bit defensive when people dismissed it as, 'It's just going to be 'Pulp Fiction' in space.' I was like, 'No, it will be more than that.' And then I saw Quentin and he said, 'No, that's exactly what it was gonna be!'"

Tarantino said as much in an interview with Deadline in July 2019: "If I do it that's exactly what it will be. It'll be 'Pulp Fiction' in space." He also confirmed that there was a script from Smith that was "really cool."

Pulp Fiction in space

Between the discussion of gangster films bleeding into the story, and that tantalizing "'Pulp Fiction' in space" pitch, it seems like we might have been in for a movie about the criminal underworld of the "Star Trek" universe. The filmmaker also mentioned, when discussing the possible R-rating, that, "if it wants to be 'The Wild Bunch' in space, fine." The Sam Peckinpah classic involves an outlaw gang. It may have been an offhand comment, of course, but it does seem to fit with the other things that had been said. 

The story could have had a similar feel to the "Star Trek: "The Original Series" episode "A Piece of the Action" (season 2, episode 17), which (per Variety) appeared to be the original inspiration for Tarantino's pitch. In that episode, some of the Enterprise crew visited a planet that had modeled itself off the American gangster culture of the 1920s, after an earlier crew left a book about that very thing. At the end of the episode, Dr. McCoy revealed that he left a communicator on the planet, possibly setting up a gangster story idea for this film. The time travel element that Smith mentions could have been merely visiting that planet and dressing like 1920s gangsters to get it back — or perhaps they could have gone back in time to get the communicator itself.

Hopes dashed

The "Star Trek" film based on Tarantino's idea still seemed to be in the cards through most of 2019. In May, Tarantino told /Film that it was "a very big possibility," and that they'd "pick up talking about it again" when he finished "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood." In July, he was still talking about the project, telling Deadline that J.J. Abrams had been open to the possibility of the R-rating.

However, that December Tarantino spoke to Consequence of Sound, confirming that he would be sticking to his plan of 10-films-then-retirement. When he was asked if "Star Trek" would be a part of that, he said, "I think I'm steering away from 'Star Trek,' but I haven't had an official conversation with those guys yet." 

In January 2020, he confirmed that he wasn't directing, but still seemed to think the film might happen:

"I think they might make that movie, but I just don't think I'm going to direct it. It's a good idea. They should definitely do it and I'll be happy to come in and give them some notes on the first rough cut."

It makes sense that Tarantino would rather make his final directorial project something wholly original. But since the movie was pitched to Bad Robot on the strength of Tarantino's original pitch, it seems like it lost momentum while his attention was focused on "Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood," and his loss of enthusiasm for directing it seems to have been the final nail in the coffin. Simon Pegg said as much to Total Film: "The only way it would happen is if Quentin directed it and I think he has his own ideas for what he wants to do next."

"Star Trek" had thoroughly moved on from Tarantino's pitch by July 2021, with the news that "WandaVision" director Matt Shakman would direct the next film with a script from Lindsey Beer and Geneva Robertson. As much as I love Shakman's work, it's sad to hear that we won't see what Tarantino and Smith had been cooking up. I would have liked to see how the director would have boldly gone where no one has gone before.