The Strongest Star Trek Villains Ranked

"Star Trek" isn't a simple good versus evil franchise. It likes to get into the complexities of the human experience, explore scientific possibilities, share hope, and a lot more. Still, some of those stories do need an antagonist, if not a full-on villain, and "Star Trek" is great at letting them shine. Some of the best bad guys in all of science fiction history come from these strange new worlds.

The omnipotent antagonist (though the second season of "Picard" proves he was never really a villain) Q (John de Lancie) tells Captain Picard (Patrick Picard) more than once that humanity is on trial. And that trial never ends, Q goes on to remind us. He's right. There's always another obstacle to overcome, another lesson to learn. The strongest villains Starfleet faces aren't dangerous because of their physical prowess. They have the ability to affect the whole galaxy, for better or for worse. The only limit is how much impact they have before our heroes learn the lessons they need to win. This list is for the heavies, the big bads, and the ultimate nemeses of "Star Trek." Each one ranked by how close they got to taking it all for themselves.

14. Professor James Moriarty

Having absorbed all the Sherlock Holmes novels, Data (Brent Spiner) can solve cases based on Arthur Conan Doyle's rules with ease. La Forge (LeVar Burton), eager to help his friend prove to the combative Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) that Data is capable of more than she assumes, tells the holodeck to create an opponent that can challenge Data's intelligence.

Enter the new, souped-up version of Holmesian nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Daniel Davis). Not only does this hologram pass the Turing test, but it's also not long before he's twigged to the world beyond the holodeck, and he's scratching at the door to get out. Picard talks Moriarty down the first time, but Barclay (Dwight Schultz) eventually wakes him up again, and this time, the crew has to double-cross the desperate genius. Contained like a ship in a bottle (in an episode titled "Ship in a Bottle"), Moriarty would have been a Lore-level threat had he earned himself a physical body. Instead, he becomes the inspiration for the doctor on "Voyager," and an evil insignia named Badgey that nearly kills the "Lower Decks" ensign who made him.

13. The Diviner

Luckily, the last Vau N'Akt patriarch is, so far, only an issue for some kids in the Delta Quadrant. The Diviner is a blue plate special of trouble, an alien so desperate to save his world from what he perceives as the Federation's ruinous influence that he traveled back through time to destroy them. Then he sets about building a prison planet so he can use the labor to find a lost Federation ship, clones himself with the help of the scariest cyborg this side of the T-100, and to top it all off, he's got the sneering, stentorian voice of Lord Denethor (John Noble) himself.

The Diviner's plans run all through the first half of "Star Trek: Prodigy's" premiere season, as he stalks his daughter, Gwyn, and collects more prisoners to do his bidding. Child slavery is a hell of a thing to see in a kid's show, and when the Diviner's plans are flipped around and he's left to rot on the prison planet he created, it's satisfying. However, crazed and alone isn't dead, and there are plenty of reasons to be afraid this guy will trouble the Federation again.

12. Trelane, the Squire of Gothos

Today, "Star Trek" fans, non-canon novels, and John De Lancie's open suspicions make Trelane (William Campbell), the self-styled Squire of Gothos, probably the first Q that Starfleet encounters. Childish, brash, and selfish, the nigh-omnipotent Trelane turns Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew into his personal playthings, and he whines when they don't play along. Trelane, just like his descendant, eventually tries to put his pet humans on trial. It's only the realization that Trelane is an underage brat with a pair of angry parents that gets the Enterprise out of a sticky situation.

Trelane may not officially be a Q as far as canon goes, but it's hard to miss the similarities. With all that power comes the potential influence he could have had on the universe — had he gotten out of his playpen. Peter David's "Q-Squared" explores that potential, with Trelane growing beyond the control of the Continuum and throwing multiple timelines out of joint. This time, it takes a Picard and Q team-up to put the poor kid to bed.

11. General Chang

The Klingons were still big deal antagonists when the original Enterprise crew returned to the big screen, with Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) even killing Kirk's son (Merritt Butrick) in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." However, it's General Chang (Christopher Plummer), the Shakespeare-loving chief officer under Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), who nearly ensures the Klingons stayed that way in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

Chang is the muscle in a conspiracy to stop a peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. His people may be on the brink after one of their central energy-manufacturing moons explodes, but Chang would rather go down a warrior than ally with the humans. His machinations see Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) framed for Gorkon's assassination, and when that doesn't work, he nearly blows the Enterprise out of the sky on its approach to the signing of the Khitomer Accords. If he'd been granted the might of the entire Klingon war fleet, the Federation would probably be speaking Klingon. Instead, this mighty general goes down as one of the most formidable and clever opponents his proud race ever produced.

10. Lore

Isaac Asimov codified the Three Laws of Robotics back in 1942. To wit, robots aren't allowed to hurt or kill people, they're not allowed to disobey orders unless those orders would hurt people, and they're allowed the right of self-protection — so long as that doesn't interfere with the previous two laws. Lt. Commander Data's big brother, Lore, violates all of those rules every time he breathes, so to speak.

Lore is Professor Soong's first relatively successful attempt to create a positronic AI. He's even capable of emotion. Unfortunately, he lacks a moral core, and most of his emotions are ugly ones like jealousy and rage, but he's still armed with a whipsmart AI brain that lets him become a dangerous manipulator. Lore turns the Crystalline Entity on Soong's colony to survive and figures out how to turn a rogue Borg cube into his personal army. Fortunately, Lore's ego and his connection to his brother are both too much for him to overcome, and Data de-activates him for good in the two-part "Descent." 

9. The Gorn

It's easy to look back on the original series episode in which Kirk fistfights a man-lizard on a dusty plain and have a good chuckle. "Arena" doesn't boast the franchise's best effects work. The Gorn suit is bulky and ugly, with big googly eyes, and he's described as a scarier opponent than what we see Kirk face. The next few times the Gorn were referenced weren't much better, with another iffy effects job on "Star Trek: Enterprise" and a few jokes at their expense on "Lower Decks."

"Strange New Worlds" has finally turned the bedeviled Gorn into something worth fearing. Taking the best of the Predator, the Xenomorph, and John Carpenter's "The Thing," the Gorn have become hunters with terrifying efficiency. Worse, it's clear they're at least as intelligent and advanced as humans, but they simply don't care about empathizing with other species. Everything that's not Gorn is prey fit only for their nurseries, nourishment, or entertainment. "All Those Who Wander" is one of the scariest episodes of "Trek" to date, and it's likely that the Gorn are finally set for the future they deserve as humanity's ultimate apex predator.

8. Gowron

One Klingon chancellor's political career spanned two "Star Trek" series and 12 appearances. That doesn't seem like much at first, but consider that Gowron's martial cruelty and political prowess impacted the lives and careers of countless Klingons, temporarily ended the Khitomer Accords, and nearly helped the Dominion gain a permanent hold in the Alpha Quadrant.

Probably the wildest-eyed Klingon ever to exist, the frenzied Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) isn't a fool, but he still falls for the Dominion's plan to use him to destabilize the Federation just when they need all hands to stop the Jem'Hadar advance. It's poetic that Worf (Michael Dorn), son of Mogh, takes such a prominent role in Gowron's rise during "Next Generation" and brings about this legendary ruler's fall on "Deep Space Nine." Gowron isn't evil, but his lust for war and his ceaseless ambitions make him impossible to contain. For a time, he was a bigger threat to Starfleet than the Dominion itself. The new Klingon-Federation war lasted less than a year, but its scars lingered long after.

7. Kai Winn Adami

"Deep Space Nine" had a luxury of complicated, empathetic, yet utterly loathsome villains. Understated in her behaviors at first, Kai Winn (Louise Fletcher) turns the Bajoran religious system into a weapon for her use alone. "Give Nurse Ratched a whole planet," they said. "What can go wrong?" they said — a whole hell of a lot, apparently.

Kai Winn manipulates her way into the top echelons of Bajoran politics, at one point clambering over the corpse of a beloved vedek just to take credit for his final act of diplomacy. As insistent as she is that Sisko (Avery Brooks) can't be the Prophets' chosen vessel, she has little actual faith in anything. She's quick to embrace the Pah-Wraiths when it suits her, even taking Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), who's higher up on this list, as her lover, only to use him, abuse him, and occasionally use him again. The only saving grace of Kai Winn, the Dolores Umbridge of outer space, is that she dies to stop an even worse threat from taking power — and the audience gets to watch her burn.

6. Gary Mitchell

Without the charm or humor of John de Lancie, Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) was on track to become an apocalyptic Q-level threat back in 1966. "Where No One Has Gone Before" has Mitchell, an ordinary dude with the genetic marker for ESP (not a thing but go with it, it's a great episode), zapped by a mysterious space barrier that's already led to the destruction of another Starfleet vessel. After recovering from the physical effects of the space lightning, Gary begins to get real weird real fast.

It starts with silver eyes and a little telekinesis. It almost ends with a frenzied megalomanic god-creature biblically creating apples for himself and deciding humanity sucks and should go away. Fortunately for the universe, Kirk grapples with his conscience and eventually admits that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is right. Gary Mitchell has to die for everyone else to live. It takes the assistance of a fellow ascending deity and some big rocks to stop this would-be destroyer from getting loose.

5. Khan Noonien Singh

Neither god nor exile can nerf Khan (Ricardo Montalban) when he's got his wrath on. "Space Seed" and "The Wrath of Khan" don't show this genetically enhanced ubermensch in his prime, which is a good thing for Kirk. For that, one has to dig up the "Eugenics War" books by Greg Cox. The first two detail Khan's rise from child experiment to becoming a global shadow ruler so powerful that he's foxing the efforts of the Supervisors (TOS "Assignment: Earth," season 3 of "Picard") to stop World War III from happening. The best they can do is convince Khan to not obliterate human life and go look for a cooler planet to colonize.

"Space Seed" opens with the discovery of the sleeping lord and his acolytes. Khan nearly charms his way into overthrowing Kirk and winds up agreeing to exile on a nice planet in the middle of nowhere. However, by the second "Star Trek" movie, it's a hellhole. Khan's survived, and boy, is he pissed! The only reason Khan doesn't take Kirk down with him is Spock's sacrifice. Fortunately, Khan was vaporized in the explosion, so his giblets didn't land on the Genesis planet and become an all-new problem. Horny teen Spock is a much more reasonable threat.

4. The Founders

Sometimes "the man behind the man" turns out to be a big, slurpy, Werther's Original-colored hive mind lake. Okay, it happened once. "Deep Space Nine" thought its stable wormhole was going to be a cool new avenue for exploration. Unfortunately, what they got instead was a richly organized invasion force with disposable soldiers (the Jem'Hadar), disposable tactical units (the Weyouns), and the Founders with their Great Link.

The Founders can split off into individual, shape-changing entities, and it turns out beloved main character Odo (René Auberjonois) is one of them. The back half of "Deep Space Nine" sees Odo grappling with his heritage as part of an overlord hive race. He eventually chooses to not just save them from extinction, but maybe get them to stop being so "overlordy." Good luck, we're all counting on you. Before that, the Founders manipulated everyone from the Cardassians to the Klingons, nearly toppled the Federation, and could have spread their empire from the Gamma Quadrant through the Alpha and beyond.

3. Gul Dukat

Sometimes it seems like our reality ends up creaking around one central figure, a monstrous axis around which we all suffer. Take a charismatic leadership figure, give them no moral core, let them live assured of their rightness and power, then set them loose. No, we're not talking about that guy, thankfully. We're describing Gul Dukat.

With big plans to use and abuse Bajor and its people, Dukat starts as Terok Nor's final tyrant. He does pretty well for himself, scarring Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) for life, leaving a trail of atrocities in his wake, and being a generally terrible person. The Federation takeover of the Deep Space Nine station puts him on a course towards an alliance with the Dominion and total control over the Cardassians. It's not a setback when Dukat's daughter is assassinated. Knocked unstable, he goes all-in for total vengeance. He joins the Pah-Wraiths, and through manipulation, brings Kai Winn into their fold, nearly upsetting the power balance between them and the Prophets. This dude never stops at half measures, causing an even bigger impact on this side of the wormhole than the Founders themselves.

2. The Borg Queen

While the chassis may appear different from time to time (actors include Alice Krige and Annie Wersching), the Borg Queen is the sole individual voice rising from a sea of interlinked cyborg drones. While the Borg were already deadly foes capable of assimilating entire societies, the retroactive reveal in "Star Trek: First Contact" shows that she was the one who selected Picard to be her Locutus during "The Best of Both Worlds," which transformed the Borg into something scarier yet. Now, they had guidance to their purpose, driven by relentless desire.

Worse, the Borg had time itself at their fingertips. "First Contact" pushes the Queen through a temporal vortex of Borg construction, interfering with human history and remaking Earth into a world of Borg drones. While quickly undone, she'd get another chance at the job in the second season of "Picard" in which she is swept back to the 21st century and comes even closer to victory. The only thing that stops the Queen is the lure of individual humanity, the ache to not be alone. Instead of an enemy that's nearly wiped out Earth twice over, this iteration of the Queen is an ally. The Alpha Quadrant should be thankful.

1. V'ger

An accidental villain, the fictional Voyager Six probe fell off Earth's sensors in the 20th century and found itself in some unknown part of the galaxy. Something there upgraded the lost machine so that it could really get about its business of understanding the universe. Unfortunately, that upgrade made the now-sentient but still emotionless V'ger into a study device so powerful that it could digitize entire galaxies and upload them into its sprawling, almost infinite storage banks. It didn't mean harm, exactly, but it was now the unstoppable hell machine at the heart of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

Gene Roddenberry once cracked that maybe it was the Borg that had beefed up V'ger, which is still a well-loved fan theory. Driven by the desire to understand, needing to grill its creator one-on-one, V'ger could have turned the entire universe into a "Matrix"-style AI upload. Instead, it got at least some of the answers it wanted via the gift of human love and ascended itself right out of mundane existence. As deus ex machinas go, this one kept the closest total apocalypse Starfleet has ever faced from happening, but if we were all uploaded into a machine, would we even realize it?