In Star Trek, captains are the best of the best. While admiral is a higher rank, it’s the captain’s chair everybody’s after. So usually, captains are the most important element of a Star Trek show.
People have been debating for years: Is Kirk better, or is it Picard? Some fans take it a step further and rank all the captains in order of importance. It’s a matter of taste — each list will be different.
This article will judge captains based on two criteria: How good are they at their job? And how likable are they? Remember, the top three on this list could really each take the number one spot. In many respects (valor, hard work, fun), they’re absolutely tied.
Let’s explore why each captain is special to the franchise.
7. Carol Freeman
Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) is a captain on Lower Decks, an animated show that exists solely for laughs. That said, to be a Starfleet captain is awesome and courageous by definition. Freeman wouldn’t command the Cerritos if she didn’t have valuable qualities — we just don’t know her well enough to make any judgments.
We haven’t learned much about her, as character development isn’t a strong point of this cartoon series. But she’s obviously strict and has a tendency to get annoyed easily. She also has the misfortune of commanding her own daughter, Beckett Mariner. Mixing such strenuous careers with family is definitely stressful and, for those of us watching, hilarious.
6. Christopher Pike
It’s strange for someone like Captain Christopher Pike to be so low on a list. Like the other captains, he’s larger than life, having a very curious mind and a surplus of courage. He started Star Trek in the unaired TOS pilot, falling victim to a race of aliens that put people in a zoo. By that time, the character seemed tired of being a captain, longing for a peaceful life where he didn’t have responsibility over hundreds of lives. However, at the end of the episode, he remembers why he loves the job.
Pike was also in a later TOS episode, “The Menagerie,” and the Kelvin Timeline started by J.J. Abrams. Currently, he’s in two prequel series, Discovery and Strange New Worlds. In these shows, he’s charismatic, kind, and fun to be around. But we just haven’t seen enough of him to put him on the same level as the other captains.
Facing the Future
That said, he probably beats them at being a person in general — his courage in the face of extreme suffering is enough to make a Klingon honor him, showing total shock at the captain’s nobility. He learns through a time crystal that he will someday be disfigured in a horrible accident that will take away his speech and leave him paralyzed. Seeing his future, he’s offered the chance to change it, but declines so that his world-saving mission can be completed. He faces intense suffering with dignity and composure. No captain in Star Trek has sacrificed more than Pike.
The character was played by Jeffrey Hunter and Sean Kenney in the original series, Bruce Greenwood in the Kelvin films, and currently Anson Mount in the Paramount+ era.
5. Jonathan Archer
Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) was the first Starfleet captain to command a ship called Enterprise. The show itself, also called Enterprise, was a prequel to TOS. Many fans thought it was exciting to watch the genesis of Starfleet and the Federation, while transporters and phasers were still in their infancy.
Archer was a great lead for the series. He showed genuine curiosity, idealism, and a strong belief in himself and his crew members. He made first contact with species like the Klingons and the Andorians, and he went down in history as one of the most celebrated captains in Starfleet.
He also had to deal with a lot of time travel, which led to him saving the whole galaxy on more than one occasion. His grit in the face of the Suliban and the Xindi was matched only by his resourcefulness.
4. James T. Kirk
A legend, obviously. Out of all the captains, Kirk (William Shatner, Chris Pine) definitely showed the most charisma. Everyone seemed to love being around him, and he was quite the ladies’ man.
Kirk is number one on a lot of fan lists for good reason. Rather than staying back on the ship, he insisted on leading just about every away mission. While this may not have been very smart (a captain is the most important part of a crew — why risk yourself?), it certainly showed that he had more guts and determination than practically everyone else. He was portrayed as a swashbuckler who wasn’t afraid to get dirty.
Though he never shied away from leaving the ship, he was most at home on the bridge. He commanded the Enterprise with style and confidence. Plus, he was great at bare knuckle fighting.
3. Jean-Luc Picard
Jean-Luc Picard might be the most popular choice for favorite captain, beating out even the legendary Kirk. He is the most cultured of the bunch, frequently quoting Shakespeare and making long, intelligent speeches. He is the most idealistic and proper of the captains, sometimes seeming a bit stuffy or tense. Still, he’s the calmest, and in some ways, the strongest. Picard is a very moral and thoughtful man.
He’s also the most human of the captains. In season 4 of The Next Generation, he was assimilated by the Borg and used to end thousands of lives. He lives with that horrible fact every day, even decades later on Star Trek: Picard. Through his experience with the Borg, he’s learned a lot about regret, forgiveness, and an appreciation for life. What’s more human than that?
Another thing that shaped his humanity is the experience he had in “The Inner Light.” In that episode, his mind was taken by an alien probe and used to live an entire lifetime with a wife, children, and grandkids. In reality, only a few minutes had passed but the experience changed his views on children, music, and joy.
Renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart took on this role.
2. Captain Kathryn Janeway
In Voyager, Captain Kathryn Janeway was the first female captain to lead a Trek series. And for several reasons, she could be looked at as the best of the bunch.
For one thing, she was great at her job from the start, maintaining an air of stern confidence perfectly blended with genuine kindness. Throughout the series, she encouraged those under her command and was appreciated for her friendliness. She might be the easiest captain to get along with because she cares deeply for her crew. Even so, she was not one to cross — her punishments were as strict as any other captain, once putting Tom Paris in the brig for 30 days and demoting him to ensign.
Heading Home in Record Time
All Starfleet captains have had to face extreme difficulty and beat the odds, but Janeway is in another category altogether. Her ship is stranded in the Delta Quadrant 70,000 light years from home. The region is filled with hostile species that humans have never seen before, and Earth is decades away. But with her skill and determination, Janeway gets the crew home in only seven years. Now that’s a success story.
Janeway was portrayed by Kate Mulgrew.
1. Benjamin Sisko
Captain Benjamin Lafeyette Sisko seemed like a very nice, thoughtful man but he was also the scariest captain. When he raised his voice, everyone had to listen — he commanded respect more than almost any other character in TV history. He even intimidated Klingons like Worf.
Sisko had several unique attributes. He was the first Black character to lead a Star Trek show, and his roots in African culture were often showcased through his wardrobe and quarters. He was also a religious figure, the Emissary to the Prophets for the Bajoran people. His birth was orchestrated by the Prophets, powerful beings outside of time residing in the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. It was his destiny to save the Bajoran people from the demonic anti-Prophets known as the Pah-Wraiths.
A Leader in Times of War
Sisko practically led the Alpha quadrant in their war against the Dominion. He was known as a tactical genius who often did the unexpected. Though he was a very moral man, he could often be pushed to righteous anger, doing whatever it took to protect his crew.
He even played dirty on occasion, once covering up the fact that a Romulan senator had been assassinated by Sisko’s colleague, Garak. Sisko did not plan this crime, and he was furious about it. But he recognized that blaming the incident on the Dominion was the only way to get the Romulans into the war. Another time, he threatened to poison Maquis planets unless Michael Eddington turned himself in.
It’s evident that Deep Space Nine had many shades of gray but Sisko was also family man at heart. His relationships with his son and his grandfather were some of the most emotionally satisfying elements in the whole franchise.
Sisko was played by Avery Brooks.
Star Trek fans, where do your favorite captains fall in this ranking? Anything you would change about this list?
Keep the conversation going with other Trekkies over at side.show/geekgroup, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!