The Star Trek fanverse is a pretty passionate bunch, so I’m just going to preface this list by saying these are my personal favourite captains. Every generation of Star Trek captain is unique, so there’s no surprise people are so precise in their reasoning.
What makes a great captain though? It all comes down to personal preference, but a great Star Trek captain is skilled in a number of fields. Each one should be able to command the ship without being overbearing. A good captain leads through example and inspires dedication, rather than forcing subordinates to follow their instructions.
Fortunately, there’s a great number of captains throughout the history of Star Trek, all of which were actually pretty difficult to nail down to only a few. We’re also going to include movie iterations of captains, alongside TV show, because a few of the movies gave captains a perfect chance to shine.
There’s only so many spots up for grabs, which means I can’t place everyone in the top five. Just because they aren’t , doesn't mean they aren’t great. However, it just means those listed here were slightly better.
5. Jonathan Archer - Enterprise
Jonathan Archer was the first captain of his kind, commanding Earth’s first true starship. He was responsible for making first contact with countless species, including the Klingons and Andorians. He certainly isn’t the best captain, but he was the first. Being the first person to contact alien species can’t have been a simple task, but fortunately Archer was more than up to the job.
What made Archer unique as a captain was how the journey moulded and shaped him. Much like the viewer watching, Archer and the crew knew very little of space. Starting out with a number of prejudices, the captain quickly grew out of this behaviour as he started befriending over races aboard the enterprise. Archer was also important in the growth and development of a certain Jean Luc Picard, who looked up to, and aspired to be like the captain.
4. Benjamin Sisko - Deep Space 9
Following hot off the heels of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is considered by many to be the best generation, Deep Space Nine had some big shoes to fill. Initially, Benjamin Sisko fell a little flat as the show’s directors struggled to find the character’s identity. With a season under their belt, the show’s writers figured out who Sisko was.
Sisko was a great captain in several ways. His personal connections with crew members like Miles O’Brien and Odo showed the captain never pictured himself as better than his inferiors. He was also competent in battle situations and played a major role in The Dominion War. Sisko was so important during the war that he was promoted to adjutant. Sisko also deserves a spot on this list for that one time he punched Q square in the face *Chef Kiss*.
3. James T. Kirk - Original Star Trek
A trailblazer who set the standard for captains in Starfleet, Captain Kirk is probably one of the most recognisable characters in Star Trek history. Infallible, devoted to his crew and a natural born leader, Kirk was one of the most decorated captains in the history of Starfleet, setting a record for the highest number of first contacts made.
Having broken the prime directive about 11 times, Kirk was often considered a rule-breaker. However, he was a captain who wasn’t afraid to make a decision in favour of the greater good. Some of those decisions weren’t always great, but he did always have the safety of his crew at the forefront of decision making. Kirk would naturally be number one if several even better captains didn’t follow.
2. Kathryn Janeway - Voyager
Janeway started her tenure aboard the USS Voyager by accidentally ended up engulfed by a displacement wave that sent the ship 70,000 light years away from Earth. Stranded deep in space without a quick method of transport home, Janeaway faced a challenge like no other but still flourished under the pressure of getting her crew home. Facing a seventy-year flight back, Janeaway was steadfast in her commitment to the prime directive, even turning down potential solutions if she felt they went against Starfleet’s rules.
Unlike some other Star Trek captains, Janeway carried the burden of guilt with her often throughout the Voyager’s journeys. She carried the weight of tough decisions, and would later find a way to atone for such decisions. Janeaway’s commitment to her crew knew no bounds, as she broke the law upon returning to earth in order to go back in time and save even more members of her crew. Janeway was selfless, intelligent and pulled her crew through one of the most unusual situations in Star Trek history.
1. Jean Luc Picard - The Next Generation
Commonly listed as the best Star Trek captain, there’s no one else quite like Jean Luc Picard. What makes him such a great captain is that he channels elements of every other captain on this list. He has the empathy of Janeaway, the crew loyalty of Kirk, the sociability of Sisko and the ability to learn and adapt like Archer. Picard wore many hats, but excelled in all of them.
What makes Picard such an excellent captain is how he carries himself. Never one to falter or second-guess a decision, the captain was often able to avoid combat or fights just by using his words. He was also a captain who stood by his morals at all times. Even in the moments that federation policy went against it, he would still find ways to bend the rules. Picard really embodied all behaviours and traits a great captain needs, which is why he was one of the best to take that position.