The 10 previous movies have made almost $1.1bn (£743m) at the box office over the past 30 years. The six television series have run to 726 episodes, broadcast in more than 100 countries and spawned a billion-dollar industry in merchandise, not to mention more than 100 award nominations.
Despite its huge success and cultural impact, the franchise has recently been in the sick bay. The most recent TV series, Enterprise, was judged a failure, and the last film, Nemesis, was the worst performer at the box office, taking just $67m worldwide in 2002 compared with the $150m First Contact – the best-performing film – took six years earlier.
Now a much-anticipated prequel to the original groundbreaking 1960s series will premiere at a gala performance in Australia on Tuesday. It will introduce a young Captain James T Kirk, Spock and the entire crew which is brought together for the first time at Starfleet Academy. They are mostly played by non-A-list actors, including Christopher Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Simon Pegg appears as Scotty and Leonard Nimoy plays the older version of the pointy-eared logical Vulcan.
Until Tuesday, the plot of the film, called simply Star Trek, is a closely guarded secret. British fans' first chance to see the film – released globally in May – comes later this month when it premieres at a gala in aid of the Prince's Trust charity.
Fans have had only two trailers to whet their appetites, showing modern computer-generated graphic techniques applied to the building of the Enterprise and the early years of the fictional world that has permeated popular culture since the starship first tackled the "final frontier" in 1966.
Its success, according to Dr Simon Topping, who teaches American studies at the University of Plymouth, is down to its optimistic vision of the future. "It comes out of the spirit of the 1960s," he said. "James T Kirk was based on JFK. Star Trek was quite groundbreaking in terms of its racial mix and idealistic vision of humanity's future."
Paul Simpson, the editor of Star Trek magazine, added: "The core of it is Gene Roddenberry's optimism. It was created at a time when America was at war in Vietnam and there was a lot of civil unrest. On the Enterprise you have a black woman in a position of authority, a mixed-race person in the form of Spock, an Asian, and none of this was mentioned or referred to. That was very inspirational."
Captain Christopher Pike
The original pilot, rejected by the network as "too cerebral", featured Jeffrey Hunter as captain of the Enterprise. Pike was a more introspective captain than Kirk, having more in common with future Captain, Jean Luc Picard. Alas, Hunter chose not to reprise the role.
Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner)
Commanded the Starship Enterprise between 1966 and 1969. William Shatner's cocky yet charismatic performance made Kirk a sci-fi icon. Often dismissed as a ladies' man, he was deeply caring, and often found himself isolated by the burden of command. After decades of heroics, he was thrust into the future, where he died under a bridge (rather than on one).
Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)
Took over the Enterprise for The Next Generation in 1987. Patrick Stewart's years of experience with the RSC gave Picard a distinctive gravitas that continues to set him apart from his fellow captains.
Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks)
Commanded the space station Deep Space Nine from 1993. Arguably the most "real world" of Star Trek's captains. Avery Brooks's distinctive voice and style gave Sisko a harder edge than the usual captain.
Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)
The first female captain took over the USS Voyager in 1995. Probably best known for getting her ship lost for seven years and putting the Borg firmly in its place.
Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula)
Captained the very first Enterprise in a prequel from 2001. Archer proved himself an able captain and a worthy predecessor to Kirk.
Nick Cook, producer and writer of the fan film Starship Intrepid
An inspiration to a generation of black women. Back in the 1960s, the Enterprise communications officer was a hugely popular character, but that wasn't quite enough for Nichelle Nichols, who seriously considered leaving the show. It took a pep talk from Martin Luther King to convince her not to walk out.
Number One/Nurse Chapel/Lwaxana Troi/Ship's Computer
Mrs Gene Roddenberry has popped up ever since the first series. Known in fan circles as the "First Lady of Trek", Majel Barrett-Roddenberry brought sassiness and individuality to all of those roles. Indeed, she was so well-regarded that the director J J Abrams asked her to reprise her role as the Enterprise computer for the new movie. Sadly, she died shortly after recording her lines.
Seven of Nine
Served on the USS Voyager. Despite rumours that she was cast as the ex-Borg liberated from the Collective purely to attract a young male demographic, Jeri Ryan quickly proved popular.
Counsellor on the Enterprise in The Next Generation. Played by the dry, witty and British Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi, the USS Enterprise's half-alien therapist, is often blamed for crashing the ship in Generations, despite the fact that Data was actually flying it at the time.
Dr Beverly Crusher
Provided medical services in The Next Generation. A trained choreographer, Gates McFadden brought an almost aristocratic grace to Jean-Luc Picard's Enterprise.
Lieutenant Commander on Deep Space Nine. When Terry Farrell was cast as the science officer, the producers replaced the original latex forehead they'd planned with a trail of leopard-like spots.
Devious to the core, they fought a war with the Federation without ever being seen. Even when allies against the shape-changers that led the Dominion, they still kept a few tricks up their sleeve.
Deadliest of threats to the Federation, these aliens don't kill, they assimilate, making you part of their Collective. Armed with nanotechnology and defences that adapt – quickly – to every threat, they look every bit as scary as they sound.
A warrior race to the core with a code of honour that includes no surrender and taking no prisoners, the Klingons are a powerful race, ruled by their emotions, who speak as they find. If you can make friends with one, they'll never disown you.
Imagine a race that can look like anything, hampered only by the need to regenerate occasionally, and you have the ultimate foe – shape-changing creatures that don't need to fight, they just pit friend against friend by pretending to be someone else. The ultimate fifth column, backed by vicious Jem Hadar warriors and obsequious Vorta henchmen, they ruled an entire quadrant – and sought the Federation as part of their empire.
Seen only in a few episodes, these non-humanoid hermaphrodite creatures are fiercely protective of their empire and its secrets, whose look is so alien it's almost painful. With weaponry like energy cages that can capture and destroy spaceships, they're a force to be reckoned with.
The most famous one of all, the half-Vulcan half-human played by Leonard Nimoy has been a mainstay of the saga since 1966. Loyal to friends and the needs of the many over the one, Mr Spock's logical mind helped to get Captain Kirk out of a sticky situation on many occasions.
A sophisticated machine played by Brent Spiner in The Next Generation. While Spock fought to be more logical, the android Data tried to be more human, with little success until he was fitted with an emotion chip he could turn on and off at will. Before that, his child-like naivety caused the crew many problems.
Full Vulcan, played by Jolene Blalock in Enterprise. The Vulcan aide of Captain Archer, an early commander of the Earth starship Enterprise. Although totally Vulcan, even she succumbed to emotional turmoil after mixing with humans.
Picard's human first officer in Next Generation, played by Jonathan Frakes. This jazz-loving, amiable officer often tried, without success, to prevent his leader from stepping into danger, which perhaps explains why it took him so long to get his own starship, the USS Titan.
Second-in-command on the USS Voyager, played by Robert Beltran. A rebel of native American extraction, Chakotay was often at odds with Captain Janeway in the Gamma Quadrant.
John Freeman, Former editor of Star Trek magazine
Boldly going from tv to film and back again
The original series. Set in the years 2266-69 (stardate 1513.1-5928.5)
The crew of the Starship Enterprise – including classic characters Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr 'Bones' McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu – boldly go for the first time.
The animated series, set in 2269-70 (stardate 5521.3-6770.3)
Picking up from where the original series left off, we learn that Kirk's middle name is Tiberius.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 2271 (stardate: 7412.6)
The first feature film sees the original cast reunited with Admiral – rather than Captain – Kirk.
The Wrath of Khan, 2285 (stardate: 8130.4)
Admiral Kirk does battle with the evil Khan, whom he once exiled, in the second movie. Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship.
The Search for Spock, 2285 (stardate: 8210.3)
Spock's alive! And Kirk steals the Enterprise to find him.
The Voyage Home, 2286 (stardate: 8390)
The crew travels back in time to the 1980s to find a humpback whale. Kirk is demoted back to captain.
Star Trek: The Next Generation series, 2364-70 (stardate 41153.7-47988.1)
A brand new series with a brand new crew, introducing Captain Jean-Luc Picard (right) who, played by the Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, gave Kirk a run for his money.
The Final Frontier, 2287 (stardate: 8454.1)
The fifth film sees Spock's half-brother hijack the Enterprise.
The Undiscovered Country, 2293 (stardate: 9521.6)
Klingons make peace with the Federation.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 2369-2375 (stardate 46379.1-52861.3)
Third TV series is set on a space station and premiered while The Next Generation was still on air.
Star Trek Generations, 2371 (stardate: 48650.1)
The seventh feature film brings Picard and his crew to the big screen for the first time and unites the two captains.
Star Trek: Voyager, 2371-2378 (stardate 48315.6-54973.4)
The fourth series has the USS Voyager commanded by a woman, Captain Kathryn Janeway.
First Contact, 2373/2063 (stardate: 50893.5)
Picard travels back in time to make sure Earth's first warp-speed space ship isn't destroyed by the Borg.
Insurrection, 2375 (stardate: not given)
Picard takes on a corrupt Starfleet admiral.
Enterprise, 2151-2155 (stardate: Not applicable)
Fifth television incarnation takes viewers back to before the original 1960s series.
Nemesis, 2379 (stardate: 56844.9)
The evil Romulans clone Picard.
Star Trek The 11th film
The plot is top secret, but this prequel takes a look at a young Kirk, played by Christopher Pine, and the original crew, who all come together for the first time at the Starfleet Academy.Reuse content