Star Trek Smackdown: Kirk vs. ...?

By David Bushman

To Machiavelli, a great leader should be feared more than loved.

To Patton, a great leader is one willing to make the tough decisions.

To Napoleon, a great leader is a “dealer in hope.”

To Groucho Marx, only one man in a thousand is a great leader of men—the other 999 follow women.

To us, a great leader can be defined by three holy words: James Tiberius Kirk. Yes, James T. Kirk of Star Trek, legendary starship captain, man among men (and women—lots of women, human women, alien women, android women, and on and on and on); modeled partly on C.S. Forester's heroic seafaring Admiral Horatio Hornblower and partly on Alexander the Great; limned by peerless Canadian thespian William Shatner (though only after Jack Lord demanded too much money); conqueror of the infamous "no-win" Kobayashi Maru test (though only after cheating by reprogramming the computer); hounded by a genetically engineered superman who in his spare time touted soft Corinthian leather; and, finally, master of the soft-focus close-up.

What better time to celebrate Kirk's towering achievements—and question his crown—than now, as we eagerly await the May 8 release of J.J. Abrams's new film, Star Trek, chronicling the early days of Kirk and his fellow crew mates from the Starship Enterprise.

Who Could Out-Lead Kirk?: A Paley Center Poll 

Is Kirk really the über-commander, the greatest leader in the history of science fiction on television? We offered twelve alternatives to go up against Kirk in our May 12 discussion and debate with a panel of sci-fi experts, and the vocal and devoted online fan communities made this our most popular poll ever. Stargate SG-1's Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) was the decisive winner, so it's Kirk vs. O'Neill in a Star Trek Smackdown!

Full poll results:

Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson)
Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis
55.3%

Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
37.7%

Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping)
Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis
2.0%

William Adama (Edward James Olmos)
Battlestar Galactica
(reimagined series)
1.6%

Adama (Lorne Greene)
Battlestar Galactica
(original series)
1.6%

Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Less than one percent

Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion)
Firefly
Less than one percent

John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner)
Babylon 5
Less than one percent

John Crichton (Ben Browder)
Farscape
Less than one percent

Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)
Star Trek: Voyager
Less than one percent

Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula)
Enterprise
Less than one percent

Dr. John Robinson (Guy Williams)
Lost in Space
Less than one percent