- Award Snub: James Doohan said he thought Ricardo Montalban should have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, complaining that movies like Star Trek never receive nominations for major awards.
- Foe Yay: There is some palpable sexual tension between Kirk and Khan, even if it's just rivalry. When Khan is preparing to fire on the Enterprise, he seems to be close to ejaculating at the prospect.
- Franchise Original Sin: This film started the trend of every Star Trek film being built around a confrontation with one particular villain, as it was the first in a very long line of Actionized Sequels.note For better or for worse, this was a necessary change of pace for the series after the lukewarm response to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which went for a more cerebral storyline but was roundly criticized for its slow pace. Two decades later, when Star Trek: Nemesis became a Box Office Bomb after being criticized for its one-dimensional villain and its gratuitous action (most infamously, the nonsensical car chase that comes out of nowhere), the producers finally realized that they couldn't keep milking the old Wrath of Khan formula indefinitely. The Star Trek reboot films avoided that pitfall by placing less emphasis on the big villain and more on the ensemble cast trying to deal with the villain's plot.
- Harsher in Hindsight: Carol's explanation to Kirk about not telling David that Kirk was his father becomes this after his death in The Search for Spock.
Carol Marcus: You had your world, and I had mine. And I wanted him in mine! Not chasing through the universe with his father.
- Heartwarming in Hindsight:
- Spock says that Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru "was, shall we say, unique". In Star Trek, when Kirk says to Spock Prime that what he's doing, disclosing future history, is cheating, Spock answers that it's "A trick I learned from an old friend."
- Now that Leonard Nimoy has passed away, McCoy's line after Spock's funeral is especially poignant.
McCoy: He's not really dead, as long as we remember him.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: Spock invented The Picard Maneuver!
- Ho Yay:
- Kirk/Spock (surprise, surprise). Notably at the end of the movie: Kirk and Spock press hands against the glass as Spock dies. Spock's death has a huge impact on Kirk (which continues into the third movie.) Kirk says he's never truly faced death before, "not like this," even though his brother died during the series. Kirk would go on to say that he had lost "the noblest half of [him]self"—and look closely. Kirk and Spock are Vulcan kissing through the damn glass!
- Academic Henry Jenkins tells of using this film to explain the concept of SlashFic.
Jenkins: When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. [...] And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass.
- Khan's obsession with Kirk can be interpreted as Foe Yay.
Nicholas Meyer: Kirk did not lie awake thinking about Khan; Khan lay awake thinking about Kirk.
- It takes three men to restrain Kirk from opening the door holding back lethal radiation just so he can be with Spock in his final moments. And what's more, Bones and Scotty knew full well they would have to do it and were already prepared when he arrived.
- Idiot Plot: The plot happens because the crew of the Reliant collectively manages not to notice a missing planet, not to mention whomever is responsible for no one on Reliant or the Genesis team being aware of Ceti Alpha's current occupants (be it them, Kirk & Co., or Starfleet Command).
- It Was His Sled: The Kobayashi Maru opening sequence was included because Spock's death was one before the movie was finished.
- Jerkass Woobie: Khan. He may be a mass-murdering warlord, but you can't help but feel bad for him as his happy life from the end of "Space Seed" had been ruined.
- Like You Would Really Do It: Technically subverted with the death of Mr. Spock. Only technically because he gets revived in the next movie.
- Misblamed: Spock's death is sometimes accused of being a horrible writing cheat, making a huge emotional moment of it only to bring him back in the next film. In fact, while Khan was being made it was fully intended that Spock's death would be permanent, and the plan was only changed when Leonard Nimoy was surprised to find how much he was enjoying playing the role again after it had taken quite a bit of convincing for him to come back for the first film.
- Moral Event Horizon: Well, by the time he shows up, we know Khan Noonien Singh is a bastard, if a magnificent one, especially if you've seen Star Trek: The Original Series. But when he starts putting worms in people's ears, you realize that perhaps he's kicked it up a notch on the Evulz scale; but you say to yourself that he's intelligent and charming and surely he can be reasoned with. But... when he listens to a minion kill himself and doesn't so much as blink, merely ordering the surviving minion to hurry up and carry out his orders, you realize this guy ain't coming back from the horizon. Khan also certainly reminds the audience that he's evil when he activates the Genesis device instead of surrendering to the Enterprise. He knows that he'll take down at least one of the Enterprise's own, if not the entire freaking ship. He would have wiped out many people just to satisfy a longtime desire for revenge. It wound up that Spock, Kirk's closest friend, sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise.
- Memetic Mutation: "KHAAAANNN!!! KHAAAAAANNN!!!" Though oddly enough, many of the parodies use an overhead spinning camera shot, when the scene itself is just a straightforward close-up.
- Narm: As Scotty and McCoy attempt to restrain Kirk, a third person (an engineer) is also shown trying to restrain him◊, but as he's collapsing, it looks like he's doing something else to Kirk...
- Newer Than They Think:
- "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." It sounds like an old proverb, but more reliable sources point to this movie as the origin of the phrase.
- On the other hand, it sums up the philosophy known as utiliarianism, which is about two hundred years older than the movie.
- Rooting for the Empire: Many fans, especially new ones who loved Montalbhan in Fantasy Island, hoped Khan would actually succeed.
- Surprisingly Improved Sequel: To the point that other film series which follow up on their first installment with a much better-received sequel are said to have "pulled a Wrath of Khan".
- Arthur C. Clarke considered listing Khan as one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Considering Clarke's far greater enthusiasm for 'hard' science fiction, any recommendation at all suggests a pretty strong film.
- One analysis puts Khan as the best sequel in all of film. See the graph halfway down the page, and the single dot in the 20s on the Y axis? That's Khan. No other movie has improved the overall rating of a franchise more than this one.
- Tough Act to Follow: Every subsequent Star Trek film has been measured up to this film, particularly Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, frequently falling short among fans. The only two that are really comparable are Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which is so different in tone and plot as to be almost impossible to really compare), and Star Trek: First Contact (which is sort of rehashing this one, with its themes of obsession, though in that case it's the hero, Picard, who is obsessed with his enemy, not the villain).
- What an Idiot:
- Adm. Kirk, which he admitted to being one immediately after getting bushwhacked by Khan, for not putting the Enterprise full defensive alert as directed by regulations when facing the unresponsive and then outright lying USS Reliant.
- "Weird Al" Effect: Much like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, all the literary quotes used throughout are often attributed only to this film.