“When you work on something that combines both the spectacular and the relatable, the hyperreal and the real, it suddenly can become supernatural. The hypothetical and the theoretical can become literal.”—J.J. Abrams.
It’s safe to say that J.J. Abrams has conquered a fairly generous portion of Hollywood. He’s built his credentials over the years, going from hit show to hit show, transitioning to big blockbuster films, and taking the helm of multiple film franchises in a way that only Joss Whedon or Zack Snyder have been able to do to the same degree. So, what is it about Abrams’ work which has captured the minds and hearts of so many audience members? What went into the making of such beloved shows as Lost, Felicity, Alias, or Fringe? Read these entertaining facts about the films and TV shows of J.J. Abrams and find out for yourself!
42. Good Start
Abrams’ directorial debut of a feature-length film was none other than the thrilling blockbuster Mission: Impossible III. With a budget of over $150 million, was the most expensive film directed by a first-time director until TRON: Legacy beat the record by $20 million four years later.
41. Impress the Right People
Abrams was offered the chance to direct Mission: Impossible III because Tom Cruise was a big fan of Alias. If you need me, I’ll be over here waiting for the Ethan Hunt-Sidney Bristow crossover.
40. I’ll Take a Cheque
Abrams’ first involvement with a smash hit was the genre-defying 1992 film Forever Young, starring a then-heartthrob Mel Gibson. Abrams briefly held a new record when his screenplay for Forever Young was purchased by Warner Bros. for $2 million. It was the largest amount ever spent on a screenplay… until 1994, when Shane Black was paid $4 million for The Long Kiss Goodnight.
39. He Still Needed Some Practice
The first film which Abrams ever wrote was the 1990 comedy Taking Care of Business, also released as Filofax, starring James Belushi and Charles Grodin. Sadly for Abrams, the film was very negatively received, with critics accusing the movie of playing it “safe and boring”. Ouch…
38. Since When is a Horror Movie Joyful?
The first film which Bad Robot Productions produced was the horror-thriller Joy Ride, which was also co-written by Abrams. In keeping with Abrams’ longtime admiration for Steven Spielberg, the film features many references to Spielberg’s directorial debut Duel. Thankfully for the fledgling company, the film made back its budget and was favorably received.
37. ‘Naughty Android’ was Already Trademarked
In 2001, Abrams and frequent collaborator Bryan Burk co-founded the production company Bad Robot Productions. The company was originally in affiliation with Touchstone Television, the studio behind Abrams’ TV show Alias.
36. Explain Yourself
Some people have complained that Abrams’ The Force Awakens was too much of a retread of the old classic trilogy, which Abrams has argued was intentional. He considers The Force Awakens a love letter to George Lucas’ work, stating that he referenced the original locations of the first Star Wars so thoroughly because he considers them essential to the story of Star Wars.
35. The Cloverfield Monster: Proudly American
In 2008, the Abrams-produced Cloverfield was released to great financial success and a mixed critical response. Abrams reportedly got the first inspiration to make the film when he was visiting Tokyo for Japan’s premiere of Mission: Impossible III. He was struck by how omnipresent Godzilla was in Japanese culture, seeing him as a “national monster,” and he thought the US should have one of as well. Clearly, he doesn’t think King Kong counts.
34. Hey, What’s That Song Again?
Abrams’ first venture into the world of television was his college drama series Felicity, starring Keri Russell. However, it was also one of the first shows which drew ire for issues with music copyright laws. As a result, the original music used when the series first aired was replaced in its near entirety for reruns and re-releases.
33. Making it Rain
With Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Abrams is only the second director in film history to have their movie gross $2 billion. The first film to break this barrier was James Cameron’s Avatar.
32. Nowadays That Wouldn’t Pay My Daily Rate!
When Abrams was just 16 years old, he found himself working on his first film in the sound and music department. Of course, the term “department” is a bit of a stretch for a film that cost $14,000 to make. In any case, Abrams provided both the score and sound effects for Nightbeast, and then moved onto bigger things as quickly as he could.
31. Man of Many Hats
Regarding Henry was Abrams’ second credit as a screenwriter, but that wasn’t all he did. He was also a producer, actor, and delivery boy! Must have been a small wrap party on that film…
30. The Spielberg Touch
While he was preparing and filming The Force Awakens, Abrams was given a number of creative suggestions by his mentor/collaborator Steven Spielberg. Several of these suggestions made it into the final film, including the image of trees falling during the final lightsaber duel as well as the TIE fighter exploding as it was sinking into the quicksand.
29. Stay Tuned for “Chocolate Outrage”
People might not remember just how secretive Abrams was about the first Cloverfield movie. He went to great lengths disguising the movie by providing fake names on the call sheets. His choice nicknames included “Cheese,” “Chocolate Outrage,” and “Monkey.” We’ll give him credit, we’d never have a clue just what the heck a movie called “Chocolate Outrage” would be about!
28. CGI? More Like CG Nay!
When it came to both Star Trek and The Force Awakens, Abrams was determined to avoid bluescreen and greenscreen as much as he could, putting the focus towards practical effects whenever possible.
27. I Should Have Used a Pseudonym
One of the biggest bombs in Abrams’ career happened quite early on. The 1997 comedy Gone Fishin’ was directed by Christopher Cain, co-written by Abrams, and starred Danny Glover and Joe Pesci. The $53 million film failed to make $20 million at the box office and was thoroughly savaged by the critics. It continues to hold a 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
26. Round 11 is Serious…
The work of Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot, in collaboration with Paramount on Star Trek marked the very first time that a company other than Paramount had financed a Star Trek film. Guess Paramount needed backup for the eleventh film!
25. How Many Writers Does It Take…
Abrams was one of five writers credited with working on Michael Bay’s boisterous—and, let’s be honest, ridiculous—space adventure film Armageddon. Strangely, aside from those five credited writers, four others also worked on the film’s script without getting credited. Never would have thought that a Michael Bay film needed so many rewrites…
24. Really Should Have Used a Pseudonym!
As it turned out, those rewrites were all for naught when the film received a less-than-positive critical reception. Abrams, along with Jonathan Hensleigh, had the dubious honor of being nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay. No doubt Abrams would have preferred one of the other seven writers to take the fall instead of him!
23. Welcome to the FBI’s Fringe Division
While Abrams was working on Star Trek with the writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, he met with them to discuss an idea for a new TV show. Inspired by the works of David Cronenberg, Michael Crichton, and The X-Files, the trio of writers developed the science fiction series Fringe, blending procedural dramas with fantastic elements. Its first season aired in 2008, lasting 100 episodes across five seasons.
22. Gotta Keep ‘Em Guessing!
Over the years, Abrams’ producing credits have included some surprisingly random films. You probably had no idea that Abrams helped produce Infinitely Polar Bear, Morning Glory, and The Pallbearer.
21. Save Us!
The concept of Lost had first been developed by Lloyd Braun—no, not the Seinfeld character—the then-head of ABC. When he first pitched the idea as “parts Castaway, Survivor, and Gilligan’s Island, with a Lord of the Flies element,” he met a lot of opposition from people who thought the idea was “laughable.” Abrams was only brought onto the project after the initial script by Jeffrey Lieber failed to satisfy the producers.
20. Six Seasons and a Movie!
In 2014, Abrams reportedly expressed his interest in film adaptations of his former shows Lost, Felicity, and Alias. Hopefully, they’ll finally explain what polar bears are doing in the jungle!
19. The Role is Mine!
As any fans of Alias will know, it launched the career of its star, Jennifer Garner. She apparently had to audition five times for the role of Sydney Bristow, finally being called and asked to take the lead role while she was watching the bleak drug film Traffic in the cinema. According to Garner, she was so happy that she finished watching the rest of Traffic “like it was a romantic comedy”!
18. It was Always Yours!
Admittedly, Garner might have been a bit frustrated about all the auditions she had to do if she knew that Abrams had written the role of Sydney Bristow specifically for her in the first place! He had been inspired by her work on Felicity and his wife had urged him to write something for her. The problem was that some of the other producers had concerns with Garner, specifically that she might not be “hot enough” for the role. Based on publicity stills from that show alone, we’re sure they ate their words.
17. Cultural Concerns
When casting the role of Mr. Sulu in Star Trek, Abrams favored casting John Cho but was worried about casting a Korean-American to play a character of Japanese origin. It wasn’t until the original Sulu, George Takei, reassured him that it wouldn’t be insensitive to cast Cho, Abrams went ahead and cast him.
16. You’re Welcome!
Fans of Samurai Jack have Abrams to thank for the new season which recently came out and continued Jack’s story. For anyone confused by that strange connection, Abrams had actually spent part of 2009 in negotiations with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Frederator Films to make a film adaptation of Samurai Jack. The film idea was later scrapped due to Abrams’ involvement with Star Trek. This collapse of the movie idea inspired the show’s creator, Genndy Tartakovsky, to produce a new season instead.
15. Back to the Well
Working with Josh Reims, Abrams created the show Undercovers in 2010. It was the second spy series that Abrams had worked on since Alias. Also, for the first time since Lost, Abrams directed the pilot episode.
14. Let’s Just Have Some Fun!
Unfortunately for Abrams, Undercovers failed to get a following, and the show never lasted beyond the first season. When reflecting on this failure, Abrams lamented the fact that Undercovers had intentionally been made with the intention of avoiding “mythology and complexity and intensity and too much serious, dark storytelling.” Guess that falls under the jurisdiction of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He ultimately concluded that avoiding these things wasn’t part of his strengths as a writer. Fair enough, J.J.
13. Six to One, Half a Dozen to the Other
Abrams once had his eye on the Superman franchise. In 2002, Abrams wrote a screenplay titled Superman: Flyby. Abrams also campaigned to direct the script—which at that point would have been his directorial debut—but the film idea was scrapped in favor of Superman Returns. Before you curse the fates for such a missed opportunity, keep in mind that McG and Brett Rattner were both in talks to direct Abrams’ script, so who knows how bad it might have turned out…
12. I Demand a Do-Over!
Allegedly, the premiere of Alias’s fourth season was a disappointment to Abrams. He was, in fact, so annoyed by how it had turned out that he completely re-shot the episode in five days!
11. Directing One’s Heroes
Abrams’ Star Trek famously brought Leonard Nimoy back to the world of Star Trek after he had resisted several offers to return in the past. What helped Abrams’ case somewhat was the fact that Nimoy had actually been a longtime friend of Abrams’ parents. Of course, Abrams was still overwhelmed and called it “surreal” to be able to direct Nimoy as Spock after growing up on Star Trek.
10. Good Old Gramps
Abrams has used his filmography to honor his grandfather, Kelvin. A character in Lost was called Kelvin Inman, a ship in Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness is called the USS Kelvin, The Force Awakens includes a location called Kelvin Ridge, and there is a postcard addressed to H. Kelvin in Mission: Impossible III.
9. Mrs. Abrams? I Got an Actor for Your Husband’s New Film
When Abrams was casting for Star Trek, Chris Pine went all out trying to get the role of Captain Kirk. He even sent a letter to William Shatner seeking his blessing. Shatner provided Pine with this blessing, but Abrams somehow missed Pine’s first audition. Abrams didn’t give him a second audition until after Pine’s agent met with Abrams’ wife and brought up Pine’s cause. Luckily for Pine, his efforts paid off.
8. Wonder What it Tastes Like…
In Star Trek, the character of Uhura orders some Slusho at the bar where she and Kirk first meet. Slusho had previously been a fictional drink in Abrams’ show Alias and was even used in the viral marketing for Cloverfield. Is it safe to say that all these universes now overlap?
7. It’s Gotta Be Me!
According to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writers of Star Trek, their goal with writing the reboot was to make casual fans like Abrams invested in the world of Star Trek again. They were more successful than they expected; Abrams was initially supposed to just produce the film, but reading the script made him realize that he would be jealous of anyone else who directed the film, so he decided to direct it himself.
6. Eight is Great
Abrams has been friends with frequent collaborators Matt Reeves and Bryan Burk since they were teenagers. They bonded over their mutual love of 8mm movies. It seems only fitting that Abrams would eventually make Super 8, with none other than his longtime hero Steven Spielberg.
5. A Person can Dream…
Believe it or not, Steven Spielberg met with Abrams in 1989 and suggested that Abrams write a sequel for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Sadly, this intriguing collaboration on a sequel to such a classic never came to pass, with Abrams never getting past a few storyboards.
4. The Good News… and the Bad News
A lot of actors were deeply determined to appear in Cloverfield, but it turns out that a lot of them thought they were auditioning for a completely different movie! Abrams had recently been announced to be the man who would direct Star Trek, the long-awaited reboot of the Star Trek series. We’d have loved to be in the room when the actors hoping to play Spock or Kirk were told they had successfully been cast in Cloverfield.
3. Make ‘Em Laugh
This is definitely a rare phenomenon in Hollywood—Abrams was initially hesitant to cast Keri Russell as the lead in Felicity because he thought she was too attractive. However, he was brought around by the humor which Russell brought to her line delivery.
2. My Bad, Guys
If you watched the end of The Force Awakens and you found it rather insulting that Leia and Chewbacca never shared in their grief over the death of [spoilers], rest assured that Abrams has heard your complaint and regrets it. In the commentary, Abrams admitted that he overlooked this interaction in his hurry to give Leia and Rey a bonding moment. At least he’s sorry.
1. Kylo the Killer
According to Abrams’ commentary on The Force Awakens, he revealed a very chilling detail that most people probably didn’t notice when they first watched the movie. During Kylo Ren’s interrogation of Rey, he puts his helmet down on a tray which is apparently covered in “the ashes of his victims”! Damn, that’s cold.
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