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The Lost, Forgotten & Unmade Projects Of J.J. Abrams

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by The Playlist Staff
May 16, 2013 3:10 PM
5 Comments
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It's easy enough to think of J.J Abrams as some kind of overnight success. After all, it's only seven years since his first film as director, "Mission Impossible III," and "Star Trek Into Darkness," which opens on Friday, marks only his fourth film to date. And yet, even when he made that first film, he was already a brand name -- the man behind two bona-fide TV pop culture phenomena in "Alias" and "Lost," and that's only become more true since; his films have all taken at least $200 million worldwide, he's birthed several other successful TV shows, and he's taking over the Holy Grail of nerddom, "Star Wars," with 2015's "Episode VII."

But all of this is the peak of nearly 25 years of work, including an awful lot of film and TV that you probably haven't heard of, away from the big franchises and tentpole TV shows that made his name. Plus, through his Bad Robot production company, run by old pal Bryan Burk, there's lots more on the way. And while Abrams will be tied up with "Star Wars" for some time, he's bound to already have an eye out for what could come after. So, to mark the release of "Star Trek Into Darkness," we've delved into the past, and future, of Jeffrey John Abrams, to take a look at some of his forgotten, and forthcoming, contributions to popular culture. Take a look below.


The Early Years

Abrams sold his first script when he was still in college; he teamed up with an old friend, Jill Mazursky (daughter of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" and "An Unmarried Woman" helmer Paul) to write a treatment about a con who finds a businessman's filofax, and steals his identity. The swiftly-dated concept became the 1990 comedy "Taking Care of Business," directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin -- a pretty poor "Trading Places" rip-off essentially, but one that put Abrams firmly on the map. That said, it wasn't his first brush with the movie industry; as a teenager, he wrote some of the music for "Nightbeast," a Troma monster movie (and even that came after having been famously hired, alongside childhood pal and "Cloverfield"/"Let Me In"/"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" director Matt Reeves, to assemble Steven Spielberg's personal archive of home movies...).  

Abrams swiftly sold several scripts, and was hired to rewrite others -- Mike Nichols directed "Regarding Henry," starring Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson toplined romance "Forever Young," and another script written with Mazursky surfaced as "Gone Fishin," a disastrous comedy starring Joe Pesci and Danny Glover, in 1997. He also became an in-demand script doctor; most famously doing a rewrite on "Armageddon" that actually saw him picking up credit, but there were plenty of others that never really saw the light of day (Steven Spielberg revealed in a recent issue of Empire that Abrams did a pass on the Amblin film "Casper.")

But less famous? Abrams' acting career. Well, we wouldn't necessarily call it a career, but the future big-name director did have a tiny part alongside Donald Sutherland, Stockard Channing, Bruce Davison and Eric Stoltz in "Six Degrees Of Separation" (sadly not sharing any screen time with Will Smith...). He also plays 'Video Photographer 2' in the dreadful remake of "Les Diaboliques," titled "Diabolique," with Sharon Stone.



The Middle Period

After a while, Abrams was a well-respected, and in demand screenwriter, but he didn't quite become a big name until the start of the 2000s, which means a few of his efforts snuck through the cracks. His first film as producer was to shepherd childhood pal Matt Reeves' directorial debut "The Pallbearer," a 1996 romantic comedy with David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow. It's actually not bad at all, but like most of the solo projects of the "Friends" cast, it died without a trace. Then, two years later, and even more obscure, was "The Suburbans." Premiering at Sundance not long after "Felicity" made it to the air, the film, directed by and starring Donal Lardner Ward (no, us neither), and co-starring Will Ferrell, Jennifer Love Hewitt and, in a cameo, Ben Stiller, it's a limp satire about a one-hit-wonder 1980s band brought together for a reunion. It pretty much disappeared without a trace, making a mere $11,000 in theaters.

But by then, Abrams was a big name in TV, with "Felicity" (co-created with Reeves) proving to be a big hit (at least at first; it quickly ran out of steam ratings-wise, though still made it to four seasons). In 2001, a few months after the Abrams-penned-and-produced thriller "Joy Ride," an underrated take on "Duel" directed by John Dahl, and starring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn (we maintain that if it had kept its original title of "Squelch," it would have made a hundred million dollars), Abrams debuted "Alias." The show was never quite a monster hit, but caught the popular imagination, and eventually landed him his first directorial gig, on "Mission Impossible III." It also made him a powerful figure in TV...

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5 Comments

  • peter | May 17, 2013 12:44 PMReply

    There's also 500 Rads, Samurai Jack, and a pilot called Pulp.

  • Carlos | May 17, 2013 6:42 AMReply

    I was going to ask what happened to the Antwerp diamond theft project, but I see you guys have included it in the article. I´d love to watch that as a movie one day...

  • Tulse Luper | May 16, 2013 11:29 PMReply

    Does anybody care about the crap films he makes? Ghaaaaaaaaaaaaaag!

  • Khan | May 16, 2013 3:15 PMReply

    Does anyone really care about all this shit? What a hastily made, horrible article.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 16, 2013 3:18 PM

    KHAAAAAAAAAN!

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