To say J.J. Abrams has led an interesting career would be a monstrous understatement. In his early years, Abrams wrote films like Harrison Ford drama Regarding Henry and Michael Bay blockbuster Armageddon before creating hit series like Felicity, Alias, and Lost. Nowadays, however, Abrams is best known as the filmmaker behind the highest-grossing domestic release of all time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. With that film continuing to rein in audiences, we look back at Abrams’s directorial career to date.
5. Super 8 (2011)
Despite the fact that Steven Spielberg is directly involved in this sci-fi adventure, it’s clear that Abrams is channeling earlier Spielberg productions like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Goonies. The young cast — led by newcomer Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning — is infinitely charming, and much of the film manages to capture a real sense of unpredictability and mystery. Yet, despite its strong points, the film fails to deliver on its promise with an underwhelming third act.
4. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
After Mission: Impossible II, the franchise needed a boost to stay fresh and exciting. Enter Abrams, who relieved the series of its style-over-substance downward spiral and restored the team aspect that has been central to the brand since the 1960s TV series. True, the film may at times come off as an overblown episode of Abrams’s TV work (Felicity star Keri Russell is even along for the ride!), but M:I-3 paved the way for the two best entries in the franchise, for which Abrams has continued to serve as producer.
3. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Hardcore Star Trek fans were disappointed by the overwhelming similarities between this film and 1982 classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Those complaints may be valid — Abrams himself has admitted that the mystery surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan was a mistake — but the film did feature a number of thrilling sequences and fun character moments. In some respects, the film may be an improvement over its predecessor, as far as its tone and pacing, though it does lack the freshness of Abrams’s first time aboard the Enterprise.
2. Star Trek (2009)
Just as Abrams revitalized the Mission: Impossible franchise, he similarly resuscitated another Paramount-owned film series with this much-needed reboot. The previous film — 2002 misfire Star Trek: Nemesis — left Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew without a next adventure, but with its time-travel premise, Abrams’s Trek was able to reset the timeline, retelling the origin behind Kirk and Spock’s legendary friendship. Sidenote: The late Leonard Nimoy offers his ultimate sign of approval on the new series, appearing in a pivotal role as “Spock Prime.”
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
At this point in his career, Abrams has earned a reputation for his ability to dust off aging franchises and reintroduce them to modern audiences. Never has that been as apparent as it is with this sequel to Return of the Jedi. The first film following Disney’s 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm, The Force Awakens is tasked with bringing back the aging cast of the original trilogy and introducing new heroes like Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). The film was released to rave reviews and quickly ascended to the top of the all-time box office charts, and even though it hews a bit too closely to the original films, it undoubtedly captures their spirit and sets up an exciting future for the series.
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