What Happened To J.J. Abrams?

6


Summary

  • J.J. Abrams is a highly successful director in Hollywood, known for his ability to combine heartfelt storytelling with blockbuster scale, but he hasn’t directed a movie since 2019.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker negatively impacted Abrams’ career, receiving polarizing reviews and falling short of box office expectations.
  • Despite signing a massive deal with Warner Bros., most of the announced projects are in limbo or have been canceled.


SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

J.J. Abrams is a name that almost became synonymous with cinematic spectacle in the early 21st century, but he hasn’t been attached to directing a new movie in years. Abrams’ ability to meld heartfelt storytelling with blockbuster scale made him one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood. The filmmaker cut his teeth on television with Alias and Lost before his silver screen breakout with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III. This would kick off a string of successes, seeing Abrams helm major reboots and sequels in beloved franchises such as Star Trek and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as breathing new life into the Star Wars movie saga.

Abrams’ Midas Touch seemed to guarantee critical acclaim and box office gold with these films collectively grossing billions worldwide. However, despite such triumphs, Abrams has been notably absent from the director’s chair since the release of 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The filmmaker, once a beacon of big-screen storytelling, isn’t currently attached to any major movie projects. This quiet period has led many to ponder his trajectory, especially since he has not announced any forthcoming directorial endeavors, a stark contrast to the barrage of work that defined his output in the previous decade.

RELATED: New Star Wars Movies: Every Upcoming Movie & Release Date


J.J. Abrams Was A Franchise King For 13 Years

J.J. Abrams emerged as a formidable force in Hollywood, earning the title of the franchise king over a span of 13 years. His directorial acumen reinvigorated the Mission: Impossible franchise with the third installment. While the 2006 movie might be the lowest-grossing movie of the franchise, that’s purely because of the decreased interest in the series following the negatively received Mission: Impossible 2. The threequel put the stunt-oriented series back on track and is the most intense and darkest entry in the franchise. Following that success, Abrams breathed new life into the Star Trek universe with a duo of films that charmed die-hard Trekkies and newcomers alike.

Abrams rebuilt the sci-fi series around huge action setpieces, which effortlessly ushered Star Trek into the modern Hollywood landscape. Following that, Abrams’ direction of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was hailed as a triumphant return to the series’ roots, merging the nostalgic appeal of the original trilogy with modern sensibilities. The 2015 Star Wars movie went on to gross more than $2 billion worldwide, a number that only a handful of films have ever reached. Along with his outstanding directorial filmography, Abrams continued to co-produce Mission: Impossible movies and the Cloverfield franchise, which further underscores his knack for crafting compelling narratives on a grand level.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Hurt J.J. Abrams

Daisy Ridley smiling as Rey in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker presented a significant challenge for Abrams, who was at the helm to conclude the expansive Skywalker saga. The filmmaker was in the position of following the extremely divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was criticized for its depiction of Luke Skywalker trying too hard to subvert expectations. As a result, as the 2019 movie was following two very detached films and tying up a trilogy that never had an overarching narrative plan, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was likely destined to fail regardless of what celebrated director was at the helm.

Unfortunately, as Abrams agreed to direct the final movie in the trilogy, most of the blame was aimed at him. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was met with a polarizing response, marked by criticism over its narrative choices, pacing, and perceived overemphasis on fan service. The implausibility of Emperor Palpatine’s return and other questionable choices led to a divisiveness that contrasted starkly with the acclaim for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The discourse surrounding the 2019 movie placed Abrams in the crosshairs of critical scrutiny and fan debate, and for a filmmaker accustomed to applause, the film’s reception was a rare but very notable blemish on his track record.

Given that Star Wars: The Force Awakens made $2 billion, calling the 2019 movie’s gross of $1 billion a “lower-than-expected box office return” is an understatement, especially given its reported budget of $416 million (via Forbes). Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has had a lingering impact on Abrams’ career, as it introduced a sense of caution to his once unassailable reputation for rejuvenating beloved franchises. In an industry where directors are often lauded for their successes as they are scrutinized for their missteps, The Rise of Skywalker remains a contentious point in Abrams’ career, a reminder of the high stakes and unpredictable nature of blockbuster filmmaking.

J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Signed A $250 Million, 5-Year Deal With WB (But Didn’t Deliver)

Zatanna performing magic in the DC Comics

In 2019, the partnership between J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot and Warner Bros. was poised to become a new creative powerhouse, thanks to a massive $250 million deal. The industry buzzed with anticipation for the potential hits to emerge from this collaboration, which many expected to include blockbuster films and major television projects. With Abrams’ reputation for delivering compelling content and Warner Bros.’s expansive IP library, including the DC Universe, expectations were sky-high for a slew of high-profile projects that would captivate audiences and dominate the box office.

However, the partnership has yet to bear the expected fruits, and in 2022, Warner Bros. was reportedly frustrated with the lack of DC projects coming together. Abrams had grand plans to develop projects centered around DC characters including John Constantine and Madame Xanadu. The filmmaker was even attached to produce a Superman movie, a project that was never officially canceled. None of these projects have materialized and likely never will given that James Gunn is now leading DC Studios. Additionally, according to THR, Warner Bros. canceled the Abrams/Bad Robot project Demimonde after the budget was coming in around the mid-$200 million range.

Only one Warner Bros. project with Abrams seems to still be alive; Duster. Sarah Aubrey, who is the head of originals for the Warner-owned streaming service, Max, gave an update on Duster:

“We have the TV series ‘Duster,’ that’s on the runway with him and that is going to be — knock wood — up and running very soon. I’m very bullish about that, and it’s one that JJ has been intimately involved with and that’s a really fun process to be a part of.”

Although there hasn’t been anything to show from what seemed to be a lucrative deal, Duster has at least entered production. The crime series will follow the first black female FBI agent who teams up with a getaway driver to take down a major crime syndicate. However, Duster is all Warner Bros. has gotten out of a $250 million deal so far. While a lot of the fault undoubtedly lies with WB, as there have been so many changes made following Discovery’s acquisition of the studio, most Bad Robot projects have led nowhere.

Project

Status

Duster (series)

In Development

Demimonde (series)

Canceled

Zatanna (movie)

Unknown, likely canceled

Batman: Caped Crusader (animated series)

Moved to Prime Video

Superman (movie)

Unknown

John Constantine (series)

Canceled

Madame Xanadu (series)

Canceled

J.J. Abrams Has Only Produced 1 Movie This Decade So Far

Allison Janney and Jurnee Smollett in the woods in Lou
Allison Janney and Jurnee Smollett in Lou

When Abrams isn’t directing blockbuster movies, he’s usually producing projects. However, even in the producing spectrum, Abrams has had a very quiet 2020s. The filmmaker has only produced one movie this decade: 2022’s Lou, a Netflix original crime thriller that received a mixed reception from audiences. This represents a significant downturn in output compared to the previous decade, where Abrams’ name was a fixture on movie credits, symbolizing both productivity and success. This single production credit is an unusual note in Abrams’ otherwise densely packed filmography, signaling a potential period of recalibration given his ongoing ventures in television and streaming platforms.

What Is J.J. Abrams Working On Next?

Cars racing in a Hot Wheels Unleashed graphic

Unfortunately, Abrams isn’t attached to a single upcoming movie as a director. There is, however, one major movie he’s involved in, as Abrams is producing a Hot Wheels movie. Though it’s still in the early stages of development, the Mattel project will likely be fast-tracked following the success of Barbie. The only other set-in-stone projects Abrams is attached to that are currently in production are Burn, a TV series about a dragon set during the Cold War, a Jake Gyllenhaal-led crime drama series called Presumed Innocent, and a series about a Marine Corps flight squadron called The Blue Angels.

Even then, Abrams is attached as an executive producer on these projects, meaning he has little creative input. The unexpected quiet on the film front from J.J. Abrams and his production company sparks speculation regarding his change in pace. It may suggest a more selective approach to film projects, possibly reflecting on lessons learned from recent industry shifts or the mixed responses to high-profile releases like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Nonetheless, this lull has the industry and his followers waiting with bated breath for his next major cinematic endeavor, which may very well redefine his narrative as one of Hollywood’s most dynamic filmmakers.

Sources: Forbes, THR,