The incredible career of J.J. Abrams: How the 49-year-old ‘Star Wars’ director became this generation’s Steven Spielberg

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Courtesy of Disney/Omaze

J.J. Abrams has established himself as the king of the nerds and creator of blockbuster hits.

The 49-year-old director, writer, and producer has been at the helm of two reboots of iconic franchises set in space – “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” – and jumped into the action world by joining the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

He’s taken on the sci-fi world with his own film, “Super 8,” which he produced with his idol Steven Spielberg. The film provides an obvious glimpse at the inspiration Spielberg’s earlier films provided.

And even before the two had a chance to officially collaborate, Abrams, as a teen, helped refurbish old films for Spielberg.

Before he was a blockbuster director, Abrams was at the head of hit TV shows, creating or cocreating “Felicity,” “Alias,” and “Lost,” which became a cultural hit.

He’s also delved into some franchise-making of his own, producing “Cloverfield” and its surprisingly successful sequel, “10 Cloverfield Lane.”

With the celebration of Star Wars Day and Abrams primed to produce more hits, here’s a look at his established career:


Jeffrey Jacob Abrams was born June 27, 1966 on Long Island but grew up in Los Angeles with his parents, producers Gerald W. and Carol Ann Abrams. His sister, Tracy, is a screenwriter.

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Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Source: The New York Times Magazine


Abrams adored films by directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and when he was 13, his grandfather gave him a Super 8mm camera, prompting Abrams to begin filming home movies.

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George Lucas and JJ Abrams at the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times Magazine


He met Matt Reeves at a young filmmakers festival in Los Angeles and soon began collaborating with him. The two were asked by Kathleen Kennedy, then working for Spielberg, to repair and refurbish some Super 8mm films he had made as a teen.

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Director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams at the after party for “Cloverfield.”
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Kevin Winter/Getty

Source: Vanity Fair


Abrams’ first job in Hollywood was creating sound effects and music for 1982’s “Nightbeast.” He was only 16.


Rather than attend film school, he went to Sarah Lawrence College after taking his father’s advice: “It’s more important you go off and learn what to make movies about, than how to make movies.” He graduated in 1988.

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Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Source: BAFTA Guru


He sold his first script during his senior year of college, “Taking Care of Business,” which he cowrote with Jill Mazursky. The duo also eventually sold the script for what became 1997’s “Gone Fishin,” which starred Joe Pesci and Danny Glover.


His first solo script to be picked up was the 1991 romantic comedy “Regarding Henry,” starring Harrison Ford and Annette Bening. He went on to write the screenplay for “Forever Young” (1992) and is listed as a cowriter for Michael Bay’s sci-fi adventure “Armageddon” (1988).


He married Katie McGrath in 1996 and the couple has three children.

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Children’s Defense Fund

Source: IMDB


Abrams’ first hit came as the cocreator — along with his old friend, Reeves — of the TV drama “Felicity,” which aired from 1998 to 2002. Abrams eventually made his directing debut with episodes 13 and 14 of season one.


Abrams founded Bad Robot Productions (originally just Bad Robot) in 2001, which partnered with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Studios in 2006 after a deal with ABC ended.

Source: Dice Summit


The first project released under Bad Robot was “Alias,” which ran from 2001 to 2006. The show helped Abrams earn his first Emmy nomination in 2002 for drama writing.


But even though he had already released hit shows, it was the premiere of ABC’s “Lost” that established Abrams as a writer/producer/director to know. Created in 2004 by Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, and Damon Lindelof, the show ran for seven seasons and won four Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe Award. The sci-fi drama became a cult phenomenon.

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ABC Studios

Abrams has served as an executive producer on a number of shows, including “What About Brian,” “Almost Human” and “Revolution.” He also cocreated the short-lived series “Undercovers” and the Emmy-nominated “Fringe.”


Abrams didn’t stop composing music back in 1982. He has also composed the theme songs for “Felicity,” “Alias,” “Alcatraz,” “Revolution,” Fringe,” “Almost Human,” and “Person of Interest.”


After watching “Alias,” Tom Cruise approached Abrams about directing “Mission: Impossible III,” even though Abrams had never directed a feature film before. After rewriting the existing script with frequent collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Abrams took on the task and released his feature debut in 2006.

Source: BuzzFeed


Abrams collaborated again with Reeves on 2008’s “Cloverfield,” a sci-fi horror film, serving as a producer.


Abrams jumped into another franchise with his 2009 reimagining of “Star Trek.” One of his most critically acclaimed films, it holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This further helped establish Abrams as the sci-fi king and proved he could produce blockbusters.

Source: Rotten Tomatoes


He followed it up with “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013), but the film didn’t receive quite the same response. Abrams told BuzzFeed that he takes “full responsibility” for the sequel film’s failure to live up to the first.

Source: BuzzFeed


Abrams didn’t return to direct the third film in the “Star Trek” reboot series, but he is featured as a producer. “Star Trek Beyond” is set for release July 22, 2016.


Abrams has directed five feature films so far, and his only nonfranchise film is 2011’s “Super 8,” a sci-fi film he penned himself. He finally had a chance to collaborate with his idol Steven Spielberg, who served as a producer on the film.


In 2013, Abrams took a step in a new direction and came up with the concept for a mystery novel written by Doug Dorst. “S” presents the mystery of who is V. M. Straka, the author of the fictional book featured in the novel, through margin notes and extras (like postcards and newspaper clippings) left by two fictional readers.


Abrams’ most recent directing venture was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first film in a new sequel trilogy for the franchise. Abrams cowrote the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of the original trilogy’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

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J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan on set.
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Lucasfilm

Abrams had previously turned down Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s offer to launch the new “Star Wars” films. “I’d done a ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie; I’d done ‘Star Trek.’ I didn’t wanna do another sequel — I’m sick of movies with numbers … As a fan, I’d rather just go to the theater and watch the movie,” Abrams told Howard Stern.

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J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy of the film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” participate in a panel at the kick-off event of Disney’s Star Wars Celebration.
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Source: Howard Stern


Abrams is a big fan of keeping secrets about his projects, but he doesn’t do it to be mean. He told NPR, “It’s literally wanting people to have a good time and to have a little bit of a surprising time. So whenever I’m trying to keep things quiet, it is 100 percent an effort to make the experience of actually seeing the movie or TV show more enjoyable for the viewers.”

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Actors John Boyega and Daisy Ridley and director J.J. Abrams attend Star Wars Celebration 2015 along with droids R2-D2 and BB-8.
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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Source: NPR


The film marked the return of actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and a few others as they reprised their classic roles, but also introduced a new set of characters whose lives intersect with the original characters.

Source: Wired


“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released December 18 and has since become the fastest film to reach $1 billion at the box office.

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Kathleen Kennedy, actors Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and director J.J. Abrams speak onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015.
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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Source: Business Insider


Though he passed on directing the remaining “Star Wars” films, he will return as executive producer for “Star Wars: Episode VIII.”

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Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

But he’s not through amazing us. In March 2016 he was a producer on the hit thriller “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a “spiritual sequel” to “Cloverfield,” which has made over $100 million worldwide at the box office.

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Paramount

Other upcoming films featuring Abrams as a producer include “Valencia” and “M:I 6,” the next film in the “Mission Impossible” franchise. He’s also serving as an executive producer on the TV series “Roadies.”

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