While it was his reboots of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, as well as his use of the lens flare technique and his penchant to shroud his movies in mystery, that made J.J. Abrams a star, he’s been working in the film industry for over three decades. As a young man, he was noticed by Steven Spielberg, who took him under his wing. In all that time, he’s attached himself to a bunch of film and TV projects that haven’t made it past the script stage or the concept art stage.
This was a “big sci-fi” project announced a few years ago that J.J. Abrams was working on with Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. Nothing was known about the plot of the project – just that it was going to be a “big sci-fi” movie. However, as often happens with projects that have one or more in-demand person attached, the two filmmakers’ schedules became too hectic to accommodate a “big sci-fi” movie. Wright went on to write and direct Baby Driver, while Abrams became the mastermind behind Disney’s $4 billion continuation of the Star Wars saga. Mark Protosevich, one of the writers of I Am Legend and Thor, had been working on a script.
9 7 Minutes in Heaven
This tantalizing thriller based on the classic high school pastime was announced a few years back to be produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by his frequent collaborator Jack Bender. In it, a pair of kids would go into a closet, and when they came out seven minutes later, everyone else at the party would be dead. So, it would be a slasher movie where all the murders happened off-screen in seven minutes. That might have been why it failed to get off the ground. Where does the script go from there? That will be the snag the writers hit. It seems to have inspired Truth or Dare, another high-concept horror movie based on something typical teenagers do, but that seems to have been developed separately. Either way, nothing has been announced about the project ever since.
A few years back, Bad Robot announced a partnership with Valve whereby they would collaborate on an original video game and some movie adaptations of Valve properties. One of those adaptations was Half-Life, the story of a physicist fending off an alien invasion. Abrams said, “There’s an idea we have for a game that we’d like to work with Valve on.”
Valve’s Gabe Newell said, “We’re going to figure out if we can make a Portal movie or Half-Life movie together.” Despite Abrams’ hectic schedule, he said in 2016 that he was still committed to directing a Half-Life movie one day, but there’s been no progress with the project since then.
7 All I’ve Got
In 2013, when Ron Howard was hot off the F1 drama Rush, J.J. Abrams hired him to direct a Hollywood remake of the Israeli made-for-TV movie Kol Ma She’Yesh Li that would be called All I’ve Got. It was a heartfelt fantasy story described as “equal parts The Notebook and Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life.” The original TV movie was written by the same team who came up with the format that was eventually remade by HBO as In Treatment. The film’s story flits between life and death in a deep, complex, existential way, sort of like The Lovely Bones. It would’ve been interesting if it actually happened.
6 Samurai Jack
At one point, J.J. Abrams was producing a movie adaptation of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series Samurai Jack. Before Abrams came on board, there was talk of Cartoon Network making a live-action movie based on the series, but that’s not what Samurai Jack is. Tartakovsky and Abrams were on the same page in wanting to do the movie in the same style of 2D animation as the series, despite the fact that’s not the trend in film animation right now. However, it never materialized. In 2017, the series was brought back for a fifth season in lieu of a movie adaptation.
5 Mystery on Fifth Avenue
Starting in 2008, J.J. Abrams was developing a movie based on a New York Times article entitled “Mystery on Fifth Avenue.” It was the story of a family who bought a renovated luxury apartment and discovered an elaborate mystery hidden within its walls. There were secret panels and hidden rooms and puzzles and riddles. Architect Eric Clough had left the mystery there completely without the family’s knowledge and it took them months to decipher it all. Comedy writers and real-life married couple Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky were working on a screenplay at one point, but as of yet, nothing has come of this curious project.
At one stage, J.J. Abrams was producing a movie based on the Micronauts line of toys and comic books. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, the writing duo behind Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation (who would go on to write the Deadpool movies with Ryan Reynolds), were hired to work on the script. Wernick said, “We’ve written a couple of drafts of Micronauts and it’s in the Paramount system now. We developed it with Bad Robot, and it’s probably not what you might imagine a Micronauts movie to be. It departs from the comic wildly, so if you hope it’s loyal to the comic, you’ll be disappointed in that particular sense. However, it’s very, very different and very, very cool.”
3 Hot for Teacher
J.J. Abrams doesn’t usually get involved with comedies, especially the R-rated comedy ilk of Superbad or Wedding Crashers, but he’s been trying to get Hot for Teacher – presumably named after the Van Halen song – off the ground for a while now. It’s an ‘80s-style sex romp about a teenager who is determined to sleep with his attractive teacher.
The movies of that era, like Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, are incredibly dated now, but this would hopefully be a modern version that reflects the raunchy humor of those movies, albeit imbued with today’s progressive and inclusive gender politics.
2 Star Trek 3
J.J. Abrams directed two Star Trek movies, brought together a terrific cast, breathed new life into a dying franchise, and then jumped ship when he was offered a Star Wars movie. If Disney hadn’t acquired Lucasfilm, or if they hadn’t offered the movie to Abrams, we would’ve gotten to see his vision for the third movie in the reboot franchise, and that would’ve been interesting. Abrams was replaced by Justin Lin, who essentially killed the franchise with an overly camp, overly comedic, not very Star Trek-y threequel. Abrams did a great job of combining the plot and character arcs of a classic Star Trek episode with the huge set pieces of blockbuster cinema in a way that Lin didn’t.
1 Superman: Flyby
After four movies, the Superman film franchise hit a snag. What started off with a couple of revolutionary blockbusters directed by Richard Donner that changed the face of cinema had devolved into a schlocky, misguided cheese-fest. J.J. Abrams was hired to write a script for a fifth movie called Superman: Flyby. Various directors circled the project, including McG and Brett Ratner (although the latter won’t be directing anything any time soon after his sexual misconduct was exposed in the #MeToo movement), but Abrams really wanted to direct the film himself. In the end, it didn’t happen at all and Superman Returns with Brandon Routh happened instead.