JJ Abrams is the only man in history to helm both Star Trek and Star Wars movies, and with a fair degree of success no less. His screen presence has been felt for upwards of two decades, with his many producing roles in television (Fringe, Lost, Person of Interest) and film (Cloverfield, Infinitely Polar Bear, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) accompanying screenwriting credits on half of his filmography as a director, as well as 90s movies Gone Fishing and Armageddon, to name but a few. He has, in his relatively young career as a director, been touted by the incomparable Steven Spielberg as a rightful heir to the sci-fi blockbuster throne and has gained the trust of sci-fi fans with his careful handling of a number of related genres and franchises. In this edition of Ranked, it shall be each of his directed feature-length cinematic releases that shall be judged on their quality and ranked in order from worst to best.
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5. Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Taking over a franchise like Mission Impossible in the height of Tom Cruise’s powers would have overcome most debut directors, but what Abrams managed to produce was a very solid outing for the franchise that became all the proof studios needed for the director to move on to what has come in the years since. This picture was illustrative of how well Abrams casts and presents the villains of his movies, with Philip Seymour Hoffman offering one of the better performances of any villain in the Mission Impossible franchise. It certainly certified Abrams as a merging talent, and though its positioning at the bottom (or top) of this list seems to be somewhat damming, Mission: Impossible III was still a very good film worthy of inclusion on many an action/sci-fi director’s ‘top’ list, and is therefore proof of the strength of his filmography.
4. Super 8 (2011)
By the time Super 8 was released in 2011, Abrams had already been hugely successful with his reboot of Star Trek (2009) and had become rather pally with perhaps the best sci-fi family film director of all time, Steven Spielberg. So, when he paid tribute to the old-school 8mm film-making of an era long since passed, people were excited. Super 8 ultimately became yet further proof of the man’s qualities as a director, as he excelled in his tribute to the family films of mentor figure Spielberg, gifting his movie a fun and heartfelt quality unlike many of the filmmakers of his day. The movie seemed to pull its story in two opposing directions however, perhaps evidence of a man with too many ideas for his overall skill at that point in his career, and as such Super 8 suffered from mixed reviews that have succumbed it to the foot of this list. It’s by no means a bad movie, but it’s just not in the same league as much of the rest of his directorial work.
3. Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
Into Darkness isn’t without its issues, but what it did perhaps better than anything else was build on everything that was restarted in the 2009 Star Trek movie and make everything that bit bigger and louder. What Into Darkness does so well is integrate the character driven sci-fi formula which featured in its predecessor and manages to add a credible multi-layered antagonist as a cherry on the top of its already bigger and better explosions and computer generated imagery. It was quite the way to pay tribute to the original content while updating it for fresh audiences, and became an excellent number three movie to have in Abrams’ repertoire.
2. Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek had been so long in the public consciousness that it seemed impossible to truly reboot the franchise by any means, let alone in only 128 minutes. JJ Abrams somehow, however, achieved it, offering the cult classic turned pop culture phenomenon of a franchise an accessibility that it had previously been lacking, thus inviting new audiences into its universe and thus establishing a major blockbuster franchise of the late 2000s. Abrams’ style was highlighted tremendously by the simplicity in which the filmmaker managed to present the complex and demanding source material in conjunction with hardcore audience expectations and, with a cast of largely lesser known actors, reinvigorated Star Trek beyond all expectations. Through excellent fan service, even better use of the late-great Leonard Nimoy, and a whole load of lens flare, Abrams directed a 21st century blockbuster of the highest order and a film that is so nearly his greatest.
1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
JJ Abrams initially refused to direct The Force Awakens for fear that he’d ruin the franchise’s magic for himself, such was his love for it, and that he’d let down the millions of expectant fans in the process. But, upon heading the advice of Steven Spielberg once again, Abrams took the role and hit the ball out of the park. Much like he did with Star Trek, the director managed to combine the spark of his imagination and skill with the expectations of his audience and the huge pressure of delivering the best Star Wars movie in over 30 years, to create a gem of popular culture that was met with almost universal appraisal. The story’s twists and turns delivered through convincing practical effects and outstanding CGI on rarely used film reel, made for a Star Wars film that looked and felt like a member of the original trilogy. What’s more is that it became so universally accepted that it was perhaps the must-see event movie of the century thus far, and Abrams’ sensational work in the director’s chair can be largely attributed to this. An outstanding piece of filmmaking from a director truly hitting his stride, The Force Awakens is number the number one film on this director’s filmography.
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