How JJ Abrams' secret work on Casper changed the shape of Hollywood in a big way

Jacob Stolworthy
Getty Images / Universal Pictures

JJ Abrams has a little-known connection to a 1990s family film that changed the future of Hollywood in a big way.

Back in the 1990s, Abrams proved his worth by writing a handful of films, but it was an encounter he had while working on the 1995 family film Casper that put him on the road to becoming the director he is today.

When he was around 29, Abrams did an uncredited rewrite on the film, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. It was through this job that Abrams first met Steven Spielberg, who was producing the film.

“At this time in his career, [Abrams] wasn’t yet a director, but a writer, and he was a great writer,” Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. Abrams’s writing credits in the 1990s included Mel Gibson’s Forever Young, Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford, and early Will Smith film Six Degrees of Separation.

Spielberg continued: “He was very witty and he adores plot structure and storytelling. There are a lot of writers who write brilliant dialogue and who can do wonderful confrontational drama and comedy. But not everybody knows story. Whether it’s a character story or a pure plot-driven story, JJ is amazing.”

It was because of Abrams’s work on Casper that Spielberg called upon him to rewrite the script for War of the Worlds in 2004. Abrams was forced to turn the opportunity down as he was filming the pilot of Lost – Abrams told EW in 2009 that it felt like the move was “career suicide”.

This was far from the truth. Spielberg told EW that Tom Cruise, War of the Worlds‘ lead star and co-producer “remembered how impressed he had been with JJ that he asked him if he would direct Mission: Impossible III“.

It was Spielberg who encouraged Abrams to direct Star Trek and, without the success of revamping that popular space-set series for a new audience, it seems unlikely he would have been hired to oversee Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If Abrams hadn’t of got the call to rewrite Casper in the early 1990s, he would not have met Spielberg, his self-named “consigliere”.

Without that encounter, it’s fair to say that his career – and Hollywood, in general – would be looking extremely different today.

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