The great J.J. Abrams bidding war awakens

The most coveted person in Hollywood.
The most coveted person in Hollywood.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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J.J. Abrams has amassed a huge Hollywood empire, and now every company in town badly wants a piece of it.

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens director and his production company Bad Robot are the prizes at the center of an intense bidding war between nearly all major Hollywood studios and streaming giants, including Disney, Universal, Netflix, and Apple, Deadline reported yesterday. Abrams’ deal with Warner Bros. (the home of Bad Robot’s TV division) expires this year; his movie deal with Paramount Pictures expires in 2020.

Abrams, who’s currently working on the still untitled Star Wars: Episode IX (due in theaters Dec. 20), is said to want to consolidate his film and TV branches under one roof, and every big company in Hollywood wants that roof to be theirs.

But that’s not all Abrams wants. The director and producer—who’s viewed as the Hollywood equivalent of a five-tool baseball player, someone who can do it all at the highest level, according to Deadline—has ambitious plans for his growing empire. He’s reportedly looking to not simply expand his imprint on cinema and television, but become a ubiquitous cultural presence, with a hand in theme parks, merchandising, music, and streaming. That’d make him something of a new Steven Spielberg, who parlayed his success on films like JawsE.T., and Jurassic Park into a massive, multifaceted empire at Universal Pictures.

With its unstoppable movie business and its vast, international network of theme parks, Disney is the clear favorite to emerge from the bidding war with Abrams and Bad Robot in tow. Abrams also happens to already have a strong relationship with Disney: After leading The Force Awakens to critical acclaim and a $2 billion box office total, Abrams was brought in to save the day on Episode IX after the studio parted ways with director Colin Trevorrow.

The things about Disney that might attract Abrams also underscore just how excellent an overall position the studio is in relative to its peers, who all have box office totals (and a general impact on culture) that pale in comparison to the Mouse House’s diversified brand. Today (Jan. 17), the New York Times published a story on how Paramount, a once mighty studio, is now “fighting for its life.” Losing Abrams to a competitor won’t help.

Netflix, Apple, and Amazon are said to be interested, but if Abrams truly values the theme park and merchandising aspects of his grand ambitions, then he’s unlikely to choose any of the three over a traditional studio like Disney, Universal, or Warner Bros. The streamers don’t have theme parks or robust merchandising operations, though Netflix is beginning to build out a consumer products division.

In addition to shepherding the recent incarnation of the Star Wars movie universe, Abrams is a prolific TV creator and producer, having had a hand in a number of successful shows like Alias, Lost, Felicity, Fringe, Westworld, and Castle Rock. One of his most recent projects, a sci-fi series called Demimonde, was itself the subject of a lucrative bidding war that included many of the same companies listed above. The show was ultimately purchased by HBO, where it’s in pre-production. His Bad Robot TV banner, which produces shows for a variety of TV networks, currently has two TV projects in the works at Apple.

As studios struggle to innovate, Abrams’ reputation as someone who knows how to milk existing intellectual property for all its worth is invaluable (though Abrams might have an idea of his value—the deal could be worth as much as half billion dollars, Deadline reported). In uncertain times, Abrams is about as much of a sure thing as it gets.