Robert Zemeckis will celebrate his birthday this weekend. He turns 59 years old, and he’s had quite a run of success as a filmmaker in his 59 years. I recently found myself surprised about how successful Zemeckis’ films have been across three decades of American film history. Typically, his name isn’t one of the first to come up when people discuss successful American directors but perhaps his list of films is hard to ignore. Here are some of the films that Zemeckis has directed in his career:
The Back to the Future Trilogy
The first film of the trilogy was obviously the crowning achievement, coming in at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and earning a special place in the heart of anyone who grew up in the 80’s. It’s a lovable, quotable, re-watchable classic that made Deloreans and life vests part of the American lexicon. One 8-year old film critic (me) declared it “the best movie ever made” upon walking out of the theater. It is the quintessential 80’s movie. The second and third films in the trilogy… were not classics. But neither did they embarrass the series’ brand name or Zemeckis. Both were sufficiently entertaining box office successes. Nobody had to go back to disrupt the space-time continuum to make Back to the Future II and III disappear.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
This whole concept is pure genius. It’s a film noir with a Chinatown-esque script, and it properly honors the cartoons of yesteryear. It works for adults, it works for kids, and it works for anyone who likes comedy. Like Back to the Future, it’s very quotable. And Jessica Rabbit launched many a pre-pubescent boy into an early puberty.
Zemeckis struck gold with his special effects-fueled tale of a lovable idiot who succeeds across the backdrop of 20th Century American history. It’s become an incredibly polarizing film, with many movie fans annoyed at (amongst other things) the fact that it took Best Picture honors in a year loaded with deserving nominees. I don’t mean to speak to any of that. It’s a discussion for a different time and place. What I can speak to is the way the film took the country by storm, earning tons of money and accolades en route to weaving a highly memorable character and film. In the very least, I have to say that Gump remains one of the highlights of my college movie-going experience. It was the first movie I saw in theaters when I was a freshman.
What Lies Beneath
It’s a ghost story that owes much to Hitchcock (despite the fact that Hitchcock never made ghost stories). And it’s just about anything you could want from a ghost story. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece but it’s above average work, another point in Zemeckis’ favor.
Romancing the Stone
Truthfully, I can’t say much about this. I remember my parents and my aunt and uncle enjoying it. To me, it seemed a lot like a cheap knockoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it’s at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and it helped further the career of everyone’s favorite troll, Danny DeVito. So I’d be remiss if I did’t mention it.
Apparently, Zemeckis is the king of making pieces of his films very memorable. Wilson, anyone? In a lot of ways, Cast Away is a perfect example of what you get in Zemeckis’ career. It’s got a dose of schmaltz, it’s human, it sticks with you years afterwards, and it’s surprisingly good.
Happy birthday, Robert Zemeckis.