The Surprising Catalogue of Robert Zemeckis

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.

Forrest Gump
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.

Cast Away
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.


20 Comments

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20 responses to “The Surprising Catalogue of Robert Zemeckis

  1. Many Happy Returns Mr Zemeckis

    What a lovely tribute John. I love all those films (apart from ‘What Lies Beneath’).

    C

  2. Have you also noticed that man hasn’t released a live-action directorial effort since ‘Cast Away’? I loved Robert Zemeckis 10 years ago and almost all of his previous films but the farther he dives into animated features, the more I continually keep losing respect for him. Groundbreaking animation? Possibly, but mostly uninteresting projects. Who would have thought that he was going to adapt the ump-teenth version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ animate it and star Jim Carrey? Now he’s working on his 4th animated feature – a 3D version of ‘Yellow Submarine.” In all honesty, I thought he was going to go in a different direction – ‘Tales from the Crypt’ – not towards children’s films. He’s very much become the the only front man for his production company/animation studio at ImageMovers. Sorry to rant, but I’m just a tad frustrated and apparently you brought it out of me mentioning all of his previous great films.

    • I’ll admit, when I was writing, it did occur to me that he hadn’t done anything worth a damn since 2001. I really hadn’t put much thought into his recent work, to be honest.

  3. Kelly

    I’ve always liked Zemeckis’ work, minus Romancing & What Lies because I never watched them. I fondly remember going to see Roger Rabbit in the theater with my dad. Movies were the only thing we had in common, besides our light blue eyes. This was a wonderful nod to a great director for his birthday.

    • Bingo. It was hard to miss his movies if you grew up in the 80’s. They were all over the place and they were perfect for parents to take their kids to them.

      By the way, I’ve plugged McFly and Simon into the trunk infographic.

  4. Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were two of the first films I ever saw. I still love them immensely. They’re timeless, and I get goosebumps every time I hear that iconic theme or whenever someone quotes Doc Brown’s orgasmic “1.21 Gigawatts!” To see Christopher Lloyd again in Roger Rabbit was a real treat, although after Piranha 3-D, I’ve kinda lost faith in him.

  5. Lloyd is sort of one of those actors who I figure has earned the right to sell out. I’ve gotten enough mileage from his awesome characters (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest comes to mind, along with many on this list) that I don’t mind him doing whatever he wants.

  6. StarkyLuv

    Robert Zemeckis is one of the greatest living sci-fi/special effects directors. 2nd only to James Cameron. He never lets the effects overwhelms the story and uses them as an aide, not a crutch (listen up, Michael Bay).

    I always wished the George Lucas would’ve let him direct one of the Star Wars prequels. It would’ve been amazing having him have a crack at Episode III (which was good but would’ve been a classic in an actual good director’s hands).

    • The way you just described Zemeckis is one of the reasons I love Guillermo del Toro so much. He uses a healthy dose of CGI but it’s never THE story. It only augments it.

  7. I had either completely forgotten or never knew that he did Romancing the Stone.

    Yeah, the guy HAD a pretty phenomenal career…just about up until The Polar Express came along. Oh well. It was a pretty good run while it lasted.

    • He’s such a strange part of American movie history, because he was flat-out killing it for a good 16, 17 years. And then… he was done.

  8. StarkyLuv

    He’s still a great director. He’s just obsessed with this mo-cap animation and 3D right now. I’m sure if the right script came along he can pop out another Forrest Gump level piece of entertainment.

  9. Robert Zemeckis is one of my favorite directors of all time. His work will stand the test of time and be viewed for generations to come. What he does best is convey insanely crazy film ideas in a way that the viewer finds familiar. I really hope this guy is around 40 more years making movies!

  10. rtm

    Happy belated b’day Mr. Zemeckis. I completely forgot he did Back to the Future. I like what you said about Castaway… for a film with just one man talking to a volley ball, it’s chock full of heart and speaks poignantly about humanity’s survival instinct.

  11. Stu

    Happy Birthday, Bobby Z. Any plans to shoot another live-action film at any point?

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