Robert Zemeckis, Top Ten

Robert Zemeckis: The Definitive Ranking

Robert Zemeckis is a wonderful talent who had his heyday back in the 80s and 90s. That could be called his Imperial Period where he dominated the box office and critical acclaim with such films as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, and Cast Away. He’s had stumbles here and there along the way, but he’s still an effective filmmaker.

He’s also changed remarkably as the decades have gone on. Watching his earliest films like I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Used Cars and then some of his later ones like Allied or Welcome to Marwen feels like the work of two completely different filmmakers, not one who just grew over time. With some filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman or Alfred Hitchcock, you can see a lot of the later filmmaker in the earlier one, but it’s harder to do with Zemeckis. You have to know exactly what to look for to see the common threads that connect his films. The similarities are less thematic and narrative and more technical and character based while the differences are largely based on tone and style.

Still, he moved from manic entertainments to adult dramas through a sort of weird animated phase and has come to settle on an attempt to continue his adult drama period that seems to have come to a crashing halt with a pair of financial duds. His new foray into children’s entertainment seems more derived from an effort to continue his career rather than being born from real creative desire. His career is not over, but it has been a fun one to explore.

Amazon.com : WELCOME TO MARWEN MOVIE POSTER 2 Sided ORIGINAL INTL Advance  27x40 STEVE CARELL : Everything Else

20. Welcome to Marwen

“Let’s just put this right out there: Robert Zemeckis was the wrong director for this job. Inside this bombastic and frankly odd combination of CGI laden fantasy and sad reality is a touching story of a broken man recovering from trauma through his unique little pocket of art. After Flight, it seemed like Zemeckis could deliver that little movie, but he cast aside everything small about this story in favor of over-produced spectacle that makes the central story trite at best.”

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19. The Polar Express

“The technical achievement is something to be admired, but narratively this movie is dead on arrival, only working in fits and starts in between other stuff.”

Amazon.com: What Lies Beneath Movie Poster (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm x 102cm)  (2000) -(Harrison Ford)(Michelle Pfeiffer)(Diana Scarwid)(Joe Morton)(James  Remar)(Miranda Otto): Prints: Posters & Prints

18. What Lies Beneath

“It’s an homage to Hitchcock that ends up feeling surprisingly generic as it continues, but the whole thing is buoyed by Zemeckis’ sheer talent as he imbues every big scene with enough style and suspense that it’s almost enough to make up for the movie’s generic nature. Almost.”

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17. Death Becomes Her

“So, it’s pretty consistently amusing and often quite funny, but the story takes forever to get going and the biggest character turn doesn’t feel right. I’m kind of mixed on the film, but I enjoyed it while I watched it.”

Amazon.com: Back to the Future, Part 2 Movie Poster (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm  x 102cm) (1989) -(Michael J. Fox)(Christopher Lloyd)(Lea Thompson)(Thomas  F. Wilson)(Harry Waters Jr.)(Charles Fleischer): Toys & Games

16. Back to the Future Part II

“It’s a near miss for me overall, though. The first act just feels way too disassociated from the rest of the film, feeling more like a precursor to Part III rather than the final two-thirds of Part II, for me to ignore. There’s definitely fun to be had, for sure, but I just hoped for more.”

The Witches (2020) - IMDb

15. The Witches

“Energetic, well-performed, and appealing, Robert Zemeckis’ apology for losing so much money on his last two movies is a fun diversion of a family film with a menacing villain and a winning performance by Octavia Spencer.”

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14. Romancing the Stone

Romancing the Stone is far from a challenging work, but it’s both of its time and works as a fun little adventure movie outside of it. It’s a good thing that audiences appreciated it in enough numbers, because if they hadn’t the rest of Zemeckis’ career might have never happened.”

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13. I Wanna Hold Your Hand

“It’s a fun film that uses body doubles amusingly to recreate the Beatles’ prime time performance. Energetically acted and with a really entertaining third act, it represents Zemeckis’ confident first step into feature filmmaking.”

Amazon.com: Forrest Gump Poster Movie (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm x 102cm)  (1994) (German Style A): Posters & Prints

12. Forrest Gump

“Overall Forrest Gump is a nice movie that takes the audience through a survey of 60s America with a likeable main character who always tries to make everyone around him better. It’s an appealing journey that’s easy to sit through and often quite funny, but it also seems to ride heavily on nostalgia that I don’t share, limiting its impact on me and potentially anyone else who doesn’t share in the same outlook on the 60s.”

Amazon.com: MG Poster Used Cars Movie Poster (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm x  102cm) (1980) Style B -(Kurt Russell)(Jack Warden)(Deborah Harmon)(Gerrit  Graham)(Joe Flaherty)(Michael McKean): Posters & Prints

11. Used Cars

“Early Robert Zemeckis movies tell me that Robert Zemeckis should never have worked from a large budget. His small movies have all of his charms and none of his major issues. He builds clockwork like plots, fills them with fun characters, and tells the stories with an infectious energy. He’s like Nolan with less pretention and a greater sense of fun. Used Cars is a very fun early example of how Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale could put their heads together to put on this kind of show.”

Amazon.com : THE WALK (2015) Original Movie Poster 27x40 - DS - Joseph  Gordon-Levitt - Ben Kingsley - Charlotte Le Bon - Ben Schwartz : Everything  Else

10. The Walk

“As a whole package, the movie it good, but that individual sequence is just so spectacular as that it could stand on its own as a short film.”

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9. A Christmas Carol

“Considering its heartfelt ending and wonderful performances and overall visual aesthetic, A Christmas Carol is a quality film that is one firm rewrite from being great.”

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8. Beowulf

“Moving on, though, the movie’s approach to the material, as implied, is really smart. It’s not just a monster movie, but an exploration of bravery, heroism, and the costs of power. It takes a different approach than the original poem, but that’s fine by me.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III MICHAEL J. FOX STRUZAN ART 1990 ORIGINAL 27X40  DS ONE SHEET MOVIE POSTER ROLLED at Amazon's Entertainment Collectibles  Store

7. Back to the Future Part III

“From beginning to end, this is much more confident and assured storytelling on the part of Robert Zemeckis, standing on its own far better than the previous film while also giving Doc a surprisingly effective little love story.”

Amazon.com : Flight - Movie Poster - 2012'- 48 in. x 70 in. : Everything  Else

6. Flight

“This is a wonderful character study of a broken man forced to face the reality of his own faults through an act of heroism and its aftermath. This is the work of a skilled technical director using the medium to craft an emotional product of a truly human situation.”

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5. Allied

Allied is the work of a very skilled technical director working from an intelligent and tense script by Steven Knight. Paced steadily with an eye towards character and intrigue, the film is a quality addition to a strong filmography.”

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4. Cast Away

Cast Away is a great technical achievement, which is no surprise from Zemeckis, but it’s also incredibly intelligent thematically and mature cinematically. Zemeckis has grown into an incredibly assured filmmaker. I hope he doesn’t fall in love with weird computer animation, though. That would be weird.”

Amazon.com: Who Framed Roger Rabbit Poster Movie (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm x  102cm) (1988) (Style B): Posters & Prints

3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit

“There’s such multi-faceted fun to be had with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. From the technical performances to the narrative, this film is a joy to watch. Zemeckis took on a difficult job and made it seem almost effortless. Terry Gilliam actually turned down the offer to direct this simply because if felt like too much work. I’d be curious to see what Gilliam would have made of it, but what Zemeckis made was wonderful.”

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2. Back to the Future

“The film has all of the hallmarks of a Zemeckis and Gale production at their most enjoyable. The long opening shot that introduces Doc’s workshop is evocative of Hitchcock’s opening shot of Rear Window, revealing key pieces of character and plot information elegantly. It’s paced quickly, never slogging down in unnecessary details, always successfully pushing the story forward.  It’s energetic, fun, and expertly crafted. This is Zemeckis and Gale have a ball and inviting the audience along for the fun.”

Amazon.com: Contact Movie Poster (27 x 40 Inches - 69cm x 102cm) (1997)  -(Jodie Foster)(Matthew McConaughey)(James Woods)(Tom Skerritt)(Angela  Bassett)(John Hurt): Prints: Posters & Prints

1. Contact

“This is one of those movies where I know from the opening shot that I’m watching something incredibly special. The opening is so unique, confident, clear, and effective that I know I’m in the exact right hands to tell this story.”

25 thoughts on “Robert Zemeckis: The Definitive Ranking”

    1. My list is definitive, dammit. I know yours would put Contact lower. What would you put first?

      Fellini will be next. My mom bought me the new Criterion box set of 14 of his films. Missing 5, which I should be able to find. That set should be here by tomorrow, which is a full 5 days before release. Advantages of pre-ordering directly from Criterion I suppose.

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      1. Hmm, for personal enjoyment, I’d probably put ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ as first.
        Back to the Future would probably belong on top as far as being ‘successful’ as well as cultural impact.

        Ugh. Fellini. You’ll probably have a lot of fun with him. 🙂
        I’m still doing Sean Connery month with the wife. The Untouchables is tonight’s film.

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      2. Also Ugh. Saw Satyricon in college, the college movie theater did some of the European arty type things, that did it for me. European films had quite a run for a while in the 60’s and 70’s, they barely get any play in the US anymore.

        Ever thought of doing Wyler or Hawks? That would give you plenty of material. I love Wyler, no flash, no particular trademark, just a great story teller.

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      3. Fellini Satyricon is late Fellini which is very different from Early Fellini that fit very easily in the Italian neo-realist school. He’s an example of a director who greatly changed over time.

        I’ve considered Wyler in particular (I watched and reviewed The Little Foxes a little while ago which helped put the thought in my brain), and the only major question is getting all of his stuff. The problem with Wyler (and Ford and to a lesser extent Hawkes) is that they have shockingly long filmographies because they started in the early studio system. They churned out several movies a year for several years in the late silent and early talkie era. So the question becomes: Where do I start? Being the completist, I want to get to it all, but then it becomes daunting.

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