Academy Award-winning director of the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis started off as a protégé of Steven Spielberg in The '70s. Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale (they were collectively known as The Bobs) wrote several cult films which flopped during this time, including I Wanna Hold Your Hand (directed by Zemeckis), 1941 (directed by Spielberg) and Used Cars (directed by Zemeckis).Zemeckis first hit it big in The '80s directing the light-hearted adventure film Romancing the Stone. He followed it up with Back to the Future (which The Bobs had written a few years before, but couldn't get made) and Roger Rabbit. At the end of the decade, The Bobs made sequels to Back to the Future to please Universal's executives. Starting in The '90s, Zemeckis went on to direct more "serious" fare such as Forrest Gump, Contact and Cast Away.At the Turn of the Millennium, Zemeckis made several animated films with performance capture technology, giving us The Polar Express, Beowulf (2007) and A Christmas Carol (2009). Responses to these films are mixed, mostly due to how disturbing they all looked, and this phase of his career is now considered his Dork Age. After the box office cataclysm that was Mars Needs Moms caused his studio to shut down, he then had to head back to live-action cinema. In 2012 he released Flight starring Denzel Washington, his first live-action movie in 12 years (and his first R-rated movie as a director since 1980's Used Cars - The Bobs' script The Looters, written in the pre-McFly era, was made by Walter Hill Hill in 1992 as Trespass). It was a critical and commercial success, and helped usher in a Career Resurrection.His most recent film Allied starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard was released in 2016. His next film, The Women Of Marwen, starring Steve Carell is to be released in November 2018.
Common tropes in his films:
- Acting for Two
- Chekhov's Gun: Zemeckis was a master of what he referred to as "setup and payoff", a storytelling technique that relies on setting up seemingly irrelevant details or statements that have importance that only comes later in the payoff.
- Genre Roulette: From making comedies in his early career, to action adventures (Romancing the Stone) to sci-fi (Back to the Future) to live-action/animated mysteries (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) to westerns (Back to the Future Part III) to black comedy (Death Becomes Her) comedy-drama's (Forrest Gump) to straight up dramas (Cast Away and Flight) to horror-suspense (What Lies Beneath) to christmas movies (The Polar Express) to folklore (Beowulf) to biographical dramas (The Walk) to war romance thrillers (Allied) to his upcoming film The Women of Marwen a fantasy psychological drama. Is there a genre this man hasn't touched?
- Historical In-Joke
- It Will Never Catch On
- Loads and Loads of Roles: The two Christmas-set motion capture films do this with their principal actors.
- Also did this with the Back to the Future sequels, where Michael J. Fox played Marty McFly and numerous members of his family.
- Motion Capture: From about 2004-2011, Zemeckis made nothing but Motion Capture movies which always proved to be commercial successes in spite of falling into the Uncanny Valley. After the abysmal failure of Mars Needs Moms (which he didn't direct, yet had his production company behind it.) helped shut down his studio, he's back to making live action movies.
- The Oner
- Period Piece
- Playing Against Type: Often casts actors this way.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: With only a few exceptions like Death Becomes Her and perhaps Used Cars, his works are very much on the optimistic side due to the amount of heart found in his films and his positive and in-depth take on the human spirit.
- Starring Special Effects: Many of his films, even the live-action ones, are quite the pioneers in special effects advancement.
- Time Travel
- Trailers Always Spoil: Intentionally does this with his films (the one for Cast Away gives away that he does get off the island while the one for What Lies Beneath gives away Harrison Ford as the bad guy, which renders the first 90 minutes of the heroine trying to figure it out moot.) He says that the market research shows that people want to know everything before going in.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: The Back To The Future sequels and Forrest Gump.