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"Good directing is good writing and good casting."

Robert Lee Zemeckis (born May 14, 1952) is an Academy Award-winning American director, most famous for the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump.

He 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 (1979) (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 two 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.

After the box office cataclysm that was Mars Needs Moms caused the mo-cap animation division of 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 Carsnote ). It was a critical and commercial success, and helped usher in a Career Resurrection.

Zemeckis followed Flight with The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in 2015 and Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, in 2016. This was in turn followed with Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell and released in December 2018, an adaptation of The Witches, starring Anne Hathaway and Chris Rock and released in October 2020, and a remake of Disney's Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks and released in September 2022. Zemeckis is also attached to direct an adaptation of the graphic novel Here by Richard McGuire, where he'll reunite Hanks with Forrest Gump co-star Robin Wright.


Filmography:


Common tropes in his films:

  • The Alcoholic: Alcoholism was a noticeably recurring theme in his works with characters hitting the sauce usually following a Cynicism Catalyst or Heroic BSoD. Notable examples include Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ernest Menville in Death Becomes Her, and Doc Brown and Lorraine McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. This was even the major central conflict for Whip Whitaker in Flight.
  • Associated Composer: Ever since Romancing the Stone, composing legend Alan Silvestri has scored every one of Zemeckis' works; the iconic Back to the Future theme included. His collaboration with Zemeckis is right up there with the likes of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman as well as Steven Spielberg and John Williams and also John Landis and Elmer Bernstein as well as David Cronenberg and Howard Shore.
  • Breakthrough Hit: Romancing the Stone propelled him to big-time household name status while Back to the Future helped solidify it.
  • 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.
  • Career Resurrection: Zig-zagged. His Motion Capture films barely made a dent in his career, but his critical feedback improved immensely after Flight. However the following three films he made all tanked at the box office, while the next two after were released straight to streaming, putting him on the back foot again.
  • Creator Killer: While Mars Needs Moms didn't damage his career (as he was only a producer and not the director), it did lead to the closure of the ImageMovers Digital division of his production company and convinced him to return to live-action staring with Flight, which received critical acclaim. After both The Walk and Allied bombed, Welcome to Marwen might be this for him as an original theatrical filmmaker after it tied for the worst opening weekend of the year and is on course to lose the studio $60 million. (His next two films both went to streaming services.) Having said that, he's still slated to direct a big-screen adaptation of the graphic novel Here, starring Tom Hanks and Robin Wright, both of whom previously worked with him on Forrest Gump, which could revive his career.
  • Doing It for the Art: Zemeckis said in an interview that a movie he made could only make a dollar at the box office and he still would have been happy with the film.
  • Genre Roulette: Action-adventure (Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), comedy (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars), science fiction (Back to the Future, Contact), fantasy (Beowulf), horror and Black Comedy (Death Becomes Her, What Lies Beneath), drama (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Flight), biopic (The Walk), espionage thriller (Allied) and holiday (The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol).
  • Meaningful Background Event: In his earlier works, some shots will linger on one or more characters talking or doing something while there's activity among others in the background that they aren't aware of.
  • Motion Capture: From about 2004-2011, Zemeckis made nothing but Motion Capture movies which always proved to be commercial successes. After the abysmal failure of Mars Needs Moms (which he didn't direct, yet had his production company behind it) helped shut down the animation division of his studio, he's back to making live-action movies.
  • Signature Style: Loves to use big musical cues to highlight important reveals and plot developments, along with musical crescendos. The Back to the Future trilogy is filled with them. He is also always on the cusp of advancing film technology with many of his films Starring Special Effects, Double Vision, Motion Capture, or blending actors into historical settings.
  • 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 advancementinvoked. 3 of 4 films he made even won the Best Visual Effects Oscar.note 
  • Tom Hanks Syndrome: A director example and also zig-zagged. He started off with relatively lighthearted, effects-laden action-adventure, fantasy and comedy films (Used Cars, Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her) before veering off into heavy dramatic territory (Forrest Gump, Cast Away note , Contact). Then after starting ImageMovers Digital, he went back to fantasy (The Polar Express, Beowulf) before, once again, heading into drama (Flight, The Walk, Allied). That being said, many of his fantasy and adventure works are not without their serious moments.
  • 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.

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