Robert Zemeckis has been directing movies in Hollywood for more than three and a half decades. That’s nothing short of incredible! Hollywood can be a ruthless industry after all, and to survive for such a long period requires delivering the goods on a consistent basis. Zemeckis has done that with aplomb, reaching out to all sorts of genres that he could lay his hand on, finding some of the most incredible unforgettable stories, and creating some of the finest movies which continue to shine even decades after their release. For this year, Zemeckis has a true event to recite on the big screen – the famous daredevil walk of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. The movie, aptly titled The Walk, has a wide release in North America this weekend as well as some foreign markets. The early reviews of this movie have been quite fantastic, but how well would The Walk compare with the best works of Robert Zemeckis? It would be such a tough challenge for any upcoming movie of Zemeckis to match with his finest works, because he has set the bar so so high. I have taken the liberty to point out the following three films as the greatest Zemeckis’ movies of all time, but even if you would have ranked them differently or had a different movie altogether, you may not be off the mark at all. Such is the variety and quality that Zemeckis has brought on the big screen!
#3 Cast Away (2000)
Production Budget: $90 million
Box-office revenues: $430 million
Top performer: Tom Hanks
Memorable line: WILSON!
Zemeckis gave us a modern-day version of Robinson Crusoe by putting Tom Hanks on a deserted island with only a volleyball for company. If there is one actor whom you can bet your life’s money on to pull off an incredible performance without a single other soul on screen, then that actor has to be Tom Hanks. He just did that in Cast Away, a role that won him a Golden Globe and got him an Oscar nomination. But while we saw Hanks steal the show on-screen, it was the maturity of Zemeckis’ direction that was the star off-screen. A tale of despair and worry became a bigger tale of survival that kept you hooked through its entire 140-minute or so of run-time. Cast Away released just a few months after another Zemeckis movie, What Lies Beneath, which had supernatural elements along with a mystery theme (it was supposed to be a homage to Alfred Hitchcock) – that itself shows the versatility of Zemeckis in directing almost any genre with usually successful results.
#2 Forrest Gump (1994)
Production Budget: $55 million
Box-office revenues: $678 million
Top performer: Tom Hanks
Memorable line: My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
In 1994, Robert Zemeckis not only gave to the world one of his greatest movies, but also one of the greatest movies of cinema ever. A remarkable screenplay by Eric Roth, based on the book by Winston Groom, narrates the story of a slow-witted and naïve, but a good-hearted man who witnesses, and also influences, some of the defining events of the latter half of the 20th century in the United States. I still cannot figure out how Zemeckis put such a lengthy story, laden with numerous characters, into a 142-minute movie without missing a step in the narrative. The adventures of Forrest Gump would have been worthy of a trilogy, but Zemeckis paced the film beautifully so as to enclose Gump’s life story in one film. The movie has a bucket-load of emotions flowing through it, each finding enough screen-time to create an impact; it has drama and humour mixed with action and romance; it has Tom Hanks in one of his greatest ever roles that won him an Oscar (along with five others for the movie, including for Best Director); and it has that one thing in abundance that most of us seek in a movie – wholesome entertainment!
#1 Back to the Future trilogy (1985 – 1990)
Production Budget: $99 million
Box-office revenues: $965 million
Top performer: Michael J. Fox
Memorable line: Yeah, well, history is gonna change.
So I had to combine the three films of this famous franchise together, otherwise there would not have been any other movie to discuss about. But that is doing a disservice to Robert Zemeckis. Back to the Future trilogy consists of three amazing movies, each one of which shines as a standalone movie too. Just randomly pick anyone from the shelf, and you will enjoy watching it, I guarantee. While the first movie is a classic undoubtedly, the sequel carried a much darker theme in its underbelly that unnerved a lot of people, but that set the movie apart from the ‘feel-good’ adventure of the first. The third movie was set in the Wild West which gave it a charm of its own, giving the film an individuality while at the same time, keeping it within the rules of the series. That is how Robert Zemeckis went about creating one of the greatest sci-fi movie series in the history of cinema, which even after three decades, can hold its own. The two bright lights of this series – Michael J. Fox as the lively Marty McFly and Christopher Llyod as the eccentric Doc – connect the entire movie series together as Robert Zemeckis sent them to another time period and on another adventure each time they came home. Zemeckis messed around with science without disrespecting it; in fact, he made science a leading hero of this series, something that is not followed enough by directors in today’s age. Zemeckis challenged our regular ideas and notions about time, then twisted them around with an explanation, and weaved a thrilling adventure for us to enjoy. The visual effects were amazing for its time, for which I will hand out additional points to the franchise. Three decades have passed since Back to the Future, and even now, when it comes to a pure time travel adventure film, Zemeckis’ best remains difficult to surpass!