One of the best directors of his generation, Robert Zemeckis has always been on the forefront of innovation in moviemaking. Bottom line, if you told this guy something couldn’t be done in one of his movies, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s probably one of the reasons why we haven’t seen him direct a live-action motion picture in well over a decade. In that time he concentrated his efforts on developing and expanding the tech that allowed him to bring to the big screen computer generated films with fully motion captured actors. Films such as The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, advancing the tech each and every time.
To celebrate the return of Robert Zemeckis to live-action with the R-rated drama Flight, we’ll be looking at the top 10 adjusted for inflation highest grossing films of his directing career. All numbers are from North America (which includes Canada for those still wondering) since we can’t really adjust 30 year old movies for inflation internationally.
10. Back to the Future Part 3 (1990) $166.3 million ($87.7M) – In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m kind of biased towards Robert Zemeckis since he is one of my favorite directors of all time. That being said, even the best of the best out there make mistakes. Some consider this film to be such a mistake. Having seen this at a very young age (and many more times since then), I can’t really be objective here. I loved this film for being another Back to the Future and hated it at the same time because it was the last one and maybe didn’t live up to the standards set by its predecessors.
9. Contact (1997) $17.3 million ($100.9M) – If you have even the slightest interest in sci-fi and don’t mind a film that’s not afraid to take things slow (and by that I mean 1979 Alien slow, not 2012 Prometheus slow). Contact goes above and beyond what you expect from the typical genre flick and for that there aren’t good enough words to recommend this masterpiece. But beware, clocking at 150 minutes, Contact will test your patience.
8. Romancing the Stone (1984) $182.7 million ($76.5M) – The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark back in 1981 spawned quite a few similarly themed flicks that tried to replicate the formula and box office numbers of that film. Romancing the Stone was one such film and it actually worked, becoming the first proper hit for director Robert Zemeckis. Fox fast-tracked a sequel for the following year, The Jewell of the Nile, and while Zemeckis did not return the film turned out to be just as successful in theaters.
7. What Lies Beneath (2000) $231.3 million ($155.4M) – Being involved with the classic TV show Tales from the Crypt for many years, Robert Zemeckis always had a soft spot for horror and mystery. What Lies Beneath was the perfect film for him with just the right amount of supernatural elements, scares and surprises to keep you glued to your seat for the entire duration. It might not be anything a seasoned horror fan hasn’t seen before, but it’s a lot of fun to watch even 12 years later.
6. The Polar Express (2004) $233.5 million ($182.7M) – This was the first CGI film Robert Zemeckis did and for its time, wow, it was something else. I remember seeing trailers for The Polar Express on TV and at times thinking: “is this real, no, oh wait, no, hmm”. Today it might not seem as impressive but believe me; 8 years ago minds were blown. Visuals aside, The Polar Express was a great Christmas movie for the entire family.
5. Back to the Future Part 2 (1989) $235.3 million ($118.4M) – In 1985, Back to the Future ended on a cliff-hanger, something people certainly were not expecting from a new intellectual property back then. So this sequel happened 4 years later and it completely delivered on everything I was expecting from the follow-up to one of my favorite films. On the flip side, you have to watch the movies in order to get the full experience, Back to the Future Part 2 will not stand on its own feet (unlike the first one).
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) $305.2 million ($156.4M) – Blending live-action with hand-drawn animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a man, a women, and a rabbit. Besides that it’s actually a hilarious comedy with a little bit of everything sprinkled all over. Really, if you’re a fan of hand-drawn toons, Who Framed Roger Rabbit should be on the top shelf in your personal collection. You know, the one you revisit every year.
3. Cast Away (2000) $335.9 million ($233.6M) – Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks make a great pair, with the latter being like the butter to the first one’s bread. Cast Away is a modern Robinson Crusoe story in which a volley ball plays the part of Friday. I am dead serious, by the end of this film you will want to own a Wilson volley ball, draw a smiley face over it and shout “I’m sorry WILSON”, with tears all over your face. Joking aside, Cast Away is an amazing movie.
2. Back to the Future (1985) $473.5 million ($210.6M) – This is the reason why Robert Zemeckis couldn’t do the sequel to Romancing the Stone, and boy am I happy he chose Back to the Future instead. It was by far the highest grossing film of 1985 and spawned a big screen trilogy, an animated series, quite a few video games (check out the more recent Telltale Back to the Future episodic game) and more. I can’t recommend this timeless masterpiece enough.
1. Forrest Gump (1994) $629.9 million ($329.6M) – If I made a top 5 of my favorite films ever, Forrest Gump would probably find its way on there. I mean where to start, there are so many great things about this movie. The acting (the performances of Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise are Oscar worthy to say the least), the writing (great dialog and storytelling), visuals (phenomenal cinematography and Oscar winning state of the art visual effects), music (Oscar nominated score by Alan Silvestri) and obviously direction. In 1995 Forrest Gump won 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
At the end I have an honorable mention that didn’t make this top 10, Death Becomes Her, a funny dark comedy with horror elements and everything we’ve come to expect from Robert Zemeckis. If you haven’t seen this 1992 gem yet, do yourself a favor and rectify that as soon as possible.
Now if you could chose just one Robert Zemeckis film, which one would it be? Me, as much as I love Forrest Gump, I’d still pick Back to the Future any day.