Ranked: All 17 Of The Films Of Robert Zemeckis

This weekend brings the true story of The Walk to theaters everywhere after an exclusive IMAX 3D engagement began last week. Director Robert Zemeckis has finally figured out a way to use 3D to his advantage, and without hollow, haunting motion capture characters , by crafting one of the most breathtaking, suspenseful sequences that film has seen in a long time.

So as the tale of wire walker Philipe Petit's daring stunt between the Twin Towers gets a wide release this weekend, it's the perfect time to look back at the films of Robert Zemeckis. Beginning with his first feature film in 1978 and running through this year's The Walk, we have all of the Robert Zemeckis films ranked. Which one made #1?

#17. A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

As someone who always hopes Jim Carrey can use his wide range of acting skills to make another great movie, it's tough to watch one like this. Carrey clearly has a lot of fun playing multiple characters in this motion capture, computer animated retelling of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, but unfortunately the audience doesn't get to join him. Thankfully this turned out to be Zemeckis' final foray into motion capture movie making, but the quality of lifelike characters is barely improved from his first effort in 2004 (we'll get to that later). That only makes it even more of a stale adaptation of a story that we've seen told much better countless times before.

#16. Beowulf


Arriving just three years after The Polar Express, it was surprising to see such an adult story told with motion capture technology. Maybe it's because audiences had never really seen a mature tale told with technology usually reserved for family films, or maybe it's because Zemeckis never figured out how to bring characters to life with motion capture technology that don't look like mannequin imitations of actors who just happen to have the ability to walk and talk, but the powerful epic poem is made weak by this film adaptation. But I suppose we should give Zemeckis credit for making someone as stunning as Angelina Jolie look so creepy when walking naked out of a pool of water.

#15. The Polar Express

The Polar Express

For me, The Polar Express is the best film Robert Zemeckis made with motion capture technology, but it's still not very good. However, as a holiday movie, it does have a certain amount of appeal and charm. There are some parts of it that have the flare of an Amblin adventure, and there's some genuine heart here as well. However, it's all overshadowed by the glass-eyed motion capture characters that suck the life out of every moment that could have made this movie a real classic. Plus, Tom Hanks unnecessarily playing a variety of characters, including the creepiest Santa Claus you've ever seen is a frustrating distraction and waste of his talent.

#14. What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

Robert Zemeckis tried his best to craft his own Hitchcockian thriller, but despite a pair of solid performances from Harrison Ford (getting surprisingly villainous) and Michelle Pfeiffer, it doesn't quite connect. The biggest problem seems to be a script that just doesn't measure up to the talent on screen and behind the camera. And while it's refreshing that Zemeckis decided to make such a low key thriller, it also feels like a film that was made hastily between the making of another film, which is exactly when it was shot. While Tom Hanks lost weight and grew an impressively scraggly beard for Cast Away, Zemeckis made What Lies Beneath. It's a shame he hasn't tried to do something like this when he has the time to give it his full attention.

Fun Fact: Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson of The Avengers, wrote the script.

#13. Flight

FlightDenzel Washington and John Goodman are the only reasons to take the time to watch this character piece, but otherwise, Flight feels like it's building to something and never quite gets there. Washington brings plenty of gravitas to the role of substance abusing pilot Whip Whitaker, but Zemeckis really piles on the drama when he probably should have been a little more subdued in this instance (though that's never been his style). Flight isn't terrible, but it suffers from walking ground that has already been explored by several other competent directors in more interesting ways.

#12. Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her

Robert Zemeckis has always been obsessed with state of the art special effects and filmmaking technology, so it's no surprise that after the crowning achievement that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, he follows it up with the strange, effects-driven comedy Death Becomes Her. This is a fun film that doesn't entirely know what it wants to be, but in a way, that almost adds to the Frankenstein-esque nature of the story, taking parts from almost every film genre. It certainly feels dated, though it does have some very impressive special effects for the time, not to mention truly unique performances from Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis. If anything, it's one of those movies you should watch just to see it for yourself.

Back to the Future Part III set video

#11. Back to the Future Part III

It may be the worst Back to the Future movie, but it's still a Back to the Future movie, which makes it supremely entertaining. Continuing to solidify that the western is nowhere near as exciting as it once was, the 1885 setting does make Back to the Future a little less exciting, even though this is by far the silliest film in the trilogy. But the dynamic between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd elevates things at least a little bit, and seeing the end of their story does have a certain appeal. However, when that ending includes a time traveling, flying train that basically makes the some of the plot points of the previous two films null and void, then you have made the black sheep of a classic film trilogy.

#10. Used Cars

Used CarsKurt Russell doesn't do as many comedies as he used to in the 80s and 90s, and if you sit down to rewatch Used Cars, you'll understand why that's such a shame. It's not easy to make a shuckster car salesman who actively wants to become a corrupt politician into a likeable character, but Russell sells it just as hard as Rudy Russo. This is a true American screwball comedy, following an escalating feud between two competing car dealerships owned by two brothers who couldn't be more different from each other (both played by Jack Warden). It's on the same level as a Stripes or Animal House with the slightest indication of a story driving the wild antics of its characters, and it's just a blast, especially the Mad Max-esque climax featuring a flurry of cars driving across the desert. No seriously, that's what happens (and keep an eye out for Marty McFly's brother and sister in bit parts). If you haven't seen it, you're missing out.

#9. The Walk

The Walk Early Buzz

This story is much more broad than it could have been, making it feel like a condensed, French Forrest Gump, especially with the continuing narration and cuts to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit telling his story as if he's on a theater stage made to look like the torch from the Statue of Liberty. But the final 45-minutes of the film make up for the lighter, artificial preceding storytelling. The Coup, as it's called by Petit and his crew, is full of some of the most exhilarating, suspenseful and intense moments the big screen has seen in years. And Zemeckis actually heightens these feelings with the impressive use of IMAX 3D, putting you on the wire right along with Petit in spectacular fashion. It's rare that a movie can have big flaws and yet leave you so satisfied, but The Walk pulls it off.

#8. I Wanna Hold Your Hand

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

More than likely, you've never heard of this movie. I know that when I set out to rank the films of Robert Zemeckis, I wasn't familiar with it at all. But with such an appealing premise, I sought out the movie and couldn't have been happier that I did. In what is essentially Fanboys set during Beatlemania in the 60s, the story follows four girls who will do whatever they have to in order to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four when they make their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It's a lively, fun flick that takes a look back at the previous decade with a reserved but smart fondness for the time without being overly nostalgic, just like American Graffiti. Why this film has been forgotten, I couldn't tell you, but that needs to change.

#7. Contact


It's not easy to take such dense sci-fi and turn it into a touching, entertaining movie, but Zemeckis finally brought Contact to theaters after Carl Sagan's book was in development hell for nearly 20 years. It's a little schmaltzy and heavy-handed at times, but the likes of Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Skerritt do a great job giving weight to dialogue that otherwise might feel like a lecture on science, religion and philosophy, with the former giving one of the best performances of her career. It also helps that this is one of the most realistic depictions of how our society would approach the discovery of alien messages, though it does spiral out of control towards the end. Still, as a whole, Contact is ambitious and mesmerizing.

#6. Romancing the Stone

Romancing the Stone

Don't write this off as an Indiana Jones copy, because this romantic comedy adventure gives more time to developing a couple of great characters than focusing on the adventure. Kathleen Turner plays a lonely romance novelist who gets caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Michael Douglas, who seems to be a rugged, charming trope straight out of her own writing. But the eventual chase for treasure is just the backdrop for a great romance between two characters who lead completely different lives, but end up needing each other more than they might have thought. It has the style of an old serial without treading on the territory already masterfully explored by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and if you haven't seen Romancing the Stone, it's much better than you'd expect it to be. As a surprise hit, this movie made Back to the Future possible, giving Zemeckis a future in filmmaking that we are all thankful for.

Back to the Future Part II

#5. Back to the Future Part II

It's hard to believe that we're now in the future that this time traveling sequel predicted, and sadly we don't all have hoverboards yet (though they do now exist). But even knowing that our future is nothing like the 2015 shown in this movie, it's still a stellar sci-fi sequel that builds upon the original by upping the stakes and even returning to the 1955 setting of the first movie. It's a little more goofy than the first movie, but the spirit is still there, and it's chock full of some classic sequences, including that iconic hoverboard chase, that make it one of the most enjoyable sequels ever made.

#4. Forrest Gump

Forrest GumpForrest Gump has consistently received grief for beating out Pulp Fiction for Best Picture in 1994, but it's no reason to discredit what is one of the best slices of Americana that has ever graced the big screen. Sure, it's mawkish throughout, but Tom Hanks brings this story to life in a way that few actors could. The film's journey through some of the most pivotal moments in American's history makes it a generation defining movie that shouldn't be cast asunder just for being accessible. Forrest Gump is a modern classic, and it has everything that makes a movie truly great, including lines that audiences will never forget.

#3. Cast Away

Cast Away

When it comes to Robert Zemeckis and drama, it doesn't get better than Cast Away. In a tour de force performance, Tom Hanks does all the heavy-lifting as a man stranded on an island, allowing him to gain some new perspective on life, though not in some hammy, overbearing way. It's grounded, harrowing and extremely powerful. Zemeckis makes you care about a relationship between a man and a volleyball, for crying out loud! With the exception of the film's opening, this is easily the most quiet, reserved film that Zemeckis has ever made, and it makes us wish he would take the time to venture away from spectacle more often.

#2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

A genuine film noir with cartoon characters in the real world? The concept alone is better than some movies, and it's more than satisfying to see that Robert Zemeckis successfully combined his love for innovative technology with two classic forms of cinema and combined them all in one of the most creative and entertaining films to come out of the 80s. The late Bob Hoskins puts in one of the best performances of his career, and we get to see Romancing the Stone star Kathleen Turner reunite with Zemeckis to become one of the most sultry cartoon characters ever created. But perhaps the most impressive feat is bringing together the cartoons of Warner Bros. and Disney, something that will likely never happen again.

#1. Back to the Future

Back in Time trailer

This movie is perfect. Hollywood doesn't make movies like this anymore, mostly because scripts that are this airtight, creative and fantastic are either hard to come by, or studios just aren't willing to take a chance on them. For a sci-fi element as complex as time travel, this movie has the most simple story that never lets itself get too complicated. This movie is the definition of iconic, and it's because Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote a script that is imaginative and fun, with characters that you're with every step of the way and have influenced cinema for decades now, not to mention a villain that you love to hate. This wasn't a script that was written with the intention of selling toys, or launching a franchise (the sequel tag was just meant to be a gag), and without being hyperbolic, it's undoubtedly one of the best movies ever made.


If you have any dissension to express, you know what to do. Otherwise, The Walk hits theaters everywhere this weekend, but this is one of the rare times where I can't implore you enough to spend the extra money to check this one out in IMAX 3D, if only just for the visual spectacle of the finale.

Plus, don't forget that this month is a big one for Robert Zemeckis since Back to the Future has turned 30 years old, and the predicted future of its sequel has arrived albeit without double ties and flying cars. Don't forget that a bunch of anniversary celebrations and promotions are coming this month and beyond, which you can find out more about right here.