Ranked: All 17 of The Films of Robert Zemeckis

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 Cars

Kurt 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

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.

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