Robert Zemeckis
Birth Date:
May 14, 1952
Birth Place:
Chicago, Illinois, USA
6' (1.83 m)
Famous for:
Director of 'Back to the Future' (1985)
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Forrest Gump


“I won an Academy Award when I was 44 years old, but I paid for it with my 20s. That decade of my life from film school till 30 was nothing but work, nothing but absolute driving work. I had no money. I had no life.” Robert Zemeckis

Academy Award winning American film director, producer and screenwriter Robert Zemeckis picked up his Oscar for directing the Tom Hanks starring vehicle “Forrest Gump” (1994), from which he also netted a Golden Globe Award and a Directors Guild of America Award. First attracting notice as a student of USC with his award winning short “A Field of Honor” (1973), Zemeckis turned to motion pictures directing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (1978). He did not gain his first box office success until he directed “Romancing the Stone” (1984). His big breakthrough arrived the following year with the blockbuster time travel comedy “Back to the Future” (1986), which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay that he shared with long time partner Bob Gale. He went on to score box office with the Oscar winning live action/animated movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”(1988), the “Back to the Future” sequels “Back to the Future Part II” (1989) and “Back to the Future Part III” (1990), “Cast Away” (2000), “The Polar Express” (2004), “Beowulf” (2007) and “A Christmas Carol” (2009). Since the early 1990s, the owner of two production companies (ImageMovers and DarkCastle Entertainment; co-owns with Joel Silver) has extensively pursued his producing career. His producing credits include the movies “Trespass” (1992), “House on Haunted Hill” (1999), “Ghost Ship” (2002), “Gothika” (2003) and “Matchstick Men” (2003). He served as an executive producer of the long running horror TV series “Tales from the Crypt” (1989-1996).

Zemeckis was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004 thanks to his contribution to the film industry. A year later, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Visual Effects Society. He also earned a Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award from the 2001 American Cinema Editors, a ShoWest Award for Director of the Year at the 1995 ShoWest Convention and the George Pal Memorial Award at the 1995 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

Zemeckis has been married twice. He shares one son with first wife Mary Ellen Trainor (together from 1980 to 2000). He is currently married to actress Leslie Zemeckis.

USC Graduate

Childhood and Family:

Son of a Lithuanian father and an Italian American mother, Robert Lee Zemeckis was born on May 14, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois. He was raised in a working class Roman Catholic family. He recalled, “The truth was that in my family there was no art. I mean, there was no music, there were no books, there was no theater. The only thing I had that was inspirational was television and it actually was.”

Robert began making 8mm films with his family's home video camera when he was in junior high school. Learning about the existence of film schools through an episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he told his family he wanted to study filmmaking.

“My parents would sit there and say, 'Don't you see where you come from? You can't be a movie director.' I guess maybe some of it I felt I had to do in spite of them too.” Robert Zemeckis

Bob entered Northern Illinois University, but quit after two years to study at the University of Southern California. He graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film in 1973. While at USC, Bob met and developed a close friendship with future screenwriting collaborator Bob Gale. He was also classmates with George Lucas and John Milius, among others.

On July 26, 1980, Bob married actress Mary Ellen Trainor (born on July 8, 1950). They welcomed a son named Alexander Francis Zemeckis on December 11, 1985, but divorced in 2000. Bob had directed his wife in the films “Romancing the Stone” (1984), “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), “Death Becomes Her” (1992) and “Forrest Gump” (1994). On December 4, 2001, he married his second wife, actress Leslie Zemeckis.

Back to the Future


Robert Zemeckis made his first professional short, “The Lift,” a 7 minute student film, in 1972. He followed it up by directing the award winning “A Field of Honor” (1973), which he co-wrote with fellow USC student Bob Gale. The film won the Special Jury Award for Dramatic at the 1975 Student Academy Awards and put the two on the radar of USC alumni John Milius and Steven Spielberg.

After making a brief venture to television by contributing to the story in an episode of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” called “Chopper” (1975), Zemeckis made his feature film directing debut with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (1978), which he also co-wrote with Gale and was executive produced by Spielberg. A comedy about three young girls trying to meet the Beatles before they go on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” the film earned positive reviews from critics but was a disappointment at the box office. The cast included Nancy Allen, Wendie Jo Sperber, Theresa Saldana, Bobby DiCicco, Wendy Jo Sperber and Eddie Deeze. Zemeckis was reunited with Gale to write the screenplay of the comedy “1941” (1979). The film was directed by Spielberg and starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

Zemeckis returned to the director's chair to helm the movie “Used Cars” (1980), starring Kurt Russell and Jack Warden. He co-wrote the screenplay with his partner Gale. The film, which was executive produced by Spielberg and Milius, was largely ignored by audiences but has since attained a cult following thanks to the dark, cynical wit and style of Zemeckis. It was not until 1984 that the director enjoyed his first box office hit with the adventurous love story “Romancing the Stone,” which starred Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny Devito. The film grossed over $86 million at the worldwide box office and an additional $36 million in video rentals. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing and won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical (Turner). The film featured a music score by composer Alan Silvestri, marking the beginning of his partnership with Silvestri.

Zemeckis gained even greater victory when he wrote (with Gale), directed and produced the comedy film “Back to the Future” (1985, Spielberg served as executive producer). A story of a 1980s teenager who is accidentally sent back to the 1950s, the film collected over $210 million at the domestic box office and over $170 million in foreign countries. It was considered a huge commercial success against an estimated production cost of $19 million and was the top grossing film of the year. It has since become one of 100 highest grossing films of all time. Also a hit with critics, “Back to the Future” won one out of four Academy Award nominations with Zemeckis earning his first nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. “Back to the Future” starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover.

The following year, Zemeckis made his TV directing debut by helming the episode “Go to the Head of the Class” of “Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories.” He revisited the big screen two years later when he directed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988), for which he created history in the movie business for combining traditional animation and live action. Starring Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner and Joanna Cassidy, the movie earned generally positive reviews from critics and was a major success at the box office. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was the second highest grossing film of 1998 and won four Academy Awards. It was also nominated for Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical (Hoskins). For his work on the film, Zemeckis picked up a Saturn for Best Director and a Chicago Film Critics Association for Best Director, among other awards.

Zemeckis closed out the decade directing and co-writing with Gale “Back to the Future Part II” (1989). “Back to the Future Part III,” which put Marty McFly in the Old West, was released six months later with Zemickis directing and co-writing the screenplay with producer Gale. The film collected over $244 million worldwide and Zemeckis was nominated for a Saturn for Best Director. 1989 also saw Zemeckis make his TV producing debut when he served as one of the co-executive producers of the HBO horror series “Tales from the Crypt.” He worked with the series until 1996. He also directed three episodes.

After “Back to the Future Part III,” Zemeckis returned to directing with the Martin Donovan/David Koepp written film “Death Becomes Her” (1991), which he also produced. The film was a failure with critics and audiences but managed to win an Oscar for Best Effects, Visual Effects. Still in 1992, he was reunited with Gale to executive produce and provide the screenplay of the action thriller movie “Trespass,” directed by Walter Hill. He made his feature film executive producing debut with “The Public Eye,” a thriller written and directed by Howard Franklin. He moved into producing for network television with the short lived adventure series “Johnny Bago” (CBS, 1993).

In 1994, Zemeckis' career gained momentum when he directed the blockbuster hit movie “Forrest Gump,” which was scripted by Eric Roth and based on Winston Groom's 1986 novel of the same title. Starring Tom Hanks and released on July 6, 1994, it grossed over $329 million in the U.S. and Canada, making it the fourth highest grossing film at that time, and over $677 million worldwide. The film earned multiple awards and nominations, including Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, People's Choice Awards, and Young Artist Awards. For his outstanding effort, Zemeckis was handed an Oscar for Best Director, a Golden Globe for Best Director - Motion Picture, an Amanda for Best Foreign Feature Film, a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, and others.

Zemeckis did not direct another film until 1997’s “Contact,” a science fiction movie adapted from the Carl Sagan novel of the same name that starred Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, John Hurt, David Morse and Angela Bassett. The film earned generally good reviews from critics and grossed over $171 million worldwide against a big budget of $90 million. In lieu of movie directing, Zemeckis next turned his attention to producing with work on the TV series “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” and the films “Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight” (1995), “W.E.I.R.D. World” (1995, TV), “The Frighteners” (1996) and “Bordello of Blood” (1996). He went on to serve as an executive producer of the short lived TV series “Perversions of Science” (1997) and as a producer on the remake of “House on Haunted Hill” (1999), for director William Malone. In 1999, he directed a documentary for Showtime called “The 20th Century: The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Entering the new millennium, Zemeckis directed and produced the thriller “What Lies Beneath” (2000), starring Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer and Diana Scarwid. The film received mixed reviews from critics but fared better at the box office where it opened at No. 1. Also in 2000, he was reunited with “Forrest Gump” star Tom Hanks as producer and director of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful adventure drama “Cast Away” (2000), written by William Broyles Jr. He received a Chicago Film Critics Association nomination for Best Director and a Sierra nomination for Best Director at the 2000 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards for his work on the film. Under his direction, Hanks received a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Next up, Zemeckis produced the horror film “Ritual” (2001) for director Avi Nesher, Steve Beck's thriller “Thir13en Ghosts” (2001) and “Ghost Ship” (2002), and Mathieu Kassovitz's “Gothika” (2003), starring Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. He also executive produced the comedy film “Matchstick Men” (2003) for director Ridley Scott before directing, producing and co-scripting (with William Broyles Jr.) the computer animated feature film “The Polar Express” (2004), which was adapted from the children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Starring Tom Hanks, the film made over $180 million domestically and over $124 million overseas. It was nominated for Oscars for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song for “Believe.”

After “The Polar Express,” Zemeckis produced and/or executive produced such films as “House of Wax” (2005), “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (2005), “Last Holiday” (2006), “Monster House” (2006) and “The Reaping” (2007). He returned to the director's chair when he helmed Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover and John Malkovich in the big budget fantasy film “Beowulf” (2007). The film opened at No.1 in the U.S. and Canadian box office. He followed it up two years later with the drama “A Christmas Carol” (2009), which he directed, produced, and adapted from Charles Dickens' 1843 story of the same name. The film earned mixed reviews from critics and grossed over $ 323 million worldwide against an estimated budget of nearly $200 million.

Zemeckis has signed on to direct the upcoming animated movie “Yellow Submarine,” which is slated for a 2012 release. He has also lent his producing talents for the films “Behind the Burly Q” (2010), “Mars Needs Moms” (2010) and “Real Steel” (2011).


  • Visual Effects Society: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005

  • American Cinema Editors: Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award, 2001

  • Oscar: Best Director, “Forrest Gump,” 1995

  • Golden Globe: Best Director - Motion Picture, “Forrest Gump,” 1995

  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: George Pal Memorial Award, 1995

  • Amanda: Best Foreign Feature Film (Årets utenlandske spillefilm), “Forrest Gump,” 1995

  • Czech Lion: Best Foreign Language Film (Nejlepsí zahranicní film), “Forrest Gump,” 1995

  • Directors Guild of America: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, “Forrest Gump,” 1995

  • ShoWest Convention: ShoWest Award, Director of the Year, 1995

  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Film: Saturn Award, Best Director, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1990

  • Chicago Film Critics Association: Best Director, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1989

  • Sant Jordi: Audience Award, Best Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1989

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Special Award, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1988

  • Venice Film Festival: Children and Cinema Award - Special Mention, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1988

  • David di Donatello: David, Best Screenplay - Foreign Film (Autore della Migliore Sceneggiatura Straniero), “Back to the Future,” 1986

  • Venice Film Festival: Young Venice Award - Special Mention, “Back to the Future,” 1985

  • Student Academy: Special Jury Award, Dramatic, “A Field of Honor,” 1975 (University of Southern California)

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