Robert Zemeckis, Hollywood & the American Dream, 1978-1994




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


For two decades, Robert Zemeckis enjoyed an astonishing run of commercial success at the US box-office, with eight of the eleven movies he made between 1984 and 2004 becoming top ten hits in their respective years of release. These included two year-end number ones in Back to the Future in 1985 and Forrest Gump in 1994. Taking specifically the decade from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s as his most concentrated stretch of fiscal success, cultural impact and industrial recognition, it is notable that Zemeckis made a series of movies during this period which dealt very centrally with US social values, recent American (i.e., baby boomer) history, and the concept of the American Dream. Significantly, this run coincided with the peak years of the culture wars, an era in which questions around American national identity and US history since the 1950s were being loudly debated, interrogated and redefined within the broader cultural sphere.

Zemeckis’s films offer a unique opportunity to explore how one particular filmmaker was able to engage with these issues in a way that achieved a striking, even unparalleled, resonance with the American cinemagoing public. The principal questions I ask are; how do these films thematically, narratively and generically engage with the subject of the American Dream? How do they speak to American values and how do they define their own visions of success in America? And in what ways do these issues evolve from Zemeckis’s earliest work, through his 1980s movies, to the point of Gump’s release in 1994? I intend for this project to act as a case study which explores how a creative individual expresses his artistic interests, preoccupations and enthusiasms within a complex, evolving social and industrial environment.





Research Institute