Surprising facts about ‘Forrest Gump’
In 1994, ‘Forrest Gump’ was released, becoming an unlikely hit that would be loved and discussed for decades to come. Based on the 1986 novel of the same name, Tom Hanks brought the eponymous hero to life in a distinctly American film that made us both laugh and cry. Let’s take a look at some unusual facts about one of everyone’s favorite movies.
Hanks agreed to do the film under one specific condition
It’s not uncommon for movie stars to have unusual demands when they agree to make a film, but this one’s something else entirely. Reportedly, Hanks was ready to sign the contract immediately after reading the script — on one condition.
Tom Hanks wanted the movie to be as historically accurate as possible. This meant instead of re-creating the famous historical moments in the film, they used CGI to superimpose Hanks into real footage from these events. For example, the film features a real interview with John Lennon taken from The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, with Tom Hanks edited in to replace Yoko Ono in the seat next to John.
Some historical goofs
Forrest Gump has often been praised for its historical accuracy and attention to detail. But even the best make mistakes sometimes, though you probably didn’t notice these errors. Luckily, some keen-eyed moviegoers have set the record straight on a few scenes.
When Jenny visits Forrest on July 4th, 1976, we glimpse the Statue of Liberty holding a torch in the background, though the torch wasn’t added until a restoration 10 years in the future. Also, one scene features Jenny dancing to “Get Down Tonight” by KC and The Sunshine Band in 1974, though the song wasn’t released until 1975.
If you pay close attention during the scene where Forrest is fishing, you’ll notice the shrimp he pulls onto the boat are already missing their heads. The crew must have purchased them at a nearby fish market. Oops.
Tom Hanks wasn’t the first choice for Forrest
Can you imagine anyone else playing Forrest Gump? It seems unthinkable now, but the studio originally wanted John Travolta for the role. Even though he’d go on to star in one of his most iconic roles that year as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, Travolta says he regrets turning down the part.
After John Travolta declined, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase — the studio’s second and third choices — followed suit. It’d be hard to argue this wasn’t for the best. As for the author of the 1986 novel, he envisioned John Goodman for the part.
It wasn’t universally loved
Twenty-five years later, it seems rare to find someone that hasn’t seen Forrest Gump — and of those who have seen it, the overwhelming majority seem to like the film. However, that’s not exactly the case among critics. While some audiences praise Forrest Gump for nailing the difficult task of portraying a light and optimistic story with such a melancholy backdrop, others have a different take.
Detractors find the film hollow, refusing to make a point at the risk of offending certain audiences. In Amy Nicholson’s 2014 LA Weekly review, she writes, “With two decades of perspective on Forrest Gump’s triumph, you get the sense that ’90s audiences were relieved to see a film that said it was OK — even honorable — to ignore all the bad stuff about war.”
The author of the book is also not a fan
Winston Groom’s 1986 novel has a lot of the same elements as the film, but there are some notable differences. The author complained that the film “took some of the rough edges off” of Forrest Gump’s character and experiences to make it marketable to a wider audience.
The book is considerably darker and ends on a much less positive note than the film — with Forrest and Lieutenant Dan living together, panhandling and sleeping on a bench.
Grooms sued Paramount for millions of dollars of royalties owed. The opening line of the sequel to Forrest Gump reads, “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of your life’s story.”
Hanks made up one of the film’s iconic lines on the spot
Forrest Gump is full of some of the most quoted lines in movie history.
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
“Stupid is as stupid does.”
These are just a couple of examples. Did you know that one of Gump’s most quotable lines was ad-libbed by Tom Hanks?
When Bubba introduces himself to Forrest, he says, “My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue, but people call me Bubba. Just like one of them ol’ redneck boys. Can you believe that?” Hanks came up with his response on the spot.
“My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” Director Robert Zemeckis thought it was hilarious and perfect for the character. We agree.
Mykelti Williamson was typecast
Mykelti Williamson, who played Bubba in the film, admitted he had a tough time finding roles after appearing in Forrest Gump. It’s a story that’s all too familiar in Hollywood — a young actor lands a memorable role in a popular film but can’t seem to shake the image associated with it.
Such was the case with Mykelti Williamson. “I couldn’t get a job after Forrest Gump,” he said. “The industry didn’t realize that I was wearing a lip device and that I was the same guy who had appeared in 11 TV series.” Fortunately, the slump didn’t last forever. Williamson has appeared in dozens of TV shows and films, including Con Air, Justified, Ali, and Lethal Weapon.
Dave Chappelle almost played Bubba
While Dave Chappelle is a household name now, in 1994, his Hollywood career was still in its infancy. It makes sense, then, that he’d regret turning down the role of Bubba in Forrest Gump. Rapper Ice Cube and comedian David Alan Grier also turned down the part.
In the long run, Dave Chappelle’s decision doesn’t seem to have damaged his career too much. In fact, Chappelle got the chance to perform alongside Tom Hanks in the 1998 romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail.
A few actresses turned down the role of Jenny
Jenny is a character many fans of the movie are conflicted about. Apparently, a few famous actresses felt the same way after reading the script and declined the role. Jodie Foster and Demi Moore both refused after being offered the role, and Nicole Kidman declined to even do a screen test.
Eventually, the role went to Robin Wright, who brought the role to life so well it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Jenny. The performance earned her nominations for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards. She’s also known for her roles in Moneyball, Everest, and House of Cards, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama.
Forrest actually gave a speech while his mic was cut off
In one memorable scene in the movie, Abbie Hoffman pulls Forrest on stage to speak on the Vietnam War during a protest in Washington, D.C. The police cut the speakers off and we never hear Forrest’s speech. If you found yourself wondering what he had to say, you’re in luck …
“Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs,” Hanks’ lines read. “Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Tom Hanks decided not to take a salary
Why would anyone turned down a sizable salary to star in a blockbuster movie? When there’s a better option on the table. Hanks must have known the movie would do well, so he opted to take a piece of the film’s earnings in lieu of a salary.
The film shot to No. 1 at the box office and stayed there for 10 weeks, grossing $677 million. It’s safe to say he made the right decision. Forrest Gump also earned Hanks an Academy Award for Best Actor, a title he’d claimed the year before for Philadelphia. Tom Hanks became the second actor to win Best Actor two years in a row.
Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis paid for some scenes out of pocket
For such a successful film, Forrest Gump was plagued by financial issues. In fact, the studio nearly pulled the plug during production several times. When it came time to film the running sequences, Paramount had had enough and declined to pour any more money into the project.
According to Hanks, Zemeckis and him split the costs to film these scenes. “The director came to my house and said, ‘Look, this is going to fall apart because they won’t give us the budget for shooting this one sequence, and we’ve got to have this sequence,’” Hanks told Yahoo! Movies. Imagine if they’d given up!
Do you like American music?
Robert Zemeckis likes American music. Every song that appears in the movie and the soundtrack was recorded by an American band. Why? According to executive music producer Joel Sill, it was at the director’s insistence. “He felt Forrest wouldn’t buy anything not American,” Sill told The Los Angeles Daily News. Fair enough.
The Doors contribute four songs to the film, though only one appears on the official soundtrack. If you have the special collector’s edition, you’ll notice the “only American songs” rule has one exception — Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Fleetwood Mac formed in England, though singer Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are American.
What’s with the blue checkered shirt?
Here’s another one fans pointed out. Every time the film jumps forward a few years, it shows Forrest wearing a similar blue checkered shirt. So, was this just a matter of a tight wardrobe budget? That seems unlikely, as he always wears the shirt during specific moments in the film.
Similarly, Forrest’s son wears the same blue checkered shirt as he boards the bus at the end of the movie. Fans theorize that the shirt symbolizes a transition. The filmmakers have never confirmed or denied this theory, but it seems way too deliberate to be a coincidence. What do you think?
Forrest’s eyes are closed in every photograph
In case you needed more proof of Tom Hanks’ attention to detail when getting into character, here’s another example: Every time we see a picture of Forrest Gump in the film, he’s shown with his eyes closed. Why is that? Because Tom Hanks insisted.
Hanks later explained that Forrest always has his eyes closed because he’s focusing so hard on doing everything right in the picture — standing up straight and smiling, that he forgets to open his eyes. It’s another hilarious addition to a long list of Easter eggs that can be found in the film.
People thought Lieutenant Dan really lost his legs
In 1994, actor Gary Sinise wasn’t nearly as well-known as he is today. Audiences that were unfamiliar with his work thought that Lieutenant Dan was played by someone that really had lost both legs. This was during a time where visual effects weren’t nearly as typical and convincing as they are now.
The role had a profound effect on Sinise as well, who decided to dedicate much of his life and fortune to help veterans and their families. The Gary Sinise Foundation constructs smart homes to help disabled veterans, and he leads The Lt. Dan Band, which entertains troops at military bases around the world. Recently, he took 1,750 children of fallen service members on a trip to Disneyland.
A highly decorated USMC veteran trained the actors
We’ve already mentioned how the filmmakers and actors wanted the movie to be as realistic and historically accurate as possible. Evidently, this extended to the war scenes as well. Captain Dale Dye was called in to consult on set and get the actors into peak condition to play convincing soldiers.
The decorated Marine has often been tapped to help filmmakers and actors on films that portray military operations. Years later, Hanks and Dye would work together on another classic film — Saving Private Ryan.
Real-life inspiration for the character
It should come as no surprise that the story of Forrest Gump takes inspiration from real events — real footage is included in the film, after all — but one event in particular deserves special mention. In the story, Forrest runs across America no less than four times.
Lots of pedestrians have made their way across the USA, but Forrest’s journey was inspired by a specific person. High school student Louis Michael Figueroa ran across America in 1982 to raise awareness for the American Cancer Society. When asked how he did it, he gave the classic response, “When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.” Sound familiar?
A scene with Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t make the final cut
Throughout the film, Forrest meets with and influences several American cultural icons like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and John F. Kennedy. One powerful scene that featured footage of one of America’s most celebrated and revered civil rights leaders didn’t make the theatrical release of the film.
The special collector’s edition of Forrest Gump includes a scene where Forrest steps in between Martin Luther King Jr. and some angry police dogs, neutralizing the threat by playing fetch with the animals. “Sorry to interrupt your parade,” Forrest says. “They just dogs and they don’t know any better.”
Hanks borrowed his brother’s mannerisms
Tom Hanks took inspiration from his brother Jim’s performance as Jeeter Buford in the 1993 TV movie Buford’s Beach Bunnies (don’t worry, we haven’t seen it either). Particularly noticeable is the way Tom used his brother’s mannerisms and awkward running style.
In fact, a lot of the running scenes actually show Jim running in place of Tom. Apparently, Tom and Jim share a similar voice as well, since Jim frequently subs for Tom when voicing Woody in the Toy Story video games.
Not much of an age difference between Forrest and his mom
Sally Field does an excellent job of playing the caring mother to Forrest Gump, even making some questionable ethical decisions to ensure his quality of life. It’s impressive that she was able to play such a convincing mother to Hanks’ character, considering she’s only 10 years older than him.
In fact, the two had played love interests on-screen together in the 1988 film, Punchline. It goes to show the immense talents of these actors and the effectiveness of “movie magic” to make their relationship plausible.
The script for a sequel exists
Paramount bought the rights from Winston Groom to film the sequel to Forrest Gump. The book Gump & Co. details the way Forrest’s life was impacted by the film, beginning with the line, “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of your life’s story.”
Based on what the screenwriters have hinted at about the sequel, it seems like a very loose adaptation of the novel version. Hanks has stated the film would have Forrest meet O.J. Simpson and Princess Diana, plant the idea for Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins, and track down Osama bin Laden.
The famous benches were removed
If you plan to visit Chippewa Square in Savannah, Georgia, where many of the film’s most iconic scenes take place, make sure you’re prepared to stand. The famous benches have been removed and placed in the Savannah History Museum.
Nonetheless, the square is still a popular tourist destination for fans carrying boxes of chocolate to visit. You can still retrace the path of the feather that floated through the square and landed at Forrest’s feet at the beginning of the film.
The voice of Elvis is shrouded in mystery
Who could forget the memorable scene where young Forrest shows Elvis Presley the dance moves that he’d become known for? IMDb and many fans of the film credit Kurt Russell for contributing the voice of Elvis, but many others have their doubts.
Indeed, Kurt Russell has some experience playing “The King” — he starred in the 1979 film, Elvis — but why isn’t he listed in the credits of Forrest Gump, and why hasn’t he or Paramount Pictures ever confirmed it’s his voice? Some fans give credit to Peter Dobson, who appears as Elvis on-screen, but again, there is no confirmation that it’s his voice. Maybe no one knows!
The entire film was shot in Georgia and South Carolina
Forrest may have run all the way across the United States and fought in Vietnam, but filming only took place in Georgia and South Carolina. “Vietnam” was really Savannah, Georgia, and the outskirts of Beaufort, South Carolina — the mountains in the background were added in using visual effects.
“Greenbow” in Alabama is really the town of Varnville, 35 miles northwest of Beaufort. Forrest and Jenny’s homes were built solely for the film, between the two towns. Both houses were promptly torn down afterward.
What disease killed Jenny?
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the movie occurs when Jenny passes away after finally returning and marrying Forrest. Audiences have speculated that Jenny died by contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C during her partying days (both diseases had yet to be discovered in 1982), but there are some flaws with the theory.
Both diseases can be passed to a baby during birth and breastfeeding — and it’s likely it would have been passed to Forrest as well. Still, it’s certainly plausible. As for director Robert Zemeckis, he refuses to confirm or deny that Jenny died of AIDS. “It could have been, but it didn’t matter. I mean … everyone thought that because it was so topical in the era … but we never said it … We didn’t want that to be, you know, the issue.” Looks like this one will remain a mystery.
How did Tom Hanks get so good at ping-pong?
Did Tom Hanks have to practice a lot? Does he have a doppelgänger who is a table tennis champion? Neither. The ping-pong matches were shot without any actual balls. Once again, the visual effects team deserves the credit — they added a CGI ping-pong ball in postproduction.
Tom Hanks and his opponent, Valentine, do a great job miming their movements, timing them to clicks that played during filming. Hanks is used to playing pretend, but his opponent — a real ping-pong master — had to adjust to playing without a ball. Much of the audience was also added using CGI. Were you fooled?
We have young Forrest to thank for that signature drawl
Tom Hanks went on The Graham Norton Show and explained that his inspiration for Forrest’s accent was Michael Conner Humphreys, the actor who played young Forrest Gump. Humphreys’ thick Mississippi drawl made it difficult for him to copy Tom Hanks’ less exaggerated accent.
Instead of forcing the young boy to adjust his speech patterns, Tom Hanks decided to copy his accent. “He was a young man, and that was the vernacular that we spoke in and that was priceless,” Hanks said. To prepare for the role, Tom and Michael spent hours talking to each other, recording their conversations so Tom could study them later.
The movie inspired a very specific type of drinking game
The Forrest Gump Challenge is a party game where participants are encouraged to drink 15 Dr. Peppers in under eight hours. Once you finish the last beverage, you’ve earned the right to quote the iconic line, “Mr. President, I gotta go pee.”
It can’t be healthy, and we must stress that no one should try this at home — though if there’s some money on the line, we’re sure some people in this office could make short work of this challenge.
Bubba Gump became a successful franchise
Sadly, Bubba never makes it back from Vietnam, but Forrest keeps his promise by turning Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. into a successful business, later giving his share to Bubba’s family.
Rusty Pelican Restaurants Inc. and Paramount Pictures opened the first Bubba Gump restaurant in Monterey, California, in 1996.
Since then, the chain has spread across the USA and the world, with over 40 locations opening worldwide. The restaurants feature Forrest Gump-related trivia, so be sure to study up before dinner.
Fun fact: Actor Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation) was discovered while working as a waiter at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.