A Low-Balled Author, a Star With No Salary & More Secrets About Forrest Gump

It's been nearly three decades since Forrest Gump, the beloved film starring Tom Hanks, first arrived in theaters.

By Billy Nilles Jul 09, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Tom Hanks Reveals "The Hardest Thing in the World to Do"

It's hard to believe, but it's been more than 25 years since moviegoers first watched Forrest Gump sit down on that bus stop bench and utter a phrase that would go on to become one of the most iconic lines in cinema history. You know the one. Say it with us now: 

"My momma always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'"

Audiences immediately fell in love with Tom Hanks' Forrest as they watched his fantastical life unspool in the Robert Zemeckis-directed flick, taking him from one incredible moment in history to the next. The film, released on July 6, 1994, was the first to come along and unseat The Lion King from No. 1, where the Disney hit had reigned for three weeks, and stayed there for 10 straight weeks. It took only 66 days for Forrest Gump to surpass $250 million, and became the fastest-grossing Paramount film at the time to pass $100 million, $200 million, and then $300 million. 

Tom Hanks' Best Roles

Audiences weren't the only ones smitten with the film. Forrest Gump went on to win six Academy Awards, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, making Hanks, who'd won the previous year for Philadelphia, the first actor to win two consecutive Best Actor Oscars since Spencer Tracey

In honor of Hanks' birthday, we thought we'd take a look at the 25 most fascinating facts to come out of Forrest Gump's production. Look them over and then join us down at Bubba Gump's for a celebratory shrimp dinner, won't you?

1. Hanks signed on for the role of Forrest an hour and a half after reading the script.

2. He wasn't the first choice to play Forrest, however. John Travolta was and the actor passed on the film, opting to star in Pulp Fiction instead. He's since admitted that he regrets his decision. Other actors considered for the role were Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Sean Penn.

3. The film was based on Winston Groom's novel 1986 novel of the same name. The writer would go on to acknowledge that the film had sanded down "the rough edges of the character," as he told the New York Times—a character he envisioned being played by John Goodman.

4. While Hanks initially wanted to tone down Forrest's thick Southern drawl, he eventually incorporated the unique accent of actor Michael Connor Humphreys, who played young Forrest, into his own.

5. Hanks wasn't paid his traditional fee for the film. Instead, he was contracted for a percent share of the film's gross receipts (an important distinction), which were over $330 million in the U.S. alone. He walked away with a cool $40 million.

6. Groom, on the other hand, was only paid $350,000 for the rights to his novel, as well as a contract for a 3 percent share of the film's net profits. Thanks to a little bit of what's called "Hollywood accounting" (more on that in a bit), he was never paid. Additionally, he wasn't mentioned in any of the film's six Oscar acceptance speeches.

7. Zemeckis wasn't Paramount's first choice to direct the film. The project was offered to Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam, who passed, and Barry Sonnenfeld, who signed on only to depart to direct Addams Family Values instead.

8. While the film has great fun placing Forrest right at the center of some rather monumental moments in history, like having him be the one to unwittingly expose the Watergate scandal, one planned moment turned out to be a bit too much for Zemeckis. Originally, it was intended for Forrest to come across Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters as riot police were releasing German shepherds on them. Forrest was to jump in and distract the dogs with a game of fetch. Considering the scene to be in poor taste, as it trivialized the violence King and his supporters did face, the director left it out.

9. Though he was uncredited, the voice of the young Elvis Presley who rents a room from Forrest's mom was provided by Kurt Russell, who'd previously played the rocker in the 1979 TV-movie biopic Elvis.

10. Before Gary Sinise landed the role of Lt. Dan Taylor, Home Alone actor Joe Pesci was reportedly considered, a casting choice that would've really given a much different flavor to the film.

11. The rosary with a St. Christopher medal inscribed "Protect Us In Combat" that Sinise's Lt. Dan wears while in Vietnam were no mere prop. They actually belonged to the actor's brother-in-law, Jack Treese, and were worn by him while he served his country in that very war in 1967-68.

12. Forrest Gump is the first of three films that Hanks and Sinise have starred in together, followed by Apollo 13 and The Green Mile. All three would be nominated for Best Picture. Only Forrest Gump would win.

13. David Alan Grier, Ice Cube and Dave Chappelle all turned down the role of Bubba. Ice Cube refused to play what he thought was an "idiot," while Chappelle simply thought the movie would fail. He's gone on to admit his deep regret in passing. Tupac Shakur also auditioned for the role, though it seems he was never in serious contention for it.

14. To play Bubba, Mykelti Williamson wore a prosthetic lip to create the character's protruding lower lip. In 1997, he said that the character's look nearly derailed his career. "I couldn't get a job after Forrest Gump," Williamson told USA Today. "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. They thought the director had discovered some weird-looking guy and put him in front of the camera." It took an appearance on David Letterman's late-night show to get the phone ringing again.

15. Many of the film's Vietnam scenes were filmed on Fripp Island, South Carolina on land that is now the Ocean Creek golf course. The mountains in the background were added in digitally during post-production.

16. It's been widely believed that Robin Wright's Jenny died of HIV/AIDs, though the exact disease she ultimately succumbs to goes unnamed in the film. In Groom's 1995 sequel novel, Gump & Co., which sees Forrest react to the creation of the film and interact with Hanks, we learn she was afflicted with Hepatitis C.

17. For more of the wide shots of Forrest running, it's actually Hanks' younger brother Jim Hanks who we see.

18. If you pay close enough attention, every single time you see a still photo of Forrest in the film, he has his eyes closed.

19. For what would be his first role ever, Haley Joel Osment was cast as Forrest Jr. after the casting director noticed him in a Pizza Hut commercial. Osment would later reveal that, because his character was named after the film's title character, he believed that the film was about him. To be fair, he was six at the time.

20. While Forrest's line about life and a box of chocolates has gone down as one of the most iconic and quoted in film history, it read quite differently in the movie's source material. "Let me say this: bei'n a idiot is no box of chocolates," Forrest says in the novel. "People laugh, lose patience, treat you shabby. Now they says folks s'posed to be kind to the afflicted, but let me tell you – it ain't always that way. Even so, I got no complaints, cause I reckon I done live a pretty interestin' life, so to speak."

21. The book also finds Forrest falling into professions as extreme as astronaut, professional wrestler and a chess player.

22. Forrest Gump is considered to be a "successful failure" as Paramount claimed that, despite the film grossing over $350 million, they were still at a loss of $62 million thanks to distributors' and exhibitors' high fees and the film's marketing budget. However, the wonky bookkeeping has also been chalked up as Hollywood accounting, where expenses are inflated in order to minimize profit sharing—like, say, making sure an author promised a percentage of net profits doesn't get a cent.

23. Despite playing Forrest's mother, Sally Field is only 10 years older than Hanks. Just six years prior, she was playing his love interest in the film Punchline.

24. A sequel to the film was in the works for years, to be based on Groom's sequel book as a way of settling Groom's dispute with Paramount over his pay for Forrest Gump. (He was given a seven-figure contract and promised a percentage of the film's profits.) A screenplay was written and turned in in 2001, however after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Zemeckis and Hanks decided the story was no longer "relevant" to a changed world and the project has lingered in development hell.

25. For the scenes where Forrest narrates his life story while sitting on a bus stop bench, filming took place in Chippewa Square in Savannah, Georgia. However, none of the benches there face out to the street, so one was built for the film and added before being moved to the Savannah History Museum once production wrapped.

This story was originally published on Saturday, July 6, 2019 at 5 a.m. PT.