It’s hard to believe Forrest Gump came close to not getting made. The film went through several re-writes, and was extremely difficult to cast. Warner Bros. spent years developing the project, but decided to walk away because executives felt Forrest Gump was too similar to 1988’s Academy Award winning film Rain Man. And that’s not even the strangest of these weird facts about Forrest Gump.
Thankfully, Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the project, the script came together beautifully (it won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay), and the casting was pretty much perfect (Tom Hanks took home the Academy Award for Best Actor). In celebration of the picture AFI called the 76th Greatest American Film of all time, this list puts together a jumbo shrimp bucket worth of fascinating Forrest Gump behind the scenes tales to share with friends and family who hold the film near and dear their hearts.
Imagine John Travolta as Forrest. Jodie Foster as Jenny Curran. Weird right? It’s nearly impossible to see any other actors besides Tom Hanks and Robin Wright in those iconic roles. You won’t believe all the big name stars who passed on parts in the film. You’ll also be shocked to learn which legendary rapper auditioned for shrimp-loving Bubba.
Check out all those Forrest Gump facts and more. Know a few weird facts about Forrest Gump that didn’t make the list, let us know in the comments section below.
Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis Saved the Production by Paying for the Running Scenes
During an interview with Yahoo Movies, Hanks explained how close Forrest Gump came to getting shut down because of financial issues.
“The studio was one day away from pulling the plug on this one movie I was going to make, and 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.”
Director Robert Zemeckis proposed that he and Hanks split the cost of shooting that sequence, so that the studio would allow them to make the film they envisioned.
“I said, ‘All right.’ And the sequence was Forrest running across the country,” Hanks revealed. “And we were 48 hours away from it being shut down. So I’m glad that worked out.”
The running-across-the-country sequences contain perhaps the most iconic images in a movie filled with iconic imagery. It’s Forrest’s way of responding to Jenny leaving him. He was told by her at a young age to run away from danger, and that’s exactly what Forrest does as an adult.
Tom Hanks Didn’t Get Paid Upfront, But Made at Least $30 Million on the Back End
If an actor really believes in a project, sometimes he or she foregoes a paycheck and takes a percentage of any profit the film makes. Such was the case for Tom Hanks and Forrest Gump, and Hanks’s belief paid off. He made at least $31 million on the movie, and by some estimates, as much as $70 million. According to Box Office Mojo, Forrest Gump made $677,945,399 internationally, on a $55 million production budget.
Jenny Died from Hepatitis C
Jenny tells Forrest, “I have some virus, and the doctors, they don’t know what it is, and there isn’t anything they can do about it.” The movie never specifically states which “virus” Jenny has. We know that she was a drug addict in the 1970s, and Hepatitis C was not really known in the medical community until the late 1980s. Confirmation of this theory came in Winston Groom’s sequel Gump & Co.
Tupac Shakur Auditioned for the Role of Bubba
Tupac Shakur will always be first and foremost remembered as one of the great hip hop artists, but he was also a successful actors. Before Forrest Gump was released in 1994, Tupac appeared in Juice, Poetic Justice, and Above the Rim. The rapper’s wife, Keisha Morris, told UPROXX she and Tupac went to see Forrest Gump on their first date.
“We went to the Chelsea Movie Theater to see Forrest Gump and then we ate dinner around the corner in an Italian restaurant.” She added, “He wanted to see Forrest Gump because he read for the part of Bubba.”
That’s Kurt Russell’s Voice as Elvis Presley
Remember that hilarious scene where Forrest is talking about all the people who lived at his mama’s boarding house when he was growing up? And he brings up a young man who had a guitar? That man plays “Hound Dog” while Forrest, in leg braces, dances in the style that made Elvis a rock and roll icon. Although Russell is not credited with providing the voice of Elvis, it certainly does sound like him. The actor also played Presley in the 1970 TV movie Elvis.
All the Ping Pong Balls Were CGI
There’s a lot of CGI in Forrest Gump. The most obvious examples are Lt. Dan’s missing legs, and when Forrest stands next to President Kennedy and John Lennon. What you may be surprised to learn is that, in the scene when Forrest plays ping pong match in China, there are no ping pong balls in the scene. A behind-the-scenes DVD explains that Hanks and his competitor are swatting air, timing their paddle movement to the sound of clicks. The ball was added in post production.
Tom Hanks Had Scripted Lines When His Microphone Turns Off
Forrest Gump is asked to share his experiences in Vietnam in front of a sea of people in Washington DC, during an anti-war protest. He approaches the microphone, but someone pulls the plug, and his words aren’t heard. The man standing next to him on stage hears him, and is deeply moved. So what did Forrest say?
According to Hanks, he said, “Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Dave Chappelle and Ice Cube Turned Down the Role of Bubba
Notorious comedy legend Dave Chappelle turned down the role of Forrest’s shrimp-loving Vietnam buddy Bubba. He admitted he regretted his decision after the movie became such a monster success. Of course, appearing in such a blockbuster could have launched Chappelle to instant movie star status. He achieved great success a decade later with his sketch show Chappelle’s Show in 2003.
The part that went to Mykelti Williamson was also turned down by rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube. He reportedly passed on the role because he did not want to play a dumb character.
John Travolta Turned Down the Role of Forrest Gump
John Travolta was the first choice to play the titular character. He said no, and wasn’t the only one to turn down the role that earned Tom Hanks his second straight Oscar for Best Actor (he won the year before for Philadelphia.) Both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase also passed on Gump. Travolta would go on to say passing on the part was a major mistake.
Despite the Gump gaff, Travolta accepted the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, which was released the same year as Forrest Gump. The role re-launched Travolta’s career and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, and Demi Moore All Turned Down the Role of Jenny
Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, and Demi Moore have had enormously successful careers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t kicking themselves for turning down the iconic part of Jenny Curran. The role went to Robin Wright. Who knows why so many actors and actresses turned down roles in Forrest Gump. Perhaps the film didn’t play as well on the page as it does on the screen?
A Scene Featuring Martin Luther King Jr. Wound Up on the Cutting Room Floor
Robert Zemeckis featured several CGI scenes of Forrest with historical figures like John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley. The director also shot a scene including Rev. King. In the scene, Forrest meets King and his supporters just as vicious police dogs are set to attack.
The German Shepherds are unleashed by the police and race towards King. But Forrest starts to play fetch with the dogs, which makes them totally harmless to King and his supporters. He then approaches King and says, “Sorry to interrupt your parade. They just dogs and they don’t know any better.”
You can see the cut scene on the Forrest Gump Special Collector’s Edition DVD.
Jenny Recreates Andrew Wyeth During the Farm House Scene
As Jenny and Forrest walk around their old stomping grounds, they approach Jenny’s childhood home. The small farm house is dilapidated and abandoned. Yet it still clearly haunts Jenny. In a fit of anger, she throws rocks at it until she collapses. In this scene, Robin Wright recreates Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World, which is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Robert Zemeckis Used Norman Rockwell’s As Inspiration
Perhaps no painter in history captured Americana better than Norman Rockwell. Forrest Gump takes place in the fictional town of Greenbow, AL. In the novel from which the film is adapted, Forrest grows up in Mobile, AL. The movie and the book are very different, and the filmmakers wanted to create a town more in the spirit of the characters than any existing place.
The scenes of Forrest’s childhood were shot in Vanville, SC, which has a small town feel and is aesthetically similar to Rockwell’s work. Zemeckis revealed he used Rockwell’s art as a guide in creating Greenbow. The scene in the film when young Forrest is sitting outside the principal’s office while his mother talks to the principal was inspired by Rockwell’s The Young Lady with the Shiner.
The Security Guard Who Owns One of the Benches Refused to Sell it for $500,000
Five different benches were used for the scenes in which Forrest tells his story while waiting for a bus. One of them lives in Savannah, GA, where you can take pictures with it at the Savannah Museum. The bench scenes where shot in Savannah, and so one of the benches simply stayed put when filming wrapped.
Another bench is in the Smithsonian. Two live on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. The final bench was given to a security guard who was on patrol during filming. The security guard has reportedly turned down several offers to sell it, one of which was allegedly for half a million dollars.
Mykelti Williamson Lost Out on Roles Because His Bottom Lip Isn’t Really That Big
No, that’s not Mykelti Williamson’s real lip. The actor wore a prosthetic. After the massive success of the film, he was primarily offered roles as comedic black characters (aka racist stereotypes). However, when Williamson showed up for casting calls, he was allegedly turned down because casting directors thought Zemeckis “had discovered some weird-looking guy and put him in front of the camera.”
Williamson was eventually able to separate himself from the iconic character. He has since had a successful career as an actor in both film and television, including long running roles on CSI: NY, 24, and Justified.
Tom Hanks Improvised “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.”
Forrest first meets Bubba on the bus before the pair embark on their stint in the military. Bubba says to Gump, “My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue. But people call me Bubba, just like one of them old redneck boys. Can you believe that?”
Forrest then introduces himself. “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” The iconic line was not in the script, but Zemeckis liked it so much he kept it.
Tom Hanks Modeled His Accent After Young Forrest
Hanks initially didn’t want to speak with a pronounced accent, despite the novel using this device. Zemeckis persuaded him to do so. While searching for the voice of his character, Hanks met Michael Connor Humphreys, who played young Forrest. Humphreys is from Mississippi, and spoke with his own accent in the film. Hanks modeled his voice to fit Humphreys’s accent.
Gary Sinise Tours the World in the Lt. Dan Band
Gary Sinise took his iconic character in Forrest Gump and started his own band. The actor plays the bass as part of a 12-piece rock ensemble. Lt. Dan Band performs cover songs at USO shows, entertaining troops. They also raise money for disabled veterans by playing at benefit concerts around the world.
Forrest and Bubba Were Placed in the Same Platoon Because of Their Low IQ
During the Vietnam War, the US Army allowed soldiers with low IQs to enlist, as long as all mentally challenged men were placed in the same platoon. In the original script, this practice was put into effect; every soldier in Forrest’s platoon had a low IQ. However, the US Army has since discontinued this practice, and objected to how it was depicted in Forrest Gump script. The military’s whining worked, and script changes were made so Forrest and Bubba were the only soldiers with low IQs in their platoon.
Author Winston Groom Did Not Earn Any Royalty Money
Winston Groom’s 1986 novel Forrest Gump earned the writer 3% of the net profits from the film adaptation. In theory, at least. Groom didn’t receive a dime in royalty money, even though the movie sold $677 million in tickets. How could this be?
Paramount contends that, despite the monster box office success of Forrest Gump, the studio didn’t earn back the money it spent on production, promotion, distribution, and marketing. This claim is somewhat suspicious when you consider Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis each made at least $31 million for their share of the profits (although, to be fair, Zemeckis and Hanks got points on gross profit, not net).
Groom took Paramount to court, where a judge pointed out the bad contract Groom signed. In the end, Groom made about $350,000 off the movie, though secured a seven figure deal up front when he sold his sequel, Gump & Co., to Paramount.