Despite Hollywood insiders having little faith in its chances of success, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump went on to become a beloved classic overnight back in 1994. It was the second highest grossing movie of the year behind The Lion King. Forrest Gump functions as both a character study of one of the most innocent and lovable characters ever put on film and a 20th-century American history lesson. It didn’t have a particularly troubled production, but as with any Hollywood movie of this scale, there are plenty of fascinating details about the making. So, here are 10 Wild Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Forrest Gump.
10 Tom Hanks wasn’t paid for his performance
Tom Hanks didn’t receive a salary for starring in Forrest Gump. Instead, he decided to take a cut of the movie’s gross. (Gross is very different from net — the author of Forrest Gump’s source novel got screwed by “creative” Hollywood accounting when he took a deal on net profits.) A lot of actors do this if they have faith that the movie they’re in will be a huge success. Of course, Forrest Gump was more than a huge success — it quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of all time —and Hanks’ deal pocketed him $40 million. Director Robert Zemeckis received the same payday.
9 Dave Chappelle and Ice Cube both turned down the role of Bubba
The role of Bubba was turned down by hip-hop icon Ice Cube, because he didn’t want to play a character that was written as an "idiot," and Dave Chappelle, because he thought that Forrest Gump would crash and burn at the box office. It’s also reported that legendary rapper Tupac Shakur read for the part and David Alan Grier turned down the role.
Years later, after the movie went on to become a smash-hit instant classic, Chappelle would admit that he regretted turning down the part. The comedian did go on to play Tom Hanks’ friend in You’ve Got Mail.
8 Some of the actors were sick when they shot iconic scenes
In a couple of iconic scenes in Forrest Gump, the lead actors are hiding illnesses. When Robin Wright was shooting the scene where Jenny performs naked at a nightclub, covered up only by the guitar she’s playing, the actress was suffering from a terrible cold. The fact that she wasn’t wearing any clothes and it was a 24-hour shooting day with no breaks surely didn’t help. When Tom Hanks shot the scene where Forrest is running on the football field, he was suffering from the flu. Despite coming down with these ailments, both stars managed to finish their scenes, which is certainly the mark of a professional actor.
7 The ping pong balls were computer-generated
One of the many things that Forrest Gump finds he’s amazing at during the course of the movie is ping pong. He starts playing it to pass the time as he recovers in a veterans’ hospital and then goes on to become a world-class ping pong player. As it turns out, Tom Hanks didn’t actually master the art of ping pong. He just vigorously swung the paddle around and the ping pong balls were digitally added in post-production. With the perfectly placed sound effects and seamless motion blur, you’d never be able to tell, even by today’s impressive CGI standards.
6 Tom Hanks’ brother doubled for him in the running scenes
When a movie is being filmed, many takes are often required to capture certain shots. This can become a problem when the scene in question requires the actors to do a lot of running, because it quickly tires them out. In Forrest Gump, the title character runs across America at one point. Since Tom Hanks would’ve been exhausted by filming so many running scenes in quick succession, his younger brother Jim Hanks stood in for him. Jim Hanks isn’t identical to his brother, so he couldn’t fill in for him in the closeups, but he looked enough like him that the audience couldn’t tell the difference in the wide shots.
5 Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, and Demi Moore turned down the role of Jenny
Robin Wright would end up playing the role of Jenny with considerable success, but she wasn’t the producers’ first choice for the role. Before settling on Wright, they offered to part to Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, and Demi Moore, but all three of them turned it down. Foster and Moore refused the role outright, while Kidman was open to it, but refused to do a screen test at the producers’ request. It’s fair enough — at a certain point, someone is a big enough star that they’ve proven their abilities and no longer needs to be at the mercy of casting directors.
4 A scene involving Martin Luther King, Jr. was cut
Director Robert Zemeckis decided to cut a scene from the movie that would’ve seen Forrest bumping into Martin Luther King, Jr. and a group of his supporters. Forrest would’ve played fetch with some dogs to stop them from attacking Dr. King and his supporters. It’s unclear if the scene was cut because it would’ve been too expensive to get the effects right, or because it leaned too heavily on the movie’s sanitized view of 20th-century American history. The movie takes some liberties with coincidences, but Forrest simply bumping into Dr. King at the height of the civil rights movement might have been a step too far.
3 Tom Hanks has since revealed what Forrest said at the Vietnam War protest
When Forrest Gump appears at a protest march against the Vietnam War to speak to the crowds, the microphone accidentally gets unplugged and no one can hear what Forrest is saying. Audiences were left to wonder what he said, because even we didn’t get to hear his speech.
In the years since the movie first came out, Tom Hanks has revealed what he said in the scene, and it’s actually quite poignant: “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.”
2 Directors Terry Gilliam and Barry Sonnenfeld turned down the movie
Former Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam was offered the chance to direct Forrest Gump, but he turned it down. Gilliam tends to make super-weird movies like Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so the mainstream appeal of Forrest Gump probably wasn’t his cup of tea. Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld was also offered the chance to helm the movie, but he chose to direct Addams Family Values instead. (It’s easy to see which one ended up having more staying power with audiences.) Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis ended up directing the film, and did a fine job.
1 Bill Murray, John Travolta, Chevy Chase, and Sean Penn all passed on the title role
John Travolta was the producers’ first choice to play the title character in Forrest Gump and he turned the part down, although he later said that he regretted it. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase also passed on the role of Forrest and Sean Penn has said that he was second on the shortlist. While Murray and Chase would’ve played a decidedly more comedic version of Forrest, Penn would’ve played been more dramatic, and it’s unclear exactly what Travolta would’ve done. Tom Hanks managed to find a nice middle ground, focusing on Forrest’s childlike innocence, which was perfect for the character.