Before he was Tam Honks, he was Fahrst… Fahrst Gump. The Greenbow-born-and-bred witness to history may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he was all heart — and (once those braces fell away) legs. Based on Winston Groom’s fantastical novel, Robert Zemeckis’s decades-spanning movie touched on nearly ever major cultural milestone in the second half of the 20th century: Vietnam and the March on Washington, Watergate and “S— happens” shirts, Elvis and world-class ping pong, and on and on. Yet, it was solid as a rock while feeling light as a feather. It was also Baby Boomer bait that also introduced a new generation to America’s — and the world’s — mid-century struggles, as well as the songs that embodied them. Sure, it was more fantasy than fact-checking, but Forrest is just so darn charming.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the movie is grounded in performances that hit every note on the emotional spectrum. Robin Wright, then still known mostly as Princess Buttercup or Kelly Capwell Perkins Conrad, displayed range that we’ve since found anew in House of Cards. Gary Sinise used his theater roots to bring pathos to the surly Lieutenant Dan. Mykelti Williams’ Bubba is probably still listing shrimp preparations in the great bayou in the sky. Little Haley Joel Osment was just a few years away from booking The Sixth Sense. And Sally Fields’ Mama didn’t spare a single tear duct, whether she was exchanging favors to get little Forrest into school or bidding her boy a final goodbye.
At the center of it all: Tom Hanks. Forrest Gump couldn’t have been any different from Andrew Beckett, the AIDS-afflicted lawyer Hanks had portrayed all the way to the Oscar podium the year before. Perhaps, he had a childlike quality in common with Hanks’ first foray with Oscar, playing Big‘s Josh, but… similarities or not, it was a transcendent, transformative performance that made Hanks one of the very few actors to strike Academy Award gold two years in a row. Forrest was such a glorious anomaly, in fact, that Roger Ebert admitted in his review, “I’ve never met anyone like Forrest Gump in a movie before. … Tom Hanks may be the only actor who could have played the role.”
But storytelling innovation and elegant acting were just a few of the ways in which Gump changed the cinematic landscape. More on that below as we continue EW’s Summer Blockbuster Month with a retro-tinged runaway success: Forrest Gump.
Release Date: July 6, 1994
The Competition: Nants ingonyama bagithi baba sithi uhm ingonyama! Before Gump hit the theaters, it seemed nothing couple topple Simba’s ascent to King of the Jungle. And, indeed, that was a great movie. But it was Forrest and Jen-nay who ruled the box office through mid-September — with a few sporadic unseatings (True Lies, The Mask, Clear and Present Danger, and — perhaps most unexpectedly of all — Natural Born Killers in the last weekend of the summer). Sorry, Maverick, you should’ve known when to fold ‘em; apologies, I Love Trouble, nobody liked you; you may be a movie that launched 1,000 careers, Angels in the Outfield, but Gump bedeviled you good; and we all recall how quick North went South.
Box Office: $329.7 million domestic ($24.5 million opening weekend); $677.4 million worldwide
Unlike a box of chocolates, it was pretty clear what we were gonna get when it came to Forrest Gump‘s place in the annual box office reports. Just as in the summer, Forrest and Simba battled it out, but Gump took top honors with a nearly $17 million lead.
What EW said: “Directed by Robert Zemeckis, creator of intricate cinematic jungle gyms (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Forrest Gump is at once a fable of American innocence and perseverance and a technically amazing pop stunt.“ C –Owen Gleiberman
Cultural Impact Then: In addition to its big box office numbers, the film was generally a critical success (with the exception of EW’s own review). But, Gump‘s biggest contribution to film was its technological innovation. Zemeckis and his team engineered a means of integrating new footage and archival stock more seamlessly than anyone ever had before, and the visual effects team swept pretty much every awards race that season. Among Gump‘s 13 Oscar nominations, it won six including Hanks’ repeat Best Actor statuette, Best Screenplay for Eric Roth, Best Director for Zemeckis, and Best Picture. The double-disc soundtrack (remember those?) was also a hit — introducing a new set of kids to the greats from Bob Dylan, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more — ranking No. 28 on the Billboard albums chart that year (though The Lion King‘s soundtrack took the No. 4 slot and bested Gump, so “Hakuna Matata,” y’all).
Cultural Staying Power: Though some might say Forrest‘s sparkle has dulled over time, the America Film Institute named the film No. 76 on its list of “100 Years…100 Movies: 10th Anniversary Edition.” As mentioned above, it set many of its actors on a renewed path of success that’s lasted decades, and in Hanks’ case lifted him into the realm of the Hollywood elite. While garnering critical prestige, it remains one of the most quotable, audience-friendly films of the last 25 years thanks to simple but delicious phrases including “Jen-nay!” to “Seat’s taken” to “I… was… running!” to “Life is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.” Like its endearing hero, Forrest Gump proves to be wonderfully complex underneath a seemingly uncomplicated exterior, and that’s what makes it so lovable.