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.