Why Forrest Gump Took Almost A Decade To Finally Make It To The Big Screen

There are few films more American than "Forrest Gump." Starring "America's dad," Tom Hanks, the story follows a pure-hearted if somewhat naive young man who bunks with Elvis Presley, meets JFK, serves with honor in Vietnam, and speaks alongside Abbie Hoffman at an antiwar rally on the National Mall. The film has become so lodged into the collective American mindset that "Forrest Gump" has become shorthand for a regular person who existed at the periphery of major historical events and alongside famous figures. When the film premiered in the summer of 1994, it was a hit. It was an astounding coup for producer Wendy Finerman, who slogged through Hollywood for nearly a decade to get the film made.

Though it's now known as an American classic, "Forrest Gump” was a tough sell even for Finerman, the wife of Columbia/Tri-Star Motion Picture Group chairman Mark Canton. Finerman told The New York Times that for years, Hollywood passed on her pitch.

"Actors, directors, agents, studio people were just not interested in the project," she theorized, "partly because of 'Rain Man.' People would ask me what I was working on, and I'd say, 'Forrest Gump,' and they'd get that glazed look. I knew they were thinking, 'When is she going to give up?'"

Box office run

But Finerman wasn't just the wife of a Hollywood executive, she knew the entertainment industry inside and out. After starting her career at The Movie Channel and moving onto Universal Television, she became vice president of production and development at Steve Tisch Productions. When she read the galley copies of "Forrest Gump" in 1985, she and director Robert Zemeckis were compelled by its unconventional narrative style that blended comedy and pathos.

Zemeckis and his star, Tom Hanks, were so convinced in the film's quality that they took pay cuts to ensure the production's viability. At the time, Paramount wanted to trim the film's $50 million budget. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the studio requested Tisch and Finerman cut their salaries by $10 million, and Zemeckis and Hanks cut a deal of their own, banking on the film's success:

"Under the original deal for 'Forrest Gump,' Zemeckis and Hanks had contracts that called for the star to be paid $7 million and the director to earn $5 million. The salaries were the highest single budget item in the movie, and Hanks and Zemeckis agreed to, in Hollywood parlance, 'defer' a portion of their fees in return for a formula-based share of the box office. If the movie had not been a success, they might have ended up with much less than their original salaries."

A Hollywood original

"Forrest Gump" became the little movie that could, shattering box offices and breaking hearts. Its story of a beloved underdog, and the story of the film's own labored creation, should have been a lesson for Hollywood to have more faith in the small and quirky.

The last two decades of the movie business has proven the opposite. Far from investing in original stories, studios are resuscitating well-worn franchises and mining our nostalgia with endless reboots. Hollywood had already found itself in the midst of "remake fever" by the mid-aughts, and the ailment shows no signs of waning.

After all those years of pushing "Forrest Gump," Finerman had no optimism for the fate of original stories in the current climate. In a 2019 interview with Cinema Blend, she observed that "Forrest Gump getting made today would be very difficult. To look back and say Forrest Gump would never get made today — we know that's probably true ... and was still very difficult to, obviously, get made many years ago."

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. Other times it's like going to the movies: the same thing over and over again.