Throwback Thursday: 'Forrest Gump' Ran Away With the Box Office in 1994

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

"Whenever we made one step forward, something always knocked us two steps back," Oscar-winning producer Wendy Finerman says of the movie's long road to theaters

This story first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Twenty years ago, THR's review predicted "sensational box office" for Forrest Gump, calling it a "wisely goofy commentary on the stupidity of smartness." "Sensational" might have been an understatement. The $45 million film — famed for the line "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get" — grossed $330 million domestically (not including the current Imax rerelease) and $347 million internationally. Gump was one of 1994's top five films at the U.S. box office for 14 weeks. The only film that made more money worldwide that year was The Lion King. But for what in retrospect seems like such an obvious crowdpleaser, the Winston Groom novel took a tortuous path to the screen.

Gump's Hollywood life began in 1985, when Wendy Finerman, working with producer Steve Tisch, read galleys and brought Groom's novel to Warner Bros., where it was optioned. But the project wallowed in limbo. "Whenever we made one step forward, something always knocked us two steps back," says Finerman. Just the fact that Rain Man, another story with a low-IQ main character, was being made stalled Gump. After roughly seven years, Warners put it in turnaround.

Paramount picked it up, and in exchange, Warners got a few hundred thousand dollars and the rights to Executive Decision, which would star Kurt Russell. But Gump took on a new life when Sherry Lansing, a fan of the project, became studio head. Ivan Reitman, Barry Sonnenfeld and Penny Marshall were considered as directors. And there were discussions with Matthew Broderick to play Gump. When Robert Zemeckis agreed to direct and Tom Hanks to star (both took a percentage in lieu of salary and made in the range of $40 million each) with an Eric Roth script, Gump's destiny was set.

"When you truly believe in something, you just can't give up," says Finerman.

"Dreams can come true." Gump — which spawned 39 Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants from Santa Monica to Kuala Lumpur — went on to win six Oscars, with producers Finerman, Tisch and Steve Starkey accepting for best picture.

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