The classic film Forrest Gump is very different from the novel it’s based on. The beloved 1994 tear-jerker has gone down in history as a definitive piece of American cinema and introduced audiences to a remarkable title character who, it seems, had done a little bit of everything in his storied life. However, as outrageous as Forrest’s exploits were in the film version of the story, the things he got up to in the novel ranged from the hilarious to the utterly preposterous.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring the inimitable Tom Hanks as the titular everyman, Forrest Gump follows the incredible life of a simple-minded man with a true heart of gold. The story, largely told in flashback by Forrest himself, takes viewers on a trip through the latter half of 20th-century America through the eyes of a guy who somehow manages to experience every triumph and tragedy the era had to offer. With equal parts heartbreak and life-affirming joy, Forrest navigates the many ups and downs of his existence while finding love, purpose, and enlightenment.
The movie was produced for a modest budget by a studio that had little faith in the finished product, but ultimately ended up making a fortune at the box office and managed to rack up a pile of well-earned Oscar nominations and wins. Today, the big-screen adaptation of Forrest Gump is regarded as one of the best movies of all time, and its popularity has easily overshadowed that of the book it was based on. Written by Winston Groom in 1986, “Forrest Gump” made little impact upon its release, and had all but faded into obscurity before the decision was made to adapt it into a film. While similar in terms of plot progression and framing, the differences between the two versions of the story are pretty drastic, with Forrest’s adventures in the book taking him to places that the movie avoided. Here’s a look at everything that was changed.
There’s a good reason why Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump is one of the most loved characters in cinema history. The gentle, good-natured man speaks softly and innocently, interacting with the world as a child might. His lack of a high IQ might make him less “book smart” than his contemporaries, but his focus, hysterically random skills, and big heart make him easy to love. However, this winning formula is slightly different in the book. While the novel version of Forrest still retains his childlike personality and innocence, he can be gruff and even violent at times. He is also heard swearing on many occasions throughout the book, an idea that was completely dropped for the film. The book also sees Forrest display infrequent moments of high intelligence relating to subjects like mathematics and physics, which was also abandoned by the filmmakers.
In both versions of Forrest Gump, one of the key events in Forrest’s life is meeting his friend Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue. The two form a close bond, largely owing to their similar mentalities and IQ. After becoming brothers in arms, Bubba eventually dies in combat in Vietnam, leading Forrest to honor his sacrifice with the eventual opening of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Corporation. One key difference between the two stories is how the good friends first find each other: in the film, Forrest famously meets and befriends Bubba during basic training, while in the book, the two meet during a football game while they are attending university together.
One of the most memorable parts of the film version of Forrest Gump sees the Vietnam vet return home to America and fulfil a promise to the deceased Bubba to start a shrimping enterprise. After teaming up with the legless Lieutenant Dan, Forrest establishes a massive shrimp-based empire and quickly becomes a millionaire. Eventually, he leaves the company behind to return to a simple life in his old home after his mother’s passing. In the book, however, things play out a bit differently. Instead of returning to the states, Forrest begins raising shrimp in small ponds in Vietnam. After hitting it big with his shrimp company, Forrest begins to yearn for a simple life and sacrifices the company to Bubba’s family before hitting the road as a one-man band. Lieutenant Dan doesn’t play a part in the company, nor does he inherit it after Forrest leaves.
Throughout the Forrest Gump film, Forrest travels through multiple historical events, experiences a variety of weird and wonderful adventures, and takes on a number of unexpected vocations. From becoming a champion football player and a war hero to establishing a multi-million dollar corporation and even emerging as a world-renowned Ping-Pong master, Forrest ends up leading quite the storied existence. However, the book included even more for Forrest to do, and some of his in-print exploits were downright bizarre.
One accomplishment of Forrest’s that was omitted from the movie was his proclivity for chess. In the book, Forrest’s aforementioned higher IQ allows him to master the game and become a world-class player. This was ultimately removed from the film largely for reasons of length and pacing, with more emphasis instead being placed on Forrest’s Ping-Pong career. One of the book’s most notorious plotlines involved Forrest Gump becoming an astronaut and venturing into outer space alongside an orangutan named Sue. Unsurprisingly, this concept was dropped for being a bit too ridiculous.
Throughout all of Forest Gump’s various misadventures, high points, and low points, his guiding light remains Jenny, the girl he has been desperately in love with since his childhood. After being inspirable as kids, the two ventured on different life paths, with Forrest leaving school to join the army and Jenny ultimately succumbing to a life of drug and alcohol abuse. In the film, after years of intermittent separation and heartbreak, Forrest discovers that Jenny has given birth to his son, and the three finally come together as a family until Jenny passes away a year later. As sad as this ending is, the book takes an even more upsetting turn. While Jenny ultimately gets to live, she ends up taking Forrest’s son away from him so that she can run off with another man. While Jenny passing away is undeniably sad, the film’s decision to let Forrest Gump‘s titular hero at least raise his son was definitely a smart move.