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While most people probably think of 1994’s Forrest Gump chiefly as one of Tom Hanks’ most popular movies, let’s not forget it’s among the biggest credits on director Robert Zemeckis’ resume. However, before Zemeckis came aboard Forrest Gump, the plan was for The Addams Family’s Barry Sonnenfeld to helm the feature about an Alabaman man who was got caught up in many notable mid-late 20th century historical events.
Barry Sonnenfeld ultimately decided to pass on directing Forrest Gump, but during the time he was attached, he suggested to Tom Hanks that the eponymous character be changed in a key way compared to how he’s depicted in the original source material: having him be a skilled runner. As Sonnenfeld recalled during his recent appearance on the ReelBlend podcast:
When I was finishing Adams Family, the head of Paramount… was a guy named Gary Lucchesi. Gary had a novel called Forrest Gump. And he said, ‘Look, I've got eight scripts, [and] they all suck. Can you read this book, and tell me if you want to do it.’ So I read Gump and the lead of Gump was actually a big fat guy who was really strong. He was like Confederacy of Dunces, in many ways. And I said to Gary, ‘Well, here's what I would do. I would make Gump a runner instead of a fat big guy, and I'll send it to [Tom] Hanks, if you're okay with it.’ And Gary said, ‘Sure, send it to Hanks.’ So I sent Hanks a novel. I said, ‘You should be a runner, not a fat guy.’ I said, ‘You probably don't want to do it, because it's too much like Big in that he's another version of a man child.’ You know?
The original Forrest Gump novel, written by Winston Groom, was published in 1986, and the film rights were snagged several years later by Paramount Pictures. However, as with any cinematic adaptation, creative liberties were taken, including multiple chapters from the book being skipped over, new life events for the main character and, straight from Barry Sonnenfeld, making Tom Hanks’ Forrest into a runner.
That proved to be a good call, as Forrest Gump’s running proved to be one of the most memorable aspects of the movie, from outrunning those bullies in his school years to racing as a college football player to spending three years as a cross-country marathoner. And needles to say that Tom Hanks clearly didn’t think Forrest Gump was too similar to 1988’s Big since he accepted the role and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
As for why Barry Sonnenfeld passed on the opportunity to direct Forrest Gump, it’s because he was offered Addams Family Values at the same time, and when push came to shove, Sonnenfeld decided he’d rather stick with the creepy, kooky and altogether ooky clan. The filmmaker explained:
Hanks signs on, we get Eric Roth to write this screenplay. And then Paramount decides they want to do Addams Family Values. So I said I'll only do Addams Family Values if you wait for me to do Gump. And I'll do both. Paramount says yes. [But another studio exec] says, ‘I don't want to wait.’ And by the way, she's right. Hanks could die. There could be three other movies just like this one. There's so many things that could go wrong. She didn't want to wait. I had to choose between Forrest Gump or Addams Family Values. And Addams Family was, you know, my firstborn. It is the first thing I ever directed. So it was an easy choice for me to do Addams Family Values. What I should have done is made sure my agent, who's no longer my agent, but at the time, was to have gotten me a producing credit since I got Hanks and it was my idea to make him a runner. But it didn't happen. But anyway, I always knew that Hanks was going to be an actor that expanded beyond comedies, because he's just a really good actor.
Maybe there’s an alternate reality where Barry Sonnenfeld ended up scoring that producer credit and was able to contribute to Forrest Gump further. Still, in our reality, he left an important impact on that movie, and deciding to helm Addams Family Values also proved to be a wise decision, as like its predecessor, the sequel was met with a solid amount of positive reception. Sonnenfeld went on to direct the original Men in Black trilogy and Wild Wild West, among other things.
Feel free to listen to ReelBlend’s full interview with Barry Sonnenfeld below.
Made off a $55 million budget, Forrest Gump collected over $678 million worldwide during its theatrical run, and in addition to Tom Hanks bringing home an Oscar that year, the movie won five other Academy Awards and scored seven other nominations. There was also talk about giving Forrest Gump a sequel in the 2000s, but such a project never moved forward.
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