Robert Zemeckis’ beloved comedy-drama Forrest Gump wasn’t Tom Hanks’ breakout role – he had already won an Oscar for his performance as a lawyer suffering from AIDS in the 1993 film Philadelphia. Other successful projects before Forrest Gump included Big, Splash, and Sleepless in Seattle. However, after his iconic performance as the titular character in Forrest Gump, a compassionate yet naïve man, Hanks became an even greater star in the film industry.
Hanks won his second Oscar a year after his first win in what is an undeniably impressive feat. Bouncing off this success, the actor starred in a multitude of further successful films in the 1990s, including Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Toy Story, The Green Mile and You’ve Got Mail. The past 20 years have seen Hanks continue to star in countless productions, most recently he can be seen playing Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker in the Baz Luhrmann film Elvis. It is clear that Hanks’ role as Forrest gave him the career boost needed to shoot him to the status that he possesses today.
Despite the success of Forrest Gump, there is actually a lot to be criticised. From the questionable portrayal of mentally disabled people as childlike and meek individuals to the racial insensitiveness that runs throughout the film (Forrest is credited with teaching Elvis how to dance when in reality, it was Elvis who stole his moves from black artists), much of this is ignored in favour of the overly positive and easy-to-consume American propaganda that dominates the film.
However, the film, which earned $678 million worldwide, may have fared a lot different if Hanks didn’t take on the role of one of America’s most-loved characters. Other actors that were considered for the role include Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Sean Penn. But the first choice for the role actually belonged to John Travolta. Having starred in many hugely popular films in the 1970s, such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever, by the 1990s Travolta was in need of a career resurgence. The 1980s had brought Travolta many critical and commercial failures – it wasn’t until 1989 that the star featured in a film as successful as Grease, entitled Look Who’s Talking. After being offered the role of Forrest Gump, Travolta decided to turn the film down in favour of another project. Luckily for Travolta, this choice – the role of Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction – revitalised his career.
In fact, this role led to the actor’s Oscar nomination against Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump, which Travolta subsequently lost. However, Pulp Fiction has arguably stood the test of time a lot greater than Forrest Gump, and led Travolta to many more big, albeit questionable film roles, including parts in Face/Off, Get Shorty, and Phenomenon. Travolta claims he does not regret turning down the role of Forrest, instead saying: “If I didn’t do something Tom Hanks did, then I did something else that was equally interesting or fun, […] But I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created.”