When you really think about it, Forrest Gump is a weird movie. Pitch it in the abstract – “let’s send this random hayseed careening through recent history like a southern Doctor Who” – and it sounds completely batshit. It might not be the weirdest Tom Hanks movie (*cough* The Polar Express *cough*) but it’s definitely bizarre – and there’s no better proof of the madness of Forrest Gump than the premise of the planned sequel, Forrest Gump 2.
“Well Gump,” [Lieutenant Dan] says, “I read in the newspapers you ain’t wasted no time stayin’ in the doghouse. You done tricked the Ayatolja, got throwed in jail for contemptin’ the Congress, caused a riot down at some religious theme park, got arrested an’ put on trial for swindling millions of people, was responsible for the greatest single maritime environment disaster of the world, an’ somehow managed to put an end to communism in Europe. All in all, I’d say you’ve had a fair few years.”
This brief extract from Gump and Co., Winston Groom’s book that was the basis for the Forrest Gump 2 screenplay, barely sums up half of this harebrained sequel. Sure, causing the Exxon Valdez oil spill is one thing, but this doesn’t even mention the sequence where Forrest kidnaps Saddam Hussein and tries to feed him pork chops, or when he wins an actual Academy Award for being “the most lovable certified idiot in America” – or even when Tom Hanks shows up to ramble about chocolate boxes (Groom tears down the fourth wall with as much gusto as Forrest does the Berlin Wall).
The book kicks off where you would expect: with Forrest Gump mopping floors in a strip club after the untimely ruin of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Things roll on from there, and while there is a loose plotline involving Forrest connecting with his son, Gump and Co. is far more concerned with burning questions like “What would happen if Forrest invented New Coke?” and “How can Forrest Gump be held responsible for Black Monday?” And let’s not forget the cameos: Ronald Reagan, Ayatollah Khomeini, Bill and Hillary Clinton – even former New York City mayor and current racist dishrag Rudy Giuliani gets a brief appearance. Then, just as you’re starting to wonder if the premise is wearing thin and things are going a bit too far, ghost Jenny shows up to support her husband’s historical (and sexual) escapades.
How on Earth, you may be asking, did a story of this calibre not make it onto the silver screen? Well, the concept took a hit right out the gate when Tom Hanks dismissed any notion of a sequel. “I have to confess I don’t see this as a franchise,” Hanks told Entertainment Weekly in 1995. “A sequel would ruin what we had done. It would be like Jaws 2 – I’ll be saying ‘box of chocolates’ again about the same time that Sean Connery says, ‘I’m Bond. James Bond.’”
Having America’s dad slam your idea must hurt, but the Paramount executives were not to be deterred. Unfortunately they had another problem, this one of their own making.
Bear with us here – we’ve gotta talk numbers.
Winston Groom was paid $350,000 for the screenplay rights to the first Gump novel, as well as being promised 3% of the net profit. Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis were each contracted for a share of the box office gross instead – meaning that when the film came out and took in $677 million as the box-office smash of 1994, Hanks and Zemeckis took home $40m apiece. And Groom? Groom initially got nothing, as thanks to a classic twist of Hollywood Accounting, Forrest Gump “didn’t actually make any money“; due to the costs of things like marketing, Paramount insisted that the production was still tens of millions of dollars in the red. Groom fought back with a lawsuit, hiring the same lawyer who represented Art Buchwald – the columnist and writer who alleged that the studio stole his idea for what would eventually become Coming to America. Paramount very quickly settled in June of 1996, while Groom took home a seven-figure contract for the rights to Gump & Co., as well as a coveted gross-points deal for Forrest Gump 2.
With Groom back on board, plans trundled forward, with the original film’s screenwriter Eric Roth returning to adapt Gump & Co. Roth is a something of an oddball – he writes his scripts in an old DOS program that limits him to 40 pages, and when he finishes a script he sends the studios a hard copy. Roth took seven years to write Forrest Gump, and Gump & Co. proved just as tricky a beast to wrangle.
Unfortunately, history would deliver the final blow to any plans for this sequel. After six years of work, Roth’s hard copy of Forrest Gump 2 was put in the mail on 10 September, 2001. The events of the next day put the brakes on any plans for the film; when Roth, Hanks and Robert Zemeckis sat down to talk through the finished script, they didn’t feel the concept suited a post-9/11 world. As Roth told SlashFilm in 2008, “We looked at each other and said, we don’t think this is relevant anymore. The world had changed.”
Forrest Gump 2 was never officially cancelled, and the project gained a little momentum briefly in 2007 when Paramount took another look at the sequel – but it doesn’t look like we’ll be returning to Mobile, Alabama any time soon. Gump & Co. sounds a little mad for its own good, so it might be for the best that Forrest Gump 2 never sees the light of day. It’s a crying shame though – with Groom and Roth both on board, and Hanks back in that white suit, who knows how it might have turned out?