What Is the Difference Between the Movie "Forrest Gump" & the Book?

by Joshua Wade
Tom Hanks starred in the 1994 movie

Tom Hanks starred in the 1994 movie "Forrest Gump."

Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Written in 1986 by Winston Groom, "Forrest Gump" spawned a sequel, "Gump and Co." in 1995, as well as an Academy Award winning film in 1994. Both the novel and its film adaptation concern the titular character, a savant who inadvertently bears witness to and participates in a number of historical events around the world. Although both works explore the character of Forrest Gump and his lifelong exploits, the original novel differs a great deal from its film adaptation, both in its material and tone.

Overall Tone

The film adaptation paints the main character as a lovable, mentally challenged man who brightens not only the people around him, but the world itself through his numerous encounters with celebrities, by his brushes with key historical events, and more important through his folksy wisdom. The overall tone of the novel is much edgier than that of the lighthearted family film. In the novel, Forrest abuses drugs while visiting Harvard, smokes consistently, uses quite a lot of profanity, explores a career as a professional wrestler, and even gambles on wrestling matches. Although the character in the novel seems to mean well, he makes many bad decisions and is sometimes prone to angry outbursts, unlike the character in the film.

The Character of Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump's very character in the novel is much different than that of the man portrayed by actor Tom Hanks. Groom's depiction of Gump is rougher, with Gump remaining very much an savant throughout the entirety of the novel, whereas by the end of the movie the character matures into a more thoughtful, wiser, and smarter person. Groom's Gump regularly enjoys marijuana, and although he does make his living from the shrimp business, his gives this business over to his crew deciding at the end of the novel to leave them to be a street performer. Gump is much more of a savant in the novel, rather than Hanks' lovable, mentally challenged portrayal. In the novel Forrest can solve complex mathematical equations and is a musical prodigy and a gifted chess player.

Other Characters

A number of important characters die throughout the course of the film. Although this develops Forrest Gump as a character and shows his growing maturity in the wake of tragedy, these characters do not die in the novel. Forrest's love interest, Jenny, as well as his mother, both live on at the close of the novel. Forrest's father is a longshoreman rather than a white supremacist, and his mother never resorts to sexual favors in order to keep Forrest in school. In addition, important characters were left out of the film, including Forrest's college roommate Curtis and a gorilla named Sue, whom Forrest befriends on his mission into space.

Important Events

Although Forrest takes part in historical events in both the film and the novel, a number of these events were altered, omitted, or invented for the film. The novel spans 26 chapters, while the film concerns itself with the first 11 chapters and certain events from the novel's final chapters, omitting a considerable portion of material. Forrest is a football star early in the novel; however, he is later described as overweight and not the film version's avid runner. Forrest's run across the United States does not happen in the novel, nor does he ever wear leg braces, marry Jenny, or even graduate college. The novel also describes Forrest's participation in a NASA mission into space, his time as an actor, a meeting with actress Rachel Welch, his time spent amongst cannibals, and a scene in which he saves the life of Chairman Mao Zedong during a trip to China. These and other parts of the novel were cut from the film to keep it close to two hours.


  • "Forrest Gump"; Winston Groom; 1986
  • "Forrest Gump"; Robert Zemeckis, director; 1994
  • "Gump and Co."; Winston Groom; 1995

Photo Credits

  • Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images