The Forrest Gump Novel Was Very Different (Every Change Explained)

Forrest Gump Book v Movie

Forrest Gump has gone down in history as a definitive piece of American cinema and introduced audiences to a remarkable title character, but as outrageous as Forrest’s exploits were in the film, the things he got up to in the novel ranged from the hilarious to the utterly preposterous. Largely told in flashback by Forrest himself, the Forrest Gump novel 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. The movie was produced for a modest budget by a studio that had little faith in director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Eric Roth’s adaptation of the Forrest Gump novel.


Today, however, Forrest Gump is regarded as one of the best movies of all time, and its popularity has easily overshadowed that of the book from which Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis adapted the story. Written by Winston Groom in 1986, the Forrest Gump novel 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.

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Forrest Has A Different Personality

Forrest Gump sitting on a bench in Forrest Gump

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. Though this makes him less “book smart” than his contemporaries, his focus, hysterically random skills, and big heart make him easy to love. There’s also the fact that Forrest Gump‘s accent makes him all the more endearing, which is obviously an element that only the movie could bring to the table. Indeed, this winning formula is slightly different in the Forrest Gump novel.

While the book 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.

Forrest Doesn’t Meet Bubba In The Army

Forrest Gump cradles a dying Bubba on a field in Forrest Gump.

In both the movie and the Forrest Gump novel, 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 Forrest Gump novel, the two meet during a football game while they are attending university together.

Forrest Starts & Leaves His Shrimp Company Differently

Forrest Gump & Lieutenant Dan

One of the most memorable parts of the film version of Forrest Gump sees the Vietnam vet return home to America and fulfill 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. These underscore how both the Forrest Gump novel and movie adapted history, though things play out differently in the book.

Related: Forrest Gump Is Secretly Dead – Theory Explained

In the movie, Forrest leaves the company behind to return to a simple life in his old home after his mother’s passing. But in the Forrest Gump novel, 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 the shrimping business for good.

Forrest Plays Chess & Goes To Space

Throughout the Forrest Gump film, Forrest travels through multiple historic 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 Forrest Gump novel 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.

Forrest Never Ends Up With Jenny

Forrest Gump reads a book to Forrest Jr outside in Forrest Gump.

Throughout all of Forrest 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 inseparable 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. This set up the most crucial turning point in the story of Forrest Gump. In the film, after years of intermittent separation and heartbreak, Forrest Gump and Jenny’s son was born, and the three finally come together as a family until Jenny passes away a year later.

Related: Forrest Gump’s Run: How Long Did It Take, And What Was His Route?

As sad as this ending is, the Forrest Gump novel 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. Although 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.

Is Forrest Gump Better As A Book Or Movie?

Forrest Gump Tom Hanks

Whether the Forrest Gump movie is better than the novel is ultimately a matter of taste. In contrast to the movie’s perfect mainstream appeal, the Forrest Gump novel wasn’t exactly aimed at all audiences, with Forrest having a history of violence and legal trouble. Curiously, Forrest Gump’s dark past was merely hinted at in the movie, when Jenny’s scrapbook is shown including a newspaper clipping about Forrest being investigated in his hometown.

This moment underscores what makes the movie and novel truly different: the movie is a Hollywood adaptation of an absurdist novel, which is also why the novel is largely considered to be unreadable. Written from Forrest’s perspective, the novel is filled with spelling and grammatical errors, and not every reader is prepared for such a format. Although necessary to the story, the way it’s written can be difficult even for readers of absurdist literature. Even the hilarious scenario of Forrest Gump going into space served as little reward for trudging through prose that seems designed not to flow.

By toning down the absurdity and adapting only the elements necessary for inventing one of cinema’s most endearing characters, Forrest Gump avoided being one of the many movie roles turned down by Tom Hanks, and instead became universally loved. Inspired by the dark and absurd tale of a genius, Robert Zemeckis crafted a cornerstone movie for an entire generation, the creative footprints of which can still be observed in triumphant dramas and comedies like Walk Hard, Good Will Hunting, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There’s certainly enough evidence to say that the movie is better than the book, especially in terms of cultural impact. That said, Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump isn’t a bad book – it’s just extremely different from the movie.

Related: Forrest Gump’s Son Isn’t Actually His Child – Theory Explained

What The Forrest Gump Author Thinks Of The Movie

Forrest Gump Book v Movie

Forrest Gump novel writer Winston Groom didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the team behind the movie, but before Groom died in 2020, he had smoothed things over with everyone involved in the production, made a fortune from royalties, and had praised the now-classic film. With viewers continuing to watch Forrest Gump online and discussing the character in forums, Groom was also surprised by his character’s persistent popularity years after the movie’s theatrical release.

Notably, despite screenwriter Eric Roth’s massive deviations from his book, Groom ultimately approved of Tom Hanks’ definitive version of Forrest Gump. In an interview with the New York Times following the film’s release in 1994 (via Washington Post), Groom said, “They kept the character pretty much as I intended… As I see it, it’s a story about human dignity, and the fact that you don’t have to be smart or rich to maintain your dignity even when some pretty undignified things are happening all around you.”

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