My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
—Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
In 1994 Paramount’s top picture for the summer was the much anticipated Eddie Murphy action comedy Beverly Hills Cop III. After all, Cop III was the third in a series, with the previous two Cop movies being two of the most successful action comedies ever made. Scheduled to open in primetime for the Memorial Day weekend, most film buyers wanted Cop III in all of their theatres. Paramount Pictures demanded a hefty deal from those exhibitors fortunate enough to play Cop III. However, I had a hunch—and that is all it was, just a hunch—that maybe, Cop III wasn’t going to be the big picture that everyone was expecting it to be. Instead I had a gut feeling about Forrest Gump, Paramount’s number two movie in their summer lineup.
Now, in hindsight, most of us know Forrest Gump won six Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture of the Year Award. However, what is important to remember is that before it opened, Forest Gump was an unknown film, and it was a big question mark film as for as its grossing potential.
Even the so-called experts out in Hollywood didn’t know what do with Forrest Gump. Gump started out over at Warner Brothers. Warner wasn’t too excited about making Gump, but they kept looking at the success of the Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman’s 1988 film, Rain Man. The executives at Warner Brothers felt the stories were similar enough, each have a simple-minded man as the main character, and that maybe Gump, like Rain Man, could perform at the box office. However, after several failed attempts to come up with a screenplay, Warner decided to pass on making Forrest Gump. Then the producers of Gump shopped the idea to Sherry Lansing, the President of Paramount Pictures; she liked the story but was fearful that her studio would see little, if any, return on the $55 million investment to make Gump.
To make a long story short, what turned everything around and got the picture in production is when Tom Hanks, literally, came into the picture . . . and the rest is history. Sherry Lansing made a fantastic deal for Paramount: she green-lighted the $55 million to make Forrest Gump, and to date it has grossed a whopping $677 million worldwide.
Film buying is a risky business: I’ve picked winners and losers. I chose Forrest Gump because I looked at who was directing Gump, where many film buyers focused on actors or the safer bet of playing a sequel. When I saw Robert Zemeckis was directing Gump, that got my attention as Zemeckis had made my former companies a ton of money with two other films he directed: Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. So, which movie would have you gone with, the safe bet or the risky one?
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1. What was one of Eddie Murphy’s most disappointing films?
2. What was Tom Hanks’ salary for Forrest Gump?
3. Who won the coveted Academy Award for Best Actor of the Year in 1994?
Answers: 1. Beverly Hills Cop III; 2. $70 million (his contract was salary plus percentage of the gross); 3. Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump