Principal photography took place in late 1993, mainly in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Extensive visual effects were used to incorporate Hanks into archived footage and to develop other scenes. A comprehensive soundtrack was featured in the film, using music intended to pinpoint specific time periods portrayed on screen. Its commercial release made it a top-selling soundtrack, selling over twelve million copies worldwide.
Released in the United States on July 6, 1994, Forrest Gump became a commercial success as the top grossing film in North America released in that year, being the first major success for Paramount Pictures since the studio's sale to Viacom, earning over $677 million worldwide during its theatrical run.
In 1995 it won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Zemeckis, Best Actor for Tom Hanks, Best Adapted Screenplay for Eric Roth, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing. It also garnered multiple other awards and nominations, including Golden Globes, People's Choice Awards, and Young Artist Awards, among others. Since the film's release varying interpretations have been made of the film's protagonist and its political symbolism. In 1996, a themed restaurant, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, opened based on the film and has since expanded to multiple locations worldwide.
The scene of Gump running across the country is often referred to when real-life people attempt the feat.In 2011, the Library of Congress selected Forrest Gump for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant
In 1981, Forrest Gump watches a feather fall from the sky at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia. He recounts his life story to strangers who sit next to him on the bench, recounting his childhood in the town of Greenbow, Alabama.
On his first day of school, Forrest meets a girl named Jenny Curran, whose life is followed in parallel to Gump's at times. Despite his below level intelligence quotient, his ability to run at lightning speed gets him into college on a football scholarship. After his college graduation, he enlists in the army, where he makes friends with a black man named Bubba and becomes an exemplary soldier, Bubba convinces Gump to go into the shrimping business with him when the war is over.
They are sent to Vietnam, and during an ambush, Bubba is killed in action. Gump ends up saving much of his platoon, including his Lieutenant, Dan Taylor, who loses both legs due to the nature of his injuries. Gump is awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.
While Gump is in recovery for a shot to his buttocks, he discovers his uncanny ability for ping-pong, eventually gaining popularity and rising to celebrity status, later playing ping-pong competitively against Chinese teams in ping pong diplomacy. At an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., Gump reunites with Jenny, who has been living a counterculture lifestyle.
Returning home, Gump endorses a company that makes ping-pong paddles, earning himself $25,000, which he uses to buy a shrimping boat, fulfilling his promise to Bubba. Lieutenant Dan joins Gump, and although they initially have little success, after finding their boat the only surviving one in the area after Hurricane Carmen, they begin to pull in huge amounts of shrimp. They use their income to buy an entire fleet of shrimp boats. Lieutenant Dan invests the money in Apple and Gump is financially secure for the rest of his life. He returns home to see his mother's last days.
One day, Jenny returns to visit Gump and he proposes marriage to her. She refuses, but feels obliged to prove her love to him by having sex with him. She leaves early the next morning. On a whim, Gump elects to go for a run. Seemingly capriciously, he decides to keep running across the country several times, over three and a half years, becoming famous in the process and inspiring many well known logos like the smiley sticker.
In present-day, Gump reveals that he is waiting at the bus stop because he received a letter from Jenny who, having seen him run on television, asks him to visit her. Once he is reunited with Jenny, she introduces him to his son, also named Forrest. Jenny tells Gump she is suffering from an unknown virus (possibly HIV, though this is never specified). Together the three move back to Greenbow, Alabama. Jenny and Forrest finally marry but she dies soon afterward.
Father and son waiting for the school bus on Forrest Jr's first day of school. Opening the book his son is taking to school, the white feather from the beginning of the film is caught on a breeze and drifts skyward.
- Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump: Though at an early age he is deemed to have a below average IQ of 75, he has an endearing character and shows devotion to his loved ones and duties, character traits which bring him into many life-changing situations. Along the way, he encounters many historical figures and events throughout his life. Tom's younger brother Jim Hanks is his acting double in the movie for the scenes when Forrest runs across America. Tom's daughter Elizabeth Hanks appears in the movie as the girl on the school bus who refuses to let young Forrest (Michael Conner Humphreys) sit next to her. John Travolta was the original choice to play the title role, and admits passing on the role was a mistake. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were also considered for the role. Hanks revealed that he signed onto the film after an hour and a half of reading the script. He initially wanted to ease Forrest's pronounced Southern accent, but was eventually persuaded by director Robert Zemeckis to portray the heavy accent stressed in the novel. Hanks agreed to take the role only on the condition that the film was historically accurate. Michael Conner Humphreys portrayed the young Forrest Gump. Hanks revealed in interviews that after hearing Michael's unique accented drawl, he incorporated it into the older character's accent. Winston Groom, who wrote the original novel, describes the film as having taken the "rough edges" off of the character, and envisioned him being played by John Goodman.
- Robin Wright as Jenny Curran: Forrest's childhood friend whom he immediately falls in love with and never stops loving throughout his life. A victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of her bitterly widowed father, Jenny embarks on a different path than Forrest, leading a self-destructive life and becoming part of the hippie movement in the 1960s and the 1970s/1980s drug culture. She re-enters Forrest's life at various times in adulthood. Jenny eventually becomes a waitress in Savannah, Georgia, where she lives in an apartment with her (and Forrest's) son, Forrest Jr. They eventually get married, but soon afterwards she dies of an unspecified illness caused by a kind of virus. Though her illness is heavily implied to be HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C is a strong possibility as Forrest Sr. and Forrest Jr. were never portrayed as contracting any illness, and the Hepatitis C virus was not discovered until 1989 - long after Jenny's death Hanna R. Hall portrayed the young Jenny.
- Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan Taylor: Forrest and Bubba Blue's platoon leader during the Vietnam War, whose ancestors have died in every American war and regards it as his destiny to do the same. After losing his legs in an ambush and being rescued against his will by Forrest, he is initially bitter and antagonistic towards Forrest for leaving him a "cripple" and denying him his family's destiny, falling into a deep depression. He later serves as Forrest's first mate at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, gives most of the orders, and regains his will to live. He ultimately forgives and thanks Forrest for saving his life. By the end of the film, he is engaged to be married and is sporting "magic legs" – titanium alloy prosthetics which allow him to walk again.
- Mykelti Williamson as Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue: Bubba is Forrest's friend whom he meets upon joining the Army. Bubba was originally supposed to be the senior partner in the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, but due to his death in Vietnam, their platoon leader, Dan Taylor, took his place. The company posthumously carried his name. Forrest and Dan later gave Bubba's mother Bubba's share of the business. Throughout filming, Williamson wore a lip attachment to create Bubba's protruding lip. David Alan Grier,Ice Cube and Dave Chappelle were all offered the role before turning it down. Chappelle said he believed the film would be unsuccessful, and also acknowledged that he regrets not taking the role.
- Sally Field as Mrs. Gump: Forrest's devoted mother, who raises him after his father abandons them. Field reflected on the character, "She's a woman who loves her son unconditionally. ... A lot of her dialogue sounds like slogans, and that's just what she intends."
- Haley Joel Osment as Forrest Gump, Jr.: Forrest and Jenny's son. Osment was cast in the film after the casting director had noticed him in a Pizza Hut commercial.
- Peter Dobson as Elvis: A house guest Forrest encounters. Although Kurt Russell was uncredited, he provided the voice over for Elvis in the scene where Elvis meets Forrest.
- Dick Cavett as himself: Cavett played the 1970s version of himself, with makeup applied to make him appear younger. Consequently, Cavett is the only well-known figure in the film to play a cameo role rather than be represented through the use of archival footage like John Lennon or President John F. Kennedy
- Sam Anderson as Principal Hancock: Forrest's elementary school principal.
- Geoffrey Blake as Wesley: A member of the SDS group and Jenny's abusive boyfriend.
- Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Dorothy Harris: The school bus driver who drives both Forrest, and later his son, to school.
- Sonny Shroyer as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant: Forrest's football coach at the University of Alabama.
- Grand L. Bush, Michael Jace, Conor Kennelly, and Teddy Lane Jr. as the Black Panthers: Members of an organization that protests the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and anti-black racism.
- Jed Gillin, as the voice of President Kennedy, who Forrest meets in the White House Oval Office.