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The Movies to Watch After You’ve Seen ‘Forrest Gump’

In this edition of Movie DNA, we explore the best movies to watch after you see the 1994 Best Picture winner, Forrest Gump.
Forrest Gump
By  · Published on September 7th, 2014

Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy like-minded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch next if you like Forrest Gump.

This weekend, Paramount Pictures re-released their 1994 Best Picture winner, Forrest Gump, on IMAX screens. It wasn’t a huge deal, hitting far fewer theaters than the Ghostbusters re-release also going on right now, and only took in an extra $405k to add to its $678m worldwide gross of 20 years ago. Maybe you went to see it on the giant screen for the first time. Or maybe you skipped this return to theaters because you’ve seen it a billion times already. Forrest Gump was, after all, the highest-grossing of its year, is one of the top 25 highest-grossing movies of all time when accounting for inflation, and has gone on to be one of the most iconic and quotable of the past few decades, inspiring plenty of parodies and recently being selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Not bad for a movie that only seemed to be a groundbreaking work of drama and special effects. Of course, it also distinguishes itself with epic storytelling, much of it based in nostalgia, and a lovable performance from Tom Hanks. Hopefully, it has influenced fans to seek out the actual histories and precursors, but if not I have a list of recommendations of at least the movies that came before as well as some of the TV appearances and archival clips that Forrest was digitally inserted into for some retconned events from the past. I’ve chosen not to include similar movies that have come out since the release of Gump that would make sense to see afterward – obviously The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Watchmen and less obviously documentaries such as The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

In the event that you somehow haven’t seen Gump, you can still check out the list, as I’m pretty sure it’s free of major spoilers.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles based the title character of this movie, considered one of the best of all time, on real newspaper man William Randolph Hearst, who was a prominent enough figure in history to be both a part of and influence on major events during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Kane causes the Spanish-American War, marries the niece of the current (yet fictionalized) President, runs for office against a man based on Tammany Hall’s Charles Francis Murphy, gets together with a woman modeled off actress Marion Davies and is seen in one bit next to Teddy Roosevelt.

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

Robert Drew’s landmark documentary could have easily provided some footage to the movie. In one sequence, Forrest ignorantly finds his way into the situation at the University of Alabama when Governor George Wallace attempted to stop the desegregation of the school. Drew and his associates made the greatest film of these events – in fact, it’s one of the greatest nonfiction films of all time, an early example of American cinema verite (or Direct Cinema) – featuring material shot at the university intercut with material shot at the same time at the White House. Interestingly enough, the film was selected for the National Film Registry the same year as Gump.

Zelig (1983)

Anyone who’d seen this brilliantly funny mockumentary by Woody Allen may not have been impressed with Gump’s concept or effects. The film also stars Allen as an infamous “human chameleon” named Leonard Zelig, who shows up in newsreels and photographs as having attended many major events throughout the early 20th century. Through non-digital movie magic, the character shows up alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Adolf Hitler, Charles Lindbergh and “Citizen Kane” himself, William Randolph Hearst. Rather than feigning ignorance of this movie, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston apparently acknowledged it as an inspiration.

Back to the Future (1985)

Nearly a decade before making Gump, director Robert Zemeckis made this classic time-travel teen movie, which similarly involves a protagonist unintentionally messing with history and the origins of such things as the skateboard (maybe?) and rock and roll – or at least the sound of Chuck Berry. Also watch the sequels, because in Back to the Future Part III, Marty also inadvertently invents the Frisbee (also retcon invented in The Hudsucker Proxy, which I’d have included on this list had it come out before the making of Gump – it was both shot and released ahead, but wouldn’t have been known about by Zemeckis and co.). Also, like in Gump, actors are re-employed to play their characters’ ancestors, which is kinda ridiculous.

Young Einstein (1988)

If Marty McFly didn’t invent rock and roll, maybe Albert Einstein did? In this largely forgotten and admittedly dumb (but fun) Australian comedy made by and starring Yahoo Serious, the scientist’s younger days are reimagined to have him come from a land down under. He also invents surfing and carbonated beer, impossibly meets Charles Darwin and saves the world.

Elvis (1979)

Or maybe Elvis Presley truly invented rock and roll? And maybe he got his signature dance moves from a young Forrest Gump, as we see in the movie? Arguably the best biopic about the King is this TV movie originally aired on ABC. Kurt Russell stars as Elvis, a comeback role following his stint in professional baseball (see the new documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball for that story) and his initial pairing with director John Carpenter. A year later, Russell starred in Used Cars, directed by Zemeckis, who would work with the actor again for an uncredited voice performance dubbing Elvis’s lines in Gump.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Forrest’s life touches many historical and pop culture events, but it’s surprising that his story isn’t told via more cinematic references. A rare instance, though, has him pushing Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) across the street in New York City and when a taxi gets too close, the wheelchair-bound Dan ironically yells, “I’m walkin’ here!” Of course, it’s not a case of Dan inventing the iconic line out of the blue. The scene takes place two years after the release of this other Best Picture winner, and Dan likely is quoting from it. Aiding in the recognition, during the bit, Gump features Midnight Cowboy’s hit soundtrack tune, “Everybody’s Talkin.”

Punchline (1988)

Isn’t it funny how Sally Fields plays Forrest’s mom, even though she’s only 10 years older than Hanks? Not really, no funnier than this earlier movie starring the two of them as struggling stand-up comedians, she eventually the object of his affections even though she’s an older, married mother of two. It’s stunning how non-comedic a movie about comedians can be, and that’s surely something that hurt the movie in its release and since. Especially coming out soon after Big. But without the contexts that will logically leave you disappointed, there’s plenty to like about the film, from its original premise to its performances, including support from John Goodman, who as it turns out was “Forrest Gump” author Winston Groom’s ideal actor to play his title character.

The World According to Garp (1982)

There were plenty of champions of this movie recently following the death of Robin Williams, but it has always been in need of extra love. Garp and Gump are both life story epics based on novels and they present very similar childhoods for their respective heroes. Each character is born during World War II and raised by a single mother, and really that’s about it for a while, but they easily bond in the memory as kindred movies. This was of course pointed out at the time of the latter’s release, particularly by Gene Siskel in a special episode of Siskel & Ebert devoted to the significance of Gump, including recommendations of movies like that one.

Being There (1979)

After Siskel brings up Garp as a movie like Gump, he passes on recommending it to instead endorse this Hal Ashby movie starring Peter Sellers as another simpleton who winds up meeting the President and having influence on American history. He’s much less of a participant in events than Forrest, though, as he memorably just “likes to watch.” But as Siskel notes, it’s also about “innocence masquerading as wisdom” but adds that they two movies are “point and counterpoint, with a smile.” He celebrates both together rather than dismissing Gump in favor of championing Being There in its place. I agree they’d make a great double feature. I’m less on board with Roger Ebert’s pick in that segment for Born on the Fourth of July. At least as a double-feature selection.

Rain Man (1988)

Yes, here’s another movie about a simple-minded yet brilliant character (or idiot savant), one who doesn’t fit with Forrest nearly as well as Being There’s Chance the Gardener. But Rain Man has a special significance to Gump in how long it took the latter to finally perfectly be made into the movie it was. Warner Bros. initially acquired the rights to Groom’s novel, but after releasing Rain Man they figured there was no place for another character like Dustin Hoffman’s, especially after all the acclaim and awards it received. They were wrong, or at least there was enough time passed before intercepting studio Paramount released Gump, and the latter wound up with just as much acclaim and awards. They both took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay (Rain Man’s original, Gump’s adapted). Rain Man was also the highest-grossing Best Picture winner until Gump surpassed it.

Original Versions of Clips Seen in Forrest Gump:

Elvis on The Milton Berle Show

Universal Newsreel of George Wallace and His “School House Door” Speech

Sgt. Sammy L. Davis Receiving His Medal of Honor From Lyndon Johnson

Richard Nixon and Ping Pong Diplomacy

John Lennon on The Dick Cavett Show

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.