AFI Top 100: Forrest Gump

In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This column will explore my thoughts on 35 films I’ve selected from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Forrest Gump (1994), #76 on the list.

Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump. Literally, sure, but also figuratively. The film rests so intensely on his legendary shoulders, it’s surprising the Academy even bothered nominating four other actors that year. Hanks’ skill as an actor is undeniable, though he often plays a similar fatherly figure role – warm, friendly, wholesome, etc. – and I rarely feel like he disappears into a character. Forrest Gump is a major exception. Not only does he adopt a very specific speaking pattern and dialect, but his mannerisms and physical presence are distinct from his other performances. In the 25 years since its release, the film has been quoted to death, so much so that even those who haven’t seen it could finish the line “Life is like a box of chocolates…” It’s a testament to Hanks’ talent that these lines, even after years of endless jokes, don’t elicit eye-rolling. The rest of the film is a mixed bag. The quick pacing helps mask the inherently episodic structure but the writing is transparently lazy. The supporting performances are mostly strong, but they’re undoubtedly eclipsed by Hanks’ career-defining turn. Robert Zemeckis’ approach to the material is suitably compassionate, but often flavorless. It’s obvious that the central performance was what won the film Best Picture at the Oscars and put it on the AFI Top 100.

Does it belong on the list?

It’s heartwarming and easily one of Tom Hanks’ best performances, but one of the best American films ever? Definitely not. I anticipate this would drop even further from the list (already down 5 slots from the 1998 list) if revised again. 

Next Week: The Godfather Part II and The Best Years of Our Lives

AFI Top 100

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