From the abstract in Wikipedia, some of the humor of Forrest Gump stems from the fact that he causes events in American history and meets American celebrities.

Without knowing much about events and persons from American history, would I still be able to enjoy Forrest Gump?

  • 15
    Quite interesting question and I disagree with closevote reasons.
    – Ankit Sharma
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 7:26
  • 13
    I think this answer would depend on how separated you were from US culture. As a Brit with no particular interest in US history, I think I pretty much understood it all. A Martian, on the other hand, may have struggled.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 7:31
  • 10
    Go ahead, watch the movie, and if you need some explanations that you can't find on the internet, ask them here ;-) Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 8:26
  • 3
    Even if you don't know anything about American history, this movie could be a gateway to learning about certain events in American and Global history, and expanding your general knowledge.
    – Vahx
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 12:23
  • 22
    "... to enjoy Forrest Gump" - whether you enjoy it is a matter of opinion. A little less subjective would be to ask if it's necessary to understand the plot.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 21:54

5 Answers 5


Forrest Gump as a person has quite the strong development in character, but that is not the main strength of the movie. Its true power lies in the enormous amount of nods to American history and the way Forrest experiences (and influences) them.

Now, I'm neither an American nor old enough to have witnessed these events first-hand, but I do know a thing or two about Watergate, Martin Luther King, Apple, 'Nam, Elvis etc. In my experience, this is a requirement to really enjoy this movie.

Of course, you can always turn it around: Watch the movie, find out the significance of scenes you don't get, and learn something in the process!

  • 21
    IMO the strength of the movie is exactly the characters and their relationships, while the American history references are just there for fun.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 17:47
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    Agreed with the sentiments above - if you take the movie at face value, it's still a pretty well done feel-good movie. American history provides you a context of what's happening around Forrest when he experiences them. Who was that person that he taught to dance as a child? Why was he at war? What's up with the thousands of people near the pool? Fruit Company? Why was it funny that he dialed 911 in that hotel? I'm too young to have experienced most of what they talk about in the film, too, however, some basic US recent history helps your understanding.
    – Jon V
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 21:45
  • 1
    Alternatively, my wife is quite well acquainted with all that stuff, and did not enjoy the movie at all.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 14:35

I can attest from personal experience that it is indeed possible to enjoy Forrest Gump without much knowledge of American history or culture. I remember going to see this movie alone in the cinema in 1994 as a 12 year old Swedish boy and being very moved by it (my mother likes to tell the story about how visibly captivated by the experience I still was when she met me afterwards).

Many movies can work on different levels for different audiences. At the time I probably had a very limited understanding of American culture and 20th century history, and many of the gags surely went above my ahead. But I would say that the core of the movie is a fast-paced, adventure-filled feelgood movie about a man repeatedly succeeding against all odds. The historical references can be seen as a bonus for those who get it, sort of like the jokes aimed at the adult audience in Disney movies.

Watching the movie again as an adult, I understand most of the history gags and think they add a lot of value to the movie. On the other hand, while I still think it's a good movie, it doesn't have the same emotional impact as it did the first time I saw it.

  • 1
    +1. If the movie will have any enduring value, it will be on what you and your mother had in 1994, not on all the gags. I hope you are finding other movies to give you what this one no longer can.
    – Catomic
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 2:18

Forest has a lot of back story, but because he is "a bit slow", it's important to be able to tell which of the stories he is telling are "his" and which are stories in which he placed himself in a role. In order to do that you need to understand some popular history and what Forest would have seen on TV or heard on the radio.

Not having ability to tell what is real and what is a bit off won't make the move unenjoyable, it will still be a "feel good movie" about a guy doing some really amazing stuff.

But in the end, you take all the times that you know Forest didn't do the things he said he did, the times you think he might have done the things he said he did, and the times that you are pretty sure he's telling you what he actually did, and you compare them, all to realize it doesn't matter. The people on the bench still were interested, Forest still feels good about himself and you as the viewer still feel good about the stories.

That examination of why, is what makes Forest Gump a good movie. In my opinion. Why do you feel good, watching stories where you know some of them are totally wrong, and that the guy telling them is wrong. Ask yourself this. Would you feel the same way if Forest Gump was not "slow"?

Anyway back to the question. Yes, you need at least some understanding of American history and General culture to fully enjoy the movie. Not having that, you will miss out on a lot. But the understanding required is nothing more then the ability to go "that seems unlikely" in a few cases to get the effect, and that's a pretty low bar.

Again to get the full effect you just need enough to go "Hmm that seems off" a couple times, and "Nope, that can't be" a couple times. That hardly requires much of an education in American history or culture. What you can pick up off the TV is probably enough.

  • 5
    You're making the very strange assumption that anything which isn't historically accurate must not be accurate within the movie. But then from the end of the conversation on the bench (with the magazine cover), you already know that at least some of Forrest's highly improbable statements are "truth" within the movie. Why not take your assumption to the limit and complain that the magazine in question never (in the real world) had such a cover picture, and the copy Tom Hanks was holding is obviously a movie prop? (eyeroll)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 4:42
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    I never took the perspective Forrest was making stuff up or was wrong. Especially given his involvement in major events occurs virtually entirely through happenstance, I think most viewers see it more as an alternate reality than an unreliable narrator. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 5:01
  • My experience about movie is same, its about alternate reality. Infact Forrest is most reliable narrator , he is not smart enough to make up something which is not real
    – Panther
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 22:56

I think the majority of the movie is about the american history. The movie is still funny without a lot of knowledge about that history. But, the most funny moment of the movie are very much related to that history. I almost died when Forrest Gump called 911 when he was staying at The Watergate Hotel (knowing that Nixon was the one who recomended it to him) and when Gump recieve a letter from his friend inviting him to invest in a fruit company (Apple as in iPhone and iPad)... A lot of references that made it one of the greatest movies of all time was pure american history (vietnam war, Kennedy & Monroe, Nixon & The Watergate scandal, Apple, inc ...) even ('shit happens' was referenced in it.


I think you'll miss many of the jokes.

There is a scene where Gump is in a hotel room in Washington and he calls Security for the hotel. Frank Wills picks up and Gump complains that guests in another room are using flashlights, keeping Gump up. The next scene is archive footage of President Nixon resigning his office.

To a non-American, the scene must seem pointless.

An American would (should) know the story. In real-life, security guard Frank Wills surprised a team of Cubans burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee (located in the same hotel where Gump is shown to be staying). It turned out that the burglars were working for G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Liddy's allies in the White House, including Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and presidential aide John Ehrlichman, tried to block the investigation into the burglary. Eventually, the burglars, Liddy, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and others all went to prison. President Nixon had to resign to avoid impeachment and removal from office. He might very well have gone to prison too, had not his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him.

The joke is that this formative crisis in American history was kicked off, not by Mills's vigilance, but by Gump's insomnia.

The movie is full of figures in American history or their expies. I assume even a non-American would recognize Elvis (Gump give him his signature stance) and John Lennon (whom Gump inspires to write "Imagine"), but did you recognize Bear Bryant, Dick Cavett, and Abby Hoffman? Are cultural element Gump supposedly invents (like the Smiley Face, jogging, and the expression "Shit happens") familiar to you?

Probably, half the scenes in the movie are improved by a through understanding of American history and culture. On the other hand, the movie grossed $347,693,217 overseas, so I guess non-Americans can appreciate the rest.

  • 3
    "To a non-American, the scene must seem pointless." Correction: "To someone who is unfamiliar with the details of the watergate scandal, the scene must seem pointless." There are many non-Americans who would realise the significance of the scene and I'm sure there's a handful of Americans who wouldn't understand the significance. Knowledge is not a nation.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 9:11

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