Nobody wants to think about this and to my knowledge nobody has dared speak the words, but the epic and heartfelt film Forrest Gump was just an elaborate advertisement for a chain of mediocre tourist trap seafood restaurants.
(A quick summary for those unfamiliar with the film: Forrest Gump is about a retarded guy who keeps getting really lucky and stumbles blindly into fame and fortune. It strongly resonated with American audiences.)
There were simply far too many Bubba Gump Shrimp Company references in the film for this to have been an afterthought, something an enterprising group of restaurateurs conjured up as a novel idea following the film’s success.
Nay, the wheels had to have been set in motion to parlay the film into a seafood chain long before the final script was approved.
Much like the Transformers movies exist simply as a backdrop to advertise toys, so does Forrest Gump to sell you fried shrimp.
This should come as devastating, and frankly supremely embarrassing to anyone who has ever cried during one of the many heartstring tugging scenes in Forrest Gump, such as when Jenny, his soul mate, has an emotional breakdown about how her dad used to rape her or when Jenny is in an abusive relationship with a communist or when Jenny dies of AIDS or when his mom dies or when his best friend Bubba dies or when he takes Haley Joel Osment to the bus stop.
You may as well have been bawling your eyes out to Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.
Just think about it: Isn’t shrimp mentioned far too often in the film, and isn’t it fairly superfluous to the plot? The book of the same title on which the film is based does feature the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company but it is not a throughline but more of a neat and tidy way to end the story, as Forrest starts a shrimp company in Bubba’s honor in the final chapters.
Granted, there is obviously artistic license when adapting a book to a screenplay, but doesn’t the montage of Bubba explaining the shrimping business to Forrest as they forge their friendship seem a bit gratuitous?
“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich…”
What is this movie about? I would argue it’s about the power of one man to change the world. Or something like that. It’s definitely not about shrimp. This is an overemphasis. It is embedded advertising for a soon to open chain of restaurants.
In an effort to confirm my theory I spoke with someone at Landry’s Inc, the Houston based multinational hospitality company which owns the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, as well as nearly fifty other restaurant chains including Morton’s, Claim Jumper, Rainforest Cafe, and McCormick and Schmick’s. They also own a cruise ship line, all five Golden Nugget casinos, seven hotels, a sixty acre boardwalk in Kemah, Texas flanked with their restaurants, a “pleasure pier” in Galveston Texas, four commercial aquariums, a Rolls Royce and Bentley dealership, a Houston skyscraper, and Tower of the Americas (a 750 foot San Antonio landmark), among other properties, and that’s just in the United States.
For some reason, perhaps because it is based on the Gulf of Mexico, Landry’s has spent a large portion of its resources obsessively acquiring seafood restaurants and chains. Among the restaurant chains they own which specialize in seafood are: Atlantic Grill, Aquarium Restaurant, Babin’s Seafood House, Big Fish Seafood Bistro, The Boathouse, Blue Fin, Blue Water Grill, Charley’s Crab, Chart House, The Crab House, Fish Tales, Fisherman’s Wharf Seafood Grill, The Flying Dutchman Restaurant & Oyster Bar, Joe’s Crab Shack, Landry’s Seafood, Mitchell’s Fish Market, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Red Sushi, River Crab, Rusty Pelican, and Willie G’s Seafood & Steaks, as well as the aforementioned Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. All of their multitude of other restaurants offer fish and shrimp on the menu as well.
All together they own about 700 restaurants.
The people at Landry’s Inc did not know if the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company was indeed an offshoot inspired by the film, as Bubba Gump’s website states, or if the entire movie was just a sham to set up the restaurant chain, which since the first location was opened in 1996 has grown to 40 locations, including 29 in the United States with additional branches in Malaysia, Mexico, England, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Marianas, and the Philippines.
Landry’s Inc referred me to the Houston based Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations, also known as DPW. (What a terrible name. They need to hire a public relations agency and change it.)
Not surprisingly, they didn’t know whether a film that came out 20 years ago was the inspiration for the Bubba Gump restaurants or if, as I theorized, the entire film was a scaffolding on which to plug shrimp.
Bubba Gump isn’t a big portion of Landry’s Inc’s revenue, and according to their website DPW represents over a hundred clients including Halliburton, DeBeers, Audi, Fidelity Investments, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, the TransCanada oil company, and the NCAA Final Four (perhaps the shadiest entity on this list.)
Needless to say this wasn’t a high priority for them. They asked who I was. I said Harrison Ford. I knew they would not be getting back to me with any real answers.
My only other recourse was to contact the people involved with the production of the film; the studio, the producers, the director, the screenwriter Eric Roth, and get them to admit they were in on the shrimp business from the get go.
This would prove highly difficult for a number of reasons, namely that a lot of the people involved such as the brilliant director, Robert Zemeckis, have since passed away, but who would ever admit that they had compromised their artistic integrity, and would they necessarily even be aware? What if the studio’s notes on the script just kept coming back with We Need More Shrimp Talk. Nobody bridging the gap between the creative and business side would ever admit any collusion, so, I am left with circumstantial evidence.
In April of 2017, Landry’s Inc bought out the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant chain. Prior to this it was owned by Viacom Consumer Products. That firm’s parent company, Viacom, is the owner of Paramount Pictures, the distributor of Forrest Gump.
Viacom Consumer Products is an enormous entity in charge of licensing products under the Viacom mega-conglomerate umbrella, so anything related to MTV, Paramount Pictures, Logo, Comedy Central, BET, CMT, VHI, and a bunch of other sucky channels. They are also in charge of licensing all things Nickelodeon, including anything SpongeBob, which is mostly where their bread is buttered these days.
But things weren’t always going so well for Viacom Consumer Products. In 1996 when the first Bubba Gump opened (22 more would open in the next three years), Viacom was making a huge push to license their entertainment empire in an effort to compete with companies like Disney, which were making untold profits licensing their intellectual properties in the form of toys, clothing, and theme parks.
They had fallen behind and were under great financial pressure to compete in this increasingly lucrative market.
The problem was that unlike Disney, Viacom didn’t own the rights to any iconic characters like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, or anything culturally relevant. Universal, for example, had Back to the Future. Viacom owned mostly dusty 70’s sitcoms and talkies which they had bought out from other studios bit by bit.
They license these mostly sub par and forgotten shows to cable distributors at a decent bidding rate.
The channel is called TV Land.
Their early efforts in this space prior to the Bubba Gump restaurants would be overwhelmingly characterized as failures. They owned the rights to Star Trek, so they published a comic book series under the Marvel platform to highlight Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, the rights of which they both owned. It was called Marvel Presents Paramount Comics, and was met with little fanfare.
This was followed by the planned opening of a series of TV Land stores which would sell merchandise from TV Land shows and other Viacom entities such as MTV and Nickelodeon, with each including a restaurant (ding ding ding), and themed arcade area. The first of ten was set to open in Chicago, and never did.
Their other main priority at the time, prior to the Bubba Gump chain opening, was franchising the Alicia Silverstone vehicle Clueless into a series of spinoffs and products.
This failed to generate any significant revenue, although Clueless was developed into a sitcom which aired on ABC for one season before being demoted to the now defunct UPN (United Paramount Network) for its final two seasons.
There are two ways to look at this movie, and this restaurant: Either someone at Viacom was incredibly savvy and happened to have a business contact at the Rusty Pelican, which happened to be a bankrupt seafood chain with an integral supplier of seafood, which Paramount subsequently bought out, and that the stars just perfectly aligned, or, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is Viacom’s Disneyland.
Think of the numbers: The film Forrest Gump grossed $677 million at the box office worldwide, and continues to be aired on cable. Each year, each of the forty Bubba Gump restaurants averages $7.2 million in revenue, per restaurant as of 2010.
To this day Paramount Licensing’s list of assets is quite thin, as their website states:
“Paramount Licensing develops consumer product programs based on the legendary films of Paramount Pictures. From classic films including The Godfather, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, Forrest Gump, and Mission: Impossible to exciting new studio franchise releases, Paramount Licensing creates movie branded extensions through toys, apparel, publishing, collector merchandise, video games, mobile and interactive content.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is second on their list. The film debuted in 1961. How often do see someone wearing a Breakfast at Tiffany’s T-shirt?
With the possible exception of Star Trek, which Viacom has failed to properly exploit in terms of consumer products, Mission: Impossible is their most valuable film franchise and certainly their most profitable to date.
If you watch any of the Mission: Impossible films you will see extremely aggressive product placements for companies such as Samsung, Apple, BMW, Dos Equis, Airbus, and too many others to mention. Mission: Impossible has also spawned countless toy lines and a video game.
But in terms of profit, Forrest Gump is still Paramount’s biggest success. The restaurant, not the movie.
To assume the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company just sprung up in the wake of Forrest Gump would be to assume the Mission: Impossible action figures were an afterthought as well. In reality the projected success of those toys is in large part responsible for getting the film made in the first place.
The budget for Forrest Gump was $55 million, plus the costs of an aggressive marketing campaign. The film featured embedded advertising for Nike, Dr Pepper, Apple, and other products to help cover some of the costs and, as evidence bears out, most likely a plan to recoup some costs via the shrimp business.
Forrest Gump drastically exceeded expectations at the box office, which would lead one to surmise that Paramount would have expected it to lose a lot of money based on their expectations upon its release. That is not how the film business works, or any business for that matter. The higher ups at Paramount had to have had a plan for the movie to become profitable through licensing. How else could it have ever been made?
It may come as a blow, but if you’re being honest you have to admit that movie you loved was a commercial for that restaurant you’d never go to.
There are many implications here, and a lot we can learn about ourselves and about society.
I personally saw Forrest Gump dozens of times before it occurred to me that there was more to this movie than met the eye.
So, why does this matter?
I think it should serve as a reminder that we should always try to look behind the curtain, and to try and figure things out in an effort to understand why they are the way they are.
Usually, someone wants your business, and they have some tricks up their sleeve.
If you want to be the person who believes the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant chain came out after the movie without any preconceived plan or affect on the script, then you’re also the person who believes the government doesn’t lie to you, that fracking is environmentally friendly, and that prescription opiates are incredibly safe.
The type of person who bought into the belief that cigarettes were good for you thirty years ago, that the communists were a threat to America, and that all black and Latino men were planning to rape your wife and daughter.
A reminder to notice the the things you aren’t, and understand how they could be influencing you.
Or, just sit back, stuff your face, and enjoy the movie.
God Bless America.