Did Tom Hanks Really Play Table Tennis In ‘Forrest Gump’?

Tom Hanks had a lot to do in Forrest Gump. He performed exacting visual effects to blend himself into historic footage of U.S. Presidents. He ran down the street, on football fields and across the country. He even played Ping Pong for the Army. So, did Hanks add table tennis to his repertoire?

Forrest Gump playing table tennis
Tom Hanks | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

Showbiz Cheat Sheet went looking for answers. Fortunately, the makers of Forrest Gump let everyone in on the secret as early as 1994. While the historical footage was the most celebrated visaul effect, details like the Ping Pong, the floating feather and crowded Washington, D.C. rally were amog the film’s breakthroughs.

How did Tom Hanks get into Ping Pong?

Forrest Gump made table tennis easier on Hanks. Instead of a rigorous Ping Pong training, Industrial Light and Magic was able to use their visual effects magic. Hanks only had to swat the air with his paddles, and they added the Ping Pong ball. ILM’s website lists the Ping Pong among the film’s groundbreaking visual effects.

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The AV Club watched a behind-the-scenes bonus feature on the Forrest Gump DVD about the film’s table tennis scenes. The footage shows Hanks and an opponent, Valentine, mimicking invisible Ping Pong. Not only that, but they are playing to a relatively empty soundstage. In the final film, it becomes a packed arena. “Movie magic,” director Robert Zemeckis says.

Fake table tennis wasn’t as easy for everyone as it was for Tom Hanks

Zemeckis and producer Steve Starkey give an audio commentary on the DVD and Blu-ray of Forrest Gump, too. Starkey revealed Valentine had a bit of a problem pretending to play table tennis.

Tom Hanks shakes Gary Sinise's hands
L-R: Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks | Paramount Pictures

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“We had one of the leading I think Ping Pong players from Taiwan,” Starkey said. “This was a scene that we shot without a ping pong ball, in fact. We just went through the motions of hitting the ball and then put the ball in later. This guy who was one of the best players in the world couldn’t hit a ball that wasn’t there. Of course, none of us can. He couldn’t even swing at a ball that wasn’t there.”

The ‘Forrest Gump’ table tennis paddle is worth a fortune

In Forrest Gump, Forrest agrees to endorse a Ping Pong paddle for $25,000. Hanks’ real screen used paddle recently sold for about that much. Juliens Auctions reported the sale on April 29.

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Outsider reported on the listing at Julians before the auction concluded. The auction house originally valued the paddle at only $1000 – 2000. Outsider also noted that they could only confirm the paddle was a prop used in Forrest Gump. There could have been several. 

Sources: Industrial Light and Magic, The AV Club, Outsider