The actress was known to some for a one-woman show that HBO filmed and aired that year as "Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway." But she was far from a big name in Hollywood.
All that changed after critics caught Goldberg as Celie, a Southern black woman who suffers abuse at the hands of both her father and her husband in the early 20th century. The film earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including best actress for Goldberg.
And although it didn't win any Oscars, the quotable movie is firmly a part of pop culture ("Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail," Celie tells her husband in a famous scene).
It also helped propel Oprah Winfrey to another level of stardom.
The Chicago talk show host sunk her teeth firmly into her first movie role and earned a best supporting actress nod for her portrayal of the fiercely independent Sofia.
Winfrey has since played other roles but said in 2014
that she has "never wanted anything as much as I wanted (her role in) 'The Color Purple.' "
"I told God, 'If you let me get "The Color Purple," I promise I won't want anything else,' and I have never yearned for something that deeply, where I thought, 'If it doesn't happen, I don't think I'm going to live,' " she said. "That surrender thing really changed my life, forever, and how I operate with everything."
"The Color Purple" was based on the critically acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker, published in 1982.
Winfrey now serves as a producer for the Broadway musical version that is in revival, starring Cynthia Erivo, "Orange is the New Black" actress Danielle Brooks and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.
Walker recently told TimesTalk that she "was initially disappointed with the way the movie handled the relationship between Shug (Avery) and Celie." In a central plot point of the book, those two female characters become lovers.
"I knew they weren't gonna do much with it when Quincy Jones (who was one of the film's producers) said, 'You know that kiss? (Director Steven Spielberg) is gonna make it very tasteful,' " said Walker. "So I thought, 'umm OK.' "
Walker said she was very clear that she wanted the musical to portray the relationship between the women, and she was happy that it has been restored for the stage production.
Hudson, who plays Shug in the Broadway revival, said she was a fan of both the film and the original theater production, which starred fellow "American Idol" alum Fantasia Barrino.
"I've read the book, I've seen the film, and I loved the original production on Broadway," Hudson told EW.