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Every Tom Hanks Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

From WWII heroes to hired killers, Forrest Gump to Fred Rogers — we rank every one of the Oscar winner’s roles

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When Brian Grazer was recently asked by the New York Times to say a few things about Tom Hanks, the producer recalled a conversation he was having with some colleagues about a project they were putting together in the mid-’90s. They wanted to retell the story of Apollo 13’s perilous, aborted journey to the moon; common sense and studio suits dictated that they get not just a star in the role, but the kind of matinee-idol, action-movie posterboy that would get people cheering in the aisles and spilling their popcorn. Grazer listened to everyone weigh in, then asked them: Who does the world want to save the most? The unanimous answer: Tom Hanks.

For decades now, the 63-year-old actor has been the movies’ A-list everyman of choice, Hollywood’s Mr. Nice Guy, one half of a showbiz power couple and the kind of real-life Good Samaritan that inspires by example. When he announced via Instagram that he and his wife Rita Wilson had contracted the coronavirus when he was in Australia filming Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic (Hanks was cast as Colonel Tom Parker), it not only made the pandemic suddenly feel horribly real but became a national drama: America’s dad has COVID-19? Not Tom! And when they finally made it back to Los Angeles after inching down the road to recovery, surprise-hosting a remote SNL episode and giving a commencement speech via Zoom, you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief. You can’t go yet, Tom. We still need you.

He’s such a beloved figure, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the multiple Oscar-winner is more than just the sum of his sweet attributes, and is not just a movie star — i.e., the kind of marquee name that you go to for the same comfortable screen qualities time and again — but one hell of a versatile performer as well. And he’s such a totem of modern American filmmaking that it’s just as easy to forget he was not always on Hollywood’s version of Mt. Rushmore — this is also the guy who made those Dan Brown blockbusters, costarred in a buddy-cop with a slobbering pooch and has had his share of career low points. It hasn’t all been Forrest Gump fun and games. You do not spend four decades in this industry without a Dragnet or two.

Given his recovery and the fact that the three — three! — movies we were supposed to get from him in 2020 (the WWII drama Greyhound, the sci-fi headscratcher BIOS, and the Western News of the World) may not screen until next year, we figured it was time to look back at Hanks’ career as a whole and re-view the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly.

Here are the man’s movies ranked from worst to best — the goofy comedies and award-winning dramas, the franchise-starring turns and cameos in indies, the cheerworthy and the cringeworthy. (We judged the rankings via a combination of how good the movie was overall; how good the actor was in the film specifically, and several random consultations of the I Ching.) Hanks for the memories, sir. We’re so glad you’re feeling better.

From Rolling Stone US


‘Sully’ (2016)

Hanks was always being compared to Jimmy Stewart in his early movie-star years; here, he gets a crack at being a modern-day Gary Cooper. Clint Eastwood’s recounting of U.S. Airways Flight 1549’s miraculous landing on the Hudson River — and the pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, whose expertise helped avert a major disaster — is partially a first-rate rescue docudrama, and partially an indictment of a system that would question the abilities of an honest-to-God American hero. You can practically feel Eastwood seething behind the camera every time a pencil-pusher mentions “computer simulations” or doubts Sully’s professionalism. Yet “doubt” is exactly what this pilot feels as well, plagued by thoughts of what might have happened; watch the character bristle every time someone calls him a “hero.” In prime silver-fox, stoic-masculinity mode, the star more than shows you Sully’s grace under pressure. But “the human factor” is what matters here — and that’s exactly what the actor brings to the table. If he’s channeling Cooper, it’s the anxious-yet-steadfast version we see in High Noon, and the conflict between those two emotions inspires one of the actor’s best late-career performances. Sullenberger was the right man for the job. So was Hanks.


‘Big’ (1988)

The ol’ switcheroo comedy — in which a kid and adult change bodies, and both learn some valuable life lessons — was a bona fide subgenre by the time Penny Marshall’s tweaked take hit theaters in the late ’80s. What Big does to that whole notion of a child suddenly finding himself in a grown-up body and a grown-up world, however, is worth a month of freaky Fridays. And that is 100-percent because of Hanks. He milks the premise for all the comedic potential, and it helps that the actor still seems pretty connected to his fumbling, playful, manic inner 12-year-old. But he also plays the concept with a total commitment to realism: So what would happen if a prepubescent boy found himself turned into 30-year-old man overnight? He’d be giddy…but he’d also be scared, confused, sad, angry, and simply overwhelmed by a world built for adults. Hanks gives you all of that and more. No many times you watch the film’s greatest-hits reel — the baby corn eating, the reaction to Elizabeth Perkins asking about his feelings for her, the Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Pop duet with his best friend, the “Chopsticks” rendition that launched a thousand headaches for FAO Schwartz employees — you never lose that feeling that you’re watching a genuinely great performance unfold right before your eyes. It garnered Hanks his first Oscar nomination and a whole new legion of fans. It gave moviegoers the sense that he might very well be capable of just about anything.


‘Apollo 13’ (1995)

“Houston, we have a problem.” Ron Howard’s recounting of the near-disastrous 1970 NASA mission works like a disaster movie: Three men are launched into space. Something goes wrong. This trio of trained pilots, aided by dozens of folks on the ground, work to get themselves home safely. Anyone with access to a set of encyclopedias or the internet can find out what happens. What the movie does is put you in that floating tin can right beside the astronauts and get you invested in how it happens, and this is where Hanks comes in — he’s the mission leader in more ways than one here. Steady and grounded even when he’s thousands of miles away from Earth, his Jim Lovell is the epitome of cool and calm under pressure (save for the occasional snapping at the suits in HQ).But he’s also the eyes through which we see the ambition, accomplishments and agonies of the space-exploration program, as well as the hopes and dreams of those who would bravely go forth into the final frontier. That the star translates all of this via little more than glances and gestures isn’t surprising (it’s not a classically big, blustery turn); that he does all of this without forgetting Lovell is also a mortal who’s (sort of) like the rest of us is the balancing act that makes the film work. Hanks sets up the performance as an equation involving both intelligence and heart — you can practically see Lovell thinking in real time without feeling like you’re watching a brain in a jar.And the role lets Hanks demonstrate in full the qualities we’ve come to associate with him IRL: an innate sense of decency, humility, determination, kindness, integrity, and morality. He’s played holy fools, saintly authority figures, all-American heroes and goofballs, elevated everymen and martyrs. Apollo 13 is arguably the one time he’s played someone of note, however, and managed to become iconic in the process. It’s the way he says that “Houston” line that’s made it a catch-all quotable for worst-case scenarios. It’s his investment in another declaration, however, that seals the deal regarding Lovell being the quintessential Hanks role: “I’d like to go home.“