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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


‘The Money Pit’ (1986)

In need of some last-minute relocation, a couple (Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) buy a too-good-to-be-true dream house in the suburbs. The owner needs to get rid of it ASAP — something about her husband being Hitler’s pool boy — so they get this “fixer-upper” for a bargain. Cue disintegrating staircases, lecherous contractors, exploding appliances, biblical rainstorms, killer raccoons and so, so many hammers hitting thumbs. Not the worst of Hanks’ manic, comic ’80s run but it’s a strong contender for the most broad, and by the end, you almost want to revoke his license to mug. That said, it’s almost worth it for his losing-my-mind laugh as the house unleashes a series of escalating catastrophes, Rube Goldberg-style, against him.


‘The Green Mile’ (1999)

In which director Frank Darabont tries to recapture the magic of The Shawshank Redemption with the added bonus of the Hanks Noble-Hero Factor, and somehow misses the mark. The story of a penitentiary’s death-row supervisor in 1930s Louisiana, it combines a previously successful formula — a Stephen King story plus prison, divided by pathos — with a role tailor-made for the star. But lord, this is one shaky, supernatural-mumbo-jumbo melodrama. King’s source material was originally serialized, and the movie attempts to cram a 10-part miniseries’ worth of incidents into three hours (there’s a grand 100-minute movie lost in here somewhere). Add in a feeling that you’re watching a period soap opera pumped up on its own self-importance and platitudes, and you’ve got one long, trite slog. Hanks does what he does best, adding a sense of humanity and personal integrity to the proceedings as the moral compass of “the green mile.” He also reminds viewers that you can pair him with anybody in a scene — David Morse’s stoic guard, or Michael Duncan Clarke’s hulking, weepy healer, or Sam Rockwell’s batshit-crazy convict — and form a rapport, helping to uplift their scenes simply by showing up. Not even his sturdy shoulders can support this manipulative megillah.


‘Saving Mr. Banks’ (2013)

In 1961, author Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) flew from London to Los Angeles, California. “P.L.”, as she was commonly referred to, was meeting with Walt Disney; the animator-turned-media mogul wanted to adapt her book Mary Poppins into a kid’s movie. Their interactions went from chilly — those first few conversations could be viewed as prep for Disney’s alleged cryogenic freeze — to all-out combative. After some compromises, a few flung-out-the-window scripts and several spoonfuls of sugar, the duo are able to fashion one of the studio’s most beloved live-action films. Hanks, of course, is Uncle Walt, and though there’s a constant twinkle in his eye, you can see the actor playing the man behind the House of Mouse as a smiling businessman who’s equal parts silken charm and steel backbone. Thompson’s Ms. Travers only possesses the second attribute, and the main pleasure of watching John Lee Hancock’s showbiz bio is to see the sparks fly off of two people used to having their way. Every so often, Hanks will give you a little something extra — watch his face when his Disney talks to songwriter Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) about fighting for your creations — and for a few seconds, you almost believe that the movie is better than it actually is.


‘The Polar Express’ (2004)

Watching Robert Zemeckis’ digitally animated adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved children’s book is a little like being stuck inside a Christmas-themed snow globe that’s being aggressively shaken every few minutes — it’s an onslaught of sound, fury and kitschy holiday cheer that keeps comin’ at you, runaway train-style. Yes, it’s a technical wonder and has some virtuoso sequences (the journey of that windblown ticket!). It’s also a great reminder of why videogame cut scenes don’t last two hours. Thank god that Hanks is there to lend a heartbeat to the proceedings, in no less than six motion-captured performances — including shared mo-cap duties on the underage hero, voiced by Daryl Sabara — and narrating the whole thing to boot. No amount of pixels can mask the fun he’s having while his main character, the train’s conductor, conducts a troupe of dancing waiters or leads his charges down a rollercoaster-like glacier.


‘The ‘Burbs’ (1989)

What is happening over at the new neighbors’ home on Mayfield Place? It’s not just the run-down state of it; there are also the weird sounds and lights emanating from the basement, and the the fact that people have seen them digging holes in the backyard late at night. Something is going on. And Ray Peterson (Hanks) is going to find out what it is or die trying. Joe Dante’s ode to all-American paranoia has become a low-key cult classic over the years, and it’s definitely earned its rep as a genuine oddity (name another movie that features Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, Letterman regular “Brother Theodore” Gottlieb and the guy who played Malachi in Children of the Corn!). In terms of a Tom Hanks vehicle, however, it’s a bit of a bust: Stuck between playing one of his early-career lovable goofs and a protagonist in a horror movie, he never quite finds the right tone. Neither does the film, for that matter — and we say this as ride-or-die Danteheads. Few filmmakers know how to blend scares, satire and chuckles better in the ’80s (see: The Howling, Gremlins), but this feels like a minor misstep for both the director and the star.


‘Nothing in Common’ (1986)

David Basner has it all: a hotshot advertising job, a big-city bachelor pad, the top clients and the ability to smooth-talk a bevy of pretty ladies in to bed. Then he finds out that his elderly parents have separated after decades of marriage, leaving them both lost and lonely; worse, his cantankerous pops has a health problem that may be serious than he’s willing to admit. Garry Marshall’s movie starts out like a typical Hanks comedy of the ’80s, giving the star the chance to crack wise, charm women and take nothing seriously. (“Are you involved with anybody?” some asks him. “Does self-involved count?” he replies.) Then the film switches to a family drama, and suddenly, the laughter turns to tears. For Hanks, this was the first tentative steps toward proving he could be more than just the guy who, in his words, “sits on a scaffold and goes WAGAWAGAWAGA!” He holds his own onscreen with both Eva Marie Saint and Jackie Gleason, and when its waterworks time, he brings it. The schmaltz is still strong with this one, and Hanks ain’t-I-a-stinker comic reign wasn’t done yet (Dragnet and Turner & Hooch were just around the corner), you get the sense that he’s can go  deeper than just horniness and hilariousness.


‘Volunteers’ (1985)

It’s 1962, President Kennedy has asked a generation what they can do for their country, and the Peace Corps is experiencing a record number of recruits. Snobbish Yale grad Lawrence Bourne III could care less about public service, until he’s gotta skip town because of gambling debts. That’s how he finds himself in Thailand, helping a small village build a bridge in between fixing up his own Tiki lounge and wooing a young woman named Beth. It’s a send-up of the Camelot era’s great expectations that hasn’t aged well; its attitudes about non-Caucasians are…let’s say “concerning.” But Hanks proves he can play an upper-crust cad, even if the prep-school accent and douchey attributes don’t quite suit him, and you wish he had more scenes with the late, great John Candy. It’s most notable for being the movie where Tom met Rita — as in Rita Wilson, his future wife and one half of future Hollywood power couple. Their chemistry is apparent from the moment they set eyes on each other.


‘Punchline’ (1988)

A New Jersey housewife (Sally Field) wants to be a comic, but can’t quite find her voice. With the help of a seasoned stand-up (Tom Hanks), however, she eventually transforms into the second coming of Joan Rivers. Her narrative is the uplifting one — it’s the Hanks’ side of the equation, surprisingly, that leaves you feeling like you want to crawl out of your skin. Only a few years into his America’s Goofy Nice Guy persona, he decided to play what would turn out to be not just one of the neediest, nerviest characters of his career, but a borderline creep who tries to convince a married woman to leave her husband. He still manages to keep us on his side — it’s Tom Hanks, for god’s sake — but you can feel him testing how far he can go without losing the audience. And the sequence in which his bombing onstage turns into a full-blown breakdown is so painful it’s almost unwatchable. It would be a while before he’d play someone that bitter and resentful again.


‘Toy Story 4’ (2019)

Ask not whether there needed to be a fourth installment of Pixar’s original franchise, considering that No. 3 offered the perfect trilogy ending. (The answer: No.) Instead, ask whether it’s still a blast to hear Hanks voice a tiny, herky-jerky cowboy with a penchant for uttering, “There’s a snake in my boot!” (The answer: Well, yes, it is.) The gang get a new friend, a kindergarten arts-and-crafts project named Forky; as for Woody, he finds himself trapped in a small-town antique store run by a doll named Gabby Gabby, who’ll let him leave…for a price. It’s the weakest of the Toy Story films but still preferable to, say, any of the Cars movies, and brings in a lot of great new voice talent (Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Cristina Hendricks). Hanks doesn’t add much to the proceedings, but he doesn’t phone it in, either; his scenes with Annie Potts’ Bo Peep are some of the saddest and sweetest moments in the whole series.


‘The Simpsons Movie’ (2007)

Normally, we’d be reluctant to include a celebrity-playing-himself cameo — much less an animated one — in a list like this. But Hanks’ brief appearance in the TV show’s feature-film outing is a brilliant little haiku of a gag and a hilarious bit of voicework from the star. Hanks is there to stump for the “new Grand Canyon,” i.e. the giant crater that will be left once Springfield is destroyed following the town becoming polluted and covered by a dome. “The U.S. government has lost its credibility,” his cartoon avatar cheerfully declares, “so it’s borrowing some of mine.” Rest assured, good people, this bigger, better version of Arizona’s tourist attraction was definitely never a quarantined town, and hey, watch me tousle this kid’s hair! A pitch-perfect send-up of Hanks’ persona, as well as a reminder that his comic timing is impeccable. Watch this — it may very well be the best 47 seconds of your day.


‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)

It’s the holy Sleepless in Seattle trinity, updating Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic-comedy classic The Shop Around the Corner for the AOL age — this should be a winner, right? Close, but no old-school-Hollywood-maestro’s cigar. Meg Ryan owns a quaint little bookshop on New York’s upper west side; Tom Hanks is in charge of opening a Barnes & Noble-type chain bookstore right down the block. She thinks he’s personally trying to put her out of business, and he thinks she’s just an annoying obstacle on the way to establishing a neighborhood beachhead. (No one tell either of them about a little thing coming down the pike called Amazon, ok?) Despite the fact that they each have romantic partners in the form of Greg Kinnear’s egotistical journalist and Parker Posey’s clueless publisher, respectively, the two are both flirt-chatting with someone else online…and you don’t need to know the source material to see where this is going. The only thing that keeps this from feeling it as dated as a dial-up’s screech is the chemistry between Hanks and Ryan, who do wonders with writer-director’s Nora Ephron’s characteristic wit and brighten up the film’s breezy last 15 minutes. Not bad, just a missed opportunity.


‘Bachelor Party’ (1984)

In March of ’84, Splash instantly turned Hanks into a leading man; three months later, Hollywood would try to brand him as the second coming of Bill Murray. He’s Rick Gassko, a schoolbus driver and professional smart-ass who’s about to marry Tawny Kitaen (!). His buddies want to send him off in style — and by “style,” we mean a “a bachelor party with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze…all the things that make worth living!” Meanwhile, his snooty future father-in-law and Kitaen’s straight-from-the-Cobra-Kai-School-of-Blond-Villainy ex-boyfriend are trying to ixnay the nuptials by any means necessary. It’s a good old-fashioned snobs v. slobs ’80s raunch-com, a great reminder that nobody had better Reagan-era hair than Adrian Zmed and a showcase for Hanks to be as sarcastic as humanly possible. Indeed, he had that whole insincere-meets-irreverent thing down to a science — you don’t even mind that he’s replicating the Murray playbook down to the last smirk. The man was destined for bigger things and this dated boobs-and-beers riot was destined for endless reruns on cable after hours. But you can see how well he fit into that gonzo comic mold.


‘That Thing You Do!’ (1996)

Meet the Oneders — the pride of Erie, Pennsylvania’s rock & roll “scene” who end up penning the perfect Sixties pop song (see title). Suddenly, they’re escalated into the big-time: radio play, a record deal, screaming fans and a name change (“The Wonders). Then, like a lot of one-hit you-know-whats, they fall prey to interband tensions, artistic differences, the whiplash of instant success, etc. All that’s left are a lot of memories and some 45 rpm records. Tom Hanks’ directorial debut beautifully channels that spirit-of-’64 moment when hundreds of kids started garage bands and few lucky ones got to see their names in lights. And taking a tip from Paradise Lost about how the bad guys get the best lines, he casts himself as the devil, i.e. a music industry bigwig named Mr. White. He’s the guy who ends up putting them in matching suits, gets them on bigger tours, books movie and TV appearances. White’s also the one who reminds the band that they signed a contract that lets him call the shots. Hanks never plays him like a guardian angel or a snake in the grass. He just gives us a businessman with his eye on the bottom line.


‘Road to Perdition’ (2002)

Oh, you want Tom Hanks in an against-type role, huh? How does a homicidal hit man for a 1930s Irish gangster work for you? Granted, the star isn’t diving headfirst into completely psychotic Cody Jarrett territory —  his hired gun Michael Sullivan is fiercely loyal to his boss (Paul Freakin’ Newman!) and a stoic but protective family man. Then his older son (Tyler Hoechlin) witnesses a rub-out, and the boy and his dad go on the lam from some angry “associates.” Sullivan’s also out for revenge. It’s an odd bit of counterintuitive casting, yet Hanks never lets you feel like your watching an A-list actor indulge in vintage gangster cosplay. He brings a battered, weathered humanity to the role, especially once the duo hit the road, as well as keeping things from getting sentimental in the name of scoring easy points. It’s a bet that pays off. And if director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, 1917) isn’t entirely successful in keeping things afloat until the very end, you still get the pleasure of watching Hanks spit hot lead out of a blazing Tommy gun and trade tough-guy banter with both a pre-Bond Daniel Craig and a Gollum-ish Jude Law.


‘The Post’ (2017)

You could accuse Steven Spielberg’s drama — about the Washington Post‘s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers — of occasionally feeling like it’s just an excuse to dress a who’s-who cast in ’70s outfits…and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But this look back at a key victory for the Fourth Estate is anchored by a handful of rock-solid performances, and Hanks’ solid take on the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee definitely qualifies as one of them. Adopting a gruff, nicotine-tinged variation on a Boston accent, he immediately projects a sense of hard-won, hard-bitten authority; you get the sense of Bradlee as a born-and-bred newshound, itching to be on the frontlines of a breaking story. He’s also one of the few who’s willing to stand up to Post publisher Katharine Graham, which lets Hanks to go toe to toe with Meryl Streep. (How is this the first time these two stars had been paired together?!) Watch them trade barbs and butt heads before deciding it’s in the interest of the nation to make news, and make history. You’ve never heard anyone yell “Run it!” into a phone with more urgency or gusto.


‘Turner and Hooch’ (1989)

Once upon a time, somewhere in Hollywood, USA, people in suits declared: We have just the thing that’ll take this Hanks kid to real movie stardom — a buddy-cop comedy in which he’s paired with a slobbering, red-eyed pooch. And lo, on the seventh day, the world was given Turner and Hooch, and it was…well, not “good” per se. Hanks is Scott Turner, the world’s most anal retentive police investigator. Beasley the Dog is Hooch, a giant, ill-tempered French Mastiff who’s introduced to the sound of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” When the pet’s owner is murdered by money launderers, Hooch becomes the, um, key witness. Here come the wacky hijinks, doggy style. Hanks plays the exasperated foil to his canine screen partner, gets to romance veterinarian Mare Winningham, and go dramatic as things get intense in the third act. It’s clunky, sure. But you start to get a peek at his range here. Anyone who could improvise this well against a jowly hound was not going to be some flash-in-the-pan talent.


‘Toy Story’ (1995)

Welcome to Pixar, ground zero. It’s impossible to think of the groundbreaking company’s rise — or much of the modern animation renaissance that followed — without hearing Tim Allen say, with glorious mock gravitas, “To infinity…and beyond!” But it’s Tom Hanks’ voice that lays down the sweetness, the broad (yet surprisingly sophisticated) humor, the emotional depth and the boundless sense of play that we associate with the series, and Pixar as a whole. The Toy Story movies are workplace comedies, buddy comedies, odes to childhood imagination, adult-level therapy sessions (will I be replaced by younger, hipper models? am I still relevant?) and pop-culture museum tours. Hanks provides a throughline to all of it, while still turning a two-dimensional creation into a three-dimensional character. It’s funny to go back and watch the original now and see how comparatively crude the computer animation is now, and how manic Hanks played neurotic cowboy action figure originally. But the humanity he brings to it is all right there in the beginning. Reach for the sky!


‘Bridge of Spies’ (2015)

“Everybody deserves a defense. Every person matters.” Even if that person is a notorious Soviet spy living in the U.S. and who may be facing the death penalty of life in prison. The fourth of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ five movies together (to date) revisits the moment in 1957 when Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) was captured and tried for treason; Hanks is James B. Donovan, the lawyer who appeals Abel’s conviction and becomes a social pariah for his troubles. He’s then summoned to Berlin, where he’ll help negotiate a trade between Abel and a captured American pilot. It’s a fine, flinty turn from Hanks, who knows how to go full Perry Mason in court, when to be somber or slightly wry when addressing his client, and the ideal way to read the riot act to a smarmy C.I.A. spook. The director gifts Hanks with a brief but potent go-fuck-yourself moment regarding that last element — the “rule book” speech — and plenty of chances to look pensive and remind you of what the word “patriotic” actually means (i.e. truth, justice and defending your country’s values in both word and deed). Even if the movie itself occasionally threatens to get overly portentous, Hanks’ interpretation of this legal eagle never does.


‘Toy Story 2’ (1999)

Pixar’s sequel to its 1995 hit brings back Woody & friends, and gives them a new nemesis: nostalgia. Specifically, the collectors, pop-culture completists and mint-condition brigades that would drop big bucks for, say, a complete set of old-school Woody’s Round-Up action figures. One of those guys happens to find Woody at a garage sale (long story), and realizes he may have just found a huge payday. It’s up to Buzz and his fellow playthings to rescue him, if only they can get out of the toystore they’re trapped in. This is where the series gets a storytelling level-up — name another a kids-movie franchise that takes on the concept of the Perpetual Childhood Entertainment Industry, much less a Disney-owned one — which extends to everything, including the voice cast. And Hanks in particular: listen to how you can practically hear him beaming when Woody finds out he was once more famous than Sputnik, and can feel his sense of awe as he gushes over reruns of his Howdy Doody-esque TV show. His voiceover work sometimes gets short shrift when compared to the chatter over the series’ digital animation and savvy in-jokes. You start to get the sense of how much he adds to these movies here.


‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (2019)

When Marielle Heller’s movie was first announced, complete with early shots of Tom Hanks in that telltale cardigan-and-sneakers get-up, everyone assumed it was a Fred Rogers biopic. (It is not.) And you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that getting one of America’s top-notch nice guys to play another of our nation’s gentle giants was merely high-concept stunt casting. But what Hanks does with this oft-imitated public figure is quietly revolutionary: He manages to turn Rogers into a sort of saintly blank slate for people to project things on. Go directly to the sequence where a reporter (Matthew Rhys) and the TV show host are sitting in the latter’s apartment. Rogers asks about his interviewer’s mother, and finds out she died when he was a boy. Hanks makes a choice to close his eyes briefly and take the news in — it’s as if he’s absorbing the pain. Then he takes a beat and says that he imagines she loved him very much. So much of acting is listening, and you can feel his Fred Rogers really hearing every word, then responding in kind, and in kindness.


‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ (2007)

How you introduce a character tells you a lot about who that person is — that we formally meet the congressional representative Charlie Wilson lounging in a Vegas hot tub, charming topless showgirls while keeping one eye on the news, tells you the man takes his politics seriously but likes to have a good time. And that’s how funding a covert war against the Communists in Afghanistan circa 1980 is sold to this Beltway rascal, courtesy of a wealthy Texas philanthropist and a mercurial C.I.A. operative: a fun romp worth a few chuckles and what the hell, maybe some freedom for the oppressed in the process.. Mike Nichols’ satirical take on this real-life espionage misadventure has a lot going for it, from serious star power (Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams) to Aaron Sorkin’s script. Best of all, it’s the sort of sly, slightly-against-type role that Hanks can hit out of the park. His Wilson is part party-boy and part foreign-policy power-player. The romantic banter between him and Roberts is first-class; the comic rapport between him and Hoffman makes you wish they’d done their own Hope/Crosby Road movies. He knows how to make Sorkin’s dialogue sing. And then, when things get serious, Hanks lets you see Wilson realize the end result may not have been just fun and games after all. It might possibly be his most underrated performance.


‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

It’s impossible to imagine a film series’ third entry being its strongest — yet Toy Story 3 is, among other things, the most notable exception to the franchise rule of diminishing returns. The gang ends up at Sunnyside Daycare, where permanent playtime is a way of life. Woody hits the road. Then, when it turns out that this place isn’t a paradise but a prison, the cowboy returns to bust them outta the joint. It has everything: excellent writing, incredible visual gags (the Ken Doll Dream House!), a storyline that sends up jailbreak movies while also being a prime example of the genre, a chilling villain (Ned Beatty’s plush, jus’ folks bear!), some delightful surprises (Latin-lover Buzz!), a genuinely suspenseful climax, laughs and, courtesy of that pitch-perfect coda, tears. Hanks’ voicework here is extraordinary throughout — understanding, funny, tender, tense, frightened, urgent. He’s an old hat at doing Woody by this point. But he’s also being set up to deliver a coup de grace. And when it comes, in the form of “So long, partner,” the reading itself is what makes the difference between a mere farewell and something absolutely heartbreaking. It’s the high point of the whole series. They should have ended it here.


‘Joe vs the Volcano’ (1990)

Poor Joe, stuck in a soul-sucking job and diagnosed with a terminal “brain cloud.” So why wouldn’t he take an offer from an eccentric industrialist to live out his last days in luxury? There’s one catch: He has to jump into a volcano in the South Pacific to appease some angry Polynesian gods. Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s directorial debut is one part absurdist fairy tale — the first half is the closest we’ll ever get to Hanks starring in a Tim Burton movie — and one part classic romantic comedy, with the star paired against not one, not two, but three different Meg Ryans. (The dark-haired one is morose and the red-haired one is a “flipperty-gibbet”; naturally, he falls for the wholesome blond version.) Hanks lets you see this loser stuck in an existential funk slowly open up to the world around him — and then, once he’s met the woman of his dreams, decide it’s actually a world worth living in. That his performance is matched by Ryan, who gets to play downbeat, ditzy and delightful, only makes everything sweeter. There’s a reason they’re considered a great screen couple, and a reason why this cult film is still so beloved. Whither thou goest, I go.


‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

Everyone deservedly talks about the D-Day sequence that kicks off Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic, that tour of Normandy’s beaches filled with war-is-hell shock, awe and severed limbs. It’s an amazing achievement…but so are a lot of showstopping set pieces. What anchors all that sound and fury is the flurry of shots the filmmaker throws in just as things are reaching a fever pitch: the close-ups of Tom Hanks, crouched behind a Czech hedgehog and observing the slaughter all around him, the sound dropping down to a dull and droning roar. Suddenly, the carnage and the damage done on the beach has a human face, and you can see how in his eyes how it’s short-circuited this man’s psyche. Then he snaps back into action. The fact that most people would have followed this natural-born leader into battle is a given, but those looks Hanks’ captain gives lends an edge to everything that follows in this hard-shell war movie with a soft, gooey center. “The mission is a man,” and the plot to find Private James Francis Ryan to spare a mother further grief allows Spielberg to indulge in sentimentality. Hanks, however, isn’t having it; he’ll follows orders, only he’s seen enough violence to be wary of sacrificing more men for a symbolic victory. The tension between those two poles — the patriotic and the paternal — is all there in Hanks’ take. You can feel him lifting the movie up when it threatens to get too rah-rah cheery or too bleak. He makes the film earn his performance.


‘A League of Their Own’ (1992)

“There’s no crying in baseball!” Penny Marshall’s look back at the heyday of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League — when all-female squads filled in for all those male short-stops and sluggers overseas during WWII — has a seriously deep bench of talent and gave Geena Davis and Lori Petty the spotlight they deserved. Still, it’s Hanks you tend to remember first when you think of this movie, and the fact that his work here is in a league of its own doesn’t make him any less of an ensemble player. Just because there is no Tom in “team” doesn’t mean like he’s treating it a star vehicle (plus Davis had already won an Oscar and was coming off of Thelma and Louise, so there was dual wattage). But like his Jimmy Dugan, the manager who turns a last-ditch gig into a second chance, he’s the glue who holds the whole thing together. Chronically hungover and brimming with vintage DGAF-ness, his character is introduced as an all-star lout. By the end, we see how he’s brought out the best in the Georgia Peaches and vice versa. Hanks makes both of those versions of Dugan seem respectively funny and poignant. It helps, too, that Splash screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel give Hanks some of the best lines. Not just the famous “crying” one; try to keep yourself from choking up over the way the star says “It’s supposed to be hard…The hard is what makes it great.“


‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)

It ain’t easy playing a holy fool, much less one who has to passively float through the turbulent waters of the 20th century. There is a whole hell of a lot to take issue with in regards to Robert Zemeckis’ Oscar-winning, stupid-is-as-stupid-does riff on Candide, from its reductive spin of complex political events to drowning its narrative in heavy-handed irony and cringeworthy aphorisms (if we have to hear about life being like a box of chocolates one more time…). Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the title’s American idiot-cum-success story, however, is not one of those things. This may be one of the greatest reactive screen performances ever, with the star deadpanning, 1000-yard staring and/or wide-eying his way through history — sometimes literally, courtesy of a VFX team that drops Hanks into yesteryear’s grainy newsreel footage. Yet he somehow makes Forrest feel like a fleshed-out character, even if he is a guy who blindly lucks into meeting presidents, getting a “right on” from Abbie Hoffman and becoming a ping-ping champion and a fitness guru. Gump’s inability to comprehend the world around him doesn’t hinder his loyalty to friends, or his unconditional love for Robin Wright’s take-advantage-of-the-new-freedoms martyr; Hanks gets that the no brains, all heart aspect of this hapless hero plays like a feature and not a bug in Eric Roth’s script. Whether you think that’s an effective prism through which to view three decades of American life is a subjective call. But a lot of actors would have been tempted to play Gump bumbling and broad. Hanks plays him like a blank slate, and somehow makes the tour guide of an often shallow film feel remarkably deep.


‘Cast Away’ (2000)

Ask yourself this question: How many actors can believably best-buddy bond with a volleyball? Hanks and Robert Zemeckis reunited for this survivalist tale of a Fed-Ex analyst whose flight crashes into the Pacific Ocean. Washing up on the shore of a deserted island, he’s forced to spend years going full Robinson Crusoe. Never known as a Method-y actor, Hanks decided to gain an extra 40 pounds before shooting started; for his last months on the island, production shut down so he could then lose roughly 70 pounds and grow an appropriately scraggly, unkempt beard. What’s more impressive than his physical transformation, however, is the way Hanks singlehandedly shoulders the bulk of the drama. He’s the only person onscreen for over half the movie’s running time — his main costar is that aforementioned ball named Wilson, and even those man-meets-sporting-goods sequences are heartbreaking. Most folks key in to his big scenes — the dancing around the fire, the reunion with Helen Hunt, the “Keep breathing” speech — but even Hanks’ little moments are gems. Observe the look on his face when, after years of crafting handmade tools, he’s handed a Swiss Army knife. Priceless.


‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002)

Steven Spielberg’s portrait of a scam artist — not just any con man, but Frank Abagnale Jr., who successfully floated checks and impersonated an airline pilot, a lawyer and a doctor — is a genuine fake-it-til-you-make-it epic, and a reminder that this is a filmmaker who loves a good feature-length chase (see: Duel, The Sugarland Express, Jaws.) Leonardo DiCaprio’s handsome, resourceful smooth criminal is our “hero” here, while Hanks gets to play the square authority figure: FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who’ll stop at nothing to catch his prey. He’s the Javert to his Leo’s Jean Valjean, the fly in the forger’s ring-a-ding ointment. But he was also someone who ended up counterbalancing Frank Sr.’s criminal influences, and a sort of photo-negative father figure to Abagnale — which allows Hanks to take this character to some interesting places. You see the doggedness in the cat-and-mouse games Hanratty takes part in and the exasperation as his man keeps slipping through his fingers. But you also see sympathy, a begrudging respect, possibly even a smidge of envy and a paternal concern by the end. That’s courtesy of Hanks. You dig how DiCaprio lets you ride next to this professional faker, but you admire how his costar keeps bringing him back down to earth. The older actor is the real deal here.


‘Captain Phillips’ (2013)

This true-life tale of a U.S. freight-ship being captured by Somali pirates — with its captain, Richard Philips, taken hostage by his captors as they flee the authorities — is one nerve-jangling hijacking procedural, courtesy of director Paul Greengrass’ you-are-there method of filmmaking. But make no mistake: This is Hanks’ movie, and for all of the shaky-cam sound and fury, the actor never plays second fiddle to stylistics. Quite the opposite — he dominates every moment he’s up there, outwitting and/or appealing to his abductors. You can see Philips’ mind at work as he realizes what’s happening, and keeps trying to outmaneuver the pirates’ skiff; then, once he begins bargaining with his Somali counterpart (played by Oscar-nominated Barkhad “I Am the Captain Now” Abdi), you can see him try to camouflage the mental chess game he’s playing in order to save his crew and survive. It’s an extraordinary push-pull of a performance, and one that hits its apex in what’s arguably Hanks’ finest three minutes onscreen: a climactic (and chillingly realistic) portrait of a PTSD breakdown.


‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

“My screen persona is pretty much non-threatening,” Hanks recalled in the documentary The Celluloid Closet, regarding his part in Jonathan Demme’s drama. “And because of that, this idea of a gay man with AIDS is not scary…[and] part of it is Li’l Tommy Hanks is playing the role.” This studio movie about an AIDS-afflicted lawyer suing his firm for wrongful termination was partially designed to put a human face on the epidemic, which meant the star essentially had to flesh out a character and become the mainstream’s symbolic martyr for every person who was living with (and died from) the disease. Yet for all of the movie’s gravitas, you never feel like Hanks is giving a heavy-handed performance — there’s a surprising deftness to his scenes of confronting politely delivered prejudices, or making peace between his lover Antonio Banderas and the unforgiving world around them, and sparring with Denzel Washington’s homophobic attorney. Even those who thought the movie was merely a Hollywoodized representation of the plague admired the portrayal. Hanks deserved the Oscar (his first) that he won for it. Philadelphia gives the actor plenty of stage on which to rage, notably an appreciation of a Maria Callas aria that the star matches beat for operatic beat. But it’s a close-up of Hanks — and few directors were more adept at using close-ups than Demme — as he leaves Washington’s office and the hope drains out of his eyes, that truly breaks you in half.


‘Splash’ (1984)

It’s your run-of-the-mill boy-meets-mermaid love story — only the mermaid is Daryl Hannah (who you may now notice has experienced some odd hair growth), the boy is one half of the wacky duo from Bosom Buddies, and Ron Howard’s romantic fantasy was anything but typical. The part of Allen Bauer, the produce-business schlub who is reunited with the gorgeous sea creature who saved his life as a boy, had already been offered to a host of big-time actors; even though Hanks had got to know Howard through his Happy Days connections, he wasn’t the producers first choice. And when he did his first table read, Hanks had apparently pitched all of his dialogue at “sitcommy” level. Howard told him his job wasn’t to get laughs but, per the star, “to love the girl.” It turned out he could do both really, really well, and overnight, that guy from the TV show leveled up. You can still see some some of the boob-tube broadness in his acting, especially in his scenes with John Candy as his sleazy playboy brother (it’s a crime these guys only made two. movies together). But once he and Hannah pair up, his inner leading man immediately starts shining through — it’s like a screwball-era Cary Grant and Harold Lloyd had a kid. By the time the pair are rushing through the streets of New York to get his lady love back to the water, he’s no longer the guy who wore a dress at 8pm on Thursday nights. A movie star is born.


‘Sleepless in Seattle’ (1993)

It’s been a year since his wife passed, and Sam Baldwin (Hanks) is still wallowing in his grief. On Christmas Eve, his worried, precocious eight-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger) calls a national radio show and puts his dad on the air. Nicknamed “Sleepless in Seattle,” Sam becomes the recipient of thousands of proposals; it’s the letter from a Baltimore Sun reporter named Annie (Meg Ryan), moved by the broadcast, that catches Jonah’s attention. Never mind the thousand of miles between them, or her fiancé, or this potential new flame Dad’s started dating, or what their respective best friends (played by Banterin’ Rob Reiner and Quippin’ Rosie O’Donnell) say, or the fact that men don’t understand the eternal appeal of An Affair to Remember. These two have a date with destiny on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Hanks had already established his romantic comedy bona fides, but this is where he officially becomes the genre’s sex symbol du jour. He knows exactly how to make Sam sympathetic without being a total sad sack, and how to be lovelorn without seeming louche. May we all find someone who looks at us the way Hanks looks at Ryan when he first sees her in the airport, unaware of she is. And though they spend extremely little screen time together, their chemistry in the film’s final scenes demonstrates why people loved them as a screen couple. His costar (and Nora Ephron’s script) brings out the best in him.