Tom Hanks: His Best Roles
Some movie stars are glamorous or muscular, but there's no one like the friendly, humane and funny Tom Hanks. As a young actor, Hanks had boundless energy, impeccable comic timing, and a relatable disposition that made even the most outrageous concepts — like a man falling in love with a mermaid, or a guy who agrees to throw himself into lava, in the underrated JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO — seem like they were happening to someone you know.
In later roles, Tom Hanks projects quiet strength and pragmatic leadership. Beginning with movies like APOLLO 13, Hanks became a stand-in for the person we wished was in charge, no matter the situation. So let's look back at Tom Hanks's best roles, listed in order of movie release.
[Image Credit: Buena Vista]
Tom Hanks starred in two movies in 1984. One, BACHELOR PARTY, played into a lowbrow comedy image he would spend almost a decade trying to escape. The other, SPLASH, suggested the sort of movie Hanks might eventually make. Ron Howard's romantic fantasy co-stars Hanks as a man who, as a boy, was saved from drowning by a mermaid. When they encounter one another decades later, man and water lady fall in love. Like the best movies from Hanks's first decade as a movie star, SPLASH is a stranger movie than you might expect it to be, and the seeds of the actor's future persona are fully sown.
A League of Their Own
[Image Credit: Columbia Pictures]
For someone who is rightly considered to be America's Best Friend, and one of the great Everyman actors, Tom Hanks is incredibly good at being a jerk. (So was the previous America's Best Friend title holder, Jimmy Stewart — watch REAR WINDOW again if you don't believe us.) In this near-perfect movie, Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan, a boozy washout who in 1943 coaches the Rockford Peaches. The real emotional center of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is the sibling rivalry between catcher Dottie (Geena Davis) and pitcher Kit (Lori Petty), but director Penny Marshall keeps Hanks in the mix as a foil for Dottie. His turnaround, into a manager who really cares, is supremely satisfying.
The Toy Story Series
[Image Credit: Disney/Pixar]
John Lasseter and Pixar could have chosen nearly anyone to voice the cowboy doll Woody, whose status a boy's favorite toy is challenged by Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). No one other than Hanks could have lent a perfect combination of genial authority and wounded vulnerability to the part. Hanks is as effective voicing Woody's upbeat organization of the other toys as he is projecting the cowboy's dejection and bitterness when he's set aside for Buzz. In the four TOY STORY movies, the performance by Hanks developed Woody into one of the greatest characters in animation.
[Image Credit: Universal Pictures]
Sometimes, the difference between "best" and "iconic" is just one line that, for whatever reason, clicks. Tom Hanks has an amazing ability to find the iconic line in a great role. Take APOLLO 13, which you might think you've seen, even if you haven't because Hanks saying "Houston, we have a problem" has gone far beyond the context of the movie. Hanks starred in this true story of the 1960s space race just after winning two Best Actor Oscars in a row (for FORREST GUMP and PHILADELPHIA), and the quiet presence and capable sense of command he brings to APOLLO 13 makes this the best performance in that string of career-changing movies.
Saving Private Ryan
[Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures]
War is overwhelming and terrifying. Every aspect of Steven Spielberg's World War II story, from the opening D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy — which is also an assault on the senses — to the emotionally powerful climax, hammers home the horror of war. Steven Spielberg finally took the opportunity to direct Hanks and used the star's relatable "Everyman" capabilities to their full extent, and from beginning to end his character Captain John H Miller looks like he could be overwhelmed at any time. That sense of the man being deeply rattled makes his willingness to become a leader and rise to the occasion seem even more heroic and remarkable.
[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]
Don't let the massive chunk of CAST AWAY that plays like a FedEx commercial put you off. This movie gives Hanks the chance to prove himself by undergoing a massive physical transformation to play a man stranded alone on a remote island. He's the only person on screen for most of the movie — the best partner he gets is a volleyball with a bloody handprint for a face — and Hanks delivers an incredible performance as he mines the character's predicament for deep notes of hope and despair.
Catch Me if You Can
[Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures]
Hanks and Spielberg reunited to tell the story of master forger and con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Hanks plays a supporting role as FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who pursues Abagnale across the US and to Europe. The agent is an authoritative father figure of sorts to the impetuous criminal, even from afar, and even an admirer of the young man's skills. Hanratty represents everything Abagnale does not want to be, but Hanks plays the role with a sense of intelligence and commitment that makes following the rules seem like a pretty good life, even when stacked up against the forger's glamorously chaotic experiences.