Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors of all-time. It’s easy to look at him now and forget just how funny he could be…just like if you were looking forward, I doubt you could predict what would be in store for him. Hailed as this generation’s Jimmy Stewart, one could argue that Hanks’ attribute is appearing to be the average Joe. If he were a teacher, you wouldn’t think twice about it. But he can also use this ability to morph his regular guy appeal into some of the most heroic roles we have ever seen.
Let’s get to the list, shall we?
10. Cast Away (2000)
This had to be a challenge. How do you make a film in which there’s only one character (two if you count the imaginary Wilson) is on screen for the majority of the time? It is a testament to Hanks’ ability that this film didn’t bore us all to sleep. In fact, I’d venture to say it wouldn’t have work with anyone else in the lead role. He’s THAT good. The moment he makes fire is hilarious in it’s truthfulness. I can’t think of a guy who wouldn’t act (ie gloat to the gods) as he does. And yes, the scene in which he loses Wilson is heart-wrenching.
9. That Thing You Do! (1996)
While Hanks isn’t the focus of the movie (the band is), this is his feature film directorial debut and that has to count for something. Here, we see an unknown band from Erie, PA (The Oneders/Wonders) stumble upon a smash hit. Hanks is the record exec who signs them and helps the band reach heights none of them ever dreamed of. It’s a surprisingly good movie, complete with memorable characters, a decent love story, and great ’60s style music.
8. Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Yes, this is a chick flick. Yes, it also features the dreaded annoying child character. And yes, the two leads spend only a few minutes on screen together. Still, Sleepless in Seattle is a charming film, largely thanks to Hanks and co-star Meg Ryan in the second of three movies they would play opposite one another. Hanks has a great moment where he mock cries about The Dirty Dozen (totally improvised) after being confused to why women cry during An Affair to Remember, and the finale with Ryan is just outstanding.
7. Philadelphia (1993)
The movie in which Hanks earned his first Oscar…there would be more. In this, Hanks plays a gay lawyer (his partner is Antonio Banderas even), who contracts AIDS. Once the firm finds out he has the disease, and is in fact homosexual, he is promptly fired. Hanks then files a wrongful terminations lawsuit against the firm…and the only lawyer willing to take on the big firm is a small time lawyer, who happens to be homophobic. Hanks is just brilliant and plays off Denzel Washington very well.
6. A League of Their Own (1992)
I’ve already spoken about this movie in my Top Ten Baseball Movies post, so I won’t dwell too much here. Let’s just say that Hanks is hilarious as Jimmy Dugan, a former baseball great who’s fallen on hard times (aka alcoholism) and is forced to take a job coaching in the women’s league during World War II. At first, naturally, he just does it for the money, but eventually he warms up to them. He has so many great lines in this, including the famous “There’s No Crying in Baseball” speech.
5. Apollo 13 (1995)
Based-on-a-true-story about the failed moon landing and the effort to bring the crew home alive somehow. This film is full of great performances, especially those by Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Hanks himself. The things the crew battles in space and the tension that the people back home are facing is just amazing. While the blame game is played, while one of the members gets very ill, Hanks (playing Jim Lovell) is the one that holds it all together. The space scenes were filmed using a NASA plane that simulates zero gravity. Very cool.
4. Forrest Gump (1994)
I know I recently said that this movie is overrated. I meant that within context. It won the Best Picture Oscar over movies like Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Seriously, come on now. That said, this is obviously still a very good movie which I’m sure you all have seen. It’s the unwavering charm and innocence of Hanks here that allow us to turn off our brains enough to go with the flow: one guy did all of these things and met all of these people? And without knowing? It’s almost refreshing. And yes, the grave scene is just brutal.
3. Toy Story (1995)
I’ve already written about this one on my Top Ten PIXAR Movies list. It took me a while to decide whether or not to include Toy Story on this list. It’s only his voice, afterall. Does that count? Ultimately, I decided that Woody, the jealous cowboy, is based on Hanks (appearance and movements) enough to warrant being allowed. What more can I say about this great movie that hasn’t been said before? It’s simple, there isn’t anything. If you haven’t seen it, do so immediately. You’ll thanks me later, I promise.
2. Big (1988)
There were several movies in this time period which adults and kids would trade bodies Freaky Friday style. Big was a little different in that a 13 year old (named Josh) wishes he was big and the next morning he’s a full grown adult…and promptly freaks out. He ends up in New York City, somehow gets an high paying job in a toy company. What makes this better than the previous mentioned “swap” movies is, of course, Hanks. His boyish charm is something to see. Like Gump, he has an innocence that makes the whole thing believable. Great moment is his first time with a woman: she turns off the light only for him to turn it immediately back on.
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Yet another movie I’ve spoken about (Top Ten Spielberg Movies). If I ever could make a personal Top Ten list, this would be on it…it’s probably even in the top five. This would be the most heroic performance of Hanks’ career, yet he keeps that ordinary man characteristic that defines him. He’s a naturally leader, but is quickly losing his edge. The opening moments of Omaha Beach are as realistic as they are brutal. His best moment? The scene which he states his reasons for finding Private Ryan: it would make it possible for him to go home and see his wife again.
There’s the list? I left off some that some of you might have included. So, where did I get it wrong? Did I mess up the order? Let me know!