Earlier this year, legendary actor Tom Hanks was voted America’s favorite actor in a Harris poll. This should not come as too much of a surprise, as the 59-year-old is not only immensely talented but also inherently likeable. This comes through his roles where he often plays everymen, but also he comes across as a kind, friendly and good-natured person. He is passionate about many issues and uses his influence to try and change the world for the better. To celebrate America’s most likeable actor, we are taking a look at his 10 greatest performances.
10. Captain Phillips
When discussing Tom Hanks, often the conversation will be limited to his work in the ’90s. Whilst this is his most notable era, it is certainly not the only time that he has proven to be one of the greatest working actors. He proved this in 2013 with his standout performance in Paul Greengrass’s biographical thriller Captain Phillips, where he played the titular Captain Richard Phillips. The film is inspired by the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, where merchant mariner Captain Phillips was taken hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean, led by Abduwali Muse who is played by Barkhad Abdi. It is a powerful performance from Hanks who is no stranger to dramatic roles, and he is fantastic in the film’s stunning and incredibly tense conclusion, and it served as a brilliant reminder as to why he is one of his generation’s best performers.
9. Road to Perdition
We all typically think of Tom Hanks as the ultimate nice guy, but on the odd occasion he has also proven adept at playing more complex characters. This is particularly evident in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, where Hanks plays the role of Michael Sullivan. Set in the Depression era, he is a mob hitman who is a cold blooded murder, but also a family man. His son witnesses a botched mob meeting and the two of them go on the run after the rest of their family is murdered. Hanks was able to bring his classic likeability to the role as a caring father, but he is also a hardened criminal and this grey area is masterfully achieved by Hanks. In addition to a few great performances and interesting themes, the film also has stunning cinematography which sets the tone for the movie brilliantly.
8. Toy Story
Although he only provides the voice, Woody from the Toy Story series IS Tom Hanks. He is the classic American protagonist that is extremely likeable, and it is impossible to imagine anybody else playing this cherished animated character. For many people, Toy Story is the greatest animated film and series ever created, and at the heart of this is the classic cowboy Woody. Not only is the entire series hilarious and brilliantly written, but it is also very touching and emotional (particularly the third film which is a real tearjerker). This comes from the unique and special relationship that is found between Andy (the boy) and his toys, who are led by Woody. We all had that favorite toy growing up that we still care for deeply, and this is represented by Woody. And who better to voice him than America’s favorite actor?
7. The Green Mile
Whilst it is hard to look past the character of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) in Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1996 novel The Green Mile, Tom Hanks also puts in a powerful and moving performance as Paul Edgecomb. He is key to the story, as it comes through his memories of when he was a prison officer of death row inmates. It is here that he meets John Coffey, an enormous African-American man convicted of raping and killing two girls despite being incredibly shy, softly spoken and emotional. Paul, and the other offices, all have their world turned upside down by John. After discovering his innocence, Paul offers to let him go, but John refuses and states that he is tired of living in a world with so much pain. John’s execution is an incredibly moving scene, and Hanks is the perfect person to accentuate this.
6. Apollo 13
Tom Hanks has previously said that he originally wanted to be an astronaut and he is a big NASA supporter, and he got closer than most to his dream in Ron Howard’s 1995 historical docudrama Apollo 13. It dramatizes the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission, seeing Hanks star as real life astronaut Commander Jim Lovell. It is an incredibly dramatic and emotional film, where the goal of the mission changes from walking on the surface of the moon to survival after they lose power. Hanks excels in the role where he plays a tough and brave leader who is also a sensitive family man and an all-around good American (everything that people know Hanks to be). There are many space films out there, but none quite as gripping, tense and dramatic as this classic which is powered by the compelling performance by Hanks.
The film which took Hanks’ career to the next level (and earned an Academy Award nomination), Big remains one of the great comedy films and is the perfect example of him playing an inherently likeable character. Directed by Penny Marshall and released in 1988, Hanks plays the role of Josh Baskin, a boy who makes a wish to “be big.” As a result, he turns into an adult overnight. Brilliantly, he lands a job as a toy tester and this comes after the now-iconic scene where he plays a duet on a foot-operated electronic keyboard. Soon, however, the pressures of adulthood get to him and he longs for his old life. This “overnight transformation” has now been done to death, but it is hardly surprising seeing as it was done so well here in what is an excellent early performance from Hanks.
4. Saving Private Ryan
An incredible film known for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, it is also a film which showcases Hanks’ brilliant acting ability. Once again as an “everyman” type, he is thrust into the horrifying situation of war and this makes for a painfully realistic portrayal of battle and it really makes you consider just how traumatic it is. Hanks plays the role of United States Army Ranger Captain John H. Miller, who leads a squad through the war zone to locate and bring home Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), as his three brothers had been killed in action. Miller and his squad encounter many harrowing incidents along the way, but it is down to him to keep on pushing through and keep his squad alive, despite not being a hardened or experienced soldier. The film picked up five Oscars and was nominated for 11, including Best Actor for Hanks.
An amazingly powerful, important and emotional film, Jonathan Demme’s 1993 Philadelphia was one of the first Hollywood movies to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia. These topics are commonplace now, but they were not at the time and this made it a bold move for one of Hollywood’s stars to play a homosexual man diagnosed with AIDS. His character, Andrew Beckett, works at a law firm but is terminated for what he claims is discrimination, seeing him hire Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) to represent him in an excruciating legal battle. As this goes on, his health deteriorates which is absolutely devastating to watch. Hanks won his first Oscar for his astonishing portrayal, which did a tremendous amount for boosting AIDS awareness. Importantly for Hanks, this is also saw him prove himself as more than a comedic actor and it paved the way for many of the performances on this list.
2. Cast Away
If for some reason you do not like Tom Hanks, then this is not the film for you. Essentially a one man show, Hanks put in a career defining performance in Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away. For the role, Hanks put on 50 pounds and later had to drop this weight and grow his hair and beard. The film follows Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee who survives a plane crash and becomes stranded on an island. The majority of the film sees his character trying to survive and remain sane, and only an actor of Hanks’ caliber could make this an utterly compelling watch. A testament to his acting skills is the fact that he can make the majority of the audience shed a tear after saying goodbye to a volleyball that has become his only friend, Wilson, in what is now one of the most famous and quoted scenes ever.
1. Forrest Gump
Perhaps his most iconic role, this is Tom Hanks at his most likeable. For his role as the titular character in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 adaptation of Winston Groom’s novel, Hanks won his second consecutive Oscar for Best Actor which certified him as one of the all-time greats. One minute hilarious, the next devastatingly moving, the remarkable film chronicles Forrest Gump’s incredible life against the backdrop of a defining period in American history. As a good-natured yet slow-witted and naïve person, you care deeply for his character from the famous opening scene and this only furthers over the course of his astonishing story through his many ups and downs. When you add in unforgettable characters such as Jenny (Robin Wright), Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinese) and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) you have an unforgettable and classic movie which could not feature anybody other than Hanks as the lead.