You can always count on Tom Hanks. Famous for being the nicest guy in Hollywood he’s also known for being one of the most consistent leading men of his generation – giving genuine, honest, likeable performances across more than 70 lead roles. But breeze through his classic comedy era, his romcom phase, his Oscar years and his late-career prestige picks and you’ll still find plenty of surprises – with Hanks trying out completely different sides of his own personality and somehow making them all work across whatever genre he dips into.
After picking up his sixth Oscar nomination for last year’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood, Hanks is now helming a submarine in WWII epic Greyhound, cementing his reputation as one Hollywood’s few old school movie stars. After 40 years at the top of his game it’s not easy narrowing down a list of Tom Hanks movies to just 10…
10‘The Terminal’ (2004)
Hanks has now worked with director Steven Spielberg more than any other A-lister, always looking perfectly cast whether he’s playing hard-nosed editors (The Post), oddball FBI agents (Catch Me If You Can) or shady Cold War lawyers (Bridge Of Spies), but his sweetest, most affecting turn has to be as sad sack Viktor Navorski – a stateless loner tangled in red tape who has to spend 18 years living in the International terminal of JFK airport.
Standout scene: Hanks doing a weird Borat accent and still sounding heart-breaking as he woos Catherine Zeta Jones with a mosaic fountain.
9‘Captain Phillips’ (2013)
Real people have played a big part in Hanks’ career as he’s led biopics about astronaut Jim Lovell (Apollo 13), politician Charlie Wilson (Charlie Wilson’s War), Walt Disney (Saving Mr Banks), Fred Rogers (A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood). It was his 2013 take on unassuming hero Richard Phillips that was the most honest though – making everyone in the audience know what it felt like to face down a terrifyingly real hostage situation.
Standout scene: That ending: an emotional meltdown that had been slowly building for more than two hours.
Hanks won his first Oscar in 1993 for his turn as dying AIDS patient Andrew Becket, and the film is still emotionally draining to watch now – even removed from the HIV crisis of the ’90s that was killing so many people at the time. Bravely made by director Jonathan Demme, but remarkably well-acted, it’s a powerhouse, kitchen-sink performance that marked a whole new chapter in Hanks’ storied career.
Standout scene: The scene set to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ – just a close up on Hanks as he weighs his whole tragedy in one wordless walk.
7‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)
Much more than just an opening set piece, Spielberg’s bruising WWII war epic made the genre feel fresh for the first time in years – crafting a grown-up genre piece that shook with noise and violence. Without Hanks though, Saving Private Ryan wouldn’t have any soul – his battle-hardened schoolteacher anchoring every scene with real everyman emotion as we watched the war through his weary eyes.
Standout scene: The beach landing still looks phenomenal, but Hanks gets his finest moment in the quieter scenes, chatting to his troops and trying to write an impossible letter back home.
6‘Road To Perdition’ (2002)
Much was made about Hanks’ first ‘bad guy’ role at the time but it’s still hard not to see Michael Sullivan as a hero of Sam Mendes’ stylish gangster drama. Sure, he shoots a few people, but the heart of the film is in the father/son relationship that Hanks deftly hides under his fedora. Superbly well-crafted, and much smarter than it sometimes gets credit for, Road To Perdition more than holds its own in the canon of great modern mob movies.
Standout scene: A gorgeous rainy shootout that’s all style over substance until Hanks calmly walks out of the bad weather, Tommy gun in his hand.
5‘Sleepless In Seattle’ (1993)
Hanks grew out of his early comedies when he started winning Oscars, but he kept his timing fresh with smartly pitched leads in movies like You’ve Got Mail, Larry Crowne and this – maybe the ultimate romcom. Written and directed by Nora Ephron to match the pitch of Hollywood screwball classics, the film earns its big sappy heart thanks in part to Hanks – who gives his lonely-heart single dad the same realness and rawness he gives every role.
Standout scene: Few scenes tug the heartstrings quite as hard as Hanks telling his son about the mum he’s starting to forget.
4‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
If you think The Green Mile is Hanks’ biggest weepie you haven’t seen Toy Story 3. And if you think that’s tough you’re probably forgetting Forrest Gump – for some time the high water mark of blockbuster, Oscar-scooping Hollywood drama that made a watery mess of anyone who watched it. More than 25 years on, Robert Zemeckis’ American history lesson has lost none of its melting power, but none of it would work without Hanks’ perfectly pitched, remarkably sensitive lead performance.
Standout scene: Gump saying goodbye to his mum? Gump saying goodbye to Jenny? Nope, it’s the moment when he meets his son for the first time and instantly worries if he’s going to turn out like him… Let’s move on.
3‘Cast Away’ (2000)
Hanks had already proved his survival skills in 1995’s Apollo 13, but Robert Zemeckis’ desert island drama saw him holding up an entire movie on his own – with nothing but a beachball for company. Several other films have copied the one-man formula since, but none have bettered it, and it’s hard to think of any other actor even capable of putting themselves through the wringer for 143 minutes and making it so watchable.
Standout scene: WILSON!
2‘Toy Story’ (1995)
You can argue about which chapter is best (as long as you don’t try and argue for Toy Story 4…), but the originality, technical achievement and sheer joy of Woody and Buzz’s first outing makes Toy Story one of the biggest and brightest landmarks in modern cinema. Most of the credit usually goes to Pixar for good reason, but Hanks’ spunky, soulful turn as jealous has-been Woody is one the all-time great voice performances – bringing the character alive in ways that no computer ever could.
Standout scene: Buzz’s arrival on Andy’s bed steals the show, but it’s Woody’s gobsmacked reaction that sells it.
By the end of the ’80s Hanks was running the risk of making the same film forever. Fun family comedies were earning him a great reputation as a big-hearted straight guy to mermaids (Splash), dogs (Turner And Hooch) and Dan Ackroyd (Dragnet), but it wasn’t until Penny Marshall’s Big that he started bridging the gap between kid’s stuff and grown-up roles – literally by playing both in the same film at the same time. Just as emotional as Gump, as film-stealing as Cast Away, as expertly crafted as any of his Oscar wins and as joyful as Toy Story, Big is the greatest of Tom Hanks movies – ageless.
Standout scene: The giant piano is rightly iconic, but the scene where Hanks watches the kids play baseball (realising that he’s lost his own youth forever) is a masterclass of acting under-the-surface.