When it comes to beloved actors in Hollywood, there are several names that come to mind. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are legends of dramatic film. Jim Carrey is a comedy icon like no other. Still, when you take into account both funny and serious work, Tom Hanks is probably America’s most relatable actor. Appearing in nearly 100 films since the 1980s, Hanks has lent his talents to directors like Stephen Spielberg and Ron Howard, earning himself multiple Academy Awards along the way.
It’s always a good time to appreciate the greatness of Tom Hanks. We’ll go over the 10 best performances of his career, a list that is both diverse and focused. Any cinema fan is sure to find something they can enjoy when they take a look at a list of the best Tom Hanks movies, and they can look forward to more as he continues to pursue new and interesting projects today in his mid-60s.
Role: Ben Bradlee
As social media has become more prominent in people’s lives, entertainment has gone further in trying to show the ways news and government have often come in conflict with one another. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep combine for a dynamic duo performance in this thriller about the battle for journalistic integrity and the United States’ attempts to keep its true involvement in the Vietnam War hush-hush.
Role: Josh Baskin
One of Tom Hanks’ first major film roles 35 years ago remains one of his most memorable. Twelve-year-old Josh Baskin, a child who gets trapped in a grown man’s body after wishing for maturity from a fortune teller, has to overcome the trials and tribulations of becoming an adult while he’s still just a kid. The film is a poignant and funny reminder of the ways we wish away our youth, only to find out we should have appreciated our innocence. This movie earned Hanks his first Oscar nomination.
Role: Captain Richard Phillips
Although this film has been criticized for its lack of authenticity compared to the actual real-life events it’s based upon, Hanks turns in a great performance as Captain Richard Phillips, a sailor whose ship is taken over by pirates out at sea. Many movies in this genre take place hundreds of years ago. Seeing how pirates are still relevant in the 21st century makes for a unique and thrilling film experience.
Role: Jim Lovell
The Apollo 13 mission is still one of the most discussed space missions in the history of the US space program. Hanks plays Jim Lovell, the calm and intelligent astronaut who leads his team through the dire times between the shuttle’s takeoff, its aborted mission, and the space capsule’s eventual safe return to Earth. Interest in space missions and the moon landings remains relevant today, adding to the mythology and the allure of this daring story.
Role: Fred Rogers
The world needs a lot more positivity. It seems nobody saw light during the dark times more often than children’s television host Fred Rogers. This recent film showing the relationship between Rogers and a reporter shed some light on the tough obstacles Rogers overcame behind the scenes of his blessed life. Hanks is exquisite in a role that fits both his age and personality in the twilight of his career. Fun fact: Hanks is a distant cousin of Fred Rogers, something that inspired the actor to play the part!
Role: Paul Edgecomb
One of the longest films of Hanks’ career is an expressive and beautiful movie about friendship and always seeing the good in people. Hanks plays a prison guard named Paul Edgecomb who tries to help inmate John Coffey (played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan) during his time while incarcerated. Fans still enjoy this touching and fantastical tale almost 25 years after its theatrical release.
There’s no doubt that Hanks’ turn as the heroic cowboy doll in Toy Story is the best voice work of his career. Hanks has gone on to voice Woody three more times since this film, and he’s slated to reprise the role a fifth time. This Pixar classic has endured through several generations now. Hanks’ chemistry with Tim Allen, who voices Buzz Lightyear, is one of the reasons the movie remains funny and heartfelt, whether you’re watching for the first time or the hundredth.
Role: Captain John H. Miller
Stephen Spielberg’s most famous war movie isn’t for the faint of heart. If you can look at the screen during the endless violence and the intense opening sequence, you’ll see one of the best stories about brotherhood ever. Hanks is right at home in his classic position as the leader of a team, depicting all of the pain and perseverance of Captain John H. Miller.
Role: Chuck Noland
One of the hardest things to do as an actor is play a part with no screen partner. Having another performer with you allows chemistry to form and character growth to blossom. This is why Hanks’ turn as Chuck Noland in Cast Away remains one of the greatest performances of all time. Most of the film, the only other being on the screen is an inanimate object, the infamous volleyball named Wilson. Hanks shows the powerful and relatable struggle of a man who deteriorates and then triumphs in solitude on an island.
Role: Andrew Beckett
A landmark film for many reasons, Philadelphia shed light on the despicable homophobia that pervaded American society throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a gay man who has contracted AIDS and is fighting in court over unfair dismissal from his job. The performance broke down barriers for other LGBTQ+ filmmaking to be possible in the future.
Role: Forrest Gump
How could it be any other role topping this list for Tom Hanks than the seemingly slow-witted Southerner with a heart of gold? Forrest Gump remains a triumph three decades later because it helps everyone see the world through the eyes of a truly decent man. Whether Forrest is demonstrating ignorance to the horrors of the battlefield or breaking our hearts when he runs himself down, asking whether his son is stupid like him, Hanks is sure to make everyone laugh and cry. Hanks won his second Academy Award for this role in 1994.
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