Tom Hanks is one of the rare actors who can do both comedy and drama at a level well above his peers. From films like THE BURBS and A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN to THE DA VINCI CODE and BRIDGE OF SPIES, Hanks always delivers performances that rise above and can turn a mediocre film into a great film experience. With SULLY opening this weekend, we are privileged to see another stellar Tom Hanks performance which got us thinking about his best on screen roles. Here is our ranking of the ten best Tom Hanks performances of all time. See if you agree with our choices or let us know if we missed one in the talk backs below.
Amongst his best comedic work of the 1980s, Tom Hanks was always on the brink of some dramatic power. Writer/director John Patrick Shanley (MOONSTRUCK) was able to bridge the Hanks of THE MONEY PIT and THE BURBS with the Oscar winning performer we would meet in the 1990s in this fairy tale about a man who wants to die and volunteers to jump into a volcano. It would also serve as the first on-screen pairing of Hanks and Meg Ryan.
After years of humor, Hanks took a very timely story about AIDS and homophobia and turned it into his first Oscar. Andy Beckett was a subtly powerful turn from Hanks who never plays his character as a cliche or a stereotype and delivered one of his most indelible and unique performances. PHILADELPHIA has not aged well as a film but Hanks' acting still stands the test of time.
In recent years, a lot of Hanks' films have blended together in retrospect, but one stands out amongst them all. The Wachowskis' CLOUD ATLAS is a stunningly original film and magnificent in so many ways. The use of actors in multiple roles stands out most with Hanks who plays everything from a Cockney thug to a future hero, a mild-mannered scientist to a racist and murderous doctor, and even a duplicitous hotel manager. Big or small roles, Hanks inhabits them all with a gusto that shows his support and faith for this brilliant movie.
While many mistakenly thought Buzz Lightyear was the main character of TOY STORY, the trilogy is truly the tale of Woody. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have awesome chemistry as the enemies turned best friends, but it is Hanks loving and eternal performance as the optimistic cowboy doll that truly is the soul of the franchise. Hanks has not done voice work outside of this Pixar series and for good reason: there is no way he could ever come close to how great he is as Woody.
The Coen Brothers teaming with Hanks delivered one of the actor's best comedic performances over the last twenty years. THE LADYKILLERS, a remake, put Hanks in the shoes of the great Alec Guinness. Daunting for any performer, Hanks embraced the crazy and plays Professor G.H. Dorr as a suave Southern cad. It is funny and sincere and one of Hanks best roles in one of his least successful movies.
In 1998, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was the film that everyone was talking about. Powerful, stunning, and brutal, it embodied everything about World War II and did so with Steven Spielberg's trademark prowess. Hanks would not win an Oscar for his performance in this film but it was absolutely one of his best. This marked the first of four films with Spielberg but this will remain the best collaboration between the two.
I may be one of the few people who finds this Robert Zemeckis film to be very overrated, but I cannot deny how good Hanks is in the title role. While this performance would be mocked as going "full retard" in TROPIC THUNDER, it surprisingly showed a great deal of range and restraint from Hanks who played Forrest as a naive character but an incredibly relatable one.
How many actors could convincingly play a twelve-year-old trapped in the body of an adult? The concept sounds creepy and weird now, but in 1988, it was the massive hit BIG. Penny Marshall's film works wonderfully well almost thirty years later and represents the first hints of Tom Hanks' true dramatic potential. While still a comedy, it has glimpses of what would be on screens for years to come.
The career of Tom Hanks has been surprisingly light on the violence and darkness. Sure, he was in war movies and thrillers like THE DA VINCI CODE, but nothing comes close to this crime epic from Sam Mendes. Seeing Tom Hanks wielding guns and taking out rival gangsters was very out of character for the actor, but still a brilliant decision as it remains unlike almost anything else on his resume. Hanks is haunting as the father teaching his son about the true nature of his job and the long reach of death.
There are so many reasons why this film deserves the top spot: Hanks' weight loss to evoke his character's time on the island, playing against a volleyball and no other humans for almost an entire film, that heartbreaking ending, and the sheer magnitude of conveying a narrative with almost no dialogue. Few actors could have pulled off what Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks did with CAST AWAY and we are better off as a world for having it.