Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

The Countdown

Tom Hanks: His 10 greatest films ranked, from Saving Private Ryan to Big

As Tom Hanks gets his first Oscar nomination in nearly 20 years, Adam White picks his finest performances, from ‘Forrest Gump’ to ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

Thursday 30 January 2020 07:34 GMT
Star turns: (clockwise from top left), Hanks in ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Big’, ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
Star turns: (clockwise from top left), Hanks in ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Big’, ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

We’ve become complacent with Tom Hanks. The 63-year-old is one of our best-loved actors, a star of unparalleled humanity, but one who we also have a tendency to forget about. It’s a megastar paradox – that someone so consistently spectacular becomes almost like Hollywood wallpaper.

It also undermines Hanks’ fascinating career history, which evolved from goofy Eighties comedies like Bachelor Party (1984) and the sitcom Bosom Buddies to recurring awards-garlanded projects such as Apollo 13 (1995) and Forrest Gump (1994). That he’s never stopped being somewhat daring as an actor, still finding new facets to emotions that have long been his forte, only punctuates his oddly unappreciated genius.

To celebrate the release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the film that has earnt Hanks his first Oscar nomination in (a somewhat baffling) 18 years, here are his 10 best performances ranked.

10. Forrest Gump (1994)

The big one. Annoyingly, Forrest Gump has become so ingrained in pop culture as a collection of specific moments or lines of dialogue that it’s easy to forget how good Hanks is in it. In truth, it is Hanks that rescues the movie from cloying, chocolate-box pastiche. Whenever Robert Zemeckis’s movie veers close into the trite, Hanks is there to pull it back, radiating melancholy, lightness and hope at various junctures.

9. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Of all Hanks’ romantic comedy roles, You’ve Got Mail finds him at his most comfortably brilliant. There is a sparky ease here between him and Meg Ryan, in their third of four on-screen collaborations, with Hanks mercilessly deadpan and quick-witted. He’s the co-owner of a books’n’coffee conglomerate threatening Ryan’s quaint Manhattan bookstore, and is unaware that they’re already involved in a budding (if anonymous) flirtation conducted over email.

8. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Playing an FBI agent on the tail of a prolific con man (Leonardo DiCaprio), Hanks alternates between vivid frustration and abject marvel. He’s one of the film’s least interesting characters on the page, but Hanks seems to recognise this – so he injects him with a middle-aged pathos; a by-the-book adult seeing in a young criminal the rule-breaking frivolity he now realises he missed out on.

7. Philadelphia (1993)

In 1993, there was something incredibly powerful about casting America’s most-cherished movie star as a man dying of Aids, regardless that Philadelphia exists today as an Aids movie shot very much through a heterosexual lens. Hanks lends the film its heartbreaking, important humanity, however. As a lawyer filing suit against his former employers after they fire him because of his condition, he is haunting, empathetic and deeply tender. It marked his first Oscar win.

6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

In playing the most earnest and likeable star in US TV history, Hanks has the potential here to be playing to type. But, as the children’s entertainer Mister Rogers, Hanks is doing wildly interesting things, matching the mesmeric, almost heightened tone of Marielle Heller’s film. His voice is low and his movements are leisurely, while he refuses to indulge anything resembling hagiographic saintliness – instead his Mister Rogers is stubborn, mysterious and spiky, as well as being genuinely good. Were it not for Brad Pitt’s effortlessly cool turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he’d be hoovering up awards left, right and centre for Best Supporting Actor.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Hollywood’s most vivid and devastating portrait of war is another film that recognises Hanks’ importance as a movie star. There is an argument to be made that Hanks is merely an A-list star who naturally would headline an important, moving Steven Spielberg movie – but it’s through Hanks’ humanity that the film’s tragedy is underlined. His all-American normality drives home the cruelty of war, how ordinary men were called up to carry enormous responsibility, and ultimately the senseless sacrifices they were expected to make.

Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free
Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free

4. A League of Their Own (1992)

Hanks’ innate decency can sometimes be a hindrance – specifically because it makes performances like this one easy to forget. His supporting role in this 1992 sports comedy finds him drunken, slovenly and exasperated as a has-been coaching an all-female baseball team. He’s also tremendous in it, and a reminder that Hanks, deep down, is a very funny character actor.

3. Cast Away (2000)

A performance so good that it even rubbed off on the inanimate objects he called co-stars (“Wilson!!!”). Cast Away is the natural conclusion to a decade of the “Tom Hanks star vehicle”, an enormous showcase for his charisma and magnetism, and his ability to rise to the challenge no matter what a director asks of him. He plays a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, stuck on a desert island following a plane crash – and imbues him with grit, joy and abject horror.

2. Big (1988)

The performance that made everybody sit up and recognise that the star of Bosom Buddies was brilliant. He plays a 12-year-old boy magically transformed into a thirtysomething adult, and wreaks havoc in the big city. For such a fantastical movie, it also features a sweetly understated performance at its centre, more childlike in its slouching, all-limbs physicality than anything Hanks is doing with his voice.

1. Captain Phillips (2013)

The best filmmakers have always utilised what Hanks represents as a movie star. In Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips, Hanks subverts those expectations – playing a taciturn merchant mariner largely lacking in personality or warmth. But as his terrifying predicament escalates, his ship having been taken over by pirates, Hanks transforms. The film’s final scene is one of cinema’s most harrowing and true depictions of trauma, and gets to the root of why Hanks has always been spectacular. More than any other actor, Hanks feels like a man we know – our neighbour or our friend, and seeing him convey deep wells of emotion holds an unshakeable power. Captain Phillips, and the journey his character undertakes over the course of it, remains Hanks’ masterwork.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in