The Best Movie Ever | Tom Hanks

Few movie stars have the dignity and the clout of Tom Hanks, which is pretty impressive for a guy who got his start in goofy sitcoms. As the star of Bosom Buddies branched out, his career became more and more impressive, earning him two Best Actor Oscars in a row, and a place amongst Hollywood’s highest grossing box office draws. And although Tom Hanks’ star has settled a bit, and the actor now seems to gravitate more towards unusual independents and solemn dramas, he remains a powerful presence on camera, bestowing his characters with equal parts humanity and gravitas.

But what, dear readers, is the best Tom Hanks movie ever? We asked our panel of critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani, Legion of Leia’s Witney Seibold and Collider’s Brian Formo – to each present their picks, and this week they went in very different directions, picking Tom Hanks movies from different eras and with different tones. And none of them picked the movies that won Tom Hanks an Academy Award.

Find out what they picked, and come back next week for another highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!


Brian Formo’s Pick: Big (1988)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Tom Hanks is one of the most reliable actors ever. He has an every man quality, major charisma, and he sure can give a shocked cry at sea (see:Cast Away and Captain Phillips). He’s essentially grown from a young man to a gentleman on the silver screen. With every film that he’s in, he brings an instant likability to his character right from the get go (even when he wants to kill an old church-goin’ lady in The Ladykillers). Although he was climbing into moviegoers’ hearts already by the time he starred in Big, I think it’s Big that cemented the worldwide love for the actor that we bring to every film of his. It did for me, at least.

In Big, Hanks is a pre-teen boy stuck in an adult body after little Josh makes a wish on an unplugged machine to become an adult. One of the first things Josh does with Hanks’ body is check out his body hair and penis size. Naturally. But in this initial scene, Hanks pulls the elastic band forward with hesitation, shows some initial excitement and then some mild disgust. Essentially, this is Josh’s reaction to being an adult: first it seems fun, but then the awareness of responsibility and upkeep sets in. Because Hanks’ Josh moves up fast at a toy business because he has teenage ideas and input (because he is indeed a teenager), and because he eats pizza all the time, and gets a lady friend to boot (he makes her sleep on the bottom bunk) Hanks certainly might’ve contributed to the stunted man child epidemic of the 90s onward.
Best evidence that Tom Hanks created the best man child ever? He immediately had to follow the success with Big with seriously dramatic, Oscar-caliber roles so as to not repeat his perpetual boyhood. Hanks was one and done. Because it never became a schtick, his Josh was so lovable it followed him to the streets of Philadelphia, to the beaches of Normandy, and, yes, even to the costumed Southern fried freak in The Ladykillers.

William Bibbiani’s Pick: That Thing You Do! (1996)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Tom Hanks has been heralded as one of the finest actors of his generation, and has come to personify a class of superstardom that we formerly once reserved for the likes of James Stewart or Cary Grant. But he is also, and I think this is very important, an enormous dork. Nothing else explains why he’d take advantage of his first feature directing gig, in the mid-1990s when he could seemingly do no wrong, and use it to make a silly little comic masterpiece like That Thing You Do!

That Thing You Do! is the uniquely universal story of The Wonders, a fictional band of one-hit wonders from the 1960s, not at all dissimilar to real-life acts like The Exciters, The Swinging Blue Jeans, and Cannibal & The Headhunters. They’re a group of lovable goofs from a small town who write a catchy song damn near by accident, and get picked up by a big label, managed by a supportive and experienced A&R rep, played by Hanks himself.  They play big shows, they play little shows. They have a cameo in a Beach Blanket Bingo knock-off, playing the doubly fictional band Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters. And they fall completely apart by the end, because hey, that’s show business.

Tom Hanks has been in show business most of his life. He knows that bad things happen but he also knows that it’s full of nice people doing their best, even when their best isn’t good enough. That Thing You Do! is often dismissed as a trifle, a loving homage to a forgettable era and the forgotten musicians that made it happen. But this little story about a little band is one of the biggest odes to anybody’s fifteen minutes of stardom you can imagine. The wonders are there, and so are the failures, and in the end all that mattered were the people, and the people were great. It’s one of the most believably optimistic films about the entertainment industry, and coming from a guy like Tom Hanks, you absolutely buy it.


Witney Seibold’s Pick: Captain Phillips (2013)

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

Although he has played a great variety of role throughout his career, Tom Hanks is still known for playing nice, friendly guys. Perhaps it’s because he is known as being hugely polite, kind, and approachable in real life, but the popular image of Hanks – even through films like Road to Perdition and Charlie Wilson’s War (wherein he played a killer and a Lothario respectively) – is, persistently, one of utter and unimaginable kindness and generosity. What’s more Tom Hanks is open to the notion of exploring weird genre stuff from time to time. Not only has he starred in The ‘Burbs, but he directed an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Oh yes, and he’s also hilarious. Even if you want to hate Tom Hanks, you kind of can’t. 

I feel, though, that Hanks didn’t really start to stretch himself as an actor until the early 2000s. He had already won two back-to-back Academy Awards for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and he is indeed great in both those movies, but sometime around 2000 (around Cast Away), he seems to have resolved to actively expand his craft. He began taking on more outlandish roles like G.H. Dorr in the remake of The Ladykillers and the Tati-like innocent in The Terminal.  Late-era Hanks is way more interesting a performer than even mid-1990s Hanks. 

Hanks’ greatest acting moment, then, came in 2013’s Captain Phillips, the true story of the ship captain who was beset by Somali pirates, and who lived to tell the tale. Since the film was directed by the notoriously spartan Paul Greengrass, the story was stripped of all melodrama, adopting a bare-bones stroytelling approach. Hanks was allowed to be seen as a hard-working, merely operational man who was able to cope with a situation with a carefully manufactured cool, and no small amount of palpable panic. When he is finally rescued, and is taken to the hospital to be treated, Phillips – having spent the film trying to remain in control – finally begins to break down, weeping and panicking that he has blood on his body. Hanks has never been better than in that one moment. 

Top Photos: 20th Century Fox / Columbia Pictures / 20th Century Fox