RANKED! The 20 Best Tom Hanks Performances to Celebrate the 20-Year Anniversary of ‘Cast Away’
It’s been 20 years since a topless Tom Hanks got so angry with his friend Wilson that he spiked his ass out through the skylight of their shared sea cave. But like our love for Hanks, it wasn’t long before they were bosom buddies once again. Cast Away, an imperfect yet singular movie, marks the exact middle of the award-winning actor‘s beloved career. And like a solitary man on a desert island, Hanks is in a league of his own.
From his early days as a wet-behind-the-ears mermaid lover to his more recent turns as an avuncular bulwark against the tides of immorality, Hanks has entertained billions of movie fans for 40 straight years. Today we celebrate the greatest everyman to ever grace the silver screen by ranking the top 20 film performances of his illustrious career.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
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20. 'Splash' (1984)
Jeff Bridges, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and John Travolta were all considered for the starring role in Splash. But as history goes, it went to Hanks, becoming his breakout role and a box office smash. And though the flick has its flaws, it remains a cult favorite in large part because of Hanks' frustratingly charming arrogance and effortless likability.
19. 'Money Pit' (1986)
This movie about a pair of WASPy 20-somethings testing the bounds of their marriage through the tribulations of remodeling a fixer-upper has been deemed forgettable. Yet, Hanks exhibits such raw enthusiasm that the overtired premise and hackneyed setups come alive with stunning energy. His efforts are somewhat wasted here, but reveal the makings of great things to come.
18. 'That Thing You Do' (1996)
Pulling double duty as an actor/director is no easy feat, but Hanks plays support man nicely in this ode to The Beatles. It's as charming, sentimental, and easy going as a Tom Hanks feature ought to be.
17. 'Bridge of Spies' (2015)
Bridge of Spies is not essential viewing. And 10 minutes in, you may feel like you've seen this movie before. But as it chugs along, the darkly paranoid mood of the film starts to take shape. And operating within the shadows of this Berlin Wall drama is Hanks--a good man trying to find his footing in a world fumbling between war and peace. Just like the rest of us.
16. 'The Ladykillers' (2004)
It may be one of the worst movies of the Coen Brothers’ career, but Tom Hanks isn’t the one to blame. His over-the-top portrayal of a wackadoodle Southern crook prepared him for perhaps the greatest role of his life: David S. Pumpkins.
15. 'The Post' (2017)
Hanks has developed a habit of making low-key pictures over the last decade. He hasn't blown any minds or triggered any cultural trends. Instead, he has churned out a steady stream of movies that have quietly added to his legacy. The Post is a perfect example of this veteran actor gently hitting his stride.
14. 'Sully' (2016)
Practicing the art of restraint, Hanks lets the hero of this picture sink slowly beneath an inner turmoil that swallows him little by little throughout the film. There's nothing flashy here, just a solid craftsman at work.
13. 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' (2019)
Nominated for his first Academy Award since Cast Away, Hank's portrayal of Mr. Rogers sees the actor disappear into his part. Or did he? There's so much overlap between the men, both as ambassadors of kindness and as celebrated Americans. It also turns out, the men are cousins, six times removed. The touching performance hints at great things to come for the golden age of Hanks' career.
12. 'Charlie Wilson's War' (2007)
Tom Hanks hasn't played a womanizer since his role in Bachelor Party, but he clearly has fun with it in Charlie Wilson's War. And though the story of how the mujahideen was armed during the Afghani conflict with Russia is told with a little too much verve, Hanks keeps it grounded with a moral anchor that reminds us of the devastating ripple effect this event has caused.
11. 'Cast Away' (2000)
Cast Away is a bit of a solo job, if you catch our drift, but Hanks carries the film as well as anyone could. And his physical transformation shows the man trying new things as an actor. While it's a bit of slog to sit through at times, enough Hanks-inspired gems litter the movie to make it worth a watch.
10. 'A League of Their Own' (1992)
Lovable even when he's being an irascible cud, Hanks plows through this movie with enough machismo to win a pennant. And his delicately played arc gives us hope that even the most pigheaded rascals can eventually see the error of their ways.
9. 'Toy Story' (1995)
Pixar probably would have achieved massive success at some point without the help of Tom Hanks, but Toy Story unquestionably put it on the map. And at the center of its timeless tale about a group of talking toys who are scared of being left behind by the changing seasons of life, is a cowboy with a heart of gold, played pitch perfectly by one Mr. Hanks.
8. 'Apollo 13' (1995)
For 15 years, Hanks had earned his bread and butter chewing up the scenery like a human Gumby. But Apollo 13 revealed a stillness and steadiness that allowed the gravity of the lunar event itself to take front and center. Even though he exercises a calculated restraint, Hanks still has the most memorable moment of the movie (and trailer) when he speaks the words "Houston, we have a problem."
7. 'Catch Me If You Can' (2002)
One of the most delightfully entertaining films of the 21st century, Catch Me If You Can shows a young Leonardo DiCaprio at his most robust. And acting as his foil is a sure-footed Hanks as a just-the-facts FBI agent who keeps DiCaprio from stealing the show. Hanks ultimately gives the movie its balance.
6. 'Captain Phillips' (2013)
For an actor accused of repeating himself, the emotional breakdown at the end of Captain Phillips is something audiences had never seen before, from any actor. It's a moment so startling, it cuts right to the core. It's a tactical performance that is cunningly realized.
5. 'Joe Versus the Volcano' / 'Sleepless In Seattle' / 'You’ve Got Mail' (1990 / 1993 / 1998)
That Meg Ryan played three different roles in their first film together must have been foreshadowing of the romantic trilogy that would ensue. Sentimental, sweet, and relatable, Hanks and Ryan’s onscreen chemistry helped make the frolicking rom-com a blockbuster market for nearly two decades. Plus, this is just quintessential Tom Hanks.
4. 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)
War is not as heroic as it looks on film. And though Saving Private Ryan begins with one of the most realistically harrowing glimpses of warfare ever captured onscreen, it slowly turns into a salute to American heroism. The heroism of the everyman. Hanks is well cast and delivers a magnetic performance, which in some ways helps guide the bravery down from its pedestal and puts it back into the hands of those small, beautiful moments that we find in a life without war.
3. 'Philadelphia' (1993)
While the movie may appear heavy-handed by today's standards, it was a groundbreaking picture at the time for taking a humanist position on the subject of gay rights and the AIDS epidemic. Hanks needed to dig deep for this role and the result left him a changed actor, winning him his first Oscar. But more importantly, the experience brought a greater depth of honesty to all his future roles.
2. 'Big' (1988)
No film perfectly captures Hank’s innate qualities quite like this charming Penny Marshall classic about a young boy trapped in a grown-up's body. From start to finish, every conflict of life's shifting priorities is authentically considered. And the joy, curiosity, and honesty of childhood finds it home in Hanks.
1. 'Forrest Gump' (1994)
According to IMDB, Forrest Gump is considered one of the top 10 greatest films of all time. Thank Tom Hanks for that. Because despite the constant winking and pandering of the script, Hanks' performance makes the whole schtick believable. He takes what is arguably a solicitous film and launches it into the velvet-roped club of a mega classic.