Tom Hanks is one of the brightest and most loved Hollywood stars, ever since the mid-1980s. From the early charming comedies to the later gritty dramas, Hanks fastidiously morphed into varied roles which we’ve always rooted for. Even though he often plays lovable characters, he brings a level of depth to the good-guy roles unlike any other actor. There’s always a sense of calmness or exuberance in Tom Hanks’ onscreen presence which rarely fails to please moviegoers. Even at 60, the actor is playing challenging characters and is at the top of his game. To emphasize the greatness of this fascinating actor, I have put down my 15 favorite Tom Hanks’ performances (in no particular order):
1. Big (1988)
When we are young and small, we wish to become big and grown up. The wish, of course, doesn’t magically come true. We live through the years, become an adult, and to our dismay find that the ‘grown up’ phase isn’t all that appealing. But what if a child literally grows big, while, at heart, is still in the pre-adolescent phase? It may sound silly. However, Penny Marshall’s Big makes the best out of this fairytale premise. Perhaps, the wonderfully appealing aspect of Big is Tom Hanks’ central character of Josh, a 13-year old boy in an adult body. The film is memorable especially for Hanks’ brand of charm. He skilfully expresses the joyous as well as the agonized emotionality of a pre-teen boy. Along with Marshall’s sensible direction, the poignancy Hanks brings to each scene elevates it to one of the best comedy/dramas.
2. The Burbs (1989)
Joe Dante’s The Burbs conveys typical American middle-class fears by blending horror with satirical humor. Tom Hanks was cast as Ray Peterson, an everyman who is curious about his weird neighbors Klopeks’. Naturally, Peterson’s curiosity provokes catastrophe, threatening the peace of the suburban neighborhood. A guilty pleasure, The Burbs is an absolute joy to watch due to Hanks’ hilarious performance. Like his portrayal of a man-child hero in Big, The Burbs brings out yet another fine comedic performance from Tom Hanks. The film also had a good ensemble cast — Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman, etc.
3. A League of their Own (1992)
After the box-office flops Joe vs the Volcano, Bonfire of the Vanities and Turner & Hooch, Tom Hanks was looking out for a character that would redefine his career. He received the promising role of Jimmy Dugan from Big director Penny Marshall. Contrary to Hanks’ charming personality, Dugan is an angry alcoholic. He is a washed-up former baseball player, who is now given the job of coaching a women’s baseball team. Dugan’s volatility and insecurities provoke him to make condescending remarks on the sports-loving women. Hanks, the dedicated actor, put on some weight for the role and perfectly inhabited the ageing, beaten-down man with a shred of hope. Hanks excelled in showcasing subtle emotions and small gestures. He elegantly swings between displaying authority and poignancy.
4. Philadelphia (1993)
Jonathan Demme’s Philadephia served as a prelude to the great subtle performances Hanks delivered throughout the glorious 90s. His role as Andrew Beckett, a successful lawyer unjustly fired for having acquired AIDS, brought him the first Oscar statuette. It was a bold move from a box-office friendly actor to have played a homosexual character. Moreover, Hanks doesn’t play Beckett as a weird, miserable man waiting for death. He makes the character recognizably human, arousing us to root for the guy’s quest to restore his dignity. Despite the haunting physical transformation, the role became a huge success due to the manner in which Hanks inhabited the character’s suffering down to the little physical movements. The court scene in which Hanks painfully pulls off his shirt to reveal the lesions in his body serves as a testament to his nuanced acting.
5. Forrest Gump (1994)
In the hands of another actor, Forrest Gump could have easily become a caricature. Hanks turns Gump, a pure simple man with a below average IQ, into an utterly charming real person. Robert Zemeckis’ movie tracks down the life journey of an innocent guy, set against the backdrop of America’s turbulent history. In spite of the meandering and slightly mawkish narrative, the film stands out due to Hanks’ sincere portrayal of the titular character. He doesn’t try to extract lewd humor from the character’s intellectual deficits. He rather subtly conveys the inner reality and emotions of the character. When I first watched the film, there were several moments that made me cry. The three unforgettable ones among the tear-inducing sequences: Gump’s monologue, Bubba’s death, and the reaction Gump shows after realizing that he has a son.
6. Apollo 13 (1995)
In April 11, 1970, NASA launched Apollo 13 with a three-member crew. The spaceflight ought to be America’s third walk on the moon, which, of course, didn’t culminate in a happy ending. There was an explosion that depleted the flight’s oxygen supply and the question remained, whether the crew can get back to earth alive? Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 explores the mission through painstaking technical details, bolstered by yet another humane, instinctive performance from Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell. For its time, Howard’s recreation of space travel is both stunning and authentic. Although there are no big emotional moments for Tom Hanks, he gracefully gets inside the skin of a space-age pilot, making us wish for the character’s safe return. The strong supporting cast consisted of Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris.
7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is best known for its unflinchingly realistic portrayal of World War II. Amidst all the explosions, river of blood, and splintered guts, the movie boasts of a heart-warming core, thanks to the formidable presence of Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller. Miller and his squad are on a wild quest to locate Private Ryan, the only surviving brother of four soldier brothers. Miller’s role strengthened Hanks status as the quintessential American actor, in the vein of James Stewart. Hanks’ calm, soothing performance stood as a symbol for hope and humanity in a hellish atmosphere. It could be a deceptively simple performance. Yet, I couldn’t hold back tears when Miller reveals his story and the desire to go back home.
8. The Green Mile (1999)
Unlike the sentimental, nice guy roles that Hanks predominantly played in his career, Paul Edgecomb in The Green Mile had a bit of hard inner core. He deftly balances the darkness inside him and remains utterly convincing as a jailer, guarding brutal killers. The film’s fine ensemble cast was essentially popular because of the physically and emotionally effective Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan plays Coffey, a black man convicted of killing two young sisters. Despite the threatening demeanor, Coffey possesses a child-like heart. Jailer Paul begins to question Coffey’s guilty status. The Green Mile has minor flaws and an overly long running time. Nevertheless, the film works due to complex, individual performances from the fantastic cast.