The 15 Best Tom Hanks Movies Ranked - SlashFilm (2024)


The 15 Best Tom Hanks Movies Ranked - SlashFilm (1)

DreamWorks Pictures

ByFiona Underhill/

Tom Hanks is known as "America's Dad" and "Mr. Nice Guy'" among many other monikers that denote that he is solid, dependable, trustworthy, and generally a safe bet at the box office. However, he's been through many phases in his long career, and there are probably more weird, risky, and unlikeable characters on his resume than you might remember.

During the 1980s, Hanks appeared mainly in comedies, and because comedy is seen as a "lesser" art form than drama, his work in these movies is largely discounted now. This is unfair because being charming, romantic, and at times, hilariously exasperated, is not as easy as it looks. The '90s was when Hanks won both of his Oscars and was solidified as a prestigious dramatic actor, but he still managed to star in the "Toy Story" franchise as a cowboy doll. Since the turn of the century, Hanks has had ups and downs in his career but also has pushed himself into strange new places with films such as "Cloud Atlas" that show he's not just resting on his laurels.

In recent years, he's worked with the likes of Marielle Heller and Baz Luhrmann, showing that he's still looking for new opportunities with an interesting range of directors. Here are 15 of Hanks' best movies that showcase his range.

15. Angels & Demons

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Sony Pictures Releasing

In Tom Hanks' long and storied career, he has only appeared in two franchises: "Toy Story," and the Robert Langdon series. Adapted from the novels of Dan Brown, the most famous one is "The Da Vinci Code," which Ron Howard adapted in 2006. Hanks also appeared in "Inferno" in 2016.

None of the Langdon movies have been well-reviewed, but if you're a fan of trashy airport thrillers, there's something to be said for a fast-paced treasure hunt through the art and architecture of an old European city. "Angels & Demons" is set in the Vatican and Rome during the papal conclave, the period between the death of one pope and the election of a new one. Ewan McGregor plays the youngcamerlengo who has been left in charge when four cardinals are kidnapped and threatened with death. An "antimatter" explosive device stolen from CERN is also timed to go off at midnight.

Langdon (Hanks) is usually paired with a much younger brunette, but the one in this movie, Ayelet Zurer, is probably the best of the three. If you like "paperwork" movies with scenes of intensive research in libraries or archives, these movies scratch that itch. It's entertaining nonsense.

14. Cast Away

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20th Century Fox

A movie in which one actor single-handedly commands the screen for almost the entire runtime must have a compelling lead whom we invest in and care about. Thankfully, Hanks fulfills these criteria in "Cast Away" in which he's stranded on a desert island with no one to talk to — other than a volleyball named Wilson. The film's bookends, featuring Helen Hunt as his girlfriend, and the ending, which seems like a sentimental and forced Fed-Ex commercial, are unfortunate, but the majority of the film's runtime on the island is where the good stuff is to be found.

The invention of Wilson is a stroke of genius because without Hanks' voice delivering that exasperation and desperation, he would be without his most valuable acting tool. His triumphant delivery of, "I have made fire" and his sobbing apologies to Wilson when he first deliberately tosses him and then loses him, show Hanks' brilliant range. That is not to say that Hanks doesn't use his facial expressions and body language well. He can express searching and confusion with his eyes extremely well.

Much has been made of Hanks' physical transformation for this movie, but that is far less impressive than his performance and his ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for so long. "Cast Away" is a brilliant showcase of Hanks' abilities.

13. Splash

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Buena Vista Distribution

Hanks' first ever lead role in a theatrical feature (and his first collaboration with Ron Howard) was in this magical fantasy love story, which along with sci-fi romances, were all the rage in the '80s. There was "Mannequin," "Earth Girls are Easy," "Starman," "Weird Science," and "The Fly" to name just a few. In the mermaid movie "Splash," John Candy plays Hanks' brother, and the two have great chemistry. Dody Goodman, who appears as their eccentric secretary, also deserves a mention.

Daryl Hannah as Madison defines the fish-out-of-water (pun entirely intended) character, and the segment in which she visits Bloomingdales and learns English from a bank of televisions in one afternoon is delightful. She also gifts Hanks a mermaid fountain that they see in Central Park and has it installed in the middle of his apartment. Eugene Levy plays an amusing bad guy who stalks Madison, trying to throw water on her so she turns back into a mermaid — and getting increasingly injured in the process.

Hanks' 1980s characters are frequently working-class everyman types (unlike his later professional characters) who face something weird, often with romance sprinkled in. If you're of a certain age, Hanks' 1980s movies are nostalgic comfort food, and they were a wonderful start to his career.

12. Cloud Atlas

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Warner Bros.

The Wachowskis' most ambitious movie spans centuries, has a large ensemble, and was such a vast project that there's even a third director, Tom Tykwer. "Cloud Atlas" is based on the book by David Mitchell, and each of the lead actors plays six roles in different timelines. Hanks takes the lead role in the section set in a Hawaii of the far future. He also appears in a section set in 1970s San Francisco alongside Halle Berry.

Two roles that required perhaps the most outlandish use of hair pieces, false noses, and accents by Hanks are his nefarious1840s ship doctor and the co*ckney gangster Dermot Hoggins in the present day. This is Hanks as you've never seen him before or since. A movie this strange and full of ideas was always going to be divisive, but Hanks remains proud of it. He has described "Cloud Atlas" as"a movie that altered my entire consciousness"and the only one of his films that he's seen more than twice.

For an actor considered safe and dependable (and therefore, maybe too "nice' or 'boring"), "Cloud Atlas" is a wild project for Hanks to have taken on, and it's obvious that it wouldn't have been funded if it wasn't for him. This level of risk and weirdness is always to be commended, and there's so much going on here that you're likely to find something to your taste.

11. That Thing You Do!

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20th Century Fox

Surprisingly, Hanks has only written and directed two feature films in his career so far and took a starring role in one of them, 2011's "Larry Crowne," which costars Julia Roberts. His feature directorial debut was 1996's "That Thing You Do!" and he gave himself a supporting role. Set during the 1960s, it follows the rise and fall of a fictional band who have a one-hit-wonder.

The movie gently pokes fun at the "artistic and serious" leader of the band, Johnathon Schaech's Jimmy. Liv Tyler provides the film's heart as his girlfriend Faye. "That Thing You Do!" also provides Charlize Theron's first credited movie role, and Steve Zahn plays his typical loveable loser character. The early part of the movie, which focuses on Tom Everett Scott's Guy working in his family's appliance store, is a good time capsule.

As many have pointed out, the secret to this movie's success is that the one-hit-wonder in question (which gets repeated throughout the film), is actually great and an extremely convincing mid-60s-style pop hit. "That Thing You Do!" makes a fitting companion piece to Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis," in which Hanks plays a very different kind of manager, and also helps audiences see which music biopic tropes are exploited or subverted in both movies. It would be good to see Hanks write and direct again.

10. Philadelphia

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TriStar Pictures

If there's one movie that marks Hanks' transition from the fun guy known mainly for comedies to serious actor and awards contender, it is 1993's "Philadelphia." Directed by Jonathan Demme and co-starring Denzel Washington and Antonio Banderas, "Philadelphia" would lead to Hanks' first best actor Academy Award win. Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" also helped the movie's success and is one of the best tracks to win best original song.

"Philadelphia" is a landmark film in terms of gay representation and its depiction of AIDs in a mainstream Hollywood movie. The changing relationship between Hanks' Andy Beckett and his lawyer Joe Miller (Washington) is at the heart of this film, and their dynamic works very well. While it's a fairly straightforward courtroom drama, Demme still brings some of his flourishes to it, especially in the way he frames both Hanks and Washington — sometimes head-on (almost like Spike Lee), sometimes going for Dutch angles. The scene in which Andy describes an aria to Joe while bathed in red light with Joe's steadfast eyes flickering in the firelight is much more dramatic, interesting, and emotional thanks to Demme's unusual filming techniques.

It's hard for anyone to compete with Denzel Washington's acting, but Hanks has the more sympathetic (and therefore awards-friendly) role here. He does well not to indulge in cloying sentimentality and delivers a subtle, grounded performance.

9. Turner & Hooch

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Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

While the 1990s is probably Hanks' most critically-acclaimed decade, the 1980s werefull of fun comediesthat showcase his talents just as much but in a different arena. There is no better Tom Hanks than an exasperated Tom Hanks as can be seen in such films as "The Money Pit," "The Burbs," and "Dragnet." One of the best showcases of how funny Hanks is when he's at the absolute end of his tether is "Turner & Hooch," a buddy cop comedy in which one buddy is a large, unruly, and perpetually slobbering canine.

Scott Turner (Hanks) reluctantly takes in the enormous French Mastiff Hooch because he is the only witness to a crime. Turner showing Hooch around his home and saying, "This is not your room," followed by the subsequent carnage that ensues is hilarious, as is Turner trying to bath Hooch. Hanks had some great leading ladies in the '80s and his dynamic with Mare Winningham here is a winner. Hanks is in nearly every scene of this movie, and the stakeout scene where he talks to Hooch in his car is a marvelous showcase for how he can be funny and entertaining even when he doesn't have a particularly talkative scene partner.

Of all of Hanks' 1980s comedies, this is maybe the funniest, and that's saying something. He's brilliant at playing a serious fuddy-duddy who becomes completely unraveled by extreme circ*mstances and has his heart softened by someone or, in this case, a drooling dog.

8. Captain Phillips

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Sony Pictures Releasing

A taut thriller based on real events, "Captain Phillips" gave the wider public a better understanding of modern-day piracy. The film sees Tom Hanks in "serious professional" mode. As the captain of a large container vessel, he has a job to do and doesn't take kindly to being interrupted. The ship is boarded by four young Somali pirates, led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and much of the movie is a tense face-off between Phillips and Muse. Abdi makes a formidable screen partner for Hanks, which is obviously saying something.

Phillips initially tries to distract the pirates so they don't go after his crew, but at the midpoint of the movie, he is forced to board a lifeboat with them. Barry Ackroyd's handheld camerawork aids the disorienting and claustrophobic feel as the pirates start to unravel and fight between themselves. Once Phillips is rescued, Hanks gives one of his best performances as a completely traumatized man.

"Captain Phillips" once again sees Hanks playing a man who is an expert in his field in extreme and dangerous circ*mstances. That's something he's proven he can do time and time again, and there's something comforting about Hanks being dependably efficient at his job.

7. Saving Private Ryan

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DreamWorks Pictures

One of the best World War II movies of all time, if only for its famous 20-minute sequence depicting the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach, which is still one of the most immersive, shattering, and visceral scenes ever put to film. "Saving Private Ryan" was the first collaboration between Hanks and Steven Spielberg — a match made in movie heaven.

Hanks' portrayal as Capt. Miller is one of his best. Suffering from shellshock or PTSD while still going through more and more trauma, Miller fights to remain focused on keeping his men alive and trying to be the best leader he can be in frequently horrendous circ*mstances. "Saving Private Ryan" is an important film for many reasons and would lead to anotherHanks and Spielberg collaboration, "Band of Brothers."

Janusz Kaminski's bleached-out desaturated cinematography and slowed shutter speeds add to the authentic newsreel feel of this war movie. Giovanni Ribisi's desperate frustrated medic, Adam Goldberg's disgusted Jewish soldier, and Jeremy Davies' conflicted translator all provide Hanks with admirable back-up. The modern-day bookends aside, Spielberg mostly avoids sentimentality, and the powerful Omaha Beach sequence is an unrelentingly brutal and astonishing achievement.

6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Sony Pictures Releasing

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is anything but a biography of children's TV icon Fred Rogers. Director Marielle Heller chose an unconventional approach to this true story of journalist Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys) whose cynicism is challenged by the kindly, optimistic Rogers. Hanks has played many characters based on real-life people but has rarely taken the traditional biographical route. Hanks seems like the only person who could play Mr. Rogers, as he holds a rarefied place in public perception as one of the few remaining nice guys we can trust.

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" makes creative use of production design with the sets of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" becoming an unfolding Escher's staircase that Lloyd gets lost in during his dreams and nightmares. The puppets, doorways, and other sets and props become a way for Lloyd to process his fractured relationship with his father (Chris Cooper). The sets transform into a confusingly cubist space that forces Lloyd to view things from a new perspective.

The movie mostly avoids cloying sentimentality. Centering the film around Rhys' brilliant performance as the depressed Vogel is a masterstroke. Mr. Rogers' consistently calm persona undercuts Vogel's anger at the world, providing a new path for the jaded journalist to follow.

5. Big

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20th Century Fox

Penny Marshall's "Big" is an all-time-great coming-of-age movie, and Hanks is perfectly cast as Josh Baskin, a twelve-year-old boy magically transformed into a grown man overnight. From Josh and Billy's rap to the FAO Schwartz giant piano scene to Josh nibbling the baby corn at the fancy work party, there are so many memorable moments.

In all the fun and games, there are also heart-wrenching scenes. Anything involving Josh's mother (played by the wonderful Mercedes Ruehl), who believes her son has been kidnapped, is pretty much guaranteed to leave a lump in your throat. The scene of a scared and overwhelmed Josh's first night alone in New York in which he doesn't want his best friend, Billy, to leave is also a punch to the gut.

The less said about Josh's 'relationship' with his co-worker, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), the better, but it's easy to overlook certain things in a movie this charming. "Big" is equal to some of Hanks' most lauded performances, as he brilliantly portrays the confusion and naivete of a boy negotiating a man's world. It is an absolute delight.

4. A League of Their Own

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Columbia Pictures

Hanks reunited with Penny Marshall for "A League of Their Own, a charming sports movie based on the true story of the Rockford Peaches, a women's baseball team that was formed during World War II. Hanks plays the team's manager, Jimmy Dugan, a hard-drinking womanizer who does not want to be there. Viewing the job as a total waste of time, Dugan is initially reluctant to manage these ladies. His frustration leads to such memorable lines as "There's no crying in baseball!"

Hanks' chemistry with Geena Davis is a huge part of what makes "A League of Their Own" so great. Dugan signing a kid's baseball with "Avoid the clap" is a highlight, and he has plenty of memorable lines, including "The hard is what makes it great." We also get to see a lot of exasperated Hanks ("You're killing me Alice! You're killing me!"). His frustration with one of the team having to bring her son on the road with the team is also extremely funny, leading to a payoff that involves some mild violence.

Hanks has said that "A League of Their Own" is his favorite of his movies because he loved making it so much. The camaraderie does come across, especially between Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell. It's just a feel-good movie from beginning to end.

3. Joe Versus the Volcano

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Warner Bros.

Along with "Cloud Atlas," "Joe Versus the Volcano" is one of the weirdest movies on Tom Hanks' resume. Although"Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" are enjoyable rom-coms, the first pairing of Hanks and Meg Ryan remains the best. Ryan's performance is a tour-de-force that involves playing three distinct characters, each with a very different accent and temperament. Director John Patrick Shanley creates an extremely odd but delightful fairytale that must have influenced Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love."

The opening of the movie depicts an authentically bleak dystopia. The fluorescent lighting of Joe's hellish office makes everyone look like they're on death's door. Who doesn't love an "average-guy-unexpectedly-coming-into-money-and-going-on-a-shopping-spree-under-a-time-crunch" sequence? And this movie has a fantastic one aided by Marshall the limo driver (Ossie Davis). This is followed by an abrasive Meg Ryan and a newly-calm Hanks stuck on a yacht together. These enemies trapped in a small space and facing obstacles together inevitably fall in love — before one of them has to jump into a volcano.

Shanley brings the same wit and sense of the absurd that he brought to "Moonstruck" to this bizarre but dreamily life-affirming film.

2. Toy Story

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Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Notable for being the first computer-animated feature film, 1995's "Toy Story" is a landmark movie, but it wouldn't have made such an impact if it wasn't so well-written and performed. It's clear that Woody would not be the beloved and long-lasting character that he is without Tom Hanks.

Hanks brings a brilliantly exasperated performance to Woody's relationship with Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). From his frustrated declaration of "He's not a Space Ranger!" to telling the toy-torturing Sid to "play nice," Hanks creates a fully-realized personality for the cowboy doll. The actor is once again playing a leader, but the filmmakers constantly make him doubt himself. His fear of Andy's rejection is the motivating factor throughout most of the series.

Hanks' voice performance is a big reason for the success of the "Toy Story" franchise. It's a perfect confluence of writing and acting that creates a character that both children and adults have grown to love. With 2019's "Toy Story 4," Tom Hanks proves the longevity of the character we have come to care for — even if he's made of plastic and cloth.

1. Catch Me If You Can

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DreamWorks Pictures

"Catch Me If You Can" stars Leonardo DiCaprio as fraudster Frank W. Abagnale, a young man who posed as a Pan-Am pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, among other things. His nemesis is FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) who doggedly pursues Abagnale across the country and eventually to Europe in a relentless game of cat-and-mouse.

The development of their relationship over the years is one of the most entertaining aspects of this delightfully zippy movie. Abagnale's Christmas phone calls to Hanratty make it clear that he views him as a mentor as much as a foe. After Abagnale is finally caught, the story continues as he's transported back to the U.S., and Hanratty dogs him with the repeated refrain of "How'd you cheat the bar exam in Louisiana?" The supporting cast, which includes Christopher Walken and Amy Adams, is also excellent.

Don't get too bogged down in how much of a true story this is. Allow "Catch Me If You Can" to sweep you up and take you along for a wild ride fueled entirely by Abagnale's audacious hubris. DiCaprio and Hanks are both perfectly cast and balance one another well. From the gorgeous opening credits onwards, you will be sold.

The 15 Best Tom Hanks Movies Ranked - SlashFilm (2024)
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