Tom Hanks is one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood, with a career spanning over four decades! It won’t be an overstatement if we say that Tom Hanks is a box-office legend; he’s become a symbol of the film industry and is a huge audience favourite.
Tom has presented over 50 roles in various films and TV series, with several iconic works that are simply masterpieces. His filmography ranges from Oscar-winning films like Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994) (the two films that earned him the title of being the only actor winning two consecutive Best Actor Oscars, and that’s no easy feat at the Academy Awards) to more recent works such as The Post (2017), which is one of his many successful collaborations with director Steven Spielberg.
There is also A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) and Elvis (2022), one of the few villain roles he played in his career. Deciding which are the best Tom Hanks films of all time is almost impossible. Still, fans have their all-time favourites, and coming up next, we list some of those.
Tom Hanks Best Films
Soldier, astronaut, and estranged, Hanks has played every role imaginable in his career with unparalleled mastery, establishing himself as one of the most majestic and complex actors of his era. So, let’s remember some of the best films of Tom Hanks, the man who has conquered the international scene since the mid-1980s with increasingly sensational performances.
In the 80’s, Tom Hanks became famous thanks mainly to comedies, the most memorable of which, of course, is the blockbuster Big. Even though the film may be old, it is still one of the best feel-good films that many of us re-watch over and over.
In the film, Josh Baskin is a twelve-year-old boy who is attracted to a pretty young girl in his class. In order to win her over, he makes a wish to grow up. The next morning, he discovers, to his surprise, that his dream has come true, and that he is now a boy with the body of a 35-year-old adult.
Big was perhaps one of the highest points of the comic roles of Hanks; it was a box-office success, and the film became one of the best films of the 80s! The film received 11 awards and 14 nominations, among others. It was the tenth film in Hanks’ career and the first to earn the actor several nominations, such as the Oscars, Golden Globe, Saturn Award and American Comedy Award. An interesting fact about this film is that it was planned to be directed by Steven Spielberg, but then he was replaced by Penny Marshall.
Although the 1980s were a good time for Tom Hanks’ career, it was the 1990s that witnessed some of his best performances ever, starting with this film. Philadelphia is a touching film that deals with the sensitive topic of AIDS. The film brilliantly showed an America that was still unable to accept minorities and diversity.
In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an ambitious Philadelphia lawyer who was hired at a major firm in the city. Andrew is homosexual, which is something he keeps secret from his colleagues. Andrew’s life takes a sad turn when he knows that he has AIDS, and the firm decides to fire him for that! However, the injustice of his dismissal prompts him to file a lawsuit against his former employers.
Accompanying him in this masterpiece is Denzel Washington, who plays the lawyer Joe Miller, the only one who can help him fight his case. Philadelphia was shot sequentially, and in order to better embody the suffering of Andy Beckett’s illness, Tom Hanks had to lose 14 kg for the film’s finale.
One of the most special aspects about this film is definitely its time, the 90s when things were seen differently, and Philadelphia was one of the LGTBI films that really changed things. Thanks to his performance in the film, Tom Hanks earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor, among many other awards.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump is one of the best films of the 1990s that won six Oscar awards and beautifully traced thirty years of American history, as seen through the eyes of the main character, played by Tom Hanks. This is the role that consecrated Tom Hanks among the Hollywood elite.
Hanks played the role of Forrest, who suffers from below-average cognitive development. Since his school days, he forms a deep bond with Jenny (Robin Wright), with whom he will be deeply connected, despite the fact that life has forced them to take two completely opposite paths. Between stories, friendship, love, courage and strength, the film smoothly delivered a valuable life lesson, a real exhortation to never stop despite everything.
It’s not easy to play a character like Forrest Gump, but Hanks nailed it as Forrest navigating all the political events and obstacles that come his way. This may be one of the best performances on screen ever, with the protagonist maintaining an unflappable expression, staring off into infinity and/or widening his eyes as he goes through the story, sometimes literally thanks to the visual effects team.
Tom Hanks totally immersed himself in the part, presenting a highly charged and, at times, over-the-top performance. Thanks to this performance and the excellent direction by Robert Zemeckis, who combined fiction and reality, Hanks was awarded his second Oscar, and the film has become an instant cult hit, engraved in the memory of countless viewers.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is, in all likelihood, one of the most popular and well-known war films in contemporary cinema. Steven Spielberg’s film managed to combine the ‘big’ story (the Normandy landings) with the ‘small’ story, i.e. the events of Private Ryan’s rescue party.
Shot in the mesmerizing Ireland, the film tells of the rescue mission of Ryan (Matt Damon), who is missing after the first operations on French soil. The command of the mission is entrusted to John Miller (Hanks), who has to advance through a thousand difficulties to bring the missing soldier home.
Hanks’ performance was perfect, this time in a poised performance of a grief-stricken man, tossed about by the war and its cruelty, once again demonstrating his ability to switch between comedy and drama sublimely. The film was awarded almost 80 awards, including five Oscars. The film brought Hanks nominations for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Oscar and Empire Awards.
The Green Mile (1999)
The Green Mile is one of the most moving films ever. Based on the novel by Stephen King with the same name, the film was a huge success at the box office, grossing $286.8 million on a budget of $60 million.
The Green Mile is directed by Robert Zemeckis, and Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecombe, a prison guard who, now elderly, recounts having worked on Cold Mountain’s death row, nicknamed The Green Mile because of the colour of the pavement that led inmates to their deaths.
During his career, Paul experienced a life-changing encounter with John Coffey, a giant-sized inmate accused of killing twins but whose innocence Paul realises. The Green Mile is a touching, profound film full of moments that arouse mixed emotions.
The Green Mile was warmly received by the public, and it became a great cult film of the 1990s. The film received four Oscar nominations and 15 other awards. The performances of the two leads were perfect and had great harmony. Hanks, in the pain and doubt that assailed him, conveyed his emotions with great strength and brilliant talent. It is worth mentioning that the role earned Hanks a Blockbuster Entertainment Award.
Now we come to the one film that would definitely be mentioned in any list of Tom Hank’s best films: Castaway! This is probably the greatest acting challenge in Tom Hanks’ career. It is not easy for an actor’s face alone to support nearly two and a half hours of film and for it to be entertaining on top of that. Nor is it easy to have a volleyball to reply to your dialogue.
The film revolves around Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a prestigious systems analyst at the multinational courier company FedEx. This job requires him to travel constantly to faraway places, where he teaches employees how to make the most of their time in order to deliver shipments as quickly as possible.
As a result, he is often away from home and separated from his patient girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt). On one of these trips, he is caught in a terrible storm and ends up as the only Castaway on a deserted island.
Directed by the consistently innovative Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future (1985-1990) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Castaway reunited the director with his Forrest Gump star Tom Hanks. Fun fact about the film is that it was shot in chronological order, but not consecutively; Hanks gained considerable weight before filming, only to lose it again and achieve a physical transformation commensurate with the extreme conditions of survival the protagonist undergoes.
Almost single-handedly – with the help of the now famous volleyball, “Wilson” – Tom Hanks dramatically sustained most of the film, with a powerful performance that earned him a Golden Globe and another Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but the award went to an equally deserving Russell Crowe for his role in the epic film Gladiator.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Among the many great films by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg is definitely Catch Me If You Can with young Di Caprio and the exceptional Christopher Walken alongside Tom Hanks.
The plot focuses on the endless cat-and-mouse chase of Carl (Tom Hanks) and Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo Di Caprio). The latter is a wanted conman, who is perpetually on the run concealing his identity. As story developed, a strange friendship develops between the two, and Carl became attached to the boy almost like a father.
In this film, Hanks gave one of his best performances playing a multifaceted character who is rigorous and zealous but, at the same time, very human. He masterfully delivered the inner turmoil his character experienced regarding Frank’s capture torments him.
The film conquered the box office (with an impressive $351 million) thanks to the interaction of the odd couple DiCaprio/Hanks and the daring adventures they have from beginning to end.
Captain Phillips (2013)
Captain Phillips is an intense biographical thriller directed by journalist and filmmaker Paul Greengrass, who specialises in brutally realistic dramatisations of real events. This film is no exception, based on the infamous hijacking of the merchant ship MV Mærsk, Alabama, in 2013 by Somali pirates.
With this film, Greengrass went beyond just dramatising the central event itself, as he also explored how these kinds of crises are the product of various forces and interests at play, be they mercantile, political or social.
Needless to say, Hanks was immaculate on the part of Captain Phillips. This time, he stepped into the shoes of a serious man, aware of his duties. On the high seas, Hanks presented a high-class acting, delivering one of the best dramatic performances of his career (which is saying something). While it may not be Pirates of the Caribbean, don’t doubt that this is one of the best pirate movies and the most realistic ones.
In his league of worldly heroes, Clint Eastwood found a pilot who saved the lives of more than a hundred people with a crash landing. How to turn this admirable anecdote into a film?
The filmmaker managed to do so with the help of Tom Hanks, with a moustache and grey hair to sign one of the most rounded characters of his career. It is worth mentioning that this film is also one of Clint Eastwood’s best films, as he staged this true story with the skill and courage of an artist who has reached maturity.
Based on true events, Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) was forced to make an emergency landing during a commercial flight. The only way to save all the passengers was to ditch on the Hudson River. Sully was hailed as a hero, but the glory was short-lived. His decisions were quickly questioned by the airline, and he found himself in the middle of a battle to defend his decision, and his reputation!
By design, a film like Sully might sound extremely dull, as it focuses not only on the heroic landing but also on the bureaucratic investigation that follows, but the film was the complete opposite! Fortunately, it was expertly directed by Clint Eastwood, who managed to maintain the tension making us wonder about the future of his protagonist. uncertain future through the whole film.
The Post (2017)
The Post is a film that brings together Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks; do you really need more reasons to why this is such a great film? Making a good film is great, but making a good film at the right time is brilliant, and the timing of The Post was exactly that.
The film spoke of freedom of the press, separation of powers, institutional lies and female visibility in Trump’s America of 2017. Though, of course, its reflections resonate around the world. Tom Hanks brought to life Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post, at a pivotal moment in its history. It is also one of the best films by Meryl Streep, who played editor Katherine Graham.
The story of the film is based on a real-life anecdote concerning the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which were top secret documents of the US government. The media case arose because the papers were the true accounts of the disastrous Vietnam War.
The film highlights the relevance of journalistic work as a barrier to corruption and authoritarianism in society. Moreover, this is the story of how the Washington Post gained national prominence, which resulted in the uncovering of another major scandal: the Watergate scandal.
With an award-winning career spanning iconic drama films, comedy and even voice work in animation, Tom Hanks cemented his place as not only one of Hollywood’s most successful actors but one of the most beloved by audiences.