The Top 10 Tom Hanks Movie Performances (Written pre ‘Sully’)

The dramatic landing on the Hudson River by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger will be recreated on the big screen this weekend with the release of a movie about the famous pilot. Playing the captain who made the daring landing is one of Hollywood’s best, Tom Hanks. With that in mind, it’s a good chance to look back at the actor’s significant career.

10. Walter Fielding – The Money Pit

Before the more serious roles started coming Hanks’ way, he was much more of a comedic actor and one of his more memorable roles was 1986’s “The Money Pit.” Hanks doesn’t particularly get a chance to show off his true acting talent in this movie, but he displays so much through his expressive mannerisms and charm and it works perfectly with the slapstick comedy going on around his character. A scene where the kitchen and then the bathtub are destroyed is a great example

9. Woody – Toy Story 3

I labeled this portion of the list under “Toy Story 3” but really, it could be said for the franchise as a whole. Hanks’ voice acting as Woody in the beloved Pixar franchise is one of the most memorable performances in an animated film, let alone a series. Hanks has always proven that he can bring both humor and dramatics to the table and it fits wonderfully into the type of characters that Pixar is known to create.

8. James B. Donovan – Bridge of Spies

Mark Rylance won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in “Bridge of Spies,” but what Hanks brought to the table can’t be overlooked. Hanks’ character in the film is a man who won’t give an inch when it comes to the rights and laws that he is bound to, and throughout much of the picture he continuously holds on to his convictions. There’s one scene in particular where Hanks’ character talks about the rule book (the Constitution) which demonstrates that he’s a person willing to stand his ground, and Hanks nails this aspect.

7. Paul Edgecomb – The Green Mile (Nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award)

Hanks’ performance in “The Green Mile” was quite impressive, as he was able to both be a strong prison guard working with the worst of the worst while still being respectable to those who are locked up. The best part of his performance, though, was his interactions with Michael Clarke Duncan’s character. As Hanks’ character learns more about the truth behind Duncan’s character, the more heartbreaking and powerful the performance becomes.

6. Jimmy Dugan – A League of Their Own

The 1992 film “A League of Their Own” may be Hanks’ best picture from a comedy stand point. The character he portrays is a washed up, aloof baseball manager who throws fits about everything. This, however, doesn’t mean the guy is completely one dimensional, as later in the movie he’s shown to have a bit of depth. As previously stated, Hanks is able to bring both sides in terms of humor and drama, playing both the ‘angry coach’ type while also growing to be a good manager for the team. Ultimately, he becomes the most memorable part of the movie.

5. Captain Miller – Saving Private Ryan (Nominated for Academy Award)

Another Steven Spielberg directed picture, “Saving Private Ryan” saw Hanks also in the lead role, playing Captain John Miller who was at the D-Day Invasion. Many credit much of the movie’s success to the opening scene because of its memorable intensity. However, Hanks’ performance as the reluctant combatant but wise, steady handed leader lends a ton to the flick as a whole. A great example of this was when he talks to his unit of soldiers about completing his World War II mission to get back to his wife.

4. Chuck Noland – Cast Away (Nominated for Academy Award)

“Cast Away,” and Hanks’ performance in it, has really grown on me over the years and I’ve really come to appreciate the survival picture’s real meaning. When reflecting on Hanks’ performance, it’s already good for his portrayal of a man just trying to survive (with scenes such as mapping out the search area and starting a fire). However, the real strength comes from his motivation to survive and what he experiences when he gets back home. This layer of his performance is what really gives the film its emotional core and its best shown toward the end of the film when Hanks’ character is talking about what the tide might bring in.

3. Forest Gump – Forest Gump (Won Academy Award)

“Forrest Gump” is a fantastic movie for its snapshots of history, its great soundtrack that evolves through the years and its wonderful recreation of multiple periods through costume and set design. However, the movie wouldn’t have been as memorable or as quotable if not for Hanks’ Oscar winning performance as the titular character. Gump is often shown in multiple historic moments, many either displaying his lower intelligence level or his kind heartedness. But through Hanks great performance, a whole new layer of depth is with the character. This comes through in scenes such as when Bubba dies in Vietnam or when the character finds out he has a son.

2. Captain Richard Phillips – Captain Phillips (Nominated for Golden Globe)

One of Hanks’ most recent performances is also one of his best. In 2013, Hanks portrayed real life captain Richard Phillips, who was captured by pirates near the coasts of Somalia. The intensity of the situation is on full display in this Paul Greengrass directed picture, and Hanks’ performance is one of the reasons why. Through much of the first half, Hanks’ character is trying to calmly appease the pirates while also protect his crew and Hanks sells it convincingly. What really makes the acting become a home run, though, is what occurs in the second half, where Phillips is captured on a lifeboat. Hanks brilliantly brings the character’s fear and desperation to the scene and his final bit of acting in the movie is a career high point.

1. Jim Lovell – Apollo 13 (Won Screen Actors Guild Award)

Like “Captain Phillips,” “Apollo 13” was another picture filled with all kinds of intensity and Hanks also played another real life person, Jim Lovell. In his performance, Hanks portrays a leader of the three astronauts and convincingly appears to be a true to life NASA employee through his delivery (Houston we have a problem comes to mind). What really works best about this performance, though, was his ability to humanize this character who did larger than life things. Despite playing a character in space who has to lead the ship back to Earth, the best parts of his portrayal are the more human moments, such as when he talks about wanting to get back home.

So what are your favorite Tom Hanks performances? Leave a comment down below and share your picks.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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