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From ‘Big’ to ‘Captain Phillips,’ TOH! Ranks Tom Hanks’ Ten Best Performances

From 'Big' to 'Captain Phillips,' TOH! Ranks Tom Hanks' Ten Best Performances

One year removed from sprawling $100-million epic (and epic flop) “Cloud Atlas,” which even the beloved movie icon couldn’t save, Tom Hanks is enjoying the kind of year that defined his heyday in the 1990s.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his first Oscar nomination — for Penny Marshall’s comedy classic “Big,” now available in a new Blu-ray/DVD edition from 20th Century Fox — Hanks is basking in awards buzz once more, for his commanding title performance in piracy thriller “Captain Phillips.” (Buzz has subsided for Hanks’ supporting turn as Walt Disney in making-of-“Mary Poppins” tale “Saving Mr. Banks,” which missed out on key precursor awards nominations and has so far accrued middling box office receipts — but never count out Hanks with the Academy; he’s a popular fellow.)

Hanks, whom The Daily Beast touted as a “viral video superstar”  (not to mention the box office champion, two-time Oscar winner, and blissfully married Everyman who’s “worked with everyone from Robert De Niro to Madonna”), remains the standard-bearer of versatility.

In The Definitive Tom Hanks Matrix, Vulture categorized his films as Good, Bad, Goofy, or Serious, marking the stages of a career that’s witnessed sitcom stardom (“Bosom Buddies”), humorous fantasies (“Splash,” “Big”), Academy fare (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”), Hollywood romances (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail”), major blockbusters (“The Da Vinci Code”), and idiosyncratic failures (“The Ladykillers”).

In the process, he’s amassed massive box office numbers. His top-grossing live-action films (not including high earners “Toy Story” 1, 2 & 3 or “The Polar Express”) are below (worldwide grosses):

“The Da Vinci Code” 2006 –  $757,236,138
“Forrest Gump” 1994 – $679,400,525
“Angels & Demons”2009 – $490,875,846
“Saving Private Ryan” 1998 – $485,035,085
“Cast Away” 2000 – $427,230,516
“Catch Me if You Can” 2002 – $351,106,800
“Apollo 13” 1995 – $334,100,000
“The Green Mile” 1999 – $290,701,374
“You’ve Got Mail” 1998 – $250,800,000

“Sleepless in Seattle” 1993 – $227,900,000

We live in a different world now: the well-regarded “Captain Phillips,” a hit at more than $200 million worldwide, isn’t even on the same planet as “Gump.” But the diversity of roles on this list demands respect. Maybe because Hanks’ off-camera work — producing big-budget HBO World War II series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” directing modest success d’estime “That Thing You Do!” and bland disappointment “Larry Crowne” — has brought more mixed results, his on-screen bankability seems inextricable from his reputation as a stalwart performer in any genre.

With that in mind, TOH! ranks the 10 best performances in the actor’s storied career — complete with trailers — after the jump.

10. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

By playing Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent who chases Leonardo
DiCaprio in and around Steven Spielberg’s underappreciated and effervescent caper
film, Hanks joined the ranks of Jack Nicholson (in “Reds,” 1981) and George Clooney
(in “Syriana,” 2005) – established, bona-fide movie stars who’ve taken a supporting
role and stolen a movie. While Nicholson was nominated by the Academy, and
Clooney won, Hanks was overlooked for what may be his best work ever (“Captain
Phillips,” perhaps, aside): As Hanratty, he offered up a dead-on portrayal of
world-weariness, innate charity, and droll, dry self-awareness, as well as providing
the perfect counterweight to the daredevil con man played by DiCaprio.  – John Anderson

9. Road to Perdition (2002)
Michael Sullivan, the conflicted hit man of Sam Mendes’
Prohibition-era gangster piece, marked Hanks’ first real shift away from good
guys roles and into something vastly more complicated. Watching it now, he
seems like what he is — an actor on unfamiliar territory — though he proffers
a convincing stolidness as a ruthlessly efficient killer, forced by circumstance
to turn on the only family he’s known. Besides being an actorly landmark, “Road
to Perdition” is among those films that suggest Hanks does his more interesting
work with facial hair (including the smear of mustache that bisects Michael
Sullivan’s face). There’s the beard in “Captain Phillips,” the beard in “Cast
Away,” even – God help us – the goatee in “The Ladykillers.” This does not, we
hasten to add, include his mustachioed Walt Disney in “Saving Mr.
Banks.”  – John Anderson

8. A League of Their Own (1992)
When Hanks is liberated from having to carry a movie as a likable
leading man, he unleashes his best freewheeling comedy performances. In
Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” he’s the ornery old-school male
coach stuck managing a gaggle of girl baseball players. He arrives
skeptical and distant, and of course, can’t stop getting involved in
helping them win. His classic line: “There’s no crying in baseball!”  – Anne Thompson

7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

“When was the last time you felt good about anything?” Tom Hanks wonders as he leads a group of US soldiers through the miasma of Normandy and across enemy lines in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-robbed “Saving Private Ryan.” As Captain Miller, Hanks delivers a performance both brave and vulnerable in equal measures– he’s strong because he has to be, but afraid because the reality of war is intractable, and there is no more going back. –Ryan Lattanzio

6. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
One our most guiltless romantic comedy pleasures, the late Nora
Ephron’s 1993 “Sleepless in Seattle” defined Hanks as a soulful romantic lead. He has the gentle, self-effacing chops
to play devoted dad and widower Sam opposite Meg Ryan’s neurotic reporter in Baltimore. His on-air confession asking for a new
wife is one of many scenes where Hanks unveils his knack for marrying wit with bittersweet tenderness. And
while the film really belongs to Ryan (like Hanks, one of
the great comic actors of the 90s), the final scene where these two
soured souls fall into one another’s arms atop the Empire State Building
makes you wish it was you who was saving Mr. Hanks.  – Ryan Lattanzio

5. Big (1988)
What distinguishes “Big” from its
child-in-an-adult’s-body successors (“13 Going on 30,” “Freaky Friday”)
is Hanks’ ingenious turn as Josh Baskin, the boy who’s granted his wish
“to be big.” Hanks, who studied Marshall’s footage of young Josh (David
Moscow) playing with friends, proves a gifted physical comedian. He
nails not only the slapstick of ill-fitting pants and the footloose joy
of “Chopsticks” on a larger-than-life keyboard, but also the subtler,
sometimes frightening experience, shared by all adolescents, of finding
yourself in a body that seems not quite your own. In this sense, Hanks’
performance is more than a funny impression of teenage awkwardness — it
is, in a film premised on a fantasy, a sympathetic and remarkably
unmannered rendering of the real delight and pain that accompanies
growing up.  – Matt Brennan

4. Toy Story trilogy (1995 – 2010)
It’s tough to imagine anyone but Hanks voicing chipper floppy
cowboy action figure Sheriff Woody in the classic Pixar “Toy Story”
series. He’s a tireless organizer and cheerleader, always rallying
his troops and in love with his boy. “You are a toy!” he screams in
frustration to cocky spaceman Buzz Lightyear, who replies, “You are a
sad strange little man.” Indeed.  – Anne Thompson

3. Cast Away (2000)
Hanks gives a mesmerizing one-man performance in Robert
Zemeckis’ survival epic, which scored the actor an Oscar nomination. Hanks
stars as FedEx exec Chuck Noland, who emerges from a waterbound plane crash to
find himself swept ashore on a deserted island, with only a volley ball, dubbed
Wilson, to keep him company. It’s the rare actor who can keep an audience spellbound,
solo, for two hours. Hanks also undergoes an impressive physical
transformation, from the slightly doughy everyman we’re familiar with to a
wild-haired and wiry island inhabitant. With Helen Hunt as Noland’s resilient fiancée,
caught between two men — one at home, and one seemingly raised from the grave.  – Beth Hanna

2. Philadelphia (1993)
Hanks won his first of two consecutive Oscars (the second
was for “Forrest Gump”) in Jonathan Demme’s tearjerker about a gay man with AIDS
fired from his law firm, and the homophobic lawyer (Denzel Washington) who is
the only one bold enough to take on his discrimination case. Hanks brings an
outrage and won’t-take-no-shit decency to the role that melds perfectly with
his trademark relatability, while playing out the increasingly vicious
stages of the disease. The film has since become famous as one of the first
mainstream Hollywood entries to deal frankly with the reality of AIDS, homophobia,
and homosexuality.  – Beth Hanna

1. Captain Phillips (2013)
As the titular skipper of the Maersk Alabama, boarded by a cadre of Somali pirates off the east coast of Africa, Hanks evokes workaday heroism, all the more potent for being run through with terror. Beard shaded with gray, voice colored by blue-collar New England, he shrinks at the report of bullets and calmly negotiates with the hijackers’ main interlocutor (Barkhad Abdi), managing the state of play with the immediacy of a man who does not yet know his fate. It’s a no-nonsense performance, well suited to Greengrass’ ragged set pieces. But by the time the denouement arrives, and Hanks unwinds two hours of tension in a single, devastating scene — the finest of his career — it becomes clear that he, as much as Greengrass, wound the tension in the first place. It’s a moment, a performance, with Hanks’ whole soul behind it, and the payoff is tremendous.  – Matt Brennan

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Good choices but how the hell is Forrest Gump not mentioned? I'd argue to say that that's his best performance. Pretty stupid to overlook that one, especially since he won an Oscar for it as well.


I personally would've rated his performance as Jim Lovell in "Apollo 13" among his Top 10. His enigmatic Capt. Miller from "Saving Private Ryan" certainly belongs here, but I agree his work in "Captain Phillips" may be his best.
Apparently that heart wrenching last scene of his wasn't exactly written like that on the page. Hanks & Greengrass decided to tweak it a bit.

Brian Whisenant

As entertaining as his Gump might be to some I do not and have never thought it to be a great performance. Especially when you put it up against Captain Phillips and Philadrlphia. Even Big and Toy Story.


How in the world is Forrest Gump not in the top 3?

James S.

Thank you, Matt Brennan! I agree that the last few minutes of Captain Phillips contain Hanks' single greatest moment on film. It's my choice for best performance of the year, and one that I think will be given even greater consideration in the years to come.

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