Tom Hanks' most iconic roles
To many people, Tom Hanks really is Forrest Gump, Woody from Toy Story, and Fred Rogers. Others might just know him as America’s Dad. Since the 1980s, he’s played characters that made us laugh, gave us comfort, and challenged our world views, and we’re better for it.
So of course we were all worried when recently, Hanks revealed that he and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive for coronavirus. They appear to be handling the situation well, but the scary news reminded all of us just how much the legend and his spirit mean to film lovers around the world.
And if you’re stuck at home, why not make it a Hanks movie marathon with flicks like Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Castaway in your rotation? The occasion is also the perfect time to refresh your memory on the best of Hanks, from the Oscar winner’s iconic film roles to his work behind the scenes. We all get by with a little Hanks with our friends.
Early TV days
Hanks first gained notoriety for his roles on TV programs like Happy Days, Taxi, and Family Ties. He had a starring role on ABC’s Bosom Buddies, a sitcom that paired him with Peter Scolari as businessmen who dressed up as women so they could move into the inexpensive Susan B. Anthony Hotel. Although the buddy comedy ended in 1982 after just two seasons, it put Hank’s charisma and comedy chops on the map. Ian Praiser, a producer on the show, told Rolling Stone, "I thought, 'Too bad he won’t be in television for long,' I knew he’d be a movie star in two years."
Praiser was right (mostly). Two years later, Hanks starred with Daryl Hannah in the 1984 rom-com Splash, which was critically and commercial successful. He was chosen over more established stars like Richard Gere and Jeff Bridges, as the producers had liked Hanks’ performance on Happy Days and Bosom Buddies.
Comedy film star
Still, it wasn’t until the success of 1988’s Big that Hollywood took notice of Hanks as a multidimensional actor. The film, featuring Hanks playing a 12-year-old boy in an adult’s body, earned him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination and his first Golden Globe win.
A League of Their Own
Hanks followed Big with more comedies like the middling Punchline and the memorable Turner & Hooch (there’s even a reboot in the works), but his second home run came in 1992 with A League of Their Own. The ensemble film about a women’s baseball league boasted a cast including Geena Davis and Madonna, and it’s gone on to become an enduring classic. Plus, Hanks as the team’s grumpy manager Jimmy Dugan gave us “there’s no crying in baseball!” and that in itself is impressive.
A year later, Forrest Gump won us over with Hanks’s lovable titular character and its invaluable life lessons. Hanks also nabbed back-to-back Golden Globe wins and Best Actor Oscars for his performances in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, making him only the second man to achieve the distinction at both ceremonies.
1990s winning streak
Few actors have enjoyed a run like Hanks did in the early 1990s, churning out an astonishingly versatile output that began with A League of Their Own, included Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, and ended in 1995 with the double whammy of Apollo 13 and Toy Story. Hanks, who once had aspirations to be an astronaut, got to live out his fantasy in the epic space film directed by Ron Howard.
Romantic comedy leading man
During the 1990s, Hanks starred in two Nora Ephron-directed features, 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, opposite Meg Ryan each time. Both films made over $200 million at the box office, and their success cemented Hanks as the ultimate leading man: attractive in a sensitive, everyman kind of way. Hanks was a double Golden Globe Best Actor nominee in 1994 — in musical/comedy for Sleepless in Seattle, and in drama for Philadelphia, with him winning for the latter.
Late 1990s - early 2000s
Hanks in the late-'90s and early-2000s continued to pick film roles that showcased his range. 1998 produced Saving Private Ryan and You’ve Got Mail, while 1999 saw Hanks reprise his role as Woody in Toy Story 2 and star in The Green Mile alongside Michael Clarke Duncan. In 2000, Hanks garnered his fifth Oscar nomination and fourth Golden Globe win as a marooned engineer in Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away.
Dynamic duo: Hanks and Spielberg
Some of Hanks’ most memorable projects came out of collaborating with director Steven Spielberg. To date, they’ve worked on seven films and two TV projects together, including four war dramas. The 1998 World War II film Saving Private Ryan nabbed star Hanks his fourth Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe, while director Spielberg received his second Oscar win for directing.
Band of Brothers
Spielberg and Hanks were behind — with Hanks also writing and directing an episode of — the lauded 2001 HBO WWII miniseries Band of Brothers, along with its 2010 companion series The Pacific. Their other collaborations included Hanks’ early films The Money Pit and Joe Versus the Volcano, as well as 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, 2004’s The Terminal, 2015’s Bridge of Spies, and 2017’s The Post.
Box office king
The 2000s saw Hanks starring in some of his most crowd-pleasing movies. He lent his voice to 2004’s The Polar Express, the first all-digital motion capture film, as well as 2006’s Cars. That same year, he played Professor Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, and he’d go on to reprise his role in 2009’s Angels & Demons and 2016’s Inferno.
Behind the scenes force
While he’s most famous for being in front of the camera, the Hollywood legend is also a powerful voice behind the lens. Hanks first made his directorial debut with 1996’s That Thing You Do!, a musical comedy film he also penned. Some of his producing credits may even surprise you, as they include My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Ant Bully, Mamma Mia!, and HBO’s Big Love, through his production company Playtone.
Dramatic roles in the 2010s
In the 2010s, Hanks embodied a litany of dramatic characters based on real people throughout history. He portrayed the titular character who’s taken hostage by pirates in 2013’s Captain Phillips for which he earned another Golden Globe nom, while 2015 saw Hanks playing lawyer James B. Donovan in the Cold War picture Bridge of Spies. The next year, Clint Eastwood’s Sully featured Hanks as hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger, and 2017’s The Post starred the actor as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and gave him his ninth Globe nod.
A star for the people
The name “Tom Hanks” is pretty much synonymous with the nicest guy in Hollywood, and his reputation as a salt-of-the-earth guy may be one of the reasons Americans flock to his movies. Hanks once helped the Girl Scouts sell cookies. Another time, he personally refunded a couple who hated Larry Crowne, a movie he not only starred in, but also directed. Spielberg may have captured Hanks’ essence the best, saying if “Norman Rockwell were alive today, he would paint a portrait of Tom.”
Hanks as Mr. Rogers
Hanks once again portrayed Woody in Toy Story 4, but his most anticipated role of the year was in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. When Hanks was announced to play Fred Rogers, everyone collectively went, “Yup, that makes sense.” Both are beloved figures seen by many audiences as a friend or fatherly figure, and Hanks’ role reminded us that decades into his career, he’s not nearly done moving and inspiring us. The HFPA apparently feels the same as filmgoers, giving Hanks his 10th Globe nomination for the role and naming him the Cecil B. DeMille Award honoree.
Loved by fans and respected by his peers
To date, Hanks has received six Academy Award nominations, winning two back-to-back in 1994 and 1995, and his most recent nod came in 2020 for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. He’s also scored seven Emmy Awards and four Golden Globes. Perhaps one day he’ll even nab the EGOT. After all, Hanks did score a Tony nomination for Lucky Guy — all he’s missing is a win, plus a Grammy.
In January 2020, Hanks achieved a career-high when he received the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award during the Golden Globes, joining the ranks of Meryl Streep and Sidney Poitier. The distinction was only Hanks’ latest honor, as the Hollywood legend already has an AFI Life Achievement Award (he was the youngest recipient) and was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2014. We can’t wait to see what he does next!