Embark on a cinematic journey as we delve into the stellar career of the immensely versatile and lauded actor – Tom Hanks. From tear-jerking dramas to heartwarming romances and thrilling biographies, this article, “Cinematic Brilliance: Tom Hanks’ 15 Greatest Films,” encapsulates the extraordinary range and depth of Hanks’ talent.
Each film reveals a new facet of Hanks’ acting prowess, underscoring his ability to truly inhabit any character he portrays. So, sit back and join us as we traverse this definitive collection, celebrating an artist whose exceptional performances continue to captivate audiences worldwide. Welcome to the world of Tom Hanks – a celebration of a true cinematic luminary.
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Set in the year 1993, Philadelphia stands as a testament to a masterful drama that spans 119 captivating minutes. The reigns of this cinematic gem were in the skilled hands of Jonathan Demme, an acclaimed director. Before Philadelphia, Tom Hanks had already garnered a considerable reputation from his successful stint in Big. However, it wasn’t until this movie that Hanks began to carve his niche as one of Hollywood’s most outstanding actors. His portrayal in Philadelphia showcased a stark shift from the comedic roles audiences had grown accustomed to, offering a deeply dramatic performance.
The film’s powerful cast also featured notable names such as Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Ron Vawter, Robert Ridgely, and Mary Steenburgen, among others. The storyline intricately explores the life of Andrew Beckett, a promising lawyer based in Philadelphia. When his firm discovers he’s contracted AIDS, they unjustly fire him, leading Andrew to fight back with a lawsuit. Aided by Joseph Miller, a lawyer with his own biases about homosexuality and societal views on AIDS, their battle for justice unfolds.
Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Andrew Beckett was nothing short of extraordinary, earning him his first Oscar for Best Actor, the first of his two Oscars in this category.
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Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
In the same memorable year, 1993, another film came to life — “Sleepless in Seattle.” This comedy-drama of 105 minutes was brought to the silver screen by the talented director, Nora Ephron. The movie marked Tom Hanks’ first collaboration with Meg Ryan, setting the foundation for what would become an iconic romantic comedy duo.
Ephron’s unique narrative style keeps Hanks’ character, Sam, and Ryan’s character, Annie, apart for the majority of the film. Annie finds herself falling for Sam after she hears his heartfelt expression of grief over his deceased wife on a radio show. Their connection, despite the unconventional circumstances, is a challenging sell, but the pair executes it flawlessly. When they finally meet, their chemistry is undeniable, affirming that they are, indeed, meant for each other. Hanks flawlessly portrays an average man, kind yet struggling with his grief, and trying to find love again. This complexity is beautifully showcased in his relationship with his on-screen son, Jonah, played by Ross Malinger.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Fast forward to 1995, and you’ll find another cinematic masterpiece — Apollo 13. This space thriller, lasting 140 gripping minutes, was expertly directed by Ron Howard. The film showcased a star-studded cast, with Tom Hanks sharing screen space with Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and Bill Paxton, among others.
Apollo 13 masterfully depicts a real-life event that took place in April 1970 during the Apollo XIII mission to the moon. The gripping story unveils the desperate situation faced by the crew when, just as they are about to reach their lunar destination, an explosion in space sends their craft off course, and depletes their oxygen.
Fast forward to 2022, Tom Hanks shines in the biographical drama “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann. With a runtime of 159 minutes, the film co-stars Hanks with Austin Butler.
This film delves deep into the life of Elvis Presley, tracing his journey from his initial foray into music, his rapid ascent to fame, and finally to his unrivaled status as the King of Rock. The film doesn’t stop at his career; it also explores the intricate dynamics between Elvis Presley and his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks. It highlights the significant role Presley’s wife, Priscilla Presley, played in his life.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Again, in 1998, Tom Hanks starred in the popular drama “You’ve Got Mail,” with a runtime of 119 minutes. Under the careful direction of Nora Ephron, Hanks reteamed with Meg Ryan following their successful pairing in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Based loosely on “The Shop Around the Corner,” the movie crafts an engaging narrative deeply embedded in the culture of the ’90s. Hanks plays a somewhat unusual role for him, a ruthless executive of a giant bookstore chain. He finds himself at odds with Ryan’s character, the owner of a small, independent bookstore. Their professional rivalry takes an unexpected turn when they unknowingly become pen pals over AOL, slowly falling for each other’s online personas. Hanks and Ryan’s on-screen chemistry shines brightly in this film, charting a course from animosity to friendship and ultimately, love. Hanks’ character’s journey of becoming a more compassionate person provides a compelling narrative in this lighthearted romantic comedy.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Taking us back to 1992, “A League of Their Own” is a comedy-drama with a duration of 128 minutes under the directorship of Penny Marshall. Tom Hanks shines as Jimmy Dugan, a jaded ex-baseball player who unexpectedly becomes the coach of the all-women’s baseball team, The Rockford Peaches. While Hanks is a natural charmer in comic roles, it’s his portrayal of Jimmy’s hard-edged character that makes this performance particularly memorable in a cast that also includes the likes of Geena Davis, Madonna, Garry Marshall, and more.
Jimmy Dugan is a cynical alcoholic with little regard for his new role—at least at first. He is the embodiment of tough love, and this persona allows Hanks to hit iconic lines like “The hard is what makes it great!” out of the park. This role allowed him to explore a level of sarcasm and bite that audiences hadn’t seen from him before.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
In 2002, another gem in Tom Hanks’ filmography was revealed with the comedy-drama “Catch Me If You Can,” clocking in at 140 minutes. Under the direction of Steven Spielberg, Hanks shares the screen with a formidable ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Nathalie Baye, Martin Sheen, and Jennifer Garner, among others.
Based on a true story, the film follows the exploits of Frank W. Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who in the 1960s became an audacious con artist. He adopted various false identities, even going as far as to impersonate a lawyer, doctor, and an airline co-pilot. In hot pursuit of Abagnale is the diligent FBI agent Carl Hanratty, portrayed by Tom Hanks. Despite Hanratty’s relentless pursuit, the elusive criminal always seems to be one step ahead.
Road to Perdition (2002)
In 2002, the film noir “Road to Perdition,” directed by Sam Mendes, became a significant landmark in Tom Hanks’ diverse and successful career. With a duration of 119 minutes, the film features Hanks alongside a stellar cast including Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Stanley Tucci.
Set amidst the grim era of the Great Depression, Tom Hanks skillfully brings to life the character of Michael Sullivan. Despite his profession as a hitman, Sullivan shows unfaltering loyalty towards his boss, Mr. Rooney, portrayed by Paul Newman. He balances this hard-hitting underworld role with his personal life, where he is a devoted family man.
The film paints a vivid picture of Rock Island, a place under the firm grip of the Irish mob, where the Prohibition era is still ongoing and gangsters hold the reins of power—Al Capone in Chicago being the most notorious. In a twist of fate, Sullivan’s son, Michael Jr., portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin, decides to trail his father to uncover the nature of his profession. This leads him to witness a gruesome murder and soon father and son find themselves on the run, hunted by their own gang and under the ruthless pursuit of a sadistic killer.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
“Cloud Atlas,” a film released in 2012, clocking in at 172 minutes, might have had mixed reviews, but there’s one aspect audiences unanimously agree on—Tom Hanks delivers a phenomenal performance. Directed by Tom Tykwer, this drama features Hanks in an impressive array of characters across multiple timelines, including Dr. Henry Goose, a hotel manager, Isaac Sachs, Dermot Hoggins, and Zachry.
Cloud Atlas is an ambitious, often puzzling, yet utterly stunning epic that explores themes of human nature, power, and the fluidity of human experience. It’s a film that simultaneously made its way onto critics’ ‘Best Of’ and ‘Worst Of’ lists for the year, reinforcing its position as a cinematic enigma filled with riveting performances.
Cast Away (2000)
In the year 2000, audiences were captivated by the spellbinding survival drama “Cast Away,” which runs for a riveting 143 minutes. This film, directed by the accomplished Robert Zemeckis, is undoubtedly one of the defining moments in Tom Hanks’ illustrious career, as it features him almost entirely alone throughout the narrative.
The plot revolves around Chuck Noland, a successful executive at the multinational courier company FedEx. A tragic plane crash rips him away from his comfortable existence and his beloved fiancée, leaving him marooned on a remote tropical island in the vast ocean. For four grueling years, Chuck struggles to survive in isolation, learning rudimentary survival techniques while grappling with the agony of solitude. His only hope of returning to civilization is to take the daring risk of venturing out into the unpredictable ocean, hoping to stumble upon help.
This remarkable portrayal by Hanks earned him a well-deserved nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars. Despite his exceptional performance, the award was ultimately clinched by the talented Russell Crowe for his outstanding role in “Gladiator.”
Captain Phillips (2013)
“Captain Phillips,” released in 2013 and directed by Paul Greengrass, is a dramatic thriller that runs for 135 minutes. It features yet another stellar performance by Tom Hanks, who stars alongside a cast that includes Barkhad Abdi, Mahat M. Ali, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Faysal Ahmed.
The movie is based on real-life events that unfolded in 2009 when the American merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips, portrayed by Hanks, was targeted and taken hostage by Somali pirates. This marked the first hijacking of a U.S. ship in over two centuries. Hanks’ compelling performance paints a vivid and intense portrait of this high-seas confrontation, leaving an indelible mark in his filmography.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Released in 2015, “Bridge of Spies,” a 135-minute spy thriller, is a captivating film under the seasoned direction of Steven Spielberg. The film stars Tom Hanks alongside a robust ensemble including Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Scott Shepherd, Sebastian Koch, Billy Magnussen, Alan Alda, and Jesse Plemons.
“Bridge of Spies” is based on true events and throws light on the thrilling saga of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a lawyer hailing from Brooklyn, who unwittingly finds himself enmeshed in the Cold War tensions between his country, the USA, and the USSR. His unexpected journey begins when he is tasked with defending Rudolf Abel, a man arrested in the United States under accusations of espionage for the Russians.
Donovan, convinced of Abel’s right to a robust defense, finds himself standing up against the CIA, refusing to compromise the sacred attorney-client privilege. Despite the film racking up six nominations, Tom Hanks was notably overlooked, and his co-star, Mark Rylance, walked away with the Best Supporting Actor award.
The Green Mile (1999)
In 1999, audiences were introduced to “The Green Mile,” a drama that spans a lengthy 180 minutes. Directed by Frank Darabont and based on the celebrated Stephen King novel, the film features Tom Hanks in a starring role, with supporting performances by Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Doug Hutchison, and Sam Rockwell, among others.
The movie is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression in the southern United States and follows the life of Paul Edgecomb, a corrections officer in charge of guarding the “Green Mile,” a hallway separating the cells of death row inmates. The narrative takes a turn with the arrival of John Coffey, a towering man accused of the brutal murder of two young girls. On the surface, Coffey appears naive and childlike, but hidden within him is an extraordinary supernatural gift.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Set in 1998, “Saving Private Ryan” is a riveting war movie that stretches over a gripping 170-minute duration. The film is one of the many jewels in the crown of its illustrious director, Steven Spielberg, and is widely recognized as one of Tom Hanks’ finest performances.
Hanks shares the screen with a star-studded ensemble cast which includes Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, and Ted Danson, among others. The movie’s engrossing plot unfolds amidst the chaos of World War II during the historic Normandy landings. Hanks’ character, Captain John Miller, is assigned the high-risk task of leading his troop behind enemy lines. Their mission: to locate and bring back Private James Ryan, the lone surviving brother of four servicemen.
The film was an Oscar magnet, bagging a total of five prestigious awards. Hanks’ portrayal of Captain Miller was so compelling that he was nominated for Best Actor. However, Roberto Benigni’s unforgettable performance in “Life is Beautiful” ultimately took home the trophy.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Undoubtedly one of Tom Hanks’ most iconic performances comes from the 1994 comedy-drama “Forrest Gump,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. Spanning 142 minutes, the film is a treasure trove of outstanding performances, with a cast that includes Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field, Rebecca Williams, Michael Conner Humphreys, and Haley Joel Osment, among others.
The narrative brilliantly chronicles the life of Forrest Gump, a man with a gentle heart and minor intellectual disability, who nevertheless finds himself entwined in various significant historical events of his country. This film stands tall in Tom Hanks’ filmography, with the actor delivering a performance that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. Today, his portrayal of Forrest Gump remains one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history.