If you ask any movie fan of any age about their top 10 favorite films, the likelihood is high that a Tom Hanks movie will be somewhere among them.
For many of us, there is even a Tom Hanks movie for every step of our movie-watching evolution, starting with “Big” and “Splash,” then “A League of Their Own” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” As adults, we can appreciate “Philadelphia” and “Captain Phillips,” and as parents (or just as human beings), we find a lot to love in the “Toy Story” adventures.
The broad expanse of Hanks’ movie career is a testament to his versatility as an actor and his gift for connecting with all kinds of audiences. Based on critical and audience response, along with awards recognition and pop-cultural staying power, below is a ranking of Tom Hanks’ best movies.
30. ‘The Money Pit’
The 1986 comedy about the woes of homeownership, “The Money Pit,” deserves a spot on this list for featuring one of Hanks’ many enjoyable performances, but it also deserves to be last on the list. A remake of the 1948 Cary Grant vehicle, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” the quintessentially ’80s comedy co-stars Shelley Long and includes some epic visual stuntwork, especially for the era. But it’s not a great film, and any real fondness for “The Money Pit” today is likely rooted in a deep nostalgia for the post-“Splash,” pre-“Big” Tom Hanks flick that was probably watched on well-worn rented VHS tapes.
At the time of its release, many critics, including Roger Ebert, couldn’t dredge up much enthusiasm for the film, bemoaning the lack of character development in favor of obnoxious sight gags. Ebert gave the film one star and summed it up as “a movie that contains one funny scene and 91 minutes of running time to kill.”
29. ‘Nothing In Common’
On paper, pairing “America’s Dad” with TV legend and “everyman” archetype Jackie Gleason, as father and son is a must-see event. Thirty-odd years later, it sounds like the answer to a pub-trivia question you somehow missed. “Nothing in Common” was billed as both a comedy and a drama, though critics at the time found that director Garry Marshall’s handling of the “drama” turned the film to “lead.” Yikes.
That said, “Nothing in Common” holds up as a pivotal moment in Hanks’ career. Here, he transitioned away from raucous ’80s comedies and begins to create the kind of films that now define his career.
28. ‘The Polar Express’
If anyone was going to play the lead adult role in a motion-capture animated version of one of the most beloved holiday children’s books of all time, it may as well have been the endearing Tom Hanks. Many viewers and critics alike found a lot of fault with Robert Zemeckis’ take on “The Polar Express,” with a common complaint being that the slick, high-tech animation sucked the humanity from this widely adored tale of childhood wonder and Christmas magic.
It was a rare miss for a Hanks movie (he also produced “The Polar Express”), as the actor usually has the opposite effect — bringing warmth and humanity to stories that otherwise may not have much.
27. ‘Turner And Hooch’
Another nostalgic film for audiences of a certain age, “Turner and Hooch” is a buddy comedy in which one of the buddies is Tom Hanks and the other is a slobbering dog. Hanks plays a detective who reluctantly inherits his late friend’s dog. The two make a classically mismatched pair, with Hanks’ character as an uptight neat freak and Hooch being, well, a big messy dog who doesn’t adhere to the rules of human decorum and hygiene.
Hanks has had some incredible co-stars over the course of his career, and he actually had some good chemistry with the dog playing Hooch, which is perhaps a testament to the endless charm of Tom Hanks. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critical response was rather tepid, though most could agree that Hanks once again elevated an otherwise basic script, with The Washington Post‘s critic summing it up nicely: “Hanks, who can even grace a film such as ‘The ‘Burbs,’ is always a movie’s best friend.”
26. ‘The Terminal’
Directed by Steven Spielberg, “The Terminal” divided critics right down the middle when it came out in 2004, though for the rave reviews, it may have simply been all in the timing. One reviewer remarked that this airport-set movie somehow worked not long after 9/11, writing, “Spielberg was able to make a post-9/11 film about a foreigner in an American airport without getting on a soap box about terrorism or airport anxiety.”
Leading a stellar cast that included Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hanks plays Viktor, an Eastern European man who is held indefinitely at JFK by Homeland Security due to a war breaking out in his home country. Not allowed to enter or exit the U.S., Viktor lives in the airport terminal and becomes immersed in the lives of the airport workers.
In a rather glowing review, Roger Ebert wrote that Spielberg, his writers and actors created “a human comedy that is gentle and true, that creates sympathy for all of its characters, that finds a tone that will carry them through, that made me unreasonably happy.”
25. ‘Cloud Atlas’
A sprawling sci-fi film based on the novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” may have been a victim of its own ambition. The 2011 movie attempts a time-bending journey through the cosmos, with Hanks playing an assortment of characters from different eras and locations … with varying success. He’s a gifted actor, but “Cloud Atlas” just may have exposed the limits to his versatility.
For many critics, the movie left much to be desired. The Guardian proclaimed that it “runs wide, but it is as deep as a puddle; simplistic to the point of vapidity.” Others, however, gave in to the silliness of it all, with the Time Out London reviewer calling it “a film which piles on the action, the romance, the philosophical inquiry and the silly accents until the viewer is left punch-drunk and reeling. Seriously, what’s not to love?”
24. ‘Joe Vs. The Volcano’
Is there anything cuter than the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan combination? “Joe vs. the Volcano” has a sentimental place in cinematic history for being the first time Hanks and Ryan were adorably paired up as a romantic duo. That said, this is one epically weird movie — which has helped it build a cult following since its release — that very likely wouldn’t fly by today’s standards.
Incredibly, the strange 1990 rom-com was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who had, at the time, recently won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Moonstruck.” He went on to write the screenplay for “Alive!” and his tense, dramatic play, “Doubt,” was turned into an award-winning movie starring Meryl Streep.
“Joe” seems to be nobody’s favorite movie, though some critics found the wackiness and the Hanks-Ryan synergy endearing enough for a bizarre rom-com. Others, like Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, could find absolutely nothing redeeming about Joe or his volcano, giving the movie an F grade and calling it a “fiasco” filled with “the oldest cliches.”
23. ‘The Great Buck Howard’
Tom Hanks only has a small role in “The Great Buck Howard,” with his mini-me son, Colin, taking the starring role opposite John Malkovich. But Hanks (senior) got this movie made after he saw writer-director Sean McGinly’s movie “Two Days,” starring Paul Rudd and Donal Logue, and agreed to produce McGinly’s next project, “The Great Buck Howard.”
The story follows Colin Hanks’ character, a law school dropout who winds up working to help a has-been mentalist, the Great Buck Howard (Malkovich), regain his popularity. The story was inspired by the real-life mentalist, the Amazing Kreskin.
In the Hanksian film universe, this small-scale indie production is charming enough to warrant a spot on the list.
22. ‘A Hologram For The King’
This 2016 film based on a Dave Eggers book is easily the least-known title on this list. In fact, you may not have even known this movie ever came out, so it will come as a surprise that it was fairly well-received by critics, with a 73 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Hanks plays an American businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia to try to land the most epic deal of his life. While the reviews were mixed on the movie itself, with words like “meandering” and “unsettling” surfacing in several of them, almost everyone could agree that Hanks’ skillful acting made it all worthwhile.
“It takes an actor with the finesse of Tom Hanks to turn a story of confusion, perplexity, frustration and panic into an agreeably uncomfortable comedy,” wrote The New York Times. “But that’s what Mr. Hanks accomplishes.”
21. ‘You’ve Got Mail’
One could argue (and some have) that this movie hasn’t aged well. “You’ve Got Mail” features Hanks in a largely unlikeable role as the arrogant millionaire bookstore mogul who deceives and manipulates a tiny shopowner (Meg Ryan) and ultimately puts her out of business. Despite destroying her beloved late mother’s company and lying to her repeatedly, Ryan’s character forgives Hanks’ character and the two fall in love. Yeesh.
Basically, the only way this is palatable is because of Tom Hanks’ remarkable skill for humanizing even the most irritating of egomaniacs. How else could Meg Ryan — and audiences — forgive such a cad?
Reviewers were similarly conflicted about “You’ve Got Mail,” with many reviews arriving at the same conclusion: It’s a flawed rom-com, but the lead actors woo us back to begrudgingly appreciating the film. As the San Francisco Chronicle reviewer put it, “Every time ‘You’ve Got Mail’ is about to choke on its own cleverness, it’s resuscitated by its extremely likable — oh heck, let’s just call them lovable — stars.”
20. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
Hanks has played many real-life figures over the span of his career, and casting him as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” was probably a no-brainer for all involved. In her description of this pitch-perfect casting, Susan Wloszczyna on RogerEbert.com managed to sum up Hanks’ typical performance style in general, writing that Hanks conveyed Disney’s “boyish sense of wonder and iron-fisted resolve.” Classic Hanks!
This Hollywood-behind-the-scenes tale paired Hanks with Emma Thompson in another perfect-fit role as P.L. Travers, the Australian author from whom Disney was determined to secure the film rights to the Mary Poppins novels. And indeed, the story belongs much more to Travers and her journey to creating the Poppins stories. As far as Hanks performances go, this one is perfectly fine — just not as noteworthy as many others.
19. ‘The Green Mile’
Based on a serial novel by Stephen King, “The Green Mile” explores the relationship between a prison guard (Hanks) and an inmate on death row (Michael Clarke Duncan) who displays seemingly miraculous empathetic and healing abilities.
Under the direction of “Shawshank Redemption’s” Frank Darabont, the lengthy 1999 drama struck a chord with audiences, though critics were slightly less smitten, with The Globe and Mail even going so far as to call it “an exercise in titanic self-importance intent on passing off clunky rhetoric as poignant drama.” Still, the film was nominated for a number of awards — especially in recognition of Duncan’s turn as the gifted prisoner — including four Oscars, one Golden Globe and three SAG Awards.
18. ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’
A political piece set in 1980s Washington, DC, “Charlie Wilson’s War” brought together three powerhouse actors — Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman — for a script penned by Aaron Sorkin. The result was a capable and witty period movie that many critics lauded — particularly for the performances of Hanks and Hoffman. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it, “Hanks’ performance as [U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson] is tone-perfect, capturing both the public-servant seriousness and playboy rakishness of his character.”
The movie earned some mild awards buzz, with one Oscar nomination and five Golden Globe nods, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to take home any gold. It’s far from the best film Hanks has been in, but it’s certainly not the worst.
17. ‘Sleepless In Seattle’
Easily the best use of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan pairing to date, “Sleepless in Seattle” is a classic Nora Ephron gem that earned her one of her three Academy Award nominations for writing (the other two nods were for “Silkwood” and “When Harry Met Sally”). The tale of a long-distance romance between strangers on opposite coasts still makes many of us ache for a simpler time, when a voice on the radio could compel a person to write a letter to a stranger in the hopes that he might just show up in New York City on Valentine’s Day.
Interestingly, while this movie planted itself squarely in the hearts of many sentimental viewers, Hanks himself was reportedly not enthusiastic about his role, initially rejecting it and then accepting it but griping about his child co-star, “Why does the kid have so many good lines?”
Of course, it’s not the kid that everyone remembers most from this heartwarming film — it’s that swoony moment on top of the Empire State Building when the two leads finally lock eyes and it’s obvious that they are — as Gaby Hoffman’s character puts it in the movie — “M.F.E.O.” (Made For Each Other).
16. ‘Road To Perdition’
In the movie that made people ask themselves, “Do I know what the word ‘perdition’ means?” Hanks plays a hit man for an Irish gang who flees his home with his young son when his son witnesses an execution.
While a murderous mobster character sounds like it would be rather against type for Tom Hanks, the Affable Everyman, it’s specifically this casting choice that made “Road to Perdition” so effective. As USA Today’s Mike Clark put it, “Never once do we think we’re watching a familiar Tom Hanks, whose almost sickly appearance aids him in the role of a solemn, guilt-ridden hit man.” At its heart, the movie is a story about fathers and sons, and pretty much everyone loves Tom Hanks the Dad, making the mobster stuff that much more intense.
Still, it’s a dark, somber film that few people would claim as their favorite Tom Hanks performance.
15. ‘Forrest Gump’
With countless parodies and an endless supply of quotes, it’s impossible to forget the impact “Forrest Gump” had in 1994. The sentimental tale of a man traipsing from one historically significant event to the next — without ever realizing it — outgrossed all other films that year, featured groundbreaking special effects for the time, and became one of the most-Oscar-nominated movies ever with 13 nods. It took home six golden statuettes in 1995.
Hanks himself won his second award for Best Actor for “Gump” — a huge departure from his role of an AIDS-afflicted lawyer in “Philadelphia,” which earned him the Oscar a year prior. After years of hits and misses, Tom Hanks had permanently planted himself in Hollywood’s upper echelon.
In “Sully,” Hanks was entrusted once again to play a real-life person who made headlines when he did something remarkable. In this case, Hanks portrayed Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who successfully landed a disabled airplane on the Hudson River without losing any of the 155 passengers in January 2009. The emergency landing became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Perhaps not as lovable as “Big” nor as much of an epic awards magnet as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Sully” nonetheless tells a tale of heroism in the modern era in a subdued, well-paced drama directed by Clint Eastwood. At the center of it is Hanks, doing what he does best: making us believe that quiet, everyday heroes are all around us, and that maybe even we could be heroic, too, in the right circumstances.
In 1993, “Philadelphia” was significant for Hanks professionally and it was also groundbreaking in its representation of gay characters and the AIDS crisis. It was truly unusual for the time: A mainstream Hollywood film, starring major actors like Hanks and Denzel Washington, telling a heart-wrenching tale of one man’s struggle with workplace discrimination and the onset of a terrible disease that the general public did not yet quite understand.
Hanks’ compassionate performance became a lens through which viewers could view the AIDS crisis, learning as they did so that this was a human issue, not just a “problem” within the gay community.
Hanks won the first of his two Oscars for his stirring performance in “Philadelphia.”
12. ‘The Post’
Hanks has been partnered up with some incredible actors, but the unique rapport he strikes with Meryl Streep in “The Post” is an absolute delight to witness. As always, Streep shines in “The Post,” playing The Washington Post’s publisher, Katherine Graham, who in the early 1970s was faced with the decision of whether or not to print a story about the Pentagon Papers. Hanks does an excellent job supporting her in the role of executive editor, and the two play off each other with a thoroughly enjoyable mixture of wit, consternation and mutual respect.
Steven Spielberg’s direction gives urgency to this story about print journalism that is often downright thrilling, and he manages to tell a historical tale that is still chillingly relevant in today’s world of news. The lead actors, in their portrayals of real-life figures, never let us forget that these were human beings grappling with an enormous crisis of journalistic integrity.
In its own review of the movie, The Washington Post praised the “authenticity that feels lived-in and unforced” of Hanks’ performance and wrote that he and Streep “possess an easy, gently mocking chemistry that keeps the movie aloft.”
11. ‘A League Of Their Own’
Don’t get us wrong — “A League of Their Own” is not a “Tom Hanks movie” in the sense that he’s the main lead. But it is a movie that featured Hanks in one of his most iconic roles, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the prickly, acerbic Jimmy Dugan, slinging the classic line “There’s no crying in baseball!” with such a genuine mixture of astonishment and annoyance.
Under the direction of Penny Marshall, Hanks’ role as the reluctant, beleaguered manager of a women’s baseball team in the 1940s helped round out an already-stellar cast, and was one element among many that made “A League of Their Own” such a treasured favorite.
10. ‘Bridge Of Spies’
2015’s “Bridge of Spies,” while perhaps not a pop-culture landmark like “A League of Their Own” or many others on this list, was a quietly successful Cold War espionage thriller that earned widespread critical praise, along with heaps of awards nominations (including six Oscar nods).
In yet another collaboration with Steven Spielberg that was based on a true story, Hanks was cast as James Donovan, a lawyer tasked with defending a Russian spy on counts of espionage. Donovan later attempts to use the spy in a prisoner swap, in exchange for an American pilot. Many reviewers commended Hanks’ measured subtlety in this role, including The Atlantic’s David Sims, who remarked that Hanks balanced out Spielberg’s heavy-handedness “by playing Donovan with gentle charm and humor, rather than as a crusading patriot.”
9. ‘Cast Away’
The lead role in “Cast Away” is the kind of juicy challenge that few actors get to take on in their careers, requiring, as it did, so much solo performance. Hanks was clearly up to the task, as “Cast Away” became a commercial and critical success, earning him yet another Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the 2000 film told the survival story of a man stranded on a remote island after an airplane crash. As his only “co-star” for much of the movie is a volleyball he’s named Wilson, Hanks is tasked with carrying the story and captivating the audience’s attention throughout. He accomplished this with aplomb. As the Rolling Stone review phrased it, “Hanks conducts a master class in acting by showing a man losing his sense of himself in fractional gradations.”
This hit comedy teamed Hanks with Daryl Hannah, along with SCTV legends Eugene Levy and the late John Candy, in a movie about falling in love with a mermaid. The film also marked the first of five collaborations between Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard. Up until this point, both stars were known for their television work, and they met for the first time at a “Happy Days” softball game.
By 1984 Howard had scored a hit with his directing debut “Night Shift,” and Hanks had just finished a run of notable appearances on “Family Ties.” “Splash” marked the first time Hanks played the leading man in any movie, and the film was a box-office success.
7. ‘That Thing You Do!’
Tom Hanks’ writing and directing debut breaks into the top 10 like its toe-tapping namesake did on both the fictional and real-life pop charts.
Hanks wrote “That Thing You Do!” as a way to stay sane during a long PR tour for “Forrest Gump.” Remarkably, however, the story of four friends from Erie, Pennsylvania, whose rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true, doesn’t feel like the work of a star jaded by the limelight. In fact, it is a joyful homage to what inspires one to chase it in the first place.
Critics went nuts for this movie (93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes!), with even The New York Times reviewer lovingly writing, “Mr. Hanks’s debut feature, written and directed with delightful good cheer, is rock-and-roll nostalgia presented as pure fizz.”
6. ‘Captain Phillips’
Few real-life news stories are as intensely dramatic as the tale of Captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was hijacked and held for ransom by Somali pirates in 2009. Already full of danger and suspense, this story — culminating in a rescue mission by Navy SEALS — barely needed to be fictionalized when being adapted from Phillips’ own memoir as an action-thriller for the big screen.
Co-starring Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi in a role that earned him a BAFTA, along with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, the film impressed critics, audiences and awards panels across the board. And once again, it was Hanks’ performance that rooted the captain’s tale in authentic human passion and vulnerability.
“Hanks, who has been tremendous throughout, hits a new career peak when the captain succumbs to post-traumatic stress,” wrote the Rolling Stone reviewer. “This is acting of the highest order in a movie that raises the bar on what a true-life action thriller can do.”
5. ‘Catch Me If You Can’
Stories of heists and con-men seem to be endlessly delightful to audiences, and “Catch Me If You Can” is one of the best con-man tales ever told. It was even made into a stage musical that ran on Broadway in 2011 and earned four Tony Award nominations. Released on Christmas Day in 2002, the critical reception was truly adoring; the movie has a whopping 95 percent critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, the thrilling, jaunty film told the story of real-life criminal, Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who stole millions of dollars by impersonating people (including a Pan Am pilot) and forging checks. Hanks plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who is determined to capture Abagnale, and the two engage in a most enticing game of cat-and-mouse. Hanks and DiCaprio play off each other so seamlessly, it’s a wonder the two haven’t worked together more.
Between the years 1987 and 1988, four films hit theaters centered on the same premise: A frustrated boy switches lives with an adult. The “body swap” genre, as it is known, was not entirely new, but of those four late-1980s entries, only one is still celebrated 30 years later. The big difference between “Big” and those other films is, well, Tom Hanks.
The film benefits from operating as simple boyhood wish fulfillment. Josh Baskin, now an adult, gets the awesome job (where he is paid to play with toys), the awesome apartment (with no parents and a working soda machine), and he even gets to date a woman (as problematic as that sounds and kinda is).
But it is Tom Hanks who carries the day, imbuing Josh with genuine pathos and exuberance. Whether dropping water balloons onto the street below or crying himself to sleep in a dingy hotel, you never forget there is still very much a boy in the body of that man.
3. ‘Apollo 13’
In yet another Ron Howard-Tom Hanks collaboration, “Apollo 13” told the dramatic real-life story of a 1970 moon landing expedition gone awry, with Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton in starring roles. Audiences were awed and exhilarated by this peek into the inner workings of NASA and space exploration, which included zero-gravity scenes shot in NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft, known as the Vomit Comet.
The 1995 movie was nominated for dozens of awards, including nine Academy Awards. And while many of the acting nods were given to Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan, The New York Daily News critic praised Hanks, writing, “Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman, an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force. He has the great movie star’s ability to be both a vivid presence and a transparent identification figure, drawing the audience toward him. Hanks is one we’ll remember.”
2. The Toy Story Movies
The Toy Story movies’ ability to delight viewers of any age is borderline phenomenal. Animated movies meant for children don’t often have the kind of widespread appeal that “Toy Story” has had, and even more impressive is the fact that the sequels somehow maintain that appeal of the original film. At the center of all three movies is Hanks’ performance as Woody, the ringleader of Andy’s toys, which helped make these movies into modern-era classics.
Part of the charm of the Toy Story tales is the universal message about growing up and letting go, along with the delightful exploration of friendship between Woody and Buzz. As noted in The Telegraph’s review of “Toy Story 2,” “It’s not a film just for children; it’s a film about childhood, and will light up the day for all of you who had one. That covers everyone, I suppose.”
1. ‘Saving Private Ryan’
Movies, TV specials and books about World War II are not exactly uncommon, making it hard to stand out in this genre, but “Saving Private Ryan” — and especially Hanks’ performance in the grim, gory film — somehow resonated with reviewers and audiences alike in a new way. This was one of those unusual situations where the critical response (earning 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and the audience reception (95 percent) were in near-perfect agreement.
In its graphic battle scenes — particularly the relentless first 25 minutes — the film depicted the brutal horrors of wartime, but it was the cast’s portrayals of the soldiers that really drew audiences into the tragedy of war and the many sacrifices — physically, psychologically, emotionally — of our servicemen and women.
Looking back on the film in 2018, Spielberg reflected on Hanks’ performance.
“Tom was the adult in the story,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “In this case, he brought something to the movie that I hadn’t seen Tom bring to any other movie before, and that was a stillness. I felt safe around him; I felt safe around his character.”