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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Tom Hanks Film Roles

April 25, 2017 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Top 8 Tom Hanks Film Roles

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

Tom Hanks returns to movie theaters this week as The Circle, a techno-thriller co-starring Emma Watson, hits the big screen. The film is the latest in a storied, respected career of almost forty years for the actor. During that time, Hanks has worn many hats as an on-screen performer. He’s done broad comedy, serious drama, blockbuster thrillers and animated family fare, and those are just his most well-known roles. This week, in honor of the multi-Oscar-winning star, we’re going to take a look at some of his best on-screen roles to date.

Caveat: For the purposes of this list, I considered all of Tom Hanks’ fictional narrative performances. Any appearances in documentaries and the like were not considered, as they are not “roles” so to speak. As with my usual lists of this nature, Hanks’ cameo and supporting performances got much less weight than leading roles, as he’s not carrying the film or usually getting the same level of development, but they were considered. I also don’t include television roles in these lists, so no Bosom Buddies, no Mazes and Monsters and no Band of Brothers. For these lists, I look at the actor’s roles within the film as opposed to the quality of the overall film itself.

Just Missing the Cut

• Ray Peterson (The ‘Burbs)
• Detective Scott Turner (Turner & Hooch)
• Chuck Noland (Cast Away)
• Paul Edgecomb (The Green Mile)
• Jimmy Dugan (A League of Their Own)

#8: Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code Trilogy)

First up on the list is a role that would be higher ranked if not for the lackluster effort put forth in the final entry. Hanks doesn’t do a lot of sequels, so when he does you know that it’s a role he feels fairly passionate about (or was given a metric ton of money for). Both appear to have been the case for the role of Robert Langdon, the protagonist of Dan Brown’s crypto-thriller novel series that first hit the big screen in The Da Vinci Code. Hanks was perfectly cast in the role of Langdon, a professor of religious iconology and symbiology who is brought into a series of conspiracies in Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and then Inferno. Langdon is the type of character who is generally anathema to big-budget blockbusters; he uses his mind and not his brawn to solve the worldly threats that he comes up against. The films are not perfect by any means; even the best of them (Angels & Demons) spends too much time with exposition dumps and Brown’s plots are, to put it kindly, far-fetched. But Hanks massively boosted his bankability factor with the roles and excelled, even when he was largely sleepwalking his way through Inferno, in delivering his lessons and running from location to location in a way that was engaging and intriguing.

#7: Michael Sullivan, Sr. (Road to Perdition)

While Hanks has generally been typecast in roles viewed as people with integrity and moral strength, one of his best roles was one that allowed him to play in shades of gray. Michael Sullivan, the protagonist of the graphic novel adaptation Road to Perdition, isn’t a good man. He knows this and considers himself an irredeemable man. But he sees his redemption in not allowing his son, trying to save the boy from following down the same road as he does. Sam Mendes’ film is a dark and nuanced mob film that uses as the themes of father-son relationships and the consequences of violence to depict its story of a Sullivan’s quest for revenge against a mobster who killed most of his family. Hanks’ performance is fantastic here, using the script’s minimal dialogue as a strength and establishing a great dynamic with Tyler Hoechlin as his son. It’s not one of his flashiest roles, but for my money Michael Sullivan is one of his best.

#6: Sam Baldwin (Sleepless in Seattle)

It cannot be overstated how important Sleepless in Seattle was to Hanks’ career. The actor had just barely come off a duo of flops in 1990 in the bizarrely-fun Joe Versus the Volcano and the all-out bad entry The Bonfire of the Vanities that had left him at a down point in his career. He had already made one step toward his comeback with a major role in the ensemble film A League of their Own, but that movie was less about him and more about the female cast. Sleepless became the biggest hit of his career and proved to audiences that he could play a dramatic side, one he did with gusto as Sam Baldwin. A man still grieving after the loss of his wife, Sam is brought back into the dating world by a call from his young son to a radio call-in show. The role allowed Hanks to play his comedy at a more natural bent than some of his previous roles and let his pathos fly in a subdued, resigned sort of grief that slowly fades throughout the course of the film as he finds new love. It also took his collaborations with Meg Ryan, first seen in Volcano, to a new level. Sleepless is an absolute classic of the 1990s and it gave Hanks one of his most memorable, best characters to date.

#5: Walter Fielding, Jr. (The Money Pit)

Before he was an Academy Award-winning star of worldwide blockbusters, Tom Hanks was known as a comedian. From his early star-making days on Bosom Buddies all the way through the early films of his career, Hanks stood tall among the better comedic actors of the 1980s. Everyone has their favorite Tom Hanks role and for me, that’s The Money Pit. As Walter Fielding, the man who sees his hopes, dreams and relationship evaporate in the home that he and Shelley Long’s Anna Crowley buy together, Hanks got to have an absolute blast. Walter is slowly driven closer and closer to the edge of sanity as attempts to fix up the home go wrong in every conceivable way. Hanks made much of his early career on mostly normal guys pushed to their wits’ end by the situations they find themselves in (see also: Bachelor Party, The ‘Burbs) and Walter is one of his best examples of that. He is consistently funny here — try to watch the video of his reaction to the tub incident and not chuckle — but he’s also able to invest a certain amount of heart and reality into what could have been a deeply cartoonish role. That’s what makes this one stand out to me.

#4: Josh Baskin (Big)

Hanks’ ability to mine depth and credibility out of what could be a ridiculously broad role in The Money Pit was taken to the next level a couple of years later when he had the first true hit of his career. That came with Big. The Penny Marshall-directed fantasy comedy is, in concept, just a variation of the many body-switching comedies that came about during the 1980s. This one stands apart however, thanks to both the script by Gary Ross & Anne Spielberg and Hanks’ wonderful performance as Josh Baskin, a young boy who makes a wish to be grown up and finds himself transformed into a 30-year-old man the next day. Hanks is simply brilliant here as he embodies the enthusiasm of a twelve year-old and carries the weight of the film on his capable shoulders. Hanks is alternately funny and dramatic here when he needs to be and brings the viewer right along with him, earning him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the process. It remains an absolute classic to this day and Hanks’ performance never gets old to watch.

#3: Sheriff Woody (Toy Story Franchise)

Much like his role as Robert Langdon, Sheriff Woody in the Toy Story franchise represents one of the few times the actor has ever gone in on a sequel (or multiple sequels). Unlike Langdon (yep, I’m bashing Inferno again), Hanks has never felt even remotely like he’s doing it just for the paycheck. The Toy Story franchise has been integral not only to Hanks career, but to the direction of animated films in general. Pixar’s first feature-length CG-animated film was a huge success and paved the way for where animation is today. It also gave Hanks one of his most enduring and beloved characters yet. Woody really is the perfect role for Hanks in so many ways. It plays upon his Jimmy Stewart-esque upstanding persona and lets him throw everything he has as an actor into the mix. Woody is a funny, good-natured character who occasionally makes bad decisions and his friendship with the rest of the toys leads to some great stories. The character has starred in three main films now (and several shorts) and has never failed to be a wonderful role to hear Hanks’ work in. It’s one of his most iconic and best characters yet.

#2: Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

If there is one role that is Hanks is most strongly identified with, it has to be Forrest Gump. If I’m being honest here, on a list of just my favorite Tom Hanks films this one wouldn’t be that high. While I don’t dislike the film, I consider Forrest Gump to be rely too much on nostalgia over plot substance and the supporting characters to be weakly developed at best. But Hanks is a powerhouse and dominates the film in his role, embodying everything about the good-natured and somewhat slow-minded hero as he makes his way through American history. Hanks had already transitioned to being known as a great dramatic actor (more on that in a moment) but Gump raised the bar on that, putting him on the A-list of serious Hollywood actors for good. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to not watch this and smile at Hanks’ work even if like me you don’t worship at the film’s altar.

#1: Andrew Beckett (Philadelphia)

Forrest Gump gave Tom Hanks’ his most iconic role, but Philadelphia gave the actor his best role. Playing Andrew Beckett, a lawyer suffering from AIDS who fights back after he is fired by his law firm, Hanks won his first Academy Award. it was an honor well-deserved despite some incredibly strong competition that included Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father and Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List. Hanks was following up his dramedy-focused success in Sleepless in Seattle with this film and subsequently became known as a serious dramatic actor who could pull off pathos in an exceedingly challenging role. While Andrew Beckett’s story is not a directly true one, it is based on the lives of Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence B. Cain and also set the stage for Hanks’ ability to bring gravity and nuance to real-life stories. That’s a quality that would be later seen in films like Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies and Sully. Andrew is Hanks’ best single performance to date and combined with Ron Nyswaner’s wonderful script and Jonathan Demme’s direction, that makes for his best role thus far.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.