Revisiting Tom Hanks’ 6 acting Oscar races, from ‘Big’ to ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

Throughout the 1990s, Tom Hanks was a constant at the Academy Awards, winning two Best Actor awards back-to-back for “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994), followed a few years later by his nomination for “Saving Private Ryan.” When he became the frontrunner to win again in 2001 for “Cast Away,” Hanks appeared to be on track to become the male Meryl Streep at the Oscars, getting nominated every few years, but then nearly two decades passed until he received his sixth Oscar nom for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

And now we’re entering a unique awards season for Hanks in that he’s a major part of two awards-friendly movies and yet might be overlooked for both performances. The first is “Elvis,” for which the lead Austin Butler is a contender to win the Best Actor Oscar, and the second is “A Man Called Otto,” which went into wide release this month, and which James Berardinelli (ReelViews) believes features Hanks’ best performance “since ‘News of the World’” and “is the glue that holds everything together.” With a new awards contender of his now in theaters nationwide, let’s look back at Hanks’ six previous acting Oscar races, and then discuss his 2023 Oscar chances for “Elvis” and “A Man Called Otto.”

After his cinema breakthrough in 1984 with “Splash,” Hanks spent the rest of the decade mostly making comedies, and the biggest hit of them all was 1988’s “Big,” directed by Penny Marshall. He won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Actor, and then he made Oscar’s final five up against acclaimed dramatic performances like Gene Hackman in “Mississippi Burning,” Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver” and Max von Sydow in “Pelle the Conqueror.” It’s difficult to win a leading Oscar for a comedic performance, and that was certainly the case that year, when nobody had a chance against Dustin Hoffman, who won his second Academy Award in the category for “Rain Man.”

Following several flops (“The Bonfire of the Vanities,” anyone?), Hanks came back onto the film scene in a big way in 1992 with “A League of Their Own” and in 1993 with both “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Philadelphia.” He was continuing to show his adeptness in comedy but also his interest in deeper, more emotional material, and his turn in “Philadelphia” couldn’t be ignored, with only Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List”) giving Hanks any real competition. Hanks as expected won his first Best Actor Oscar, and then just four months later “Forrest Gump” became a box office phenomenon. Could he do it again?

“Forrest Gump” went all the way to winning six Academy Awards in early 1995, including Best Director for Robert Zemeckis and Best Picture. Hanks had more competition this time around from John Travolta for “Pulp Fiction” and Paul Newman for “Nobody’s Fool” — some Academy voters probably didn’t want to give Hanks a Best Actor Oscar one year after his last one — but the love for “Forrest Gump” won out in the end, and Hanks collected his second gold trophy.

After that night, the question became, could Hanks win a third Academy Award in the ensuing years? Voters acknowledged him again in 1999 for his terrific performance in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” but it was hard for him to stand out that season against Jim Carrey, who won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Actor for “The Truman Show” (and famously was snubbed for an Oscar nomination), and Robert Benigni, who wound up as the Oscar winner of Best Actor for “Life is Beautiful.”

However, Hanks was the clear Academy Award favorite to win Best Actor two years later for “Cast Away,” which earned him the Golden Globe for Best Drama Actor. It had been six years since his last triumph, and the competition in the category that year wasn’t notably fierce. However, Russell Crowe pulled out a surprise victory on Oscar night for his excellent turn in “Gladiator,” which also won Best Picture.

Hanks was snubbed in the years to come for his acclaimed performances in 2002’s “Road to Perdition,” 2004’s “The Terminal,” and 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but his sixth Oscar nom looked to be “Captain Phillips,” for which he received Best Actor recognition at nearly all the precursor ceremonies. His last scene in that movie remains one of his best, and it seemed unlikely he would be passed over again, but alas, Christina Bale’s name was called on Oscar nominations morning for “American Hustle” in a bit of a surprise, and Hanks’ strong performance was set aside.

In the following years, Hanks was great in “Bridge of Spies” and “The Post,” but his sixth nomination finally came in 2020, his first in the Best Supporting Actor category, for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” His well-earned nom was never going to win against Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in the Neighborhood,” but it was nice to see Hanks an Oscar nominee again after almost 20 years.

Does Hanks have a chance at seventh Oscar nomination this season? The only notable inclusion so far at the precursor ceremonies was Hanks making the BAFTA longlist for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Elvis.” Despite some mixed reviews for his divisive performance, the film is popular enough, with Butler winning prizes for playing the title role, to ensure a possibility at a surprise Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Hanks.

And then there’s “A Man Called Otto,” which will be fresh in voters’ minds with the film currently in wide release. Reviews of the film have been kind and affectionate — Jake Coyle in Associated Press said it “does the trick for a little post-holidays heart-warming” — and so there’s wiggle room in Best Actor this year, that fifth slot open for a surprise. His inclusion this Oscar season seems unlikely, but in the end, it’s too soon to count six-time nominee Tom Hanks out.

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