Before hitting the big time in feature films, actor Tom Hanks was mostly known for the funny yet short-lived comedy series “Bosom Buddies” on ABC. He then teamed up with director Ron Howard for the 1983 blockbuster “Splash,” which made him with one of the most bankable and beloved actors in the 1980s and beyond.
He won two consecutive Academy Awards (Best Actor for “Philadelphia” in 1993 and “Forrest Gump” in 1994) from five nominations (Best Actor for “Big” in 1988, “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998 and “Cast Away” in 2000). Yet curiously, despite doing remarkable film work, he had not been nominated in nearly two decades.
That changed in 2019 when Hanks slipped on Mr. Rogers’ comfy sneakers for Marielle Heller‘s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a biopic about legendary children’s TV host Fred Rogers. The film brought him Best Supporting Actor bids at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, SAG and yes, the Oscars.
Hanks has also been nominated for nine Golden Globes for acting categories (winning four times) and received seven SAG Awards nominations, winning twice. For his television work (for which he has been honored for acting, writing, producing and directing), he has earned 12 Emmy Award nominations, winning seven in the process. He even has a Tony Award bid for his work in the 2013 Broadway play “Lucky Guy,” and has been awarded a Kennedy Center Honors, Cecil B. DeMille Award, American Film Institute life achievement award, Presidential Medal of Freedom and is a member of the French Legion of Honor for his support of World War II veterans.
Tour our photo gallery featuring Hanks’ 23 best film performances, including some of his most egregious Oscar snubs. We also include “Elvis,” “News of the World,” “Apollo 13,” “Toy Story” and more.
23. THE TERMINAL (2004)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson. Starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna.
In his third collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a traveler from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakozhia who, arriving at New York’s Kennedy Airport, learns that, while he was mid-air, the United States stopped recognizing Krakozhia as a legitimate nation thanks to an ongoing military coup. For Viktor, that means that he won’t be allowed to enter the U.S. and he can’t fly back to Krakozhia because of the coup, so for the near future, his home is the terminal. Because he’s usually cast in leading-man roles, Viktor gave Hanks a chance to flex his rarely-used character actor skills to bring him to life, an opportunity that he makes the most of.
22. SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)
Director: Nora Ephron. Writers: Jeff Arch, Nora Ephron, David S. Ward. Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell.
Though many of Hanks’ best performances are in weighty dramas, he remains one of the best light comedians around, particularly in such rom-coms as “Splash” and “You’ve Got Mail.” But in “Sleepless in Seattle,” director Nora Ephron’s riff on the famed romance “An Affair to Remember,” Hanks brought an extra dimension to his performance as Sam, a still-grieving widower, who is being pushed into looking forward rather than backward by his young son Jonah (Ross Malinger). Hanks nails the film’s humor, of course, but that gives extra room to color in the grief that Sam will likely feel for the rest of his life. His performance brought Hanks his second Globe nomination.
21. THE POST (2017)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer. Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts.
To properly portray legendary “Washington Post” editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, Hanks had to battle the ghost of Jason Robards, who had delivered the gold standard of Bradlee depictions in 1976’s “All the President’s Men.” Wisely, he chose to take a different route in playing that famed editor who is faced with the dilemma of deciding whether or not to publish the classified Pentagon Papers in pre-Watergate 1971. Fortunately, Hanks had a magnificent sparring partner in Meryl Streep as “Post” owner Katharine Graham, and their pas de deux together in coming to that consequential decision is a master class in screen acting. For his performance as Bradlee, Hanks earned his ninth nomination for a Golden Globe.
20. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
Director: Mike Nichols. Writer: Aaron Sorkin. Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting an Oscar winner on the set of “Charlie Wilson’s War” from co-stars Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman to director Mike Nichols (in his final film). Poor writer Aaron Sorkin, who had to console himself with all those “West Wing” Emmys, as his Oscar (for “The Social Network”) was still three years away. Loosely based on the life of hard-partying Congressman Charlie Wilson (played by Hanks, who received a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for this performance), the film gave him the enviable job of handling international diplomacy while wooing Julia Roberts at the same time.
19. NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)
Director: Paul Greengrass. Writers: Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles. Starring Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Mare Winningham, Michael Angelo Covino, Elizabeth Marvel.
“News of the World,” Hanks’ reunion with his “Captain Phillips” director Paul Greengrass, offered the actor the opportunity to showcase skills both old and new. What’s new is Hanks’ complete ease in a new setting — it’s his first Western ever — highlighted by his believable skills in an old-fashioned Western shootout. What’s happily familiar is his quiet intensity, that sense of stoic authority that’s best demonstrated here by his character’s determination to bring a young girl (Helena Zengel) to safety amid the violent world around her. The result is a performance that feels fresh and may be one of the most underrated in his long career.
18. A MAN CALLED OTTO (2022)
Director: Marc Forster. Writer: David Magee. Starring Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.
In this remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” Hanks stars as an old widowed curmudgeon who just wants to be left alone so that he can commit suicide in peace. Will he see the error of his ways and become a nice person again? Well, the fact that the film stars Hanks kinda answers that question. Still, Hanks commits to the role firmly and has particularly potent chemistry with co-star Mariana Treviño as a new neighbor determined to find the good inside the grump across the street. It’s the kind of journeyman role that other actors might choose to phone in, but Hanks a certain air of unpredictability to the role that offers surprises throughout.
17. ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
Director: Sam Mendes. Writer: David Self. Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
I recall seeing the first poster of Tom Hanks in “Road to Perdition” and being surprised (to say the least) to see Hanks dressed like a hood, complete with fedora and Tommy gun. Tom Hanks, really? But the casting turned out to be a shrewd one, with Hanks’ family-friendly image helping to emphasize the fact that, despite being a gangster movie, “Road to Perdition” is primarily about family and the lengths to which you would go to save or avenge them. Being cast against type hasn’t always worked for the actor — the Hanks persona is pretty well set in stone — but the dark portions of his hitman do help to create a fascinating yin and yang that proves to be the character backbone in “Road to Perdition.”
16. BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan.
Hanks teamed up with director Steven Spielberg a fourth time in this Cold War legal thriller in which insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is surprised to be named the legal representative of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance in his Oscar-winning performance) and even more shocked to realize that he must give the accused spy the best defense that he can offer. Though displaying all of the inspired hallmarks of a Spielberg film, “Bridge of Spies,” which also garnered a Best Picture nomination, is at its best when Hanks ups his already high standards to match an actor of Rylance’s expertise, making a memorable film even better.
15. THE GREEN MILE (1999)
Writer/Director: Frank Darabont, based on the novel by Stephen King. Starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Jeter.
Based on the supernatural prison novel by Stephen King, writer/director Frank Darabont constructs his story as an elaborate flashback by prison officer Paul Edgecomb (Hanks), who in 1935 was in charge of the prison’s death row, nicknamed “The Green Mile.” Suffering from a bladder infection, Paul befriends one of the prisoners, a large con named John Coffey (Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan), who is revealed to have supernatural powers (such as curing Paul’s infection) and, although innocent, is perfectly willing to be executed. Hanks and Duncan display extraordinary chemistry together and that is one of the distinct pleasures of “The Green Mile.” Hanks and his cast received a SAG Ensemble nomination for their performances.
14. SULLY (2016)
Director: Clint Eastwood. Writer: Todd Komarnicki. Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney.
“Sully” is the real-life drama depicting the 2009 water landing of a US Airways jet onto New York’s Hudson River by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Capt. Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), whose actions saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew. Sully’s actions, however, began to be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who felt that he could have made it back safely to New York area airports and not ditched the aircraft. Surprisingly, “Sully” marked the first collaboration between screen icons Hanks and director Clint Eastwood, and their teaming brought “Sully” favorable reviews and a worldwide box-office gross of over $238 million.
13. SPLASH (1984)
Director: Ron Howard. Writer: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Bruce Jay Friedman. Starring Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, John Candy.
“Splash” was the first of Hanks’ films to get onto the awards radar and was the key for getting this TV sitcom star in front of movie audiences to see if he could make the transition to film. Thanks to an Oscar-nominated original screenplay by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and playwright Bruce Jay Friedman, Hanks was first able to show his stuff on the big screen in a story of a young man (Hanks) who is reunited with the mermaid (Daryl Hannah) who saved his life 20 years ago. What sounds like it could be a preposterous premise is handled delicately by the writers, and Hanks’ performance mirrors that tone perfectly. With “Splash,” a star was born.
12. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
Director: Penny Marshall. Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel. Starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman.
“There’s no crying in baseball.” With that one line, Hanks managed to hijack Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own,” put it in his pocket and walk off with the entire movie, despite the stellar efforts of a diverse ensemble cast who portray members of an all-women’s professional baseball team in the 1940s. But when Hanks’ has-been Cubs hitter Jimmy Dugan, the team’s manager, staggers into the dugout for the first time, we can’t wait until he stops being skeptical of his female team and turns around to lead them to victory. And Hanks keeps us interested in this old grouch’s inevitable change of heart every step of the way.
11. ELVIS (2022)
Director: Baz Luhrmann. Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner. Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Richard Roxburgh, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
No matter what film historians eventually make of Baz Luhrmann’s dizzying musical biopic of the life of Elvis Presley,Tom Hanks’ performance as the film’s villainous narrator, Colonel Tom Parker, would have to be near the center of any discussion.To say critics were split on Hanks’ interpretation of the role would be putting it mildly — a few loved it while some loathed it. With his high-pitched vocals and vaguely European accent, hardly anyone could doubt Hanks’ total commitment to the role, a willingness to go all-in every time that is a hallmark of his distinguished film career.
10. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writer: Jeff Nathanson. Starring Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams.
In his second collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Hanks plays Carl Hanratty, a real-life FBI agent specializing in bank fraud who now is hot on the trail of teenage con-man Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has been traveling around the country posing as other people (including an airline pilot!) and cashing fraudulent checks along the way. As Spielberg spins the story of the cat-and-mouse game between the two men, it becomes clear that both Carl and Frank need this pursuit in order, in a way, to validate themselves, and Hanks and DiCaprio make the most of that character angle.
9. BIG (1988)
Director: Penny Marshall. Writers: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia.
The scene of Hanks dancing with co-star Robert Loggia on that huge keyboard in the FAO Schwartz toy store became one of the iconic movie images of the 1980s and brought him his first Best Actor nomination for both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award. After being denied entry to a carnival ride because he is too short, 12 year-old Josh Baskin sticks a coin in a fortune teller machine and wishes that he was big. He receives a ticket saying “Your wish is granted” and, sure enough, when he awakens the next day, Josh is suddenly a tall 30 year-old man (Hanks) and quickly becomes desperate to undo the spell. “Big” is the film where Hanks became a bona fide movie star.
8. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019)
Director: Marielle Heller. Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper.
Who better to play Mr. Rogers than cinema’s favorite everyman? Hanks is eerily uncanny as the iconic children’s TV host in Marielle Heller’s biographical drama, which centers on the friendship Fred Rogers sparks with troubled journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys playing a character based on real life ‘Esquire’ writer Tom Junod). The role returned Hanks to the Oscar race after a 19 year dry spell, earning him additional Best Supporting Actor bids at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, SAG and Critics Choice Awards.
7. APOLLO 13 (1995)
Director: Ron Howard. Writers: William Broyles, Jr., Al Reinert. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan.
One of Hanks’ most critically-acclaimed films, “Apollo 13” focuses on America’s third mission to put a man on the moon, a mission that was fraught with potential disaster when, en route, an explosion on board imperiled the mission and threatened to take the lives of the astronauts in the capsule. As Commander Jim Lovell, leader of the astronaut team on board, Hanks is able to suggest that momentary panic when something potentially catastrophic happens, then snaps back to become cool and calm in order to be able to protect his crew whose lives are threatened, as well as calming the people on the ground trying to get them home safely.
6. PHILADELPHIA (1993)
Director: Jonathan Demme. Writer: Ron Nyswaner. Starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas.
Hanks won his first Academy Award for Best Actor in this Jonathan Demme drama, the first big mainstream studio film to tackle the AIDS crisis. To play Andrew Beckett, a senior associate at a top Philadelphia law firm who is trying to hide the fact that he is suffering from AIDS, Hanks lost a startling 26 pounds for the film that helped to persuade audiences that he really was sick. When Beckett is fired by his law firm, he hires homophobic personal injury attorney Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), who must face his fear of gay people and the disease from which they are suffering. In addition to his Oscar, Hanks won his second Golden Globe for this performance.
5. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
Director: Paul Greengrass. Writer: Billy Ray. Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi.
Based on accounts of the real-life 2009 hijacking of the unarmed container ship Maersk Alabama, “Captain Phillips” focuses on the captured ship’s leader, Richard Phillips (Hanks) who must go toe to toe with the pirates’ boss, Abduwali Muse (Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi). Phillips is a role at which Hanks has always excelled — a perfectly ordinary guy suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances — and placed in a setting of extreme tension, his portrayal of Phillips resonated with audiences. For this performance, Hanks received Best Actor bids from SAG and the Golden Globes, but surprisingly not from the Academy, whose lack of a nomination raised more than a few eyebrows.
4. THE TOY STORY SERIES (1995, 1999, 2010, 2019)
Writers/Directors: Various. Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Annie Potts.
Arguably the most beloved Tom Hanks performance was his voice work as Sheriff Woody Pride in the four “Toy Story” films. Woody, the leader of all the toys in young Andy Davis’ bedroom and Andy’s personal favorite, possesses all of the special qualities of many of Hanks’ live-action heroes — he’s courageous, committed and determined to do what is right, even if on occasion he displays some jealousy toward Buzz Lightyear. After Andy leaves for college at the end of “Toy Story 3,” the toys are given to a new owner, a kindergartener named Bonnie, and Woody must face the worry of not being as needed and as loved by Bonnie as he was with Andy.
3. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
Director: Steven Spielberg. Writer: Robert Rodat. Starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore.
In what is unquestionably one of the best films of Tom Hanks’ career, he plays Capt. John Miller, a company commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who, after surviving the brutal landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944, is ordered to find and rescue a missing soldier, PFC James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon) whose three brothers have just been killed in action. The character of Capt. Miller plays to one of Hanks’ great strengths — believably playing a man who is good and who can inspire others to join him on a mission simply because it’s the right thing to do. For his performance, Hanks received Best Actor nominations for the Oscar and Golden Globe, as well as two SAG Award nominations — for himself and as part of the film’s ensemble.
2. FORREST GUMP (1994)
Director: Robert Zemeckis. Writer: Eric Roth. Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinese, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field.
Another iconic role for Hanks, this one bringing him his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar. 25 years after its release, “Forrest Gump” remains a cultural touchstone. Certainly Robert Zemeckis’ direction and Eric Roth’s script had much to do with the quality of the finished film, but I believe that it is Hanks’ performance that is the major force behind the film’s longevity. He never plays Forrest as stupid or slow or as a simpleton, although there is something simple about him in the very best sense of the word. There’s a purity about him — he is loving, trusting and curious about the world, without a deceitful bone in his body. We should all be as good as Forrest.
1. CAST AWAY (2000)
Director: Robert Zemeckis. Writer: William Broyles, Jr. Starring Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt.
Although Hanks has had some of his greatest triumphs as part of an ensemble (such as in “Saving Private Ryan”), in “Cast Away,” he delivers perhaps his most challenging performance in what is essentially a one-man show. On a flight that Chuck Noland (Hanks), an engineer for FedEx, barely survives when his plane crashes into the sea, he must then stay alive alone on an uncharted island. Hanks gained 50 lbs. in 1998 to film the pudgy Chuck in pre-crash scenes. Production then shut down for a year so that he could lose the weight to make his scenes on the island more harrowingly believable. For this performance, Hanks won his fourth Golden Globe as Best Actor and received his fifth Oscar nomination and sixth bid for the SAG Award.