The 5 Best and Worst Films of Tom Hanks

A Beautiful Day in the NeighbourhoodThere’s something so satisfying about the idea of Tom Hanks playing children’s TV show host Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Who can resist one of America’s favorite actors playing one of America’s most beloved TV icons?  And I know Mr. Rogers was beloved because every time the preview for Won’t You Be My Neighbor played at the local art house theater last year, it got applause.  In honor of Hanks’ latest performance and a possible sixth Oscar nomination, here’s a look back at some of his best and worst films.

Tom Hanks 5 Best Movies

Tom Hanks has such a plethora of great films, it was hard to whittle it down to just five.  His IMDb page is an embarrassment of riches.  I encourage you to explore his filmography.

1. Philadelphia

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PhiladelphiaTom Hanks won Best Actor for his role as a man with HIV suing his law firm for wrongful dismissal.  Antonio Banderas plays his partner.  Denzel Washington plays his attorney in a powerful performance.  Hanks gave a memorable acceptance speech, thanking his gay high school drama teacher.  The movie was groundbreaking at the time for not only having a gay main character but casting an A-list actor in the role.  It was also one of the first mainstream films to take on the topic of HIV.

2. Forrest Gump

One year later, Hanks won his second Oscar for playing the dim but big-hearted title character who was always at the right place at the right time throughout the twentieth century.  He is one of the few actors to win back-to-back Oscars.  (Others include: Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Jason Robards.)  Forrest’s famous quote from this movie is, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.”  This is probably the movie Tom Hanks is most famous for.  The film spawned a popular soundtrack and even a chain of restaurants named Bubba Gump’s.

3. The Green  Mile

The Green  MileEveryone knows The Shawshank Redemption.  This is director Frank Darabont’s other Stephen King adapted prison movie.  Hanks plays a compassionate death row corrections officer in this Best Picture nominee.  He and the other guards face a moral dilemma when accused child murderer John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) displays extraordinary supernatural gifts.  This is one of my favorite movies of the ’90s.  The entire cast is amazing.  It features one of Sam Rockwell’s great early performances.  I think about Tom Hanks and Graham Greene’s discussion about the afterlife all the time.

4. Big

Hanks got his first Oscar nomination for this performance.  His character is a boy who makes a wish to be big and wakes up in the body of a grown man.  (A little bit like Shazam.)  Hanks’s performance as a man-child is endearing, as he takes on the joys and burdens of adulthood.  The film features a famous scene where he and his boss play “Chopsticks” by dancing on a giant toy piano.  Hanks started out doing comedies in the ’80s.  This is a great place to start if you’ve never seen anything from his early career.

5. Cast Away

Cast AwayHanks got his fifth Oscar nomination for this Robert Zemeckis film.  When his plane crashes over the Pacific Ocean during a storm, Hanks is the only survivor.  He makes it ashore to a deserted island where he must learn how to survive on his own.  The description may not grab you, but I assure you the movie will.  I have watched people get sucked into this film while watching it on display televisions in stores.  Somehow Zemeckis manages to weave a spell over you.  And he does it with a movie that has hardly any dialogue.

Tom Hanks’ 5 Worst Movies

Every actor has their share of missteps and Hanks has some doozies.

1. The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities

What do you get when  you put Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith in an adaptation of a Tom Wolfe novel?  Pure dreck.  This is generally considered one of the worst movies of the ’90s.  Hanks is miscast as an unlikable character.  The power of Wolfe’s writing is lost in its transition to the screen.

2. Punchline

PunchlineWho wants to watch a movie about stand-up comedians that isn’t funny?  Hanks plays a young comic who helps a housewife (Sally Fields) develop her stage act.  I tried to watch this movie several times in the ’80s and could never get through it.  I was used to seeing Tom Hanks kiss mermaids and solve crimes with dogs.  Nothing nearly as exciting happens in this movie.  The punchline is there are no jokes in this film.

3. The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci CodeOne of the best-selling novels of  all-time, one of the most protested movies ever is also…a total snooze fest.  Not even Hanks’ charm or a controversial plot twist can save this so-so thriller.  Things pick up a little when Ian McKellen finally shows up.

4. The Ladykillers

The LadykillersThis is one of the Coen Brothers’ worst films.  Hanks plays an eccentric Southern professor whose gang is posing as musicians in order to rob a casino.  They practice in the basement of his landlady’s home.  I’ve already forgotten most of this forgettable film.  But I’m still haunted by Hanks’ odd performance.

5. Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasWhat can I say about Cloud Atlas?  As a friend of mine likes to say, it’s a lot of what it is.  Nearly three hours to be exact.  It’s a movie I want to like.  But I’m not sure I want to put in the mental work and repeated viewings required to do so.  The Matrix, it’s not.  The movie deals with reincarnation and how our actions ripple through time to affect others.  Hanks, Halle Berry, and others play multiple characters across multiple storylines.  It requires a lot of concentration to keep up with everything.  And that’s before the post-apocalyptic people start talking like five-year-olds (“Tell me the true true.”)

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10 Replies to “The 5 Best and Worst Films of Tom Hanks”

  1. Well. Apollo 13 is one of my all time time favorite movies. As in among the EVER BEST MOVIES on my list. I’m not sure why this was passed over. I can watch this again and again and again and cry with joy every time.

    Sully was also pretty amazing. I love when things work out and everyone survives, especially when it’s based on true life.

    On the other hand, I will never EVER watch that one where he is sick again. I can’t stand sad films. My heart breaks and it hurts me personally, deeply, nightmarishly for the rest of my life.

    I agree with Big, though. Forrest Gump is pretty great too, but also pretty sad. I did enjoy Castaway and Green Mile, even though Green Mile has some scenes I can’t handle.

    It’s interesting that both Dan and I had it on our list to make a “Best of” Tom Hanks over the last month…but I think our three lists would have been entirely different.

    You have no idea how miffed I am about not mentioning Apollo 13. Lovell is one of the all time real life heroes in real life ever, IMO. And you didn’t mention it on your Best of Space Movies either.

    I guess this is what makes movies tick. Never in a zillion years would I ever mention Philadelphia. If I could erase if from my memory, I’d pay good money.

    PS: I liked Da Vinci Code…

    1. Jill, you caught me red-handed. Apollo 13 is on my overrated movies list. *blush* Sorry. Maybe it’s time for me to finally watch it again and give it another chance. I know that one of my issues with it is always going to be that a movie magazine spoiled the ending by talking about the historical event in an article before the movie came out. My generation was going into the theater without that knowledge to find out what happened (after that riveting trailer). And that article killed any suspense for me. There was nothing at stake any longer while watching the film because I already knew what was going to happen. It’s nice to see you passionate about a drama though as they often aren’t your favorite.

      The Tom Hanks movie I really wanted to gush about but that doesn’t necessarily belong on a Top 5 list is Road to Perdition. One of his greatest underrated, underseen performances.

      Now, an article where we all three submitted our lists, Filmspotting style, THAT would be FUN!

      P.S.: I had to use Tom Hanks movies I’d actually seen. The Terminal and The Circle are both probably much worse than The Da Vinci Code. However, I thought it would be unprofessional for me to slot them in based solely on other critics’ reviews. So I had to go with Da Vinci and Cloud Atlas.

      1. I keep forgetting you are younger. For me, of course I knew about Apollo 13. It’s like knowing the Titanic sunk…the fun is how great these stories are told.

        Right — I don’t like most dramas. But I love space movies, and space, and more things about space. I love space so much I wanted to be an astronomer as a kid, and I worked at Astro Camp as a young adult. (Dan worked at Space Camp….how’s that for coincidences? Oh, and he met Jim Lovell, too, which makes me swoon.)

        I never became an astronomer because when I had read everything I could get my hands on at the elementary school library (they had to order high school books for me after I plowed through what they had), I realized there was more math than I could handle. Good thing I had writing skills, though. 😉

        I also wanted to become a paleontologist and almost did, but that’s another story. I decided I wanted to be a rock climber after college, so I did that before becoming a newspaper reporter in Arizona.

        Back to movies:

        So, yeah, space is a big deal in my book. I also adore disaster/survival stories. I can eat those for breakfast. So Apollo 13 ticks both boxes for me.

        I’ve never seen Road to Perdition. Or Bridge of Spies. Or the Circle, or The Terminal. I did see The Post (which was good enough and also had Meryl Streep).

        I have a lot of film gaps in my knowledge because I have blockbuster tastes. Give me my sci fi and fantasy and I’m a happy human. You don’t know how pleased I was when Return of the King swept the Oscars.

        1. It’s so fascinating learning more about you. I had no idea you had such a passion for the sciences.

          Yeah, that was a good year at the Oscars. I don’t suppose we can hope Rise of Skywalker or Endgame will get the same treatment.

          1. I don’t want to hold out a ton of hope for Rise of Skywalker…been burned by Last Jedi and the prequels. But I did LOVE Force Awakens and consider it the third best SW film. And Rogue One was solid, and Solo was great fun. So we shall see. I doubt the Academy will mention it.

            However, if there is nothing for Endgame I will be super irritated. After 23 high quality films all leading to a fantastic ending, it’s basically now or never to give the MCU an award. (They should have given a post humous lifetime award to Stan Lee last year, but whatever).

            It’s like Return of the King again. Endgame should represent the MCU oeuvre, and be recognized for their phenomenal achievement. It’s a momentous event that deserves recognition.

            I WAS pleased last year when Spider-Verse won the animated award. I thought Incredibles 2 would get it, so I was very happy. Spider-Verse is phenomenal.

            I do expect the animated award this year to go to Toy Story 4…but then. I have yet to see Frozen 2.

    1. I thought Hanks and Eckhart both should have gotten Oscar nominations for Sully. Easily one of my favorite Eastwood-directed films. If you’re not moved by the way everyone comes together in that film to help people, you don’t have a heart.

      1. Eckhart, true, was also wonderful in that film. He played the co-pilot as such a loyal man…I loved that. Just nice to see good people, smart people, do well. I liked the hearing scenes and the simulations, and was so happy to watch a story where things actually work out in the midst of what could easily have been a terrible tragedy.

        Can you imagine if Captain Sully had been charged with negligence, or whatever misdeeds the hearing was trumping up? Again, that things turned out so well makes me happy.

        Eastwood also did a clever job with the non-linear story structure. It’s a nice little film.

        Hanks is so consistently good that making a list like this is hard.

        What is Trainspotting style? Now I’m curious to see what you mean.

        1. Not Trainspotting, Filmspotting. It’s a podcast I listen to. The hosts have a different list each week and the two of them (ocassionally they have a third guest who joins them) compare lists. Usually they take turns as they count down. So Josh will reveal his #5 pick and then Adam will reveal his #5 pick until they get to #1. Sometimes they have the same film at different slots on their lists. Sometimes Adam cheats by having a tie so he can fit an extra movie on his list. But I think just publishing a post where we each have our Top 5 list (of whatever topic) and people can see how different they are would be fun. I might make more personal and less populist choices if we were doing that. Right now as the only person publishing a Top 5 list, I feel like it kind of has to be definitive?

          1. The Super Carlin Brothers do that too. I am a big fan of those guys. I see no reason why we should not do that too.

            Dan and I are both working on Best Series lists. I am using my personal opinion, and Dan is using RT and IMDb stats. It would be fun if you thought of that too. The requirement for the list is 4 movies or more. No trilogies. But there is some leeway, as it took the Hobbit movies to make LOTR a series by our rules, and I am including Fantastic Beasts with Harry Potter.

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