The world doesn’t always deliver things for which to give thanks. But when you get down, just think of Tom Hanks.
Over his decadeslong career, America’s Dad has gifted audiences with a consistent resume of heartfelt, empathetic characters, many of whom have benefited from Hanks’ naturally paternal off-screen presence. There have been some exceptions to that rule, obviously – the antagonistic “snowman” Colonel Tom Parker, in the current awards-season contender “Elvis,” immediately comes to mind. But even playing a neighborhood grumpy pants in the new dramedy “A Man Called Otto” (in theaters now), Hanks can’t help but exude a strong sense of kindly warmth.
In movies, Tom Hanks gives off warmth like a cinematic microwave
To honor Hanks, here are the beloved Oscar winner’s 15 essential feel-good roles, ranked:
- Mister Rogers obviously makes the list. So does Woody.
- Films like “Splash” and “Big” showed off his dad-like quality early in Hanks’ career.
- “You’ve Got Mail” melted hearts and ruled the Hanks rom-com years.
15. ‘Splash’ (1984)
Hanks made falling in love with fish people a thing before “The Little Mermaid” and “The Shape of Water.” He plays a hopeless romantic in New York City utterly charmed by a very eccentric woman (Daryl Hannah) who shows up naked at Liberty Island and has a strange way of eating lobster. The heart wants what it wants, though, and Hanks’ dude figures out she’s the same mermaid that saved his life from drowning when he was a boy and of course they find a happy ending under the sea.
14. ‘Finch’ (2021)
Who better than Hanks to bring all the post-apocalyptic feels to a sci-fi dad movie featuring a robot and a dog? This is a one-man show of sorts, though, with the actor starring as a St. Louis robotics engineer who survived a solar event that made Earth a wasteland. With his health in a steep decline, he creates a mechanized dude named Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) to look after his pooch Goodyear when he’s gone and they head west to find a better home.
13. ‘News of the World’ (2020)
This isn’t a hard Hanks role to imagine at all. He plays a former Confederate captain going from town to town in Texas, reading newspaper articles with gusto for 10 cents a person, who runs into a 10-year-old girl (Helena Zengel) on her own and promises to take her back home. Hanks brings warmth and humor to a character that’s a reluctant do-gooder at first – the youngster, raised by the Kiowa people, is a handful – but ultimately becomes the protective father figure that Hanks embodies like no other.
12. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ (2013)
The dramedy digs into the backstory behind “Mary Poppins” and how persnickety author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) was wooed to sign off on an adaptation by none other than Walt Disney (Hanks) himself. While it’s a hoot seeing Disney the ultimate businessman showing off Disneyland and his Mickey Mouse efforts to a disinterested Travers, the hard sell shifts to kindness and understanding as the two have a heartfelt conversation about what “Poppins” is really about.
11. ‘Apollo 13’ (1995)
“Houston, we have a problem.” Anyone else says that, yes, there’s a problem. But when that famous space-race phrase is uttered by Hanks – playing Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell – a viewer still feels they’re in good hands as the 1970 lunar mission goes awry after several technical difficulties. The crew (including Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton) miss out on walking on the moon but when it comes to making it back to Earth safe, come on now: Hanks makes you believe failure is not an option
10. ‘A Man Called Otto’ (2023)
Otto (Hanks) is an old crank in his community grieving the recent loss of his wife when a feisty pregnant woman (Mariana Treviño) and her family move in next door. By challenging his grouchy ways, she unlocks his kind inner self and he takes in a stray cat, makes amends with old friends and becomes a loyal protector for his neighbors. Hanks brings a signature mix of humor and emotional depth to the narrative, which explores the importance of human contact in our lives.
9. ‘Larry Crowne’ (2011)
An underrated film in the impressive Hanks-ography, “Crowne” is a dramedy he also directed that taps into a lot of modern themes, from emotional turmoil brought on by sudden unemployment to an older generation reinventing itself for a new chapter in life. Hanks is the title boomer, a divorced veteran laid off from a big-box store who finds himself with limited opportunities without a college education, while Julia Roberts is the speech professor (and love interest) with her own issues who’s part of Larry’s rebirth.
8. ‘Cast Away’ (2000)
It’s all Hanks, all the time in the survival drama: Most of the two hours-plus running time is spent watching the actor by himself on an island, playing a FedEx guy who gets stranded after his plane crashes. Hanks’ main character grows a beard, goes a little crazy, befriends a volleyball (named Wilson, obviously) but never gives up. An ode to the human condition, for sure, and one where Hanks lends heaps of humanity.
7. ‘Big’ (1988)
Back in the 1980s, Hanks was aces at playing a man-child – to a debaucherous degree (see: “Bachelor Party”) and quite memorably to a deeper one in this fantasy in which a 12-year-old wishes to be big and a magical carnival machine grants it. Hanks sells the sweet (playing “Heart and Soul” with his feet on a giant keyboard), the sublime (eating baby corn at a dinner party) and the somewhat serious (dating Elizabeth Perkins) until Josh figures out he’d rather just be a kid again.
6. ‘A League of Their Own’ (1992)
Hanks is very much a supporting player in Penny Marshall’s sports-movie ode to the first women’s professional baseball league, with Geena Davis taking the lead in a story of female identity in the wake of World War II. As alcoholic former all-star and new Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, Hanks is the crass, somewhat sexist comic relief (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) who comes around as both his players’ friend and fan yet also as an emotional rock in tragic times.
5. ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
It won an Oscar for best picture (and maybe it shouldn’t have). It spawned a seafood restaurant and so many internet memes. The thing is, though, what keeps “Gump” from being complete uber-saccharine hokum is Hanks as the lovable main character who listens to his mama (Sally Field) and is utterly devoted to his Jenny (Robin Wright). We see American history through his experience, but Forrest has a lot to teach us about kindness, love, family and life (which, as we all know, is totally like a box of chocolates.)
4. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)
Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic cast Hanks as an Army captain at Normandy ordered to find a missing private (Matt Damon) and bring him home. The kid doesn’t want to leave his band of brothers and while there’s not a lot of “feel good” vibes amid the horrors of battle, Hanks’ hero keeps you invested through the emotional line. And good luck keeping a dry eye when the captain, in a touching moment, tells the youngster to “Earn this” and make the most of the rest of his life.
3. ‘Toy Story’ (1995)
Because there’s so much personality in plastic cowpoke Woody’s voice, the Pixar animated classic is a no-brainer to include on any Hanks retrospective. The first “Toy Story” is fun, full of nostalgia and, yes, it’ll make you tear up like freshly sliced onions. It’s totally worth it, however, to see the dynamic between earnest sheriff Woody and idiosyncratic spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) as they go from an initial rivalry to being the favorite toy to budding best friendship.
2. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (2019)
One of the Hanks-iest of Hanks personas, the actor and Rogers go together like a well-matched sweater and sneakers. Hanks played the late kids’ TV icon as a guru of empathy, doling out heartwarming bon mots to a troubled journalist (Matthew Rhys) who’s tasked to profile Rogers but is skeptical of the man’s absolute goodness. Hanks earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination not just because of a pitch-perfect performance but because he brought so much of his own calming aura to the part.
1. ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)
In the 1990s, Hanks and Meg Ryan were an unstoppable rom-com pairing, the Fred and Ginger of the grunge era. “Joe Versus the Volcano” and “Sleepless in Seattle” may have their devotees, but the best by far is this lovely ode to the earliest days of online dating. Hanks runs a massive family bookstore, Ryan heads up the small corner bookstore whose business is in jeopardy, and the rivals become secret email confidantes who fall for each other. Just try not to cry as Brinkley the dog bounds through the park, a furry version of a modern “swipe right” bringing together two lovebirds.
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