Selection of similar roles and characters, the lack of range in craft, or the lack of risk-taking in the business – you search the internet for the reasons why Tom Hanks is the most overrated A-lister in Hollywood right now, and the chances are you will get many. And yet, there is something about his understated charm that makes him a virtuoso of what he does – a glorious, luminous range of mostly agreeable and minimally flawed characters. That is also precisely why his towing the line of Oscar-tailored and ‘baity’ performances still feels just a bit more believable than the others trying to do the same.
Born of partially Portuguese descent in California on 9th July 1956, the actor will turn 67 this year. Even before crossing the seventy mark, he secured a number of lifetime achievements and honorary awards for his contribution to the world of popular entertainment over the course of four decades. This is quite fitting for a compelling veteran who never fails to navigate the depths of his characters and the situations they find themselves in when they are actually allowed to. The constant fight for perfectionism is, to a degree, worth celebrating, especially when he is almost bound to become the stand-out in basically everything he is a part of.
Here is a comprehensive list of the ten must-watch Tom Hanks films as they are ranked and rated by the critical consensus database, Rotten Tomatoes.
10. Saving Private Ryan (1998) | RT Score: 94%
Above anything, Steven Spielberg’s path-breaking war film is a melodrama of epic proportions. Set in France during the Second World War and inspired by the books of Stephen E. Ambrose, among other historical accounts, it is a film of military-scale sentiment that became a classic primarily because it did not fall for the existent Hollywood tropes without inventing some for itself. It balanced its coldness and warmth in a generally appealing yet overall uncompromising manner.
The film finds its conscience and strength in Hanks and his terrific portrayal of a PTSD-affected US captain, capitalizing on his glorious aura to heroic yet human effect. And yet, there’s a matter-of-factness to it that makes it all the more surprising. It famously lost the Best Picture battle to Shakespeare in Love at the 71st Academy Awards – famously because its popularity and universal acclaim led people to hate the winners and accuse their aggressive campaigning. It did, however, win mostly all the filmmaking awards even there. The critical consensus reads, “Anchored by another winning performance from Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg’s unflinchingly realistic war film virtually redefines the genre.”
9. Captain Phillips (2013) | RT Score: 93%
Based on a screenplay written by Billy Ray, which adapted the book ‘A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea’ written by the eponymous Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama hijacking along with co-writer Stephen Talty, this film from a decade ago is not much talked of today. However, at the time of its release, it was met with a lot of acclaim and is still remembered as one of the better biographical films, which put a solid hero as the real one standing on the pedestal; who else but the great Mr. Hanks. Directed by Paul Greengrass of the Bourne films, it was met with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Also starring Barkhad Abdi in a role which was met with resounding acclaim, the film sustains its tension right till the end and brings the vital thrill of a proper genre film in a non-fictional hostage thriller. The critical consensus reads, “Smart, powerfully acted, and incredibly intense, Captain Phillips offers filmgoers a Hollywood biopic done right — and offers Tom Hanks a showcase for yet another brilliant performance.”
8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) | RT Score: 95%
Directed by Marielle Heller and inspired by an Esquire profile on the beloved TV presenter and a timeline’s low-key cultural icon Fred Rogers, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is often touted as one of the best films of 2019. Coming in the footsteps of a relatively recent 2018 documentary on Rogers directed by Morgan Neville, the film effectively ropes in a narrative to describe its protagonist’s encounter with Mr. Rogers and that being a transformative experience, much helped by Hanks and his muted enigma of a performance.
Although a light and lovely supporting presence, Tom Hanks’s performance as Mr. Rogers was so powerfully anchored that it became even more memorable than Matthew Rhys’s leading turn as the Esquire journalist asked to profile him. The understated mature filmmaking by Heller helps to keep the film together and its message to be put across. The critical consensus reads, “Much like the beloved TV personality that inspired it, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood offers a powerfully affecting message about acceptance and understanding.”
7. Apollo 13 (1995) | RT Score: 96%
An adaptation of the 1994 book ‘Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13’ written by astronauts Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, Ron Howard’s ‘Apollo 13’ is an American docudrama that follows the familiar beats but with a sense of urgency contained intelligently. It stays safe from the science-fiction territory by following its characters through them navigating their troubles but makes sure to provide a good dose of heart-pounding entertainment in the process.
The film was nominated for a number of awards, including the Oscars, of which it won two: Best Sound and Best Editing. Tom Hanks’s performance as Jim Lovell is certainly one of the film’s highlights apart from the technical mastery, while praise was also showered on the performances of Bill Paxton and Ed Harris. The critical consensus of the website reads, “In recreating the troubled space mission, Apollo 13 pulls no punches: it’s a masterfully told drama from director Ron Howard, bolstered by an ensemble of solid performances.”
6. Catch Me if You Can (2002) | RT Score: 96%
Although primarily a Leonardo DiCaprio film, this adaptation of the true memoir of Frank Abagnale Jr, a convicted American felon who claimed to have committed a number of con acts spanning millions of dollars right before his 19th birthday, is also a fitting showcase of Hanks and his balancing act as the resourceful FBI agent Carl Hanratty. The film itself is one of the most charming and dynamic Hollywood blockbusters, or so it is considered.
Despite being a work of thrilling urgency from its source matter itself, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ is considered one of the funniest films Spielberg has done, its wit coinciding with its wisdom pretty assuredly. It secured nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken) and Best Original Score (John Williams). In fact, it also became subject to parody in a Simpsons episode! The critical consensus for the film reads, “With help from a strong performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life wunderkind con artist Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg crafts a film that’s stylish, breezily entertaining, and surprisingly sweet.”
5. Big (1988) | RT Score: 98%
Penny Marshall’s large-hearted, witty, and fantasy-based comedy about a young boy whose carnival wish transforms him all of a sudden into this big man who still is a 13-year-old kid from inside, also happens to be the last of live-action, walking-and-talking Tom Hanks films in the list. But what a sweeping finish and Tom Hanks is so good in it! ‘Big’ is a compelling comedy that not just proves to be an exciting showcase of the talent of its leading star but also establishes how good he can be at playing decidedly louder characters as well, and with supreme conviction.
A unique coming-of-age story at heart but also one that never takes itself too seriously for its own good, ‘Big’ got Hanks a nomination for Best Actor, and the film also secured the nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The critical consensus reads, “Refreshingly sweet and undeniably funny, Big is a showcase for Tom Hanks, who dives into his role and infuses it with charm and surprising poignancy.”
4. Toy Story 4 (2019) | RT Score: 97%
The fourth installment of the Toy Story series of films was deemed unnecessary before release since the trilogy seemed complete. This might have contributed to it receiving the weakest reviews among the four, but the heart and applied smarts are still so potently moving that the existence of the franchise itself is reason enough for it to find itself among the top tiers. While I personally believe that the only real achievement of the film is giving us the beloved and wackily funny character of Forky, it mostly remains an admirable diversion.
The weariness and closure are what the character of the series needed after all these years, and that is exactly what Tom Hanks renders. The voice cast, anyway, has been one of the biggest strengths of these films, and this one is no exception. In the classic Pixar tradition, it won the award for Best Animated Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards. The critical consensus for the film is, “Heartwarming, funny, and beautifully animated, Toy Story 4 manages the unlikely feat of extending — and perhaps concluding — a practically perfect animated saga.”
3. Toy Story 3 (2010) | RT Score: 98%
Made entirely after the considerable evolution of three-dimensional animation as a medium since the sequel, ‘Toy Story 3’ as a second sequel alone is work of such honest emotion and ingenuity that it, for me, surpasses not just the successor but also its predecessors. In fact, it works two-fold: as this gripping and tension-induced prison break story and as the moving coming-of-age story for Andy and his toys – a subtle yet pleasant plea to let go as it is.
Complete with a fantastic villain, and of course, the saccharine and fulfilling charm of Hanks and the rest of the voice cast, and an emotional core difficult not to be carried away with, Toy Story 3 taps richly into its rhythms. At the Academy Awards, it received nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, and Best Original Song, out of which it won the latter two. The critical consensus on RT says, “Deftly blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion, Toy Story 3 is a rare second sequel that really works.”
2. Toy Story (1995) | RT Score: 100%
Our introduction to the Pixar style of 3D animation redefined the way we saw animated beings doing things. Our introduction to decidedly kiddie stuff conveyed a lot more mature stuff in the process. And, of course, our introduction to the memorable voice of Tom Hanks playing Woody! ‘Toy Story’ started it all, and for that alone, it remains an important work in the history of pop culture. Even as it has considerably aged, and the villain is terrible, it is an exciting work for its entertainment value alone, which is indisputable.
Critics were clearly floored, as were the audiences, by the visual style applied and how it was, after all, relevant in conveying themes that were readily tailored for the grown-ups as well. Today, I do not think it comes to life anywhere near the last twenty minutes in terms of pure craft. However, as a splash of imagination, it is daring enough, and that totally pays off. Often considered one of the greatest films of all time, ‘Toy Story’ also marked the directorial debut of ace animator, John Lasseter. The heritage critical consensus of RT reads, “Entertaining as it is innovative, Toy Story reinvigorated animation while heralding the arrival of Pixar as a family-friendly force to be reckoned with.”
1. Toy Story 2 (1999) | RT Score: 100%
The layer of emotion first catches your attention in the first sequel of ‘Toy Story’, which has an unexpected emphasis on the trauma of Jessie, a character introduced at random but one who becomes an integral part of the story. It is not particularly hard to grasp why these movies are considered perfect/near-perfect. They possess a distinctive, human understanding of how mankind operates and the simple values it needs to keep. And that is reflected by the toys with charm and sincerity.
Which makes it further easier to understand its position as a sequel deemed better than the original. Of course, this film, too, was met with universal acclaim that was perhaps even bigger and better than the one received by its revolutionary predecessor. The critical consensus of the website reads, “The rare sequel that arguably improves on its predecessor, Toy Story 2, uses inventive storytelling, gorgeous animation, and a talented cast to deliver another rich moviegoing experience for all ages.”