From a daydreaming guy who falls in love with a mermaid to a heroic leader who guides his men through horrific battles, the characters that Tom Hanks has played through the years have distinct personalities.
In each of them, the actor projects elements necessary to make the characters believable and likable. What roles have defined his career? There are many, but seven stand out as definitive Tom Hanks roles.
1. Allen Bauer in “Splash” (1984)
It’s implausible, but Hanks’ performance as a salt-of-the-earth guy looking for love makes this human-meets-mermaid tale sweet and not so schmaltzy. Steve Guttenberg tried out for the lead role, but it eventually went to Hanks, who did not dazzle all the critics.
Roger Ebert, for one, thought Hanks
came across as “a standard young male lead.”
But “Splash” put Hanks on the acting map, setting his course for more complex roles.
2. Josh in “Big” (1988)
Still resting heavily on the implausible, “Big” nevertheless manages to get audiences to suspend disbelief for 104 minutes and accept that a kid has his wish to become a grownup granted. It’s almost as if Hanks has himself been transformed from young boy to adult man, taking in new experiences with wonder and genuine interest as he maintains a childlike innocence. Some of the best moments of the movie show Hanks’ Josh doing kid things in a man’s body.
3. Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own” (1992)
Tom Hanks and Jimmy Dugan had more in common than people realized. Hanks had just headlined in a string of box office flops: “Joe vs. the Volcano,” “Turner & Hooch” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” He was looking for a role that could redefine his career, when along came Dugan.
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"In a League of Their Own," Dugan is a once-great baseball player who spends too much time drinking and feeling sorry for himself. When Dugan is given the task of turning a crew of amateur female athletes into a winning baseball team, Dugan rediscovers himself.
Hanks does the same with “A League of Their Own,” stringing together a number of hits at the box office afterward.
4. Andrew Beckett in "Philadelphia" (1993)
"Philadelphia" is considered the first big box office movie to tackle the topics of homosexuality and AIDS. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote in her review
that the movie lacked daring, but Hanks' portrayal of Andrew Beckett was "brave, stirring, tremendously dignified."
Hanks' performance earned him his first Oscar and illustrated his ability to take on controversial and complex roles.
5. Forrest Gump in “Forrest Gump” (1994)
Hanks lives and breathes the title character in this movie. The role distinguished him as an actor of great depth. Rolling Stone heaped praise on his ability
to become the good-natured, low-IQ Gump.
“Credit Hanks for not overplaying his hand. He brings a touching gravity to the role of an idiot savant from the South who finds strength in God, country, his childhood pal, Jenny (Robin Wright), and his good mama (Sally Field).”
6. Michael Sullivan in “Road to Perdition” (2002)
Here Hanks does a complete 180-degree turn in his career, playing a hitman seeking revenge when his family members are killed. The mob story looks at father-son relationships and family regrets. Hanks told Roger Ebert he could relate to the paternal emotions felt by his character
, saying their are "periods of time when you're a father, when truly the only thing you have is regrets."
"All the wonderful qualities of your kids are mysteries to you and all you can see is the way you've scarred or burned or somehow neglected those kids," Hanks said." The feeling passes, but it's true. If you have omitted a moment, if you have bypassed a day, you'll never get it back."
7. Capt. Miller in “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Hanks is at once strong, heroic, filled with uncertainty, and frightened in director Steve Spielberg's World War II epic. He guides his men on a mission to save a grieving mother’s last living son, and is believable in doing so.
When Miller leads his men onto Omaha Beach, the tension is palpable and incredibly realistic.
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