With the release of The Circle this weekend, here are my thoughts on every Tom Hanks movie I’ve seen with grades given to his performance in each movie, not to the movie itself.
Splash (1984) C-
I’m not really sure if Tom Hanks is bad in one of the earliest starring roles of his career or if the mermaid romance fantasy is just so idiotic that it left nothing for him work with. But Splash is one of un-funniest comedies ever made and could not help show anyone as a good actor.
Bachelor Party (1984) C-
Except for the mermaid part, ditto to what I said about Splash.
Every Time We Say Goodbye (1986) B
A typical romance offering nothing that wasn’t already tired in the 1940s except for Tom Hanks’ first dramatic performance that showed the world he’s much more than the not very funny star of the sitcom “Bosom Buddies” and the two terrible movies above. He has a compassionate warmth that transcends all the cliches that mar this movie that would be completely pointless without Tom Hank’s gentle, touching performance.
Big (1988) A+
After 10 years of being known as a comedic actor, Tom Hanks finally gave his first funny performance in Penny Marshall’s Big, which was also his first masterful acting and his first of five Oscar nominations for acting. Playing a 12-year-old boy in an adult body, he uses so much empathy to display the real struggles and insecurities of adolescence. He never plays anything for laughs but lets the hilarious screenplay do that work for him, and the result is one of the funniest and most touching movies ever made.
A League of Their Own (C-)
We all know that “there’s no crying in baseball,” but whether uttering that line or being otherwise abusive, this movie’s version of the real-life coach Jimmy Dugan is a stereotypical movie alcoholic with no nuance, no life, just one big cliche. Whether that’s the fault of the screenwriters or Tom Hanks, I don’t know, but his results weren’t good either way.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993) C
The movie that began Tom Hanks’ “every man” image involved a very boring “every man” in a romantic comedy so full of gimmicks and insincere nostalgia, that there’s really only one thing memorable (in a good way anyways) about this movie and if I remember correctly Tom Hanks wasn’t even in that scene, when many male characters are together crying and sniveling over The Dirty Dozen.
Philadelphia (1993) A+
His first of two consecutive wins as the Best Lead Actor at the Academy Awards, watching his character’s health fade as he slowly succumbs to AIDS is one of the saddest, most believable, and most sympathetic performances of film history.
Forrest Gump (1994) A+
Not even that greatness in Philadelphia could prepare the world for how much greatness Tom Hanks had yet to show. His performance in Forrest Gump is probably one of the ten best acting performances ever. Every second, we feel such deep emotion though he rarely conveys that emotion. The performance isn’t great just because of the character he’s playing and the difficulties involved with that but because he, as an actor, takes the audience into the world as his character experiences it. We walk (or run) in Forrest’s shoes because Tom Hanks has gifted us with the ability to do so.
Apollo 13 (1995) B
Reunited with Gary Sinese who shined in Forrest Gump, this time it’s mostly Gary Sinese’s time to shine. All the actors do well, but only Gary Sinese is masterful.
Toy Story (1995) A
Woody is a character that only Tom Hanks could play. His voice brings all the right tones for Woody’s heroic, but scared cowboy, and especially paired with Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, he is half of one of the movies’ all-time great duos.
That Thing You Do (1996) B-
Playing the producer for a one-hit-wonder band, Tom Hanks doesn’t have much to do acting-wise in the movie, but he also produced it, directed it, wrote its screenplay, and wrote one of its songs. It’s a charming movie that he deserves all the credit for, even though he didn’t give himself much a role to work with.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) C-
I may be alone in the world on this one, but instead of making a usual war movie full of killing people, Spielberg made a movie about trying to save one person, and killing many others in process, in the end making a very normal, average war movie in the name of something extraordinary. Tom Hanks’ performance is another ordinary part of that, nothing at all special, actually quite boring. But he got his fourth Oscar nomination for it.
You’ve Got Mail (1998) B+
As a romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail couldn’t be more different than Sleepless in Seattle, even though it’s a remake of a 1940s movie just as full of cliched un-funny, insincere cutesiness as Sleepless in Seattle, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop around the Corner. Updating the movie into the 1990s computer age, You’ve Got Mail combines an attack against big business in America with a hate-love relationship that follows the conventions of the Hollywood romantic comedy but is never bound to them. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have real chemistry here that they didn’t even hint at in Sleepless.
Toy Story 2 (1999) A
There’s nothing to say here that I didn’t already with the first film in the franchise.
The Green Mile (B+)
Though outshine by the acting of Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Jeter, and Graham Greene, Tom Hanks has a few brilliant moments when dealing with the pain, shame, and unanswered questions of being involved with many executions.
Cast Away (2000) C+
I need to give him credit for playing a character this isolated, but that doesn’t take away from how boring this movie, and ultimately his performance in it, is.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) B
This is Leo’s movie, plain and simple. Tom Hanks is good, but every actor in this movie has the purpose of helping Leo shine.
The Terminal (2004) B
With a great accent and a mysterious, funny persona, Tom Hanks has many moments of technical greatness, but with a meandering script that never lets us know what this movie actually wants to be about, it’s difficult to see how great Tom Hanks really can be.
The Polar Express (2004) A+
Playing several characters in The Polar Express, we can always tell it’s Tom Hanks, but his tone reflects all the differences necessary between the various characters he plays. This surpasses all of his great voice work in the Toy Story franchise.
Toy Story 3 (2009) D
The second Toy Story movie was a touching film about getting old, the third was about being over the hill and narrowly escaping death in Woody and Buzz’s case and in the case of a few others. Most of the toys didn’t fare that well as find out in the movie’s opening scene. Toy Story 3 is the most unnecessarily dark and depressing movie I’ve ever seen. Tom Hanks embodies this and does not bring any of the likability that made Woody so great in the first two movies. At least Buzz has a great moment when turned into Spanish mode, but that’s the only thing worthwhile about this very bleak movie supposedly for the entertainment of children.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) A-
Seen only in flashback after his death on 9/11/01, Oskar (the son of Tom Hanks’ character) believes that his father is the only one who understands him. Oskar has a form of autism and Tom Hanks does an excellent job of navigating the inner life of a father who does whatever it takes to show that he can think like his son and relate to his son. The movie belongs to Thomas Horn (the child actor who played Oskar), and Tom Hanks’ role is small, but it is so warm and so bright, it is one of the high points of his “every man” career.
Captain Phillips (2013) A+
Subject to torture and constant threat at the hands of a hijacker on his ship, Captain Richard Phillips is the most physical role Tom Hanks has ever played. We can feel his physical pain through the fear and torment so tangibly shown in his face and in his voice in every scene of this tense and powerful thriller.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) A
Tom Hanks’ transformation into Walt Disney is magical because he makes us believe that he believes in the magic of Mary Poppins. As he fights for the rights to make the movie, the relationship that has to be forged with author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) gives Tom Hanks an opportunity to show great balance in playing a larger-than-life persona but allowing Emma Thompson to be even bigger, bolder, and an even better fighter.
Bridge of Spies (2015) A
Much like his great work in Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks again plays a balancing act where he has play a strong, professional lawyer fighting the biggest case of his life, the fight for the American belief that everyone has the right to a fair trial. But he has to let Mark Rylance, who plays his client that nobody involved in the case (and very possibly Tom Hanks’ character himself) believes, shine even brighter.