Tom Hanks’ top five performances: Celebrating the storied career of one of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors

James Bickford

On Monday, Lafayette will be graced by one of the brightest stars ever to shine on the silver screen. In preparation for the arrival of one of the finest actors to ever breathe, it is worth reflecting on the illustrious career that made Tom Hanks the household name he is today by examining his five best, most iconic, and most beloved performances to date to remind ourselves of just what a treasure he is.

5) “Big” (1988)

The story of a boy who wishes to be an adult and gets his wish, “Big” was not an unusual film when it first hit theaters, but it was unusual in how successful it was (as well as how good it was). Age-changing comedies were relatively popular in the 1980s, but “Big” is the only one that has stood the test of time and become a true classic. This film deserves special recognition in the history of Tom Hanks movies for the skill with which Hanks pretends to be a child in an adult’s body. Unlike other actors trying to act much younger than they are, Hanks’ squirming, slightly clumsy, and very energetic depiction of protagonist Josh Baskin doesn’t seem awkward at all. This portrayal is one of the greatest early examples of Hanks’ remarkable ability to thoroughly morph into another person, fully embodying the people that he plays.

4) “Cast Away” (2000)

If “Big” is an early example of his range and talent, “Cast Away” is Hanks at the height of his powers. His role in the film did not merely ask him to carry the movie, but to literally be the movie. For the vast majority of the film, Hanks is the only actor to be seen. Despite asking the audience to sit through over an hour of Hanks exploring the island with only a volleyball for companionship, the film is an absolute masterpiece. In a lesser actor’s hands, this would be a horrendously tedious movie, but Hanks makes it not only just watchable, but incredibly engaging. If there was any doubt as to his abilities as an actor, “Cast Away” dispelled them. Not that there was any doubt, as six years before Hanks had turned in one of the most iconic performances in movie history.

3) “Forrest Gump” (1994)

What may be Tom Hanks’ most quotable movie, “Forrest Gump” has endured in the hearts of American moviegoers thanks to Hanks’ timelessly charming performance as the titular Forrest Gump. The fact that Forrest Gump’s innocence and determination has lasted so long in the public eye, and that quotes such as “life is like a box of chocolates” and “run, Forrest, run,” are so enduring in the public imagination, is a testament to Hanks’ capabilities. Few actors have been able to make people fall in love with a character as much as Hanks has for Forrest Gump. His customary attention to the most minute of gestures, expressions and postures help to sell the character fully. If you haven’t seen “Forrest Gump”, you are missing out both on an American cultural icon and one of the most incredible performances Hanks has ever given. This was the performance that won him his second Oscar, coming right on the heels of the film that gave him his first.

2) “Philadelphia” (1993)

One of the true gems of Hanks’ filmography, and the film that won him the first of his back-to-back Oscars, “Philadelphia” is a bold film that tackles very complex issues. In many ways, it was ahead of its time. Hanks plays a successful corporate lawyer who is hiding the fact that he is both gay and an AIDS patient from his employers and coworkers, as at the time the enormous stigma against both would surely ruin his career. Eventually, however, his secret gets out, and that is exactly what happens to him. With the help of another lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, he takes on his former employers in a discrimination suit. It is a truly powerful film, and Hanks’ range as an actor is on full display as he depicts a deeply personal conflict.

1) “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

One of the greatest movies ever made, a film that has stood the test of time and an iconic opening scene that changed the way war was presented on film, “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history. Even in the pantheon of Tom Hanks movies, “Saving Private Ryan” stands out as a special film. Hanks’ portrayal of Captain John Miller, a war-weary soldier ordered to save the titular Private Ryan, who is MIA behind enemy lines following the D-Day invasion of Normandy in the Second World War, is as excellent as it is powerful. It is difficult to do this film justice in so short a space, but the greatest war film ever made fully deserves its place at the very top of this list, one of the greatest films ever made starring one of the greatest actors of our time.