Total Recall

Tom Hanks' Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Captain Phillips star.

by | October 10, 2013 | Comments

Tom Hanks

Co-starring in a short-lived sitcom about cross-dressing friends generally isn’t the most direct path to superstardom, but there’s an exception to prove every rule — only one, though; sorry, Peter Scolari — and after racking up over $3 billion in domestic ticket receipts, winning a mantel full of awards (including back-to-back Best Actor Oscars), and starring in some of the best-reviewed films of the last 25 years, Tom Hanks has demonstrated that he’s pretty darned exceptional. With his latest project, the fact-based Paul Greengrass thriller Captain Phillips, arriving in theaters this weekend, we decided now was the perfect time to pay tribute to an impressive body of work by twirling the dials on the Tomatometer, making a list of Hanks’ best-reviewed films, and playing Total Recall!


10. Cast Away

If there was ever any doubt as to the strength of Tom Hanks’ appeal, it was thoroughly answered with 2000’s Cast Away, a movie that asked viewers to spend over an hour watching its star wander an island with little to do and only a volleyball for companionship. He didn’t just topline it, Hanks essentially was the film, absorbing a percentage of screen time that, in lesser hands, would have amounted to an endurance test for audiences. Happily, he proved up to the task, as attested by Cast Away‘s healthy $429 million worldwide gross — not to mention the scores of overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics like Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who praised Hanks for rising to the challenges of the script: “The challenge to the character is matched by the challenge to the actor; for most of the movie Mr. Hanks is the only human being we see or hear. He tackles the job with stunning confidence in a performance stripped of gimmicks and driven by need.”


9. Splash

Starring in a frothy romantic comedy as a man who falls in love with a mermaid may not seem like the surest path to starting a film career, but then, 1984’s Splash was no ordinary movie — in fact, it started a lot of things, among them an entire studio (Touchstone Pictures, created to allow Disney the ability to release more “adult” fare without sullying its name brand), a surge in the number of girls named Madison, and, supposedly, a name change for the Disneyland ride that eventually became Splash Mountain. Not bad for a movie featuring a pair of largely untested stars (Hanks was fresh from Bosom Buddies, and Hannah was known mainly for her role in Blade Runner) and a director most people still thought of as Opie Taylor (or Richie Cunningham). Nearly $70 million in domestic receipts (and one Academy Award nomination) later, and Hanks was on his way to stardom, thanks in part to positive critical buzz that has proven surprisingly durable; recently, Empire’s Ian Freer held it up as “the movie that really showed Tom Hanks’ promise as a deliverer of great comedy and heart-warming pathos.”


8. Saving Private Ryan

American directors have been making movies about World War II since 1940, and even as early as the 1980s, it was a genre associated by many with Norman Rockwell revisionism and John Wayne machismo. By 1998, for a movie about the war to add anything new to the dialogue, it would have to be something truly special — but with Spielberg behind the cameras and a cast led by Tom Hanks, an actor as quintessentially American as apple pie, Saving Private Ryan was off to a pretty good start even before the first roll of film had been shot. The end result, of course, was one of the best-reviewed films (and biggest hits) of the year — a $481 million hit that arrived perfectly timed to coincide with a new wave of interest in what Tom Brokaw dubbed “The Greatest Generation.” Lauded for its sometimes shocking realism, Ryan was eventually nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and helped prompt Hanks’ involvement (along with Spielberg and many others) in HBO’s 10-part World War II documentary, Band of Brothers — an important film, in other words, and one that, despite a few dissenting opinions (Andrew Sarris called it “tediously manipulative”), earned a healthy 92 percent Tomatometer thanks to plenty of high praise from critics like Richard Schickel of Time, who applauded it as “a war film that, entirely aware of its genre’s conventions, transcends them as it transcends the simplistic moralities that inform its predecessors, to take the high, morally haunting ground.”


7. That Thing You Do!

Some moviegoers who went to see That Thing You Do! expecting another “Tom Hanks movie” may have come away disappointed with his relative lack of screen time — his character, the slick A&R executive known as Mr. White, is the textbook definition of a “minor but pivotal” role — but if they paid attention to the credits, they saw that it had Hanks literally written all over it: he made his writing/directing debut with That Thing, which follows the speedy rise (and equally speedy fall) of a rock band in 1966. Though it wasn’t a huge hit, the movie did spin off a medium-sized hit on the pop charts (“That Thing You Do,” written by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and sung by future power pop demigod Mike Viola) and enjoyed highly favorable reviews from the likes of Desson Thomson of the Washington Post, who wrote, “first-time writer/director Tom Hanks stays about a half-beat ahead of the clichés with rim shots of boyish enthusiasm and deft comedy.”


6. Apollo 13

Hanks reunited with his Splash director, Ron Howard, for 1995’s Apollo 13, a dramatization of NASA’s aborted 1970 lunar mission that combined one of Hanks’ biggest personal passions — space travel — with Hollywood’s favorite thing: a blockbuster prestige picture. With a cast that featured a number of similarly prolific actors (among them Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Hanks’ Forrest Gump costar Gary Sinise), Apollo probably would have made decent money even if it had played fast and loose with the real-life details of the launch, but Howard and his crew strove for verisimilitude, going so far as to shoot portions of the film in actual zero gravity. The result was a summertime smash that restored some of space travel’s luster for a jaded generation — and made for an exceedingly good filmgoing experience according to most critics, including Roger Ebert, who called it “a powerful story, one of the year’s best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics.”


5. Catch Me if You Can

After closing out the 20th century as one of the most prolific — and arguably the most bankable — movie star in America, Hanks started to favor roles that either sublimated his much-ballyhooed Jimmy Stewart-style likeability, such as 2002’s Road to Perdition and 2004’s The Ladykillers, or left the heavy lifting to his co-stars, as with 2002’s Catch Me if You Can. Hanks doesn’t get the lion’s share of the screen time, but as Carl Hanratty, a fictionalized version of the FBI agent who pursued the infamous real-life con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio), he acts as the force that keeps his quarry (and therefore the story) moving — as well as a surprisingly sympathetic ear for the film’s ne’er-do-well protagonist. A Spielberg film with two huge stars and a Christmas Day release, Catch Me if You Can was virtually predestined to be a hit — and it was, grossing more than $350 million worldwide and earning a slew of positive reviews from critics who, although they were loath to rank it with Spielberg’s best work, nonetheless largely fell in line with the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, who called it “that rarity of rarities, a mainstream American feel-good movie with both charm and intelligence.”


4. Big

There were a number of age-swapping comedies at the box office in the late 1980s, including Vice Versa (starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage as a father and son who switch bodies), 18 Again! (in which George Burns plays an 81-year-old millionaire who trades souls with Charlie Schlatter), and Like Father Like Son (Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron — ’nuff said). Big, released in June of 1988, came after all of them, but rather than being dismissed as excessively similar to a bunch of movies that hadn’t done all that well at the box office, it went down as one of the year’s most successful films, piling up over $150 million in worldwide grosses and earning Hanks some desperately needed box office mojo after his appearances in The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, and (shudder) Dragnet. Though it would be awhile yet before Hanks really found his stride as a leading man — he still had Joe Versus the Volcano ahead of him, after all — his sweetly comic performance here did not go unnoticed by critics like the New York Times’ Janet Maslin, who wrote, “for any other full-grown actors who try their hands at fidgeting, squirming, throwing water balloons and wolfing down food in a huge variety of comically disgusting ways, this really is the performance to beat.”


3. Toy Story 3

Cinematic history is littered with the corpses of once-mighty franchises that seemed destined for glory, only to stumble into ruin with their third installments, so when Pixar announced that Toy Story 3 was in the works, film fans held their breath. Of course, as we know now, we needn’t have worried: although it encountered a touch of critical dissent, the third Story was nearly as well-received as the first two, thanks to an action-packed, emotion-filled storyline that not only reunited much of the original cast (with the notable exception of Jim Varney, who sadly passed away in 2000), but sent them on a meaningful adventure in the bargain. “It’s sadder and scarier than its predecessors,” wrote Newsday’s Rafer Guzman, “but it also may be the most important chapter in the tale.”


2. Toy Story

The mathematical incongruity of the movie’s key catchphrase notwithstanding, Pixar came awfully close to going “to infinity and beyond” with its maiden full-length voyage, both in terms of box office returns ($361 million on a $30 million budget) and, as the first all-CGI theatrical release, in its impact on animation in general. Hanks, riding high with audiences and critics after a remarkable three-year run that included A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and Apollo 13, was a natural fit for the role of Woody, the classic talking cowboy doll whose gentle Everyman appeal gave the film a human heart to match its computer-generated visuals. Critics were just as taken as audiences with Toy Story; the film’s 100 percent Tomatometer underscores its significance as not only a technically groundbreaking film, but one that has, in the words of Newsweek’s David Ansen, “something for everyone on the age spectrum.”


1. Toy Story 2

Given Disney’s overall cavalier attitude toward sequels in the 1990s, it should come as no surprise that the studio originally intended Toy Story 2 to be a direct-to-video release; it wasn’t until they got a glimpse of the work in progress — and realized they could get much of the original cast back — that the second Story was aimed at theaters. The rest, as they say, was history: the further adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the gang outpaced the original Toy Story on the money front, grossing roughly $125 million more than its paradigm-shifting predecessor — and, at 100 percent on the Tomatometer, it managed the unlikely feat of matching its critical performance. As has been the case with pretty much every other Pixar production, people went to see Toy Story 2 more for its visual appeal and technological innovations than its voice cast; still, without Hanks, Allen, and their co-stars, it wouldn’t have been the same film that inspired critics like Charlie McCollum of the San Jose Mercury News to say that it “not just matches, but actually surpasses a delightful original.”

In case you were wondering, here are Hanks’ top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Forrest Gump — 93%
2. Saving Private Ryan — 92%
3. The Green Mile — 92%
4. Toy Story 3 — 87%
5. Philadelphia — 86%
6. Toy Story — 84%
7. Catch Me If You Can — 83%
8. Cast Away — 81%
9. Road to Perdition — 81%
10. Apollo 13 — 80%

Take a look through Hanks’ complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Captain Phillips.

Finally, here’s hanks in his big screen debut — He Knows You’re Alone, from 1980: