24 Iconic Tom Hanks Movies to Add to Your Watchlist
Esteemed actor Tom Hanks has kept a steady, strong presence in the film industry for nearly four decades. The actor landed his debut role in Ron Howard’s 1984 film, “Splash,” and grew to become a household name after securing several roles in popular movies throughout the remainder of the 1980s and early 1990s, including “Big,” “Turner and Hooch,” and “A League of Their Own” (just a few of his beloved works of the time).
By the 1990s, Hanks started to stray away from the romance/comedy genre and began diving into more dramatic roles, including lawyer and AIDS patient Andrew Beckett in the 1993 film “Philadelphia,” which earned him an Oscar for best actor. Later, in 1994, Hanks once again garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of Forrest Gump in the movie of the same name, for which he also won an Oscar for best actor.
Since his film debut in the 1980s, Hanks has established a lasting career in Hollywood and cemented himself as one of the greatest actors in modern history. Whether you recognize Hanks for his voice acting in beloved animated films like the Toy Story franchise or “The Polar Express” or you love him for his incredible versatility displayed in movies like “Greyhound” or “Finch,” here are 24 of the actor’s best movies.
Based on the 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, “Greyhound” centers around the years-long Battle of the Atlantic, a pivotal naval campaign during World War II. As the battle is ongoing, Commanding Officer Ernest Krause (Hanks) is partially in charge of leading a convoy of the Allies’ 37 ships to Liverpool, England, an important location for both the British Allies and Nazis. While at sea, Ernest must fight off enemy submarines threatening their mission and safety. Along with his acting credits, Hanks also wrote the screenplay for the film.
"News of the World"
After the Civil War, confederate veteran Captain Kidd (Hanks) makes a meager living traveling across several American towns and reading printed newspaper stories from around the world. During his journey, he comes across an abandoned young girl who introduces herself as Cicada and speaks Kiowa, an Indigenous language. Kidd doesn’t want to leave her behind, so he brings her along, learning that her real name is Johanna Leonberger. As Kidd travels with Johanna to get her to her aunt and uncle in Texas, the two experience a harrowing journey filled with criminals, dust storms, and a language barrier.
Perhaps the most recognizable Hanks movie, “Forrest Gump” is a timeless classic that is so culturally significant that it holds a place in the National Film Registry and earned Hanks an Academy Award for best actor. Forrest Gump (Hanks) experiences some challenges growing up in Greensboro, AL, in the 1950s. He’s told he has a low IQ and has to walk with leg braces, which leads many to treat him like an outcast. However, his childhood best friend, Jenny (Robin Wright), remains a constant throughout his life, even as their paths diverge. The movie showcases Forrest’s life as he plays football in college, serves in the Vietnam War, becomes a ping-pong champion, and starts his own shrimping company, among other accomplishments.
After a catastrophic solar flare renders Earth uninhabitable, one of the last surviving humans, engineer Finch Weinberg (Hanks), lives and works in an underground lab with his dog, Goodyear. Finch seldom goes outside, as the average temperature is over 150 degrees, and spends his time making a robot capable of doing human-like tasks, including taking care of his dog. However, when Finch learns that a storm is approaching, he takes Goodyear and his robot, Jeff, and travels in an RV to survive the next impending disaster.
"Saving Private Ryan"
During the Normandy Invasion at Omaha Beach during WWII, Captain John H. Miller (Hanks) and his group of soldiers are ordered to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), who is missing after his three other brothers die in the war. As Miller leads his men through the most dangerous of enemy situations to find Private Ryan, the group experience brutality at the hands of the Nazis and struggle to survive while completing their mission. Along the way, each of the men pushes through obstacles, embodies strength and bravery, and strengthens their brotherhood with one another.
Preteen Josh Baskin (Hanks) is tired of being a kid, so when he attends a carnival and is told he’s too short for an amusement ride, he makes a wish at a fortune-teller machine to make him “big.” The following day, Josh is surprised to discover he is not 12 years old anymore but rather a full-grown adult. Navigating the world as a preteen stuck in an adult body, Josh gets a job at a toy company, falls in love, and revels in having “grown-up” experiences. Along with his best friend, Billy, Josh tries to track down the fortune-telling machine to transform him back to his younger self before he is stuck as an adult forever.
"Catch Me If You Can"
One of Hanks’s many collaborations with legendary director Steven Spielberg, “Catch Me If You Can” follows the true story of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), who conned millions of dollars from a number of victimless workplace frauds. During his schemes, Abagnale assumed the identities of a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and even a pastor before he could even legally buy alcohol. Just before his 18th birthday, Abagnale steals millions from banks and is hunted by FBI Carl Hanratty (Hanks), who is determined to catch him before he commits his next crime. Unfortunately for Hanratty, Abagnale loves the thrill of the chase.
Adapted to the screen from the 2013 book of the same name by Dave Eggers, “The Circle” features a strong cast that include Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, and Patton Oswalt. Looking for an opportunity outside of her mundane call-center internship, Mae Holland (Watson) applies for a customer-support job at The Circle, a leading social media and tech company. During her time at The Circle, Mae meets the company’s idealistic CEO, Eamon Bailey (Hanks), who envisions a new idea called SeeChange, which allows people to watch real-time videos from any location around the world. As Mae rises up through the company, her morals are tested as her job interferes with what she believes is right.
"The Green Mile"
Hanks was praised for his acting in “The Green Mile,” an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. In the 1930s, Warden Supervisor Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) experiences his fair share of criminals in Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s death-row section. While on the job, he meets inmate John Coffey, a large, bulky man convicted of murdering two young girls. As Paul gets to know John, he realizes he is not the cold-hearted criminal everyone believes him to be and actually has a supernatural gift to heal people. The performances of Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan make for a heart-wrenching yet memorable watch.
"The Da Vinci Code"
Based on the controversial novel of the same name by Dan Brown, “The Da Vinci Code” centers around religious symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks), who is enlisted by Paris police to help solve the mysterious murder of Jacques Saunière. While helping with the case, Langdon finds a series of secret messages and clues in the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci, which leads him to a shocking discovery that has the potential to reveal a secret society and even dismantle concrete beliefs upheld by the Catholic Church.
Based on the true story of the Apollo 13, this movie follows astronauts Jim Lovell (Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), who are traveling to the moon, having been inspired by the incredible event with Neil Armstrong in 1969. The group journey to space, and during routine maintenance as requested by Mission Control, an explosion occurs, and the crew are now left with a damaged spacecraft. The remainder of the film highlights the efforts (and ultimate success) of NASA’s Mission Control Center to bring the men home safely.
Yet another collaboration with Spielberg, “The Terminal” is loosely inspired by the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri. When Viktor Navorski (Hanks) arrives at JFK International Airport, he learns that his country is in chaos as a coup d’état has occurred. Due to the uncertainty of his home country’s government, Viktor is not allowed to leave the US to go back home or leave the airport, forcing him to live indefinitely at the airport. As he is waiting to get back home and resume normalcy in his life, he searches for a job, makes new friends, and even sparks a romance with a flight attendant named Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Based on the autobiography “Highest Duty” by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, “Sully” tells the harrowing story of the Miracle on the Hudson, when US Airways Flight 1549 landed on the New York river with no fatalities. On Jan. 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded the flight, and just minutes into the trip, the plane hits a flock of birds, damaging both engines. Sullenberger lands the plane on the Hudson River to avoid a disaster, and all passengers are unscathed. However, despite being hailed as a hero, he faces an unrelenting press and an investigation from the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) that could interfere with his career.
Centered around the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, Hanks delivers a stunning performance in “Captain Phillips.” On Apr. 9, 2009, Phillips is in command of the MV Maersk Alabama, which is set to travel to Kenya through the Guardafui Channel. During the journey, the ship is followed and seized by Somali pirates, who demand millions of dollars in ransom. With first officer Shane Murphy, Phillips must play his cards right to survive and safely make it off the ship.
Based on the acclaimed 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” features several different storylines that span hundreds of years in time and are all interconnected through the many characters’ relationships. Each story has a central character with supporting people throughout. Settings for the film include the Pacific Islands in the 1800s, San Francisco in 1973, and even Seoul in the future year of 2144. Directed by the Wachowski sisters and featuring a star-studded cast that include Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, and Susan Sarandon, “Cloud Atlas” will blow your mind as it takes you on a journey through the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
"Sleepless in Seattle"
Grief-stricken widower Sam Baldwin (Hanks) moves to Seattle with his young son, Jonah, after losing his wife to cancer. As the two are settling down in the new area, Jonah calls a local radio station to find a companion for his dad, to which Sam reluctantly agrees. After Sam opens up about his complicated feelings, a listener named Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) falls for him, despite living across the country in Baltimore and being engaged. Going out on a whim, Annie sends Sam a letter and goes out to Seattle to find her potential true love.
"Road to Perdition"
During the Great Depression, Mike Sullivan (Hanks) works for a powerful mobster named John Rooney, whom he views as a father figure. However, when Rooney’s son, Connor (Daniel Craig), becomes jealous of their close bond, he murders Mike’s wife and youngest son. Along with his oldest son, Michael, Mike now has his sights on getting revenge on Connor while also trying to survive being hunted by other mobsters.
The third film in the Da Vinci Code film series, “Inferno” follows symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) on yet another adventure filled with clues and hidden history. In Florence, Italy, Langdon awakens in a hospital unable to recall his recent memories. To his surprise, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) informs him that he sustained a gunshot wound to the head, causing his amnesia. Turns out, Langdon is being hunted by a villain named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who is attempting to release a virus capable of killing half of the world’s population. Together, Langdon and Brooks must stop Zobrist before he kills millions.
"You've Got Mail"
Bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) enjoys talking to people in chat rooms online. When she connects with a man named Joe (Hanks), the two hit it off right away and fall in love with one another, though they reveal very few identifying details about themselves to each other. Little do they know, Joe works at Fox Books just around the block from Kathleen’s small bookstore, and on a chance day, the two cross paths in real life and discover they are business rivals. Now the budding romance they developed over time is in jeopardy, but can they overcome their competitive nature and save the relationship they built online?
Hanks earned a Golden Globe nomination for best actor for his performance alongside Meryl Streep in “The Post.” Based on the true story of journalists leaking the Pentagon Papers, “The Post” takes place in the 1970s and centers around Katharine Graham, owner and publisher of The Washington Post. When Graham gains knowledge of a decades-long cover-up by the United States government that involves the Vietnam War, she teams up with her editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), to publish a story that could have irreversible consequences on her career.
"Bridge of Spies"
Based on the true story of James B. Donovan, “Bridge of Spies” is another collaboration between Hanks and director Spielberg. In the 1960s, CIA pilot Gary Powers is captured by the Soviet Union and sentenced to a total of 10 years in confinement. Lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is enlisted by the CIA to negotiate the release of Powers in exchange for spy Rudolf Abel, a man who Donovan previously defended in court.
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
Inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say . . . Hero?” by journalist Tom Junod, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” stars Hanks as lovable TV host Fred Rogers. Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel is assigned by his editor to write an article about heroes, with Fred Rogers (Hanks) as the focus of the story. Lloyd is skeptical about Rogers and convinced that his gentle, kind persona is an act. As he interviews him, however, he connects with Rogers and changes his perspective not only on the piece and its subject but also on his relationships and life as a whole.
"Saving Mr. Banks"
In the 1960s, struggling “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is convinced by her agent to meet with Walt Disney (Hanks) and sell him the rights to her books. Over the past 20 years, Disney has consistently asked Travers for the rights to make a movie from her story, though she has vehemently declined his requests multiple times. As the two work together to make the movie, Travers finds herself fighting to keep her story original and not lose it to Hollywood.
Hanks is nearly unrecognizable as Colonel Tom Parker in Baz Luhrmann’s show-stopping biopic “Elvis.” The film centers around the beginnings of Elvis Presley’s music career and follows how he came to be a megastar under the management of Parker, who controlled every aspect of the singer’s career, including his finances, until his death in 1977.