Tom Hanks is an American icon who’s been one of the top actors in Hollywood for nearly four decades. Although he’s affectionately known as “America’s dad,” that doesn’t mean he only plays wholesome, upbeat roles. Hanks has succeeded in raunchy comedies, dark dramas, and blockbuster action thrillers, and he always finds the core of humanity in his characters.
Hanks’ best work highlights that humanity, whether he’s playing real people or animated toys. For all his accolades, including six Oscar nominations, Hanks remains a grounded presence, playing relatable, often modest characters. He always comes off as genuine, whether the movie around him is naturalistic or fantastical. Almost every one of his films is worth seeing, but here are the seven best Tom Hanks movies that you can stream right now.
Hanks takes on the role of another real-life hero in this engaging, high-stakes drama about astronauts attempting to return to Earth when their ship malfunctions. Hanks’ Jim Lovell is the competent, level-headed leader of the 1970 NASA mission that was meant to land on the moon before being abruptly forced to turn back. Director Ron Howard carefully establishes the characters and the technical details so that the audience understands exactly what’s at risk when things go wrong.
Even if you know how the true story turns out, Apollo 13 still keeps you on the edge of your seat, thanks to the compelling performances from Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton as the astronauts, and Ed Harris and Gary Sinise as the ground crew trying to bring them home. It’s rousing, populist entertainment at its best.
Toy Story 2
Even with only his voice, Hanks can create an indelible character with a long-lasting cultural impact. He’s instantly recognizable as the voice of Woody, the cowboy doll, in Pixar’s animated Toy Story movies, and Toy Story 2 is the best of the series’ four movies. Toy Story 2 deepens the rivalry-turned-friendship between Woody and space-explorer action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), both toys owned by a young boy named Andy.
When Woody is snatched up by a greedy toy collector, his fellow toys spring into action to save him. The gorgeously animated Toy Story 2 is a fun and exciting adventure story, and it’s also an affecting meditation on mortality. As Woody, Hanks gets to deliver corny catchphrases and undergo an existential crisis. It’s just as layered a performance as his best live-action work.
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Saving Private Ryan
Hanks has collaborated with director Steven Spielberg on five films, but none have achieved the same impact as this Oscar-winning World War II drama. From its harrowing opening scene depicting the storming of Normandy’s Omaha Beach, Saving Private Ryan immediately immerses the audience in the chaos of warfare and doesn’t let up for nearly three hours.
Hanks plays the commander of a battalion assigned to rescue Matt Damon’s title character, whose survival has been deemed important for morale at home after his three brothers have all been killed in battle. Saving Private Ryan raises questions about the cost of sending ordinary unprepared citizens off to war, as well as about the responsibilities of those who survive. Hanks brings a weary determination to his role, forming both the moral and emotional center of the movie.
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Before he became a powerhouse dramatic actor, Hanks got his start in lighthearted comedies like director Penny Marshall’s exuberant movie about a 12-year-old boy who finds himself transformed into an adult. After making a wish on a carnival fortune-telling machine, young Josh Baskin wakes up in the body of a grown man (Hanks).
Josh’s wide-eyed child’s perspective comes in handy when he gets a job at a toy company, impressing his boss (Robert Loggia) and catching the eye of a female co-worker (Elizabeth Perkins). Hanks perfectly balances childhood innocence with a bit of mischief as Josh takes advantage of his newfound freedom, only to realize that being an adult isn’t as fun and carefree as it seems to a kid. There’s just the right amount of wistfulness to the performance and the movie, without taking away from the goofy humor.
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Hanks went to extraordinary lengths to play stranded FedEx employee Chuck Noland, who must keep himself alive on a deserted island after surviving a plane crash in the middle of the ocean. Director Robert Zemeckis had time to make an entire other movie while Hanks slimmed down to play the undernourished Chuck in the movie’s later scenes, and Hanks’ Oscar-nominated performance captures the toll that years of isolated deprivation would take.
There’s also humor in Cast Away, in the relationship between Chuck and the volleyball that he anthropomorphizes and names Wilson. Hanks demonstrates Chuck’s indomitable spirit even in his most desperate moments, and Cast Away is a story about finding hope in the darkest times. Hanks is the only person onscreen for much of the movie, and he holds that story together all on his own.
Joe Versus the Volcano
The pairing of Hanks and Meg Ryan produced two slick, successful mainstream romantic comedies (Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail), but this delightfully offbeat movie from writer-director John Patrick Shanley represents the duo’s best work together. Ryan plays three different roles as separate potential love interests for Hanks’ Joe Banks, a neurotic advertising administrator in a dystopian industrial facility.
Joe is diagnosed with a rare disease that’s painless yet fatal, and he decides to go out in a blaze of glory by accepting the offer of becoming a human sacrifice on a remote island. Along the way, he encounters Ryan’s three characters, all of whom help revitalize him in their own ways. It’s a stylized, silly, and strangely profound story about a man who finds meaning in life by facing the world’s most ridiculous death.
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Hanks has been cast as quite a few real-life heroes, and much of this movie based on the true story of a container ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates focuses on the title character’s quiet heroism. Hanks’ Captain Phillips is pragmatic and seemingly unflappable, putting his own life on the line to protect his crew from the dangerous men who board his ship. He stands up to the pirate leader (Barkhad Abdi) and remains steadfast even as his situation looks increasingly dire.
Director Paul Greengrass keeps the tension high, delivering a suspenseful, gripping movie that places the audience right alongside Phillips. Hanks’ best moment comes at the end of the movie, when the full weight of Phillips’ ordeal hits him, in a release of emotion for both the character and the audience.
Watch on Netflix