Top 10 Tom Hanks Films – 1980s

From 1984 to 1989 Tom Hanks solidified himself as one of the Hollywood elite. Aside from a couple of more restrained dramas in the middle of the period showing his diversity and pre-cursing his later work, predominantly the films of the middle to late eighties highlighted Hanks’ natural gift for comedy. His characters were always loveable yet flawed creations that pulled at the heart strings while playing relentlessly on the funny bone.

For many, Tom Hanks’ body of comedic work during the 1980s was the actor’s finest and most enduring. Because of this presents the best Tom Hanks films between 1984 and 1989.

Tom Hanks-John Candy in Splash

Discover more with our brief bio of Tom Hanks OR jump straight to the Top 10.

The Boy, The Man, The Boy Again: A brief biography of Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks is the world’s biggest-selling movie star. His movies on average gross over $100 million per film, while his total box office gross currently stands at over $3.5 billion. Thanks largely to the direction of some of the world’s most renowned (and indeed profitable) filmmakers – Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and Ron Howard – Hanks has become one of the most recognized Hollywood faces of the 21st century.

Tom Hanks was born in a Californian town named Concorde. His father Amos, also born and raised in California, was a distant relative of President Abraham Lincoln through Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks.

After his parents divorced, Hanks was raised by his father who pressed upon his children a self-reliance that served them well. Tom, along with his sister Sandra and brother Larry (his other brother Jim continued to live with their mother), were later joined by three more children from Amos’ marriage to Frances Wong. Hanks famously says of his family: “Everybody likes each other. But there were always about 50 people at the house. I didn’t exactly feel like an outsider, but I was sort of outside it.”

Hanks attended Skyline High School in Oakland, California, where he was a self-confessed “geek”. Although he rarely got into any trouble, he’d shout out funny captions whenever they would watch filmstrips in class. Hanks explains that he was “always a real good kid and pretty responsible,” but, surprisingly, “was horribly, painfully, terribly shy.”

He left high school to study theatre at Chabot College, later transferring to California State University. It was during this time that Hanks developed a love of theatre. He would frequently go alone to productions, his love of drama taking precedence over what was a natural courting ritual for many of his friends. The theatre introduced him, and facilitated, his appreciation of Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, and Henrik Ibsen. Hanks says, “Acting classes looked like the best place for a guy who liked to make a lot of noise and be rather flamboyant. Now look at me, acting is my job. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

While Hanks was studying theatre, he met Vincent Dowling, the head of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Dowling saw potential in Hanks’ confident posturing on stage and suggested he become an intern at the festival. This internship ended up lasting three years, covering all aspects of theatre. When Hanks won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actor playing Proteus in a production of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a career in acting looked less a probability, more an actuality.

And so it was. Hanks upped sticks in 1979, moving to New York City. There he would star in his only New York stage play to date, playing Callimaco in a production of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Mandrake. But it was this performance that helped Hanks get agent Joe Ohla who worked for the J. Michael Bloom Agency. This would eventually lead to Hanks getting the role of Kip Wilson in ABC’s pilot Bosom Buddies.

With a small part already under his belt in low-budget shocker He Knows You’re Alone, and a brief role in television movie Mazes and Monsters, Hanks was making the right moves with the right kinds of people. Although Bosom Buddies only ran for two seasons and didn’t gain the ratings expected, co-producer Ian Praiser told Rolling Stone Magazine: “I thought, ‘Too bad he won’t be in television for long.’ I knew he’d be a movie star in two years.”

But Hanks wasn’t too sure. When the show got cancelled he told close friends that he thought his acting career was over and that he’d be back working behind the scenes on various theatre productions touring the country. However, it was while he was shooting Bosom Buddies that he made a guest appearance on Ron Howard’s Happy Days in 1982. Howard, remembering Hanks’ performance of a disgruntled former classmate of The Fonz, was casting a romantic fantasy comedy called Splash in 1983. Originally asking Hanks to read for the role of the main character’s outlandish brother, Hanks would end up landing the lead. Splash became a box office smash hit in 1984, and with teen comedy Bachelor Party also released that year, Hanks’ celebrity quickly began to rise.

Essential Eighties: Hanks was the star of the show

In retrospect, some are critical of Hanks’ early output, citing poor box office and poor choices on the actor’s part. But, few of his films returned a deficit (aside from The Man With One Red Shoe), and while The ‘Burbs in 1989 might have performed less than expected, his total gross for that year when you think he also released Turner and Hooch, totalled more than $110 million. Likewise, Dragnet, The Money Pit, and Bachelor Party also scored respectable numbers while Big in 1988 was, at that time, his biggest selling movie. Big’s box office gross of $150 million wouldn’t be topped until 1992’s romantic hit Sleepless In Seattle.

It seems unfair to expect every Tom Hanks movie of the period to have the success of Splash, Big, and surprisingly Turner and Hooch. It’s also blindsided to look at the period purely on box office, just because Hanks became one of the most profitable movie stars of the 1990s.

Splash and Big are two of the best eighties movies. But, despite their relatively moderate box office, The ‘Burbs and The Money Pit are another two films that deserve to be remembered among the decade’s best.

Yet, even Hanks himself has been critical of his film choices during the period, saying that since A League of Their Own in 1992 “it can’t just be another movie for me. It has to get me going somehow. There has to be some all-encompassing desire or feeling about wanting to do that particular movie.” But that’s precisely what made his eighties output so enjoyable – his carefree persona on-screen mimicked his carefree attitude off it. There was an innocence in them that is largely lost on his more dramatic and self-serving later roles.

Hanks says his modern films are “less pretentiously fake and over the top” but I’d disagree wholeheartedly. Much of his later work is governed by his celebrity status. Taking nothing away from some exceptional performances and some wonderful movies, Hanks of the eighties was a unique talent. Despite him claiming, more out of humility I suspect, that he did some “bum tickets” prior to 1992’s A League of Their Own (although he could very well be referring to the notably poor and less comic 1986 movies Nothing In Common and Every Time We Say Goodbye), his eccentric comic characters live long in the memory over his more restrained, prototypical and knowing creations seen in the post-Academy Award performances.

I’d take Ray Peterson (The ‘Burbs), Walter Fielding (The Money Pit), and Josh Baskin (Big) over Joe Fox (You’ve Got Mail), his interpretation of Jim Lovell (Apollo 13), and most certainly Robert Langdon in Ron Howard’s poor The Da Vinci Code, any day of the week. And I’d predict, most assuredly, that I’m not alone in that.

TOP 10 TOM HANKS MOVIES 1984 to 1989

Tom Hanks money pit

1. The ‘Burbs (1989)
Released: 17th February 1989 | Directed By: Joe Dante | Written by: Dana Olsen | Starring: Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Rick Ducommon, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, Courtney Gains
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2. Splash (1984)
Released: 9th March 1984 | Directed By: Ron Howard | Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Bruce Jay Freedman | Starring: Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, John Candy
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3. Big (1988)
Released: 3 June 1988 | Directed By: Penny Marshall | Written by: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg | Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton
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4. The Money Pit (1986)
Released: 26th March 1986 | Directed By: Richard Benjamin | Written by: David Giler | Starring: Tom Hanks, Shelley Long, Alexander Godunov, Maureen Stapleton, Joe Mantegna
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5. Punchline (1988)
Released: 7th October 1988 | Directed By: David Seltzer | Written by: David Seltzer | Starring: Tom Hanks, Sally Field, John Goodman, Mark Rydell, Kim Griest, Paul Mazursky, Pam Matteson, George McGrath, Damon Wayans
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6. Dragnet (1987)
Released: 26 June 1987 | Directed By: Tom Mankiewicz | Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Mankiewicz, Alan Zwiebel | Starring: Tom Hanks, Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Plummer
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7. Bachelor Party (1984)
Released: 29th June 1984 | Directed By: Neal Israel | Written by: Neal Israel | Starring: Tom Hanks, Tawny Kitaen, Adrian Zmed, George Grizzard, Barbara Stuart, Robert Prescott, William Tepper, Wendie Jo Sperber
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8. Turner and Hooch (1989)
Released: 28th July 1989 | Directed By: Roger Spottiswoode | Written by: Dennis Shryack, Michael Blodgett, Daniel Petrie Jr., Jim Cash, Jack Epps | Starring: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson
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9. The Man With One Red Shoe (1985)
Released: 19th July 1985 | Directed By: Stan Dragoti | Written by: Robert Klane | Starring: Tom Hanks, Dabmey Coleman, Lori Singer, Charles Durning, Carrie Fisher
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10. Nothing In Common (1986)
Released: 30 July 1986 | Directed By: Garry Marshall | Written by: Rick Podell, Michael Preminger | Starring: Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint
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Discover more:
See also: Top 25 Films to make you happy
The ‘burbs on Natsukashi

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    JasonW Reply

    Excellent list, great choices. I’ve always really enjoyed The ‘Burbs. But I have a soft spot for Turner and Hooch too…must be the pooch!

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    Screeter Reply

    Nice to see Punchline…one of his best and hugely underrated.

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    falldownboy Reply

    I’d take out The Man With One Red Shoe for Volunteers but I agree with the top 4. Haven’t seen Punchline though.

  4. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Nope, never got into Turner And Hooch. Always felt a little contrived, to me. And emotionally manipulative to boot. Recently saw The Man With One Red Shoe, though, and that was cool. Great article again!

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    Ross McG Reply

    wow, Hanks was busy!
    The Money Pit is just great, as is Dragnet – ‘Streback, Star Buck, Star Trek?’

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    Aiden R. Reply

    Aw man, Big needs to be at #1. Hanks is the effin’ man regardless though. Awesome list.

  7. Avatar
    Jake Reply

    Terrific article…these films are totally different to what he would go on to make in the 1990s and 2000s. Looking back you can see what a great comic actor he was. I think these movies will live long in the memory of those who grew up watching them.

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    Morgan O. Reply

    Didn’t expect The ‘Burbs to be number one – I thought I was the only one who loved this movie!

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    Emmett Aitkins Reply

    Tom Hanks in my opinion is the most effective lead actor in movie history with his films grossing over $8 billion dollars globally it comes to no surprise he’s minted! and well deserved. My favorite films are, The Da Vinci Code, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan , and Cast Away.

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    S.S. Talbot Reply

    I like most of the ones you mentioned, and agree that Hanks was delightlfully fresh in the ’80’s. I would include a couple others than those you mentioned: “Volunteers” (with John Candy)and 1990’s “Bonfire of the vanities”, which seemed far more like an 80’s film to me. Neither film was of the equal of “Big” or “Splash”, but still worth watching for Hanks’ performance, esp. in “Vanities”. I’d take the latter over “The Money Pit”, “Turner & Hooch”, with its drool jokes, or esp. “Bachelor Party” (strictly a 20-something guy flick, and nowhere near the caliber of say, the “bromance”, “I Love You, Man”, with Jason Segel and Paul Rudd).

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    ruth Reply

    This is awesome! I just saw clips of Mr. Hanks on a talk show in London and he’s just so darn charming and funny. He always comes off so likable, even when he’s playing an anti-hero like in Road to Perdition, it’s hard not to root for him. He talked about filming Splash in the interview, makes me want to watch that again.

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